All posts in “Car Reviews”

Special Report: Unfiltered Driving Pleasure and The Morgan 3 Wheeler

I am a rather odd 25 year old. I carry a pocket watch, read leather bound Charles Dickens novels, send wax sealed letters and spend my Sunday mornings in quiet coffee shops turning the pages of The Financial Times. I am repulsed by the notion that the youth of today meet on inelegant apps to fulfill their lower desires before waking up next to a stranger attempting to remember their consorts name whilst watching vacuous Love Island – take a bow Tinder.

Oh how I yearn to be from days past. That being said, I will always use the latest generation of iPhone, not to use aforementioned dating applications, but to revel and take advantage of the greatest things of this era. I am a sucker for social media, not to share selfies (or nudes) but to share a bisected smudge of a recent escapade overseas where details are left scarce and the best memories remain to be shared over dinners and re-run in the minds of those that inspired such journeys and whom I had the immeasurable pleasure of creating moments to cherish for my remaining days on earth. My social media channels are a dot-to-dot, the gaps between the black blots are not for news feeds, tweets or snapchats.

Old school thrills are what I want, but with the added comfort of modern tech to clean up the spills. I want to walk through a forest with my phone on airplane mode to free myself of the shackles to instant contact before getting peckish and switching my 4G on to location the nearest boutique Gelataria. It’s so easy to forget the best things are far removed from the comforts of technology and the bustle and noise of the rat race.

This brings me onto a machine like no other – the Morgan 3 Wheeler. I refer to it as a machine as I do not see it as a car, but a mode of transport that not only moves you from one place to another, but into a different era. Modern cities are choked by articulated lorries, buses and so many Prius Ubers that you would need an abacus to keep count. Cars these days are a commodity that are used not for pleasure, but for convenience.

The romance of the automobile is dead. Think back to the 1900s, specifically France – there were less than 3,000 cars in the entire country. Tyre manufacturer Michelin wanted to encourage the use of the motor car so created the infamous Michelin Guide. It was first published in 1900 and was designed to get people onto the roads and drive to restaurants and hotels. It was the introduction of driving pleasure in a bound book, and it was free until 1922.

Imagine reading about a spectacular hotel or Michelin starred restaurant, calling out to your spouse to get ready to go for a drive and just driving. I need not imagine, this is something I try to do as frequently as possible, as I said – I’m a rather bizarre 25 year old.

Back to that machine – the Morgan 3 Wheeler. When you have such a car you don’t think about taking the Morgan to nip into the office, or to drive to the local supermarket – it’s back to basics pared back approach leaves no space for groceries and the lack of a roof means this isn’t a car for your daily commute. No, the Morgan 3 Wheeler is the machine you reserve for those special escapes to the country to enjoy a drive to a picnic in a lavender field, ice cream by the seaside or an anniversary dinner in town. It is the ultimate mode of transport to whisk you to the weekend treat you indulge in for no purpose other than merriment.

I spent a week with the Mog and such a short amount of time meant that I did not have the luxury of being able to check out the weather forecast and pick and splendid day to enjoy the Mog in. I commuted to work in it for four consecutive days through rain, hail, lightning and sleet. I imagine I would receive fewer glances, requests for photos and questions if I wore a tutu and ballet pumps around central London than I did driving the 3 Wheeler around town in a hail storm. What’s bizarre is just how happy and friendly spectators are to the driver of such a thing. I’ve driven a plethora of supercars on the same commute and people look but never want you to notice that they’ve looked as if they feel you do not deserve the satisfaction. The stark opposite is experienced in the Morgan. There are thumbs up, smiles, approving nods and pedestrians jostle for the best selfie angle with the car at traffic lights.

The attention could only be akin to an a-list celebrity strutting to lunch during London Fashion Week. It really had people tripping over one another to catch a second glance.

Driving to work in changeable conditions was surprisingly pleasant, but as I mentioned, it is by no means the primary focus of such a toy. The weekend came and it was time to escape the big smoke for greener pastures and rolling hills of the country. I called up a couple of friends and told them we were going for a drive. Country roads are where you can really put the 3 Wheeler through its paces – unfortunately for me there is a lot of motorway driving to get to such exciting roads.

I’ll be lying if I said that the Morgan was in its element on a motorway cruise – it’s bone shakingly hard and the wind noise and chill above 60 miles per hour is enough to have to down with a cold for months to come. The harsh winds of the motorways care not for you layering attempts.

Mercifully, the motorway trundle with the two-cylinder S&S motorcycle blaring away at 3,500rpm ceased before tinnitus set in and all my fillings had rattled into the passenger footwell.

Empty ribbons of sweeping tarmac awaited. Before basting in at 100 miles per hour I took stock of the driving aids…or thereby lack of. Power steering, nope, traction control, absent, ABS, only the ones you earn in the gym. There really are no driver aids and you feel it in a raw and unfiltered driving experience. You quickly bond with the Morgan and learn that the steering inputs must be massive – there is a tiny turning circle, that you cannot take liberties on down shifts or the single rear wheel with lock up and scare the shit out of you. Don’t think about compensating for this by braking harder, you’ll lock up and see the giant bicycle tyres doing so in front of you. There’s a way to drive a three wheeler and it doesn’t take long to learn it.

You get into a flow, a rhythm and suddenly you forget about the frostbite you’re earning and that your girlfriend in the passenger seat is inevitably going to use this drive against you when she nexts suggests you visit her parents.

It is a magnificent experience and one that you’ll be able to access doing 40 miles an hour, not 100 as you need to be doing in a supercar on the same roads.

This isn’t a car you’ll buy with your logical adult mind. It’s a toy that your inner child will beg you have in the garage and take out on a sunny day for a sunrise blast on your favourite B road. You’ll also need a few other cars in the garage and I suspect the typical 3 Wheeler owner has a serious collection for the Morgan to join. It is a real enthusiasts dream – a machine with no real purpose other than putting a giant blinding smile on your face – there are few cars in production today that are as pure or demanding than the 3 Wheeler and for that we must applaud Morgan and celebrate this little gem.

2019 BMW M850i Cabriolet Review

The BMW 8 Series was a car of huge significance for the German titan. It represented a vast step up for its coupe game, the mildly opulent 6 Series became a full bodied GT car – well I thought so anyway. BMW are adamant, stubborn, nigh on hellbent on insisting that the 1955 kilogram, 4.8 meter long hunk is a ‘sports car’. In my mind, you say sports car and a 911 pops into my head, not the 992, but that is a story for another time.

The M850i Coupe is the only 8 Series I had driven until I landed in sun soaked Faro, Portugal – the other option being an 840d that many claim suits the cars character far better than the V8. BMW had lobbed the top off the coupe and I was here to put the M850i Cabriolet through its paces.

In my mind I was pleased that I would have the opportunity to drive the 8 Series as a Cabriolet, not because I like the wind passing over my balding scalp, but because I imagined it would feel even more like a GT and not a sports car.

So what are the headlines? Very similar to the coupe – there’s the same new 4.4-litre, twin turbocharged V8 pumping out 523bhp. As the name suggests, the M850i xDrive is all-wheel drive, so it will fire you from 0-100km/h in 3.7sec, identical to the coupe despite weighing 125kg more. 

 

Sounds sporty enough? What are you moaning about? On paper, yes – it is very sporty. Start it and you still get the same vibes courtesy of some V8 roar and artificial yet amusing pops. It has certain sporting elements, but they do not come together to make this something you want to fling around a mountain pass or even a wide racetrack. The sheer size and weight juxtapose the sport touches by making you feel a little nervous that, in Cabriolet form, the 2,105 kilogram mass will not make a corner or stop where you would like it to. Don’t get me wrong, it will, but it does not feel like that is what it was built to do. 

 

It contradicts itself and removing the roof only makes you want to cruise instead of attack a pretty sweeping road. So I found myself in Faro driving roads I had previously enjoyed in an M2 Competition just cruising and topping up my brown boy tan instead of attacking apexes and chasing the redline as I had done previously. 

 

For such a purpose it is fabulous. The V8 burbles away, the steering (void of almost any feedback) is light and the whole experience is very soothing, sedate – peaceful. They you find the spec and price list and things are not so peaceful anymore. It is a very expensive piece of kit – the M850i Cabriolet starts at £107,045 before you start adding options such as the Bowers & Wilkins HiFi that you will want and special paint options that make the sensual lines of the 8 Series look their best. 

One thing you get as standard is the the roof that retracts elegantly in just 15 seconds whilst driving up to 50 km/h. The roof is also well put together, BMW claims that the Cabrio is just 2% less stiff than the Coupe, a the weight increase being a fair price to pay. 

It all comes together to make the M850i Cabriolet something that is indeed special as it feels like a premium product the cossets and makes you feel comfortable cruising whilst basking in the suns warmth.

I maintain that it is a fantastic cruiser and not a sports car. It is premium, but cannot be likened to a Bentley Continental GT C or Aston Martin DB11 Volante. Those cars warrant such price tags as they are super GT cars that sit in different leagues to the 8 Series Cabriolet. I imagine the M8 and its variants to be the bonafide sports cars that will wear an even more inflated price tag, and for good reasons. Until then, the M850i Cabriolet is there to be enjoyed as a Cabriolet to saunter to the coast or a nice dinner in.

2019 Mercedes-AMG GT R PRO Review

The AMG GT family is a well established gaggle of sports cars that arrived on the scene and quickly proved that they were worthy of competing with the mighty Porsche 911 with their caricature like proportions and preposterously charming V8s. Every model from the base GT, to the Beyoncé hipped GT C and batshit GT R brute – there is a GT model for everyone.

The latest addition has clearly been targeted at the fiend that eats blue steak for breakfast, small children for lunch and lion flesh for dinner – a little unhinged. Meet the Mercedes-AMG GT R PRO. This is the new poster boy for Mercedes-AMG until the Black Series arrives and scares us all half to death. It is no more powerful than the GT R, but that isn’t the point of the PRO. The PRO is for the track…pro that is set on shaving milliseconds off their Nordschleife PB lap time.

Ahh yes, the Green Hell. The GT R was broke built to, and broke, the production car lap record and was branded ‘The Beast of The Green Hell’. It has since been beaten by the GT2 RS and Huracán Performante – the PRO is six and a bit seconds quicker than the boggo GT R, an impressive feat given that the powertrain is identical. This highlights just how significant the changes to the rest of the car are.

So there is still 577bhp and 516lb, how is it so much quicker and how much does this PRO cost? Well, it costs £188,345, some £40,000 more than the GT R. You must consider that the Track Pack (4 point harnesses, roll cage and fire extinguisher), Carbon Ceramic Brakes and Carbon Aero Kit are all included in the base price of the PRO where they are options on the GT R. What else does the price hike include? Well, there is some serious race tech borrowed from the GT4 car that is based on the AMG GT. There are adjustable dampers, a plethora of weight reduced parts including carbon fibre antiroll bar at the front, carbon fibre shear panel on the rear underfloor to stiffen the structure and the fixed lightweight carbon buckets. However, it does not make the GT R PRO a straw weight fighter like the Porsche GT3 RS as it has only burnt off 25 kilograms (1,575kg dry).

The aero is where you start to see your moneys worth – there is a chunk more aero action over the front half of the car bringing the PRO closer to the 50/50 aero balance that race cars aim to achieve. There is an additional 99kg of downforce at 250km/h, a lot of which is working on the front half of the car – AMG did not divulge exactly how much but it can be felt through the steering and overall balance in the high speed sections.

Sounds like you had a go at testing the high speed stability? Well, yes. I was only allowed to drive the car on track – Hockenheim, an ideal venue with its scary fast bends that require you to push hard to make the most of. It is on the circuit when pushing hard that the quality of the dampers over kerbs and under hard braking that the changes are felt. Cup 2 tires are flattering out of the slower corners with immense traction firing you onto the next straight.

The long sweeping left hand bend sees speeds of 250km/h on the speedo and the car feels supremely stable – still sounds fabulous too. It inspires confidence and trust and that is perhaps what lacked in the standard GT R. The aero and suspension have cut the floating feeling that the GT R often unnerved me with on track last year.

Sounds like the dream package? Better than an GT3 RS? Well, the GT R PRO is still based on the AMG GT. This means that it is BIG and there is a lot of car ahead of you. I wish it was a little smaller and a tad more nimble. In some of the slower corners there is a smudge of front end push that the magicians at Porsche have eliminated – perhaps it is a weight issue that the Black Series will manage to address. The Porsche is still a sizeable 10 or so seconds quicker around the benchmark ‘Ring time that we all pine about – AMG are quick to say that the PRO lap time was not set in optimal conditions.

What I could deduce from my quick stint at Hockenheim is that the GT R PRO is just as much of a laugh as the rest of the AMG GT family – it is up for having a bit of a fun. Set the ESP to Sport or OFF and pick a level of traction control using the stubby yellow knob and the GT R PRO will still have you laughing out loud. A GT3 RS might be more pointy and focused, but the GTR PRO is still a worthy of being held in equally high regard as a track day weapon. The GT R stops and goes hard, the PRO takes the on track abilities to another level.

2019 BMW 750Li Review

Since I was a small boy (still am) I’ve always been envious of the person driving me around – I am forever curious about how it feels to drive the car in which in sat in, whatever it is. There have, however, been a handful of exceptions – I’m sure the reasons speak for themselves. These anomalies include a Rolls-Royce Phantom, Bentley Mulsanne, Mercedes-Maybach S600 and the BMW 7 Series.

These are cars that, in my mind, are meant to be enjoyed not from behind the wheel, but from behind the front seats. The rear seats are lounges, spaces that are designed to take you away from the reality of being stuck in the horrendous LA traffic or the ugly concrete clad surroundings of the M25 in London.

Chances are that if you find yourself in the rear cocoons of the aforementioned limousines you have a few more cars that you drive for pleasure or to flex at the golf club. The limousine is for the Micky Mouse gloved driver, not the owner, to put miles on.

It just so happened that I recently drove an S600 Maybach, Phantom and Mulsanne and I found them to be remarkable to drive, not just to be driven in. When the invitation to pilot the new BMW 7 Series popped into the inbox my childish curiosity had me hitting accept.

A couple of weeks later I found myself in the back of the BMW 750Li and it was a phenomenal place to be sat. Just a week before I was in the back seats of the Mulsanne and the BMW felt as plush, equally special and even more technologically advanced. The loungers were sublime, the cabin whisper quiet and the fit and finish something that would not be out of place in the Sultan of Brunei’s living room. Once again, I found myself enjoying the opulence of soft leathers, massage seats and near silence – I almost fell asleep.

Then my driver pulled over, chucked me the keys and disappeared. I would be lying if I said it was not a little intimidating, the 7 Series is, I think it is fair to say, an utter enormous car. Let’s get one thing out of the way from the outset – those ginormous grilles. The kidneys have over the years evolved into a plethora of shapes and sizes – on the X2 they appear to be fitted the wrong way up, on the X7…well let’s skip past that, but on the 7 Series face lift they are big enough to swallow small children and other cars alike.

Confession time – I did not like them before, I hated them when I saw them on a M760Li at Geneva and I still do not like them on the M Sport trimmed cars. However, on the Design Pure Elegance package cars, the swooping lower section of the bumper combined with the slender laser lights and that imposing pair of grilles looks mighty impressive to my eyes, something akin to a majestic and proud cruise ship.

The rear continues the design language I first saw on the 3er and Z4 with the L shaped lights, this time presented with the horizontal connecting light beam that you can find on most Porsches…and the Bugatti Chiron. Unless you are reading this is China, your opinion in the styling is somewhat irrelevant as that is where 40% of 7 Series cars are delivered and the new status promoting styling is very much catered to the Chinese market…and me apparently.

Back to my driving experience – I’m behind the wheel and the space upfront is impressive, the width of the car continues to make itself known in a good way. The view from the side mirrors accentuates the the length. Into drive and away I…sail. It is just as quite up here, you would never know that the engine under the hood is a hefty great V8. The 750Li xDrive I am piloting packs a supercar worthy 530 bhp and a twisting 750 Nm of torque. Considering that it weighs the same as a small cottage it is impressive that it will shift to 100km/h in 4 seconds.

As I pull out of the hotel onto the baked Spanish tarmac my eyes are drawn to something in the aforementioned wing mirrors. I stop turn the wheel and discover that it is the rear wheel steer system the I can physically see turning the rear wheels. It helps explain why I only had to apply a marginal amount of steering lock to navigate the 90 degree turn. The steering was so light that it could have been done with a single finger. Innovations like this are only the start of the list of things that make driving the car as much of a breeze as it is to be the VIP passenger in the back of it.

All of the controls are light – yes, this translates to a total absence of feel in a number of aspects, but this is not exactly a car you drive to the Nordschleife on a Sunday. As with the steering input, everything is effortless, simple and does not require much concentration. The gigantic length and width of 7 Series soon becomes less frightening and, as is the passenger experience, it is very soothing.

The raft of tech aids such as active cruise control and lane assist means that the 7 Series is essentially able to drive itself on the highway and the rest of the technologies packed into the cabin further sooth the driving experience. The new iDrive system still proves itself to be the best in the business, gesture controls are far more useful than I first imagines and there is still a lovely, tactile wheel to use to control the screen in addition to the touch screen feature (take note every other manufacture in the world. #SaveTheControlWheel).

All in all it is very easy to summarise the BMW 750Li xDrive. The car is an incredible place to be sat, whether it be in the front seat or the rear. It is a calming, enjoyable place to be and one that I think challenges and proves itself to be worthy of the best in the segment. I am sure you will be seeing those imposing grilles in a capital city near you very often indeed.

2019 Porsche 992 911 Carrera Cabriolet Review

It is March in London, the pathetic fallacy of Brexit is reflected in the rainy scenes I can see from my equally dreary office desk. I’ve spent so much time indoors hiding from precipitation, I’ve started to lack vitamin D (insert lack of D joke). The doctor has prescribed sunshine and less stress. Before I have time to scurry over to the Pharmacy, Porsche call with a cure of their own – the 992 Cabriolet and a flight to Greece. Just what the doctor ordered…

A couple of days later I find myself in Attica, a short drive south of the history festooned city of Athens with the keys to a 992 Cabriolet. My expectations are high, fuelled by the logic that the Cabriolet will be just as good as the Coupe that I drove in January. Porsche engineers have a habit of sprinkling magic and witchcraft on everything they touch as of late, the 992 Coupe was a prime example of this – the Carrera S & 4S represent the bulk of sales and as a result, they’ve made them both so bloody good that it’s difficult to imagine just how magnificent the GTS and other future models are going to be.

Back to the present and the Cabriolet – the car I’m filling with my bags, and bananas, is a 4S – I saw this car yesterday evening and laughed at it’s gold wheels and the idea that there was a German with a sense of humour in the PR department that specced this Indian Red 911 with wheels that would look more at home on a Ferrari or classic Lotus. The very jester that configured the car reciprocated my jibe by making sure it was the car I would be driving for the rest of the trip…touché.

Enough clowning around, what is this 4S packing? Well, as you would imagine, this is essentially the same as the coupe just with the roof lobbed off. That means in S & 4S guises, the only currently available, there is a 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat six pushing out 444bhp and 391lb ft. 444bhp doesn’t sound huge, but the numbers are eye opening.

0-100 is abolished in 3.7, or 3.6 if you check the Sport Chrono box (this takes off a tenth and adds the essential driver mode rotary dial on the steering wheel and the iconic stopwatch/clock). Three point six. That is supercar quick.

Traction in this 4S is mind bending and altered my driving style. You can enter corners with speed that is frankly ridiculous and there isn’t any understeer. You have to be an utter Neanderthal and completely misjudge a slow speed corner to make the front axle push away from the apex. Like I said, magic. The handling is spot on, as is the driving position, steering and brakes.

One criticism is the PDK gearbox – yes, it is lightning fast and handles multiple shifts with ease, but when it is in sport mode and auto, you merely brush the throttle pedal it fires in a couple of downshifts with a spike in the revs. It’s is a little nervous and makes you weary. Drive it in manual and you start to fathom why it has been calibrated with such a nervous disposition – turbo lag. Yes, this really is knit picking, but when you choose which gear you want and you pick one that leaves the analogue rev counter below 2,500 rpm, you start to feel the lag. Again, this is me trying to find fault and the gearbox will almost instantly fire the revs above this laggy layer when left in auto or if you drive it as it should be driven in manual.

Would I have the Cabriolet or the Coupe? This is a tough call and one I suspect will come down to personal preferences. Where the Pista Spider, Huracan Performante Spyder and new AMG GT R Roadster are topless track hardened supercars that make no sense to me given structural rigidity loss and added weight (take a bow McLaren with your carbon tubs), having a Carrera Cabriolet is far more understandable. Carreras are not cars for setting lap times in. The appeal of cruising and enjoying the drive is infinitely more alluring. The added wright in strengthening is far less relevant.

The interior is sublime as it is in the coupe, my gripes with the infotainment and lack of buttons and reliance on the touch screen still stand firm. It still feels alien and difficult to navigate a touchscreen whilst driving. Whether this will be alleviated over time and experience with the system is yet to be seen.

With the roof down the cabin is still comfortable and well shielded from the elements. The innovative wind deflector puts cars like the Bentley Continental GTC to shame as there is no manual labour required, just the touch of a button. The roof can be lowered or raised on the move up to 50 km/h in just 12 seconds. You can also enjoy the turbocharged whooshes and whistles far more clearly.

If I was in the market for a convertible sports car that had large luggage space and rear seats, tiny ones at that, there is only one car for the job – the 992 Porsche Carrera Cabriolet.

2020 Bentley Continental GTC Review

‘We don’t believe that the Continental GTC has any competitors, it is completely unique in this space’ responded Bentley Chairman and Chief Executive, Anthony Hallmark. My question was not one to probe or test Mr Hallmark, but one that I asked to learn and understand more about the 2019 Bentley Continental GTC before jumping in and making my own judgements. Then again, my 25 year old judgements were somewhat irrelevant to the illustrious British brand – Bentley are the first to point out that the typical Bentley owner is typically in their 50s or 60s, China being an outstanding anomaly with 80% of buyers being under the age of 45…yikes, how’s that for a diverse demographic?

I had been shipped out to the Marbella Club to put the Bentley Continental GTC through its paces (tough gig) on what turned out to be a rather special days driving in Bentleys latest topless offering. The previous generation GT and GTC proved to be roaring successes, the introduction of the new Conti GT took the dynamics and breadth of ability of the luxury GT car to new levels.

As you would imagine, the GT and GTC are very similar. Both share the same 6.0-litre, W12 engine that churns out 626bhp and 664lb ft that will launch the GTC to 100km/h just a tenth of a second slower that the coupe – 3.8 seconds (expect a V8 and hybrid options soon). Also shared are the four wheel drive system, eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and 48-volt body control system that can be found in the Porsche Cayenne, Panamera and Bentley Bentayga, although Bentley say the calibration had been fiddled with to make sure your sexy topless Bentley feels a little different from a diesel Cayenne. The chief of Continental engineering went on to tell me about the painstaking hours that went into the gearbox calibration and how this is not just a simple copy of the PDK DSG transmission.

So what is the GTC like on the road? To find out, I embarked on a 400 kilometre day trip over a variety of roads and surfaces to see what puts the G and T into the GTC. Allow me to start off with that engine. I’ve driven the W12 Bentayga and can vouch for just how good it is in the SUV – the effortless character of the engine suits the truck well. In the GTC, however, it left me wanting a little more.

The Bentley looks fabulous, I felt that it needed an attention drawing engine tone to match the eye catching angles and do those giant oval exhausts some justice. Then you put your foot down and the sheer force of the torque punting the car towards the horizon reminds you why this huge great engine is still being used. It is remarkable, even more so when you consider the GTC weighs in at heaving great 2,414kg with the W12 pounding away until you’re doing 207mph/333kmh.

So the engine can deal with the weight when it comes to blisteringly fast straight line pace, but what happens when your grand tour takes you over a mountain pass? Remember that 48v system? It works astonishingly well and essentially counteracts any body roll using motors that prop the side of the car that would roll back up. Working in conjunction with the 3 chamber air suspension, the ride is sublime and the gargantuan weight is masked like a Donald Trump ‘grabbing’ episode.

When you start to increase speeds into some tighter, more twisty sections, things get a little less refined. As good as the systems are, hiding such hefty mass is undone by Newtons laws of physics and the Bentley starts to struggle – the brakes show themselves as being a major weak point. I cannot blame the poor things, regardless of how massive they are. Carbon ceramics are not an option…best take it easy and enjoy the breeze in your toupee after retracting the Z-fold roof in 19 seconds.

Speaking of enjoyment, when you are cruising and taking in the surroundings, as you should be, the GTC really does come into its own league of refinement and comfort. The interior is a masterpiece. Yes, you’ll recognise elements of the infotainment from other VAG products, but the physical switches, materials and all round ergonomics are second to none.

The finish on the woods, metal switchgear and quality of leathers are worth drinking in for hours. Set the heads up display to show you all you need, engage lane assist and active cruise control, prod the air scarf button to maximum and you’ll be glad that you were not sat in any other car on that stretch of road. It is a soothing experience, a memorable one. A Bentley moment.

Going back to the opening of this review, there are a couple of competitors that sprung to mind on the flight home – think Aston Martin DB11 Volante, Ferrari Portofino and perhaps Mercedes-Benz S Class. These could arguably all be considered competitors, but after spending a long day behind the wheel, it is safe to say that all of the aforementioned cars sit towards the sharper end of the sport vs comfort spectrum with the Bentley being the car with the wider breadth of ability. At €192,000 pre tax and options, it is a much more expensive purchase too. It really is in a category of its own.

Prototype Drive: 2020 Mercedes-AMG A45

It is supposed to straighten out the hierarchy in the sporty compact class, according to the terms of AMG in Affalterbach: The new Mercedes-AMG A 45, which comes to market in the summer of 2019 and boasts an output of considerably more than 400 hp. In terms of straight-line performance, it will not only outshine its immediate predecessor, but also the Audi RS3 and the BMW M2 Competition.

The 420 to 430 horsepower strong engine draws its power from 2 liters of displacement; the power is transmitted to all four wheels through a lightning-quick eight-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Even more important are lateral dynamics. Here, Mercedes-AMG has upped the ante: The rear axle can distribute the torque freely through a sophisticated system jointly developed with supplier Magna Powertrain. It ensures extreme agility and allows for controlled oversteer with unprecedented precision.

The system uses two electronically controlled clutches that can distribute the force between the two rear wheels in an instant. We were allowed to ride along in a prototype – and were convinced convince that in comparison with the regular “ESP Off” program, a drift can not only be more easily initiated, it is also much easier to maintain. In everyday use, this may not matter much, but on closed circuit it is a lot of fun. Roadholding at high speeds is improved by an optional aerodynamic package with “flics” and a remarkably big rear wing.

2020 Mercedes-AMG A45

The combination of a high-performance engine and a sporty chassis elevates the next AMG A 45 to performance car status. The brutally responsive engine is clearly audible, driver and passengers sit in tightly upholstered seats with plenty of lateral support, and in front of the driver, there is the latest MBUX dashboard which offers an unusual variety of customization options. The production car will feature AMG-specific screens. Decor and seat trim are AMG-specific as well.

Incidentally, the sensational technology of the new A45 is not limited to this model: there will also be an AMG CLA 45 and the AMG GLA 45 crossover, but the latter is not expected to appear until 2020. And if you don’t quite want to take the leap from the regular 250 models to the AMG 45 models, there is the Mercedes AMG A35 as well as its upcoming sister models CLA 35, GLA 35 and GLB 35, powered by a 306-horsepower engine. That is an impressive achievement. But the hierarchy is now redefined with the AMG 45.

VW Golf GTI TCR Road Car Review

VW had to drop their standard GTi leaving only their Golf GTi Performance Pack and in the current day culture of a niche-within-a-niche this seemed to be a problem.

So they’ve launched a newer, more powerful version above it. Which means the ‘Performance Pack’ is now technically the standard pack. And to add some confusion on top of that you can also get a Performance Pack for the new, more powerful, GTI TCR version.

What do you get with the GTI TCR? An increase of 20bhp to 290bhp which results in a 0.6s faster 0-100km/h and more aero bits like deeper side-skirts and a bigger diffuser.

To find out how it feels I was shipped off to Portugal to give it a go. It was my first time at the fantastic Portimao race track and was given the keys to a flat grey Golf GTI TCR with almost free will to thrash it around the track.

VW Golf GTI TCR

I got lucky with my allocated track day with cool dry conditions and on top of that I arrived before all the other journalists which allowed me the opportunity to hit the track immediately and on my own.

Since the VW Golf GTi is basically the 911 of the VW group it’s not easy to immediately tell how it differs to Golfs that have come before it. However upon whipping out my microscope I spotted the bigger diffuser and more aggressive front end containing bigger intakes and a splitter.

Once you get into the car you’ll have an easier time to tell it’s a bit special with uniquely sculpted seats, clothed in Alcantara and custom stitching and the steering wheel also has a neat red racing stripe to help you know which way you’re turning.

VW Golf GTI TCR

My favorite part though was the digital dial interface. It was really easy to use and the interface was intuitive enough that I learned my away around it in a few moments. The same cannot be said for the touch interface in the center console but more on that in a bit.

As familiar as the exterior is the same cannot be said for the driving experience. Having personally owned a few GTI’s in the past I do have a pretty good reference but I have to say that the TCR is quite a big step from previous generations.

Let’s start with the steering which is communicative and super sharp. If I just looked at the steering wheel the car wanted to turn and once you started turning the car responded beautifully.

VW Golf GTI TCR

As I approached the corner on the brakes I was struck by the ‘liveliness’ of the rear end, moving around just enough to give the feeling that the car is alive and by no means flat or overly-safe. You could even argue that it was too communicative for a Golf but personally I was enjoying myself so much that I hope all future fast-Golfs feel like this.

Heading towards the apex I anticipated a bunch of on-power understeer but was shocked to feel the car continuing to rotate around the corner and head to the exact place I wanted to be at the exit. Zero understeer. The new limited slip diff has been brilliantly calibrated but I think the electronics also do a good job of smoothly kicking-in in a natural way that does not detract from the experience.

Once completing my track time I headed out to some back roads which were even better than the track itself. Hard to believe. Once on some less refined tarmac it was immediately clear how stiff this car is compared to previous versions. Even at a medium speed the car was moving around a lot over the bumps which is very fun and involving for any driver but I can imagine this kind of character wearing you down over a long drive.

But I don’t think you buy this for the long drive. You buy this car because you love the way it feels. You buy it because you enjoy your driving and want your car to tell you exactly where it is at all times.

Criticisms? I do wish it was louder. After driving the race version of the GTI TCR it was even more apparent that this car could have gotten away with a bit more exhaust noise when in Sport mode. Given how the car feels on the road and the way it responds to your inputs the increased sound would have been justified.

VW Golf GTI TCR

I’m also not a fan of the latest touch screen trend as they’re distracting with overly complex interfaces. Just give me some buttons please.

But these are nitpicks. I like this car a lot and if it was my own money I’d have a hard time choosing something else.

The GTI is fast becoming the 911 of the hot-hatch world, evolutionary design with great build quality but more importantly incredibly fun to drive. It’s amazing how far this car has come since the Golf 5. Well done VW.

2019 Porsche Macan S Review

As a lover of sports cars I have a huge admiration of Porsche and their two door sports cars. The Boxster and Cayman have mid-engined poise and balance like noting else in the segment and don’t even get me started on the brilliance of every 911 in the range from the T, to the GTS to the unhinged GT models. Porsche define sports cars and set an example to the rest on how things should be done.

But now there are far more Porsche models on offer. When the Cayenne launched way back when I was a wee little lad, the world thought that the Germans had gone mad. When the Panamera launched the world thought the designers had gone blind. Then followed the Macan, a car that was an instant hit, because the world had gone barmy and suddenly everyone wanted an SUV to clog up narrow city streets and school drop off zones.

This epidemic has continued and now we live in a world where Porsche sells more Macans than any other model. This is great for two simple reasons. The Macan is brilliant and selling shed loads of Macans, Panameras and Cayennes means that Porsche can reinvest profits into the cars that the rest of the world and I love them for – the bonkers things such as the GT2 RS et al.

So the Macan is the bread winner, the golden child, the cash cow if you will – this makes it extremely important. It must be good and for this reason I flew to Mallorca to see what was what. Initial impressions are great – my buddy Philipp Rupprecht shot the official press pictures of the updated Macan and it looked great under the studio lights. The front end is not wildly different to the first gen car. The rear is a similar story, the most notable change being the lightsaber rear light beam that is now the norm on the buttocks of every Porsche. I liked the look of the old car, I love the look of the new one.

Enough of the styling, what this this new car like on the road? Porsche boldly opens the press materials with the statement that the new Macan is ‘the sports car in its segment’. The seating position immediately suggests that they are on to something – you sit nice and low and the steering wheel comes to meet you. It’s a little bizarre, but it is positive in a car that weighs 2,500 kilograms. The drivetrain continues the sporty connotations with a 3.0-litre petrol, twin-scroll turbocharged V6 nestled under the bonnet on the Macan S – this same unit can be found in the Cayenne and Panamera. This is, of course, linked to Porsche’s PDK which we all know to be sublime. Being an SUV, the power is fed to all four wheels via the PTM all-wheel drive system.

With 354 horsepower the Macan S is spritely for a midsized SUV sprinting to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and ploughing onto a top speed of 225km/h. What is interesting is how the Macan S is able to be driven with gusto on twisty roads and manage its weight very well. The car I was driving was fitted with the Sport Chrono package meaning that features the drive mode switch. In Sport and Sport+ the air suspension is stiffened to fight body roll and works with the Porsche Stability Management systems to make this the most dynamically capable Macan yet. Furthermore, new engine mounts manage the movement of the engine.

There is a smidgen of feedback from the steering wheel, a feat for such a car, there is always a sense that you can feel what the chassis is doing beneath you. Driving the car for several hours a few things instantly became clear. The car is happy to be driven in anger and handles well for a car of this nature, but more importantly, it is a sublime and comfortable car to drive at a more leisurely pace. That being said, the sound of the engine in the upper half of the rev range is disappointing. It does not sound smooth, to the extent that it could pass as a diesel to the untrained ear.

The aforementioned air suspension irons out bumps and craters as if they were filled with marshmallow and it is extremely quiet and gentle on highway cruises. This is where Macans will almost entirely spend their lives – going to the supermarket, dropping children to and from schools and occasionally doing a longer drive on a long weekend or vacation.

For tasks such as these the Macan shines. The interior, complete with Panamera like screen and displays is fantastic with fabulous materials and build quality. There is a small army of driver aids and tech and the updated styling, in and out will be a huge success. The Macan S is sure to still be the segment leader.

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Review

The Trackhawk is a riddle to most people. They have trouble grasping it’s purpose, it’s very existence. This is because it completely flies in the face of everything that Jeep has every marketed itself to be. For decades, Jeep has held itself out as the manufacturer of the most capable off-roading, go-anywhere, do-anything vehicles in the world. “Trail Rated” has been their tagline and it has reinforced that image of rugged, capable machines that will keep it’s owners safe in the worst of conditions. If a zombie apocalypse occurs, Jeep is the vehicle you want to be driving. Heck, if the actual Apocalypse occurs, Jeep is the vehicle you want to be driving.

The Trackhawk though….the Trackhawk is something different. Something new. And while it may seem out of place in Jeep’s line-up, it’s really not.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee has been around for a few decades now. One of the original luxury SUV’s, it quickly developed a following among the upwardly mobile executive set at a time when the Western world was taking an interest in the environment and the outdoors again. Its capable on-demand four-wheel drive made it an excellent choice for middle-class buyers in America’s snowbelt and the empty stretches of the mountainous West. It’s comfortable and stylish interior and safety features made it an excellent choice for everyone else. While the Grand Cherokee is capable, most never leave paved roads. They are comfortable daily drivers that promise capability and safety while carrying the family and a load of groceries or towing the boat to the lake for the day. Someone at Jeep probably used their Grand Cherokee to tow their race car to the track on weekends, then – as these things usually happen – after a few beers and some good pizza, began to wonder if you could modify the Grand Cherokee so that it could actually RUN at the track.

This idea was probably furthered during a late night at the office while working on another project. Other Jeep and Chrysler engineers probably enthusiastically jumped onboard the “What If” session and the ideas started flowing. The end result is incredible. What they ended up with was a Grand Cherokee with an electrically adjustable Bilstein active-damping race suspension system, massive Brembo anti-lock performance brakes, and sticky steamroller-width Pirelli P-Zero performance tires. But what to power it with? Why not the 707 hp supercharged 6.2L Hemi V8 SRT Hellcat engine? That should move the heavy SUV along with some pep. I suspect that many beer cans were bumped together to cheers over this idea. But how to sell it to management? One good double-dog dare later and the project was green lit for production. God bless America and the employees at Fiat-Chrysler.

That, in a nutshell, is what we have here. It defies all your pre-conceived notions of what a Jeep is, what a Jeep should be, what a Jeep CAN be. People we explained it to were confused, scared even. “707 hp in a Jeep?! That’s ridiculous! That sounds dangerous!” It does actually. But does it work?

Good Lord, does it ever! We’re flying down a tree-lined backroad, exceeding the speed limit by a quite a lot but there’s so much power left to play with that it’s mind-boggling to consider too deeply. And anyway, we’re too busy looking waaaaaay up the road, watching for trouble. The suspension beneath us feels solidly planted. The roar of the engine explodes through the quiet country air, leaving it torn to ribbons of wind and sound as we weave through the curves on this delightful road. We pull the left paddle behind the steering wheel – yes, it has paddle shifters for its 8-speed transmission – to drop a gear as we approach a curve. There’s little lean through the corner and as soon as we’re through it we mash the throttle and the Grand Cherokee shoots up the road even faster before we upshift. Upshift again. The engine note drops but the sound is still ferocious. A squirrel starts to cross in front of us, but then thinks better of it and literally leaps back off the road. It wants no part of the Trackhawk or the incredible sound the big supercharged V8 makes. It sounds awesome. We’re impressed and having a ball.

On the outside, it’s easy to overlook the Trackhawk’s defining features that make it distinct from it’s more, ah, normal siblings. The black 20” wheels and the massive slotted brake discs and shoebox-sized yellow Brembo brake calipers are the biggest giveaways. The low stance is another. Only the most eagle-eyed observers will notice the four large exhaust pipes jutting out from under the rear valence. The slots in the front grill are shorter in height than on the standard model. There are an additional three horizontal slots beneath them. The other openings are all larger to duct more air into the hot engine bay. Overall, it’s a very sharp and aggressive looking SUV.

Inside you’ll find highly-bolstered leather seats, a thick grippy steering wheel, paddle shifters, and a very high-end feeling interior. Everyone who climbed into it immediately commented on how nice the interior was. And they’re right. It IS nice. It’s the kind of car you could drive all day and not grow weary. Especially with electrically-adjustable heated and ventilated front seats, a 19-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system, a heated steering wheel, heated leather rear seats and a huge cargo area. So it’s very luxurious. Is it practical? It sure is. With the rear seats folded flat, the cargo area is enormous.

As nice as the Grand Cherokee is, the main attraction in the Trackhawk is the massive engine under the hood. The SRT Hellcat engine is amazing. Not terrifically fuel efficient, but amazing nonetheless. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no problem in life that seven-hundred (and seven!) horsepower and six-hundred and forty-five lb-ft of torque can’t overcome and render a faint memory once you’ve stomped the throttle. It simply explodes up the road. With launch control engaged, we managed a 3.7 second time to 60 mph. Mind you, this is in a 2.5 ton SUV. Utterly mind-boggling. Launch control will literally scramble your neural synapses, leaving you confused but giddy as a schoolgirl with a new crush, as it accelerates away from a dead stop. Passing distance isn’t an issue. Mash the throttle and by the time your foot hits the carpet, you’ve already passed the slower car. Jeep says it’ll hit 180 mph and while i didn’t attempt it, I certainly believe it. And the sounds it makes – WOW. My knees get weak just listening to it idle. Make it roar and I nearly faint.

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Interior

The Hellcat engine is mated to FCA’s burly 8-speed automatic transmission that allows the driver to utilize paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Left in automatic mode, it intelligently cracks off shifts and knows what gear to be in before you do. Eight speeds helps a bit with fuel economy, but it can only do so much with the thirsty Hellcat engine. We averaged 10.5 mpg while driving it, which is only a few mpg less than EPA estimates.

Bilstein’s active damping race suspension is also nothing short of amazing. It keeps the ride firm but not harsh, eliminates almost all of the lean through corners, and virtually eliminates squat and dive. Bumps and potholes come through a soft jostles but aren’t harsh at all. There are 5 drive modes that you can dial in: Normal, Sport, Race, Snow, and Tow. Sport and Race respectively up the ante as far as reducing computerized traction and stability control while quickening the responses of the throttle, steering, and transmission. Snow dulls that responsiveness and actively splits the torque 50% front and 50% rear to more capably and safely handle inclement weather and bad roads. This is different from the normal “4wd-on-Demand” that sends power to the front axle when needed. Lastly, Tow helps you pull a trailer by keeping the transmission in the torque band and using the engine to brake the load as much as the brakes themselves. It’s capable of pulling 7200lbs, which isn’t too shabby.

Did I mention the Brembo brakes? They stop this smooth but heavy brute easily and quickly. The six-piston calipers are enormous and straddle equally large slotted rotors that completely fill the empty space inside the barrel of the 20” wheels. They can be a little grabby at low speeds but man do they work well when you need them. The braking power can literally hang you up in the seat belts.

What flaws does it have though? Well, besides the abysmal fuel economy, none that we could find. And we weren’t that put off by the fuel economy when we were reduced to hysterical tears of laughter every time we mashed the throttle.

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The Trackhawk starts at $86,200. Our test vehicle stickered at $101,610. Not cheap, but it’s a LOT of car for the money and there are few family haulers as capable and versatile as the Trackhawk. You probably can’t name another luxurious track-capable, towing-capable, family hauler that will do 0-60 in 3.7 seconds and top out at 180mph with a load of groceries and two kids late for soccer practice; let alone at that price.

I’m really not sure how the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk managed to get built but I’m glad it did. If it all started as I theorized, with an engineer wondering if a Grand Cherokee could make a decent track car, I’m sure he’s pretty pleased with his little experiment. Trackhawk owners will be just as pleased with his idea. It seems crazy to build a 707 hp Jeep with serious track credentials, yet here it is and it’s just that great. Here’s to the engineers at Fiat-Chrysler for their enthusiasm that keeps we gearheads grinning.

Fiat 124 Spider Review

The Fiat 124 Spider comes with a 1.4 liter four cylinder MultiAir petrol engine. It produces 140hp and 240Nm of torque. It is available with a 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual gearbox. Our test car comes with the manual gearbox which does 0-100 km/h in 7.5 seconds (the automatic is 0.1 seconds slower) and it tops out at 217 km/h. The rear-wheel drive spider weighs 1.125 kg – it is this combination of low weight and rear-wheel drive that defines its character.

The Fiat 124 Spider forms a modern interpretation of the Fiat 124 Sport Spider which was built from 1966 until 1985. True to the 1966 original it is again offered with a 1.4 liter four cylinder engine and a long elegant bonnet and low seating position. The drawbacks of the beautiful proportions are a relative small cabin and small luggage compartment.

It is no secret that the Fiat 124 Spider shares components with the Mazda MX-5 and it is not being build in Italy but in Japan. Similar to Toyota and BMW sharing development of the Supra and Z4 it is a way for Fiat and Mazda to save costs on development which should deliver a better product at a lower price.

The interior is quite simple and elegant with clear lines and only the necessary buttons. The extensive use of leather gives it an Italian touch. The 124 Spider is certainly not a car for tall people – everybody over 1.80m in length will struggle to find a comfortable seating position.

People looking for sport buttons and electronic gadgets are in the wrong car. The Fiat 124 Spider is more purist than many purist Porsches. The roof can be opened manually with one hand by just flicking one lever and pushing it down behind the seats until you hear it click.

Performance wise you can’t expect too much from the 1.4 liter engine. On my little autobahn run from Munich to Starnberg it took the entire length of the highway to reach just over 200 km/h. But it is not about top speed. It is about enjoying nice country roads with the roof down. And while doing just that along Lake Starnberg in Bavaria I’m enjoying this little Spider.

It is not the fastest but it steers and handles well, it draws a lot more attention than I would have ever imagined and it is very affordable.

One thing I truly miss with the Fiat 124 Spider is a proper sound. At no point through the gears and up and down the rev range did it sound good to me. And that is a real shame.

2019 Citroen DS3 Crossback E-Tense Review

Electrics are moving into the mainstream, and here’s yet another one that will fit the needs of a growing number of customers: French carmaker PSA is launching the DS3 Crossback E-Tense, a fully electric derivative of the conventionally powered DS3 Crossback. Both were launched at an event in Versailles last week.

Powered by a Continental-supplied 136-horsepower electric motor that drives the front wheels, the DS3 Crossback E-Tense reaches 100 kph in a respectable 8,7 seconds and reaches a top speed of 93 mph – a bit slower in acceleration than the BMW i3 and significantly slower than the Tesla Model 3.

That’s not great for Germany, with its unlimited Autobahnen, but it is sufficient for virtually every other market in the world – particularly since DS is adamant the car will be able to sustain its terminal velocity until it runs out of charge. That’s in stark contrast to Tesla, whose models typically fail to deliver peak performance for more than a few minutes.

The DS3 Crossback E-Tense will be able to get around 200 miles on a full charge (though not at full speed), measured in the new and ultra-challenging European cycle. On a fast-charge station, it can be recharged to 80 per cent within a half hour. Actually, PSA had considered offering a version with less battery capacity, but the brand says that their top priority is changing the perception of electrics as short-range vehicles. A lesser version may follow later.

Design and attention to detail is where this French crossover really shines. The interior is incredibly futuristic, down to details like the gear selector. There are no less than six trim levels, all of which feature a distinct look and top-notch materials. Every part looks and feels expensive, and quite simply, there is no electric on the market with a similarly well-executed interior.

Fit and finish are exemplary

Tesla’s models, in particular, are cobbled together with low-quality parts, but the DS3 Crossback also eclipses the funky BMW i3 and other electrics. There’s a plethora of electronic assistance systems, and the DS3 Crossback E-Tense can be specified with a head-up display – another feature sorely missed in its competitors.

Okay, the flush door handles look like they’ve been taken straight from Tesla. But in the DS3 Crossback, they move out electrically, a design that beats the cheap, mechanical system of the Model 3. And unlike on the Model S, they move out at an easy-to-grab angle. The matrix LED headlights are a marvel of technology and style, and the taillights are three-dimensional. The sharkfin B-pillar is a reminiscence of the smaller DS3, PSA’s conventionally powered Mini competitor that will go out of production in a year or so.

Individualisation is what DS is great at: Beyond the six interior styles, the DS3 Crossback comes with a choice of ten exterior colours, ten wheel styles and three different roof colours. It’s a level of complexity other carmakers have failed to achieve.

Priced at close to 40,000 euros without any rebates, the DS3 Crossback E-Tense comes to market in mid-2019. It will compete directly with the ageing BMW i3, and it significantly undercuts the more powerful but deeply flawed Tesla Model 3, which currently retails on the US market for upwards from USD 49,000 (its promised entry-level version for USD 35,000 is a piece of fiction).

PSA, by the way, has announced its intent to move into the US market. We wouldn’t be surprised if this strategy were spearheaded by the upmarket DS brand, which was spun off Citroën in 2016.

And here’s perhaps the ultimate advantage of the DS3 Crossback: If you have not bought into the gospel of the EV, you can also get it with a range of highly efficient diesel and gasoline engines – from EUR 25,000 upwards.

2018 Mazda6 Signature Edition Review

We first test drove the Mazda6 GT last year. We were excited to try it out but found it….well, not quite up to GT Spirit standards. It was a decent car. In fact, after a few days we found ourselves really beginning to enjoy driving the car. But it really wasn’t a great car. The first problem we had with the car was that it seemed to allow too much wind and road noise into the cockpit. The 6 never held itself out to be the equivalent of a Mercedes E-class, but the additional noise gave it a cheap feel that wasn’t worthy of the price tag it carried. It was also woefully underpowered. Mazda has never followed the crowd when it came to power. They’ve preferred to prioritize overall driving feel and handling. However, the 6 that we drove really needed a horsepower infusion. So when Mazda announced that the 2019 Mazda6 would offer a turbo engine, we thought we’d give it a second look.

Mazda delivered us a 6 Signature Edition, with the turbocharged 2.5L engine, in the stunning Soul Red. The color looks good enough to eat. Or at least lick. The body style, updated last year, is a pleasant if subtle improvement. The chrome accents on the front of the car now extend into the headlights and set off the design with some brightwork. The grille retains it’s attractive shape and the front fenders still swoop dramatically over the front wheels. The sheetmetal then curves subtlety over the rear wheels. Another chrome accent connects the tail lights. It’s a very attractive design and the deep rich red paint sets off the beautiful lines nicely.

Inside, they’ve utilized a rich pallet of materials to make the passengers comfortable. Soft brown leather, ultra suede, and Japanese Sen wood are used together to create a comfortable and visually relaxing environment for the driver and passengers. The Signature Edition, Mazda’s top-of-the-line version, comes complete with all the modern conveniences you’d expect: heated and ventilated seats, blind spot sensors, a better stereo system, rich leather – you name it. The car is much better insulated against noise, vibration, and harshness. It’s built like a vault, with nary a squeak or rattle, and limits road and wind noise also. There is plenty of leg room in both the front and rear seats for adult passengers. The trunk is enormous, with plenty of room for luggage or groceries.

The turbocharged 2.5L 4-cylinder engine is great and a welcome improvement. The powerfully torquey engine makes 227hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, which is quite a jump from 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. It feels surprisingly like a V8 all throughout the rev range. You can easily spin the front wheels when taking off. While it doesn’t feel as zippy as a lot of other turbo four-cylinder engines, it feels immensely powerful. Like a much larger engine than what it is. When coming out of a corner fast, you’ll find the typical turbo lag down low but it’s minimal and the torque curve quickly overwhelms the deficit. You just have to plan to get on the throttle quicker when going through corners fast. Otherwise, in normal everyday driving conditions the engine is responsive, fast, and just oozes torque.

While the Mazda6 is one of the last sedans to be offered with a manual transmission in the U.S., choosing the Signature Edition and the turbo engine means you can only get a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The transmission is nicely geared for every day driving, and there’s a “Sport” button that quickens the shifts and holds lower gears longer to take advantage of the more responsive nature. The paddle shifters work pretty well, but we enjoyed letting the automatic transmission do it’s thing.

The suspension is firm but comfortable too. It’s not too firm and not too soft, but just about perfect for everyday driving. It’s refined but playful. It corners confidently, doing what you ask and expect of it. It absorbs rough road imperfections well providing a pleasant ride, and keeps road and wind noise to a minimum.

The wheels are stylish 19” aluminum alloy wheels shod with Falken Ziex all-season tires. The tires aren’t the most sporting tires around but a lot of options exist in their size. The 19” wheels provide enough room for some quality anti-lock disk brakes and they do a phenomenal job of slowing the car down fast with great feel and control.

The Mazda 6 Signature Edition is a welcome improvement to the line-up. It’s more refined, more powerful, and it’s a great all-around car for the driver that likes both sport and refinement.

Official: 2019 Porsche Macan

Porsche may have created and dominated the segment of sporty crossover SUVs with the Macan, but the model has been somewhat eclipsed by the competition: The second-gen Audi Q5 stands on the more modern MLB Evo architecture, and the BMW X3/X4 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC offer actual coupe versions. Now Porsche has facelifted the Macan, added new engines and upgraded its electronics significantly.

Under the hood, there is an entirely new generation of V-6 engines, co-developed with Audi: The Macan S is now fitted with a 3.0-V6 turbo that makes 354 horsepower, and the Macan Turbo gets a 2.9 V-6 biturbo that’s rated at 440-horsepower. A Macan S D will follow, fitted with a 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel that makes around 300 horsepower, and some markets keep the wildly popular Macan base model, fitted with a 2.0-liter turbo four, rated a 245 horsepower. All models keep the 7-speed Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, a “wet” dual-clutch automatic.

Future derivatives will include a Macan GTS with around 380 horsepower, and possibly a Macan Turbo Performance Package with close to 500 horsepower. There will be no plug-in hybrid, which we don’t think is much of a loss.

The chassis has been slightly tweaked, and the Macan’s 18- to 21-inch wheel portfolio features a few new entries. Inside, the infotainment system is entirely new and now operates on a level with the Cayenne and the Panamera. The voice control system works better, the cruise control now offers enhanced stop-and-go assistance, and the touch screen grows from a modest 7 inches to a full 11 inches, forcing the air vents below. And, lo and behold, you can get an ionisator, for whatever its placebo effect is worth.

The Sport Chrono package now includes the red “Sport Response Button” that’s a fixture in Porsche’s other lineups equipped with the package. The fat stopwatch remains atop the dashboard, in stark contrast to the otherwise angular and futuristic ambience. The optional GT steering wheel gets smaller in diameter.

Up front, the Macan looks a bit wider and it comes with new LED headlights, but the real changes are in the rear: The wide, three-segment taillight stretches across the entire tail, and it makes the car look a bit more contemporary than before. The Turbo model gets exclusive bumper treatment.

The facelifted Macan comes to dealers in the autumn, targeting the upmarket versions of the Audi Q5, the BMW X3 and X4, the Jaguar F-Pace, and the Mercedes-Benz GLC. We think it will continue to do well on global markets.

2018 Peugeot 508 Review

A new mid-size sedan by Peugeot? It is safe to assume that this bit of news leaves the GTspirit community somewhat cold. Sure, the French have built some “hot hatches”, notably the 205 GTI, and some still remember the handsome 406 Coupé. But Peugeot is best known for sensible, affordable sedans. Why should we even look at the new 508?

Have a look at it and decide for yourself: The 508 has morphed from a bread-and-butter sedan into one of the few four-door coupes on the market – sized bigger than the Mercedes-Benz CLA but smaller than the CLS or the Volkswagen Arteon. From the low, aggressive front with LED “fangs” to the sloping roofline and the wide taillights, this is one of the fastest-looking four-doors this year. And it’s not just the styling elements. The proportions are right, too.

Open the frameless doors, and you encounter a cockpit executed in a hyper-futuristic design language, with “piano keys” on the center console and a small, thick and somewhat angular steering wheel positioned so low you need to view the digital cluster above. The top-level GT model is available with pretty awesome”gray oak” wood.

Incidentally, the electronic instrumentation used in the top models also offers a setting that displays the speedometer and tachometer in the form of a rolling drum – a nice flashback of French automotive history. But there is room for improvement: Since Peugeot competes in the cost-conscious volume segment, some of the materials are merely adequate. I also wasn’t very impressed with the built-in navigation system that tried to send me off the path more than once.

But what matters more are the powertrains. During the launch in Monte Carlo, I skipped the “fleet engines” and focused on both top-level engines: A 2.0-liter, 180-horsepower turbodiesel and a 1.6-liter, 225-horsepower petrol engine. Both are mated to an eight-speed, torque-converter-style automatic transmission. Depite its lower power rating, the diesel delivers more torque – a whopping 400 Nm. 0-100 kph takes 8.3 seconds, top speed is 235 kph. It it quick, quiet and responsive.

The top gasoline engine, rated at 300 Nm maximum torque, can do 0-100 kph in 7.3 seconds and reach a lofty 250 kph. But it sounds a bit more strained than the diesel, and its fuel consumption means you won’t get quite as far. Next year, Peugeot will launch a plug-in hybrid. Judging from my experience with this type of powerplant, my advice is clear: Don’t wait for it.

Surprisingly, the selectable drive modes have no effect on the engine sound. But the different settings for the electronically controlled chassis are clearly noticeable. Depending on your driving style, it is easy to find a good compromise between comfort and sportiness. The compact and flattened steering wheel supports the impression of go-kart-like handling.

In addition to the 508 sedan, there will be an equally sporty and elegant station wagon this autumn. If you, or anyone in your family, happens to be shopping for a sensible car in the EUR 30-50K range, I’d say the surprisingly cool and sporty Peugeot 508 is worth looking at. I did, and I liked it.

First Impression: 2019 Audi Q8

Like it or not, the crossover SUV segment is here to stay: It has become wildly popular in virtually every price range. The market niche that interests us most, of course, is the premium luxury category. And while there are many interesting entries, few of them are coupes. In fact, there is only the BMW X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, and perhaps also the Range Rover Sport. Now they will face formidable competition from a new contender: The Audi Q8, an SUV coupe that is based on the Q7.

Even though the Q8 won’t be offered a third row of seats, it retains the wheelbase of the Q7. And thus, it dwarfs the competition from Stuttgart and Munich. Moreover, while the X6 and the GLE Coupe are clearly just derivatives of the X5 and the regular GLE, the Q8 features a completely different style. While the Q7 is an aestetically challenged holdover from a former design era, the Q8 epitomizes the new styling language conceived by chief designer Marc Lichte.

When Audi invited us to go along with the technical project director, Dr.-Ing. Werner Kummer, for a test round, we didn’t think twice. So here we are: Pulling the handle slightly, the door lock opens electrically. And like in a real sports car, the side windows are frameless. The dashboard is still covered, but it is clearly visible: The Q8 takes Audi’s SUV interiors to the next level. It is more A8 than Q7.

Just as expected, the Q8 is equipped with an ultra-fast telematics and infotainment system that offers multiple customisation options. The space is extremely generous, even in the rear. Surprisingly, Audi only plans to offer a five-seat layout. If one car is predestined for single second-row seats, this is it.

The Q8 is fitted with five-link axles front and rear, and the chassis is available in three variants: A steel suspension with damper control is standard, and as an option, Audi offers a regular and a sporty level of its air suspension. An optional four-wheel steering system reduces the turning circle at low speeds and enhances high stability at autobahn velocites. Power is sent to all four wheels through a mechanical center differential.

On our test lap, the Q8 prototype mastered bumpy roads confidently, and it charged through fast corners with virtually no body roll. The chassis offers high reserves and is tuned more sharply than the Q7’s. The standard progressive steering becomes more direct with an increasing steering lock angle.

In Europe, the Q8 will be launched with a 3.0-liter V6 TDI engine with 48-volt hybridization; a V6 gasoline engine will be added later, and we suspect Audi will add SQ8 or RSQ8 models later, powered by V-8 gasoline and diesel engines. Meanwhile, the V6 TDI, whose exact performance figures Audi keeps secret, leaves little to be desired. Except for a bit of sound: It is almost eerily quiet.

Going forward, all engines will be coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission. And on the vast majority of markets, they will be fitted with 48 volt-hybridization (except for a possible high-voltage plug-in hybrid).

In Europe, the Audi Q8 comes to market this summer. Prices are not fixed yet. But one thing is clear already: With its futuristic shape, its clean and powerful engines and its perfectly integrated infotainment system, it will give the competition a lot to chew on.

2018 Range Rover P400e Plug-in Hybrid Review

It’s the beginning of a new era at Jaguar Land Rover with the launch of the Range Rover P400e, their first Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), pronounced ‘Pee HEV’. Prices start from £86,965 and the order books are open. It is JLR’s first combined electric motor and combustion engine powertrain although this quintessentially british luxury 4×4 chariot is still available in petrol and diesel variants, with the introduction of the new Ingenium engines.

Diesels are no longer in favour and governments around the world are doing their best to kill the combustion engine all together. We are witnessing the emergence of MEVs, BEVs, PHEVs and EVs! These are the only choices we’ll be making in the not too distant future after the demise of the combustion engine but for the time being a PHEV is the only choice at the JLR camp for anything electric.

The First impression of the Range Rover P400e were the exterior tweaks which include a flap cleverly disguised in the front grill hiding the plug-in charger and the new light clusters housing new pixel laser LED lights.

The other notable visual improvement is the upgraded interior which includes the Touch Pro Duo infotainment system. Probably one of the best dashboards in any modern car today. Paul Ray and his interior design team have breathed some magic on the already luxurious cabin by making it even better. They have created an environment that is both visually beautiful, highly functional and oh so comfortable. After-all any car offering 25 seat massage options including Hot-Stone wins my vote although you’ll have to read to the end of the article to find out whether there was a happy ending.

The P400e combines the new JLR Ingenium 2.0L 4-cylinder petrol engine providing 300PS (221kW) power with a 116PS (85kW) electric motor, together delivering 404PS (297kW) or combined power. The permanent four-wheel drive system will move you from 0-100km/h (0-60mph) in 6.8 seconds with a top speed of 220km/h (137mph). The electrified powertrain only emits 64g/km on the NEDC combined cycle and has an all-electric range of up to 51km (31 miles) without the Ingenium engine running. Electric rapid charging takes 2hrs 45mins via a 32amp wall box or 7hrs 30mins from a standard 10 amp home charging cable supplied as standard.

The JLR engineers have done a great job making the motor and engine work seamlessly together and when you need to get a pace on it certainly feels much quicker than what you would expect from a 2.0L engine. The power delivery is smooth and predictable aided by an 8-speed ZF auto gearbox. It’s actually very impressive considering that the combined forces of the electric motor and engine are pulling a nearly three ton carriage!

With 640Nm of torque the P400e was also a joy to drive off-road with its superior traction and rugged capabilities that we have all come to expect on all Land Rovers. The P400e was no exception and dealt with mud, ruts, rivers and snow with more refinement than combustion driven alternatives.

I developed a love hate relationship with the P400e as it was the complete package in both ‘Parallel Hybrid’ mode and ‘All Electric’ mode. As a V8 combustion engine enthusiast I found that there was something very special about the PHEV model. I developed a craving to experience the serenity that the ’All Electric’ mode provided, by wafting through urban jungles in total silence and with the satisfaction that I wasn’t polluting the atmosphere, not one little bit. But the batteries emptied too quickly and I wanted more, more tranquillity, more relaxation, more thinking time, more peaceful motoring. With 6mm thicker glass all round and in ‘All Electric’ mode, without kids or animals in the car, all that could be heard was the crisp tone of the Meridian Sound System. Stop the music and you can hear a pin drop and it was oh so calming and so very relaxing. A wonderful place to leave the stresses of modern day life behind just for that trip or rather just for those 51 precious kilometres.

The only stress caused by the P400e was pressing the ‘Save Electric Power’ button and deciding when to use that ‘All Electric’ power without consuming it all at the beginning of a long journey, never-the-less a great feature. That said, with batteries empty the car drove surprisingly well on the 2.0L engine without the help of the electric motor although it sounded unrefined when pushed hard.

For the school run, local commute and general urban driving the P400e PHEV would be the only option if you want a Range Rover and never want to see a petrol station again. However, if traveling further on a daily basis then the more conventional combustion engine options would have more appeal. Never-the-less you are sure to have a happy ending after every trip in the P400e PHEV as you arrive at your destination in complete silence.

Words by Paul Tarantino