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Special Report: Grand Touring in The McLaren GT

‘I’m sorry, I know it’s a Saturday, but I’ve been called into work. I’ll see you tonight if I can escape. If you can, please could you pick up cheese bread and chocolate. Everything will be closed before I’m back. I know we had plans today but I’ll make it up to you! Xx’

This really is how my weekend began. Empty bed, thwarted plans and no chocolate to drown my sorrows with. There was, however, a silver lining to be exploited – I had the keys to a McLaren GT, rather than crawling through Mayfair traffic before posing aimlessly outside Novikov, I could cancel my, now redundant, lunch reservation and do what the McLaren GT was designed to do – pick up bread, cheese and chocolate. The local Daylesford Farm Store and Wholefoods were too close to justify driving and did not present a tantalising driving experience. My partner’s insatiable workaholism was only matched by her equally unhealthy appetite for chocolate and all things sweet. It was still early, what if…

90 minutes later I’m approaching the warmly familiar check in booths at the Folkestone end of the now ironically named Eurotunnel. Why? Well, why settle for anything less than the best of chocolates when I could stretch the legs of the McLaren and bag the best chocolates anywhere in world to sweeten the mood of my horrendously overworked and under appreciated lady friend – as win win scenarios go, I can think of few better.

The Eurotunnel Terminal presents well known surroundings, this feeling continues as I recite my algebraic coffee order to the tired, eye bag plagued Starbucks barista that soullessly wishes me a safe journey. I respond to her well-wishes with ‘I’m only popping over to get some chocolate’. I imagine she feels that she is dreaming and/or delirious. I nonchalantly head back out to duck under the GT’s dihedral door before sinking into the leather and alcantara cocoon. The only smell better than warm caffeine may well be the surroundings in which I am drinking it in.

Passport checked, ‘random’ drugs test completed (they really just wanted to nose around the GT), I held my breath as the wheels of the McLaren rhythmically trundled over the metal carriage breaks just centimetres away from a gut wrenching scrape against the train’s metal curbs. My perfected imitation of a dog with its head out of the window ensures the safety of the very smart diamond cut wheels. Coffee emptied and MPH swapped to KM/H, it was time to see how good a cruiser the GT really was.

The French darkness shrouded the autoroutes and invited the GT to stretch its legs. This is a car that presents credentials that are unusual in a McLaren, but one which maintains a crucial McLaren: being ferociously fast. Ignore the 0-100km/h time of 3.2 seconds, that might seem quick, but the acceleration when you’re up and running is what really boggles the mind. In second or third gear, anything about 4,000rpm is as fast as you would expect any McLaren to be. In my mind, the performance is not where this car needs to make a point, it is every other measurable GT element that needs to shine.

This journey is not my first in the GT, I drove the car on the press launch that was set on the French Riviera. It is all too easy to get caught up in the romance of the scenario, the weather and the fabulous roads. This drive to Bruges would emulate something far more realistic, less fabricated and very varied. I had already crawled through London, felt the ride on harsh concrete British motorways leading to the English Channel and was now floating over the billiard table smooth Autoroute. France comes to end in a snoozy blink, Belgium is up next and the surface worsens. With the ‘Active’ panel engaged and handling and powertrain modes both is comfort, the ride is supple and the engine quiet, murmuring at 1,200 rpm. On a 130km/h cruise this 327km/h McLaren sips just 8l/100km (30mpg), that being said, the 72 litre fuel tank means stops are more frequent than you would hope for continent swallowing GT car. Then again, getting out to look at the car every couple of hours is no bad thing.

The reception from fellow road users, petrol station attendants and generally, anyone you pass in the car, is exceptional. Perhaps it is that it does not scream, ‘LOOK AT ME’ like an 720S or carbon clad 600LT, until you open the doors at least, but comments of the elegance and maturity of the design are plenty.

Creeping into Bruges minutes before sunrise presents the perfect opportunity to enjoy the iconic sights of the Markt Square void of the teams of tourists that are attracted by the medieval architecture and the charm of the waterways that snake in-between. Finished in Black Ingot, this is the most subdued McLaren I have piloted. The paint appears to be a rather boring black, but park it in any light, sunlight or artificial street light, and the car glistens as if coated in glitter. McLaren are unrivalled in their creativity and sparkle offered in their paint options. As the sun peeks between the turrets and spires, the complexity of the shapes that forms the body panels of the GT are highlighted. It is dramatic, but in a different way.

Enough of the architecture, I was here for a purpose. As the sun rose, the quaint shop shutters did too, the smell of fresh bread lingered in the crisp morning air. Bruges is awash with chocolatiers, all of which boast they are the best in Belgium, and therefore the world. Chocolates bagged, cheese soon followed – mission accomplished, with time to spare. A chocolate and banana waffle, two coffees and a nap in the McLaren later, it was time to crawl out of the perilously narrow car park and back to the Eurotunnel. By mid-morning all but one of the roads in the UNESCO World Heritage Site remains open to traffic to allow cars in and out of this car park. The pedestrian is king in the daylight, my cue to leave.

Upon arrival to Bruges, I felt fine with no backache or considerable fatigue. The beauty of a true GT is the absence of tiredness on a long journey, such as this. En route to Calais I begin to feel a little tired, my body was beginning to feel uncomfortable in the ‘Comfort Seats’. The noise of the V8 started to intrude and I felt the need to pull into the services to take a break. It must be said, this feeling of weariness came after 10 hours into my adventure and chances are I would have felt agitated driving a Rolls-Royce at this point, but the McLaren was taking more of a toll on my body than a Bentley Continental GT would have. A massage seat wouldn’t have gone amiss either. It is creature comforts where the McLaren lacks. It is, indeed, a McLaren and the purpose of it is to be very fast, something it does fantastically. With that in mind, the absence of massage seats, Apple Car Play and self parking capabilities are not as crucial as they would be in other cars.

It is when you write a list of missing options that it becomes clear that many GT car buyers, that are not so hellbent on going supercar fast, may start to look elsewhere. Yes, I can live without active cruise control, lane keeping assist and blind spot assist – but it is nice to know that you do have them helping you out on a long drive. You can relax and be a little fresher when you arrive at your favourite mountain pass or coastal road.

Boarding the train back to the UK gives me another chance to reflect and relish another quick nap. This is a GT car, it can do journeys like the one I was about to complete, but it will do it in its own McLaren style. It will get you to your favourite road with a boot full of luggage, then challenge you and blow your mind when you unleash its turbocharged fury. Buyers of a McLaren GT will treasure that high adrenaline, intense offering that no other GT car can offer. They will also know that there are more comfortable GTs on the market. This is the drivers GT and the tradeoff is obvious, it is unashamedly McLaren and for that I cannot help but admire it.


The Coronavirus and the Lockdown of the Car Industry

The rapid spread of the coronavirus is taking large parts of the world by storm. The car industry is hard hit and also at GTspirit we feel the effects of the coronavirus. Our GTspirit Tour 2020 is postponed and due to the many travel restrictions, closed borders and recommendation to stay home most car launches and other car related events have been cancelled. We wish all of our readers the best and recommend you to stay home and take care of loved ones and high-risk groups.

It is clear the coronavirus will have a large impact on car manufacturers, car buyers and car journalists alike. Many car manufacturers already shutdown their operations or are planning to do so in the very near future. Here is a short overview of the situation on Wednesday 18th of March 2020.

Lamborghini and Ferrari closed their factories

Lamborghini idled its plant in Sant’Agata Bolognese last week, and Ferrari followed suit at facilities in Maranello and Modena over the weekend. Both are located in the particularly hard hit areas in Northern Italy.

Bugatti launches Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport online, factory closure nearing

Bugatti planned to launch the Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport in Geneva but with the Geneva Motor Show and all other major motor shows in the near future cancelled they have decided to launch the Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport online. Recent reports also suggest the Bugatti factory in Molsheim, in the hard-hit North-Eastern part of France, will be closed soon.

The most recent Bugatti statement:

“The COVID-19 pandemic and measures to contain the outbreak are having an unprecedented impact on public life. The current situation affects our team and our work no less than the rest of France, Europe and the world.

We are constantly monitoring the situation and adapting our response daily to the development of the COVID-19 pandemic in accordance with the recommendations of the French government and the World Health Organization (WHO).

We recommend that you follow the instructions given by the authorities in your place of residence and the WHO to protect yourself and others from the virus. Priority number one: please stay healthy.’

Aston Martin closes facilities to visitors

Andy Palmer, Group President and CEO of Aston Martin Lagonda, just sent out a statement regarding the coronavirus:

Our primary concern continues to be the health and safety of colleagues and their families, customers, our business partners and the local communities. All Public Health measures advised by governments are being followed in support of efforts to contain the spread of the virus, our UK sites, regional offices and global dealer network are complying with local advice in order to safeguard the health of staff, customers and the wider community.

We have taken the decision to close our facilities to all visitors, so if you were planning a factory tour at Gaydon for example, please contact your Aston Martin Dealer who will confirm when we have re-opened the factory for visitors. We have also postponed or cancelled our upcoming F1™ experiences and Art of Living events, if you were planning to join us our team will be in touch in the coming days to confirm next steps.

Porsche stops production due to the coronavirus

As from the coming week (23rd of March), Porsche will suspend production for an initial period of two weeks. By taking this step, the sports car manufacturer is responding to the significant acceleration in the rate of infection caused by the coronavirus and the resultant measures implemented by the relevant authorities. In addition to the primary protection of the workforce, bottlenecks in global supply chains no longer allow orderly production. At the same time, Porsche is preparing for a decline in demand and securing its financial strength with these decisions. The parent plant in Zuffenhausen and the production location in Leipzig will be closed from Saturday (21 March 2020). These steps have been taken as part of an orderly process and in close cooperation with the works council.

BMW halts production in Europe and South-Africa

Due to the rapid expansion of the coronavirus BMW is reducing its production and prepares for a significant drop in revenue and profit for 2020. The measures include the stop of production in Europe and at the Rosslyn factory in South-Africa from today until at least the 19th of April. In other factories part-time working could be implemented to adjust the production capacity to the current situation.

Daimler suspends most of the production in Europe

On Tuesday 17th of March Daimler announced:

Due to the worsening situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Daimler Group has decided today to suspend the majority of its production in Europe, as well as work in selected administrative departments, for an initial period of two weeks. By taking this action, the company is following the recommendations of international, national and local authorities. The suspension applies to Daimler’s car, van and commercial vehicle plants in Europe and will start this week. Connected to this is an assessment of global supply chains, which currently cannot be maintained to their full extent. An extension of this measure will depend on further developments. Wherever operations need to be continued, the company will take appropriate precautions to prevent the infection of its employees.

Audi stops production until end of the week

Audi announced they are closing all their factories until end of the week. The spread of the coronavirus also affects the parts delivery making regular production soon impossible.

Volkswagen suspends European production

Latest statement by Volkswagen:

The Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand is gradually suspending production at its European plants. This will also affect Volkswagen Group Components plants. This is the brand’s response to the impending rapid decline in demand on the automotive markets. Risks in connection with suppliers’ supply chains are also increasing. This is due to the significantly accelerated rate of infection by coronavirus and the resulting measures taken by the authorities. Initially, the factories are therefore expected to remain closed for two weeks. For the affected German sites, the measures are to apply from the end of the late shift on Thursday.

Fiat Chrylser Automobiles

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced on Monday it will close most of its factories in Europe including production facilities for Alfa Romeo and Maserati. This includes factories in Italy, Serbia and Poland.

For more information about the coronavirus and how to protect yourself and your family visit the coronavirus report.


Mountaineering’s Drug Problem

Editor’s Note: Thanks in part to Nims Purja’s incredible scaling of the 14 highest mountain peaks in just over six months, we’ve got mountaineering on the brain. But before your next climb, check out this resurfaced 2017 investigation, which explores thought-provoking questions about the different kinds of assistance we use to get high.

Before Hermann Buhl’s first ascent of Nanga Parbat in 1953, the 26,660-foot peak in the western Himalayas was synonymous with death. Thirty-one climbers had died on summit attempts, including 10 in an infamous 1934 debacle. Many more had been thwarted by impossible conditions. But Buhl, a “small and delicate” (his words) 29-year-old Austrian, did it with a faulty crampon and without supplemental oxygen, Sherpa support, or Gore-Tex gloves. On his descent, he was forced to spend the night standing up in a notch below the summit, hallucinating while drifting in and out of consciousness. Then, at the end of his tether, as he recalls in his memoir, Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage, he remembered his methamphetamine pills, Pervitin: “It was the only chance; its brief renewal of my strength might last long enough for me to get down to the tent.” Pervitin — prescription speed, basically — was well known among German and Austrian climbers then for inducing superhuman energy and focus. It had been distributed during WWII to Nazi infantry, who called it panzerschokolade, or “tank chocolate.” Buhl popped two. Later on, he took some Padutin, a blood-flow agent that wards off frostbite, and eventually three more Pervitin; he had also been drinking tea brewed from coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine. Buhl survived. And as he hints in Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage, without the drugs, he wouldn’t have.

Buhl is widely considered one of the greatest alpinists ever, a shining model of the spirit and élan of high-altitude climbing. None other than Reinhold Messner — a Titan among climbing mortals — has called him “a classic mountaineer without equal.” To date, his Nanga Parbat route has been repeated just once. Yet Buhl was essentially tweaking his nuts off, or was at least well sauced on the alpine version of a speedball. By today’s standards, he’d be cast out from the mountaineering temple, stoned for blasphemy, and crucified on the nearest tree. It’s a given that alpinists now rely on all kinds of state-of-the-art technical assistance to get them through the rough spots — crampons, ice axe, helmet, emergency shelter, wicking base layers, hundreds of feet of dry rope, two-way radio, avalanche transceiver, sunscreen, lip balm, hand warmers, rehydrating juice — half of which Buhl lacked. Only a crackpot would suggest ditching any of it. But prescription drugs? Eh. Everyone knows that’s cheating.

It’s no surprise that 8,000-meter climbs can require a medicinal crutch, and Buhl is just one link in a long chain of doping in climbing that includes some of the most storied alpinists in history. Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal, twin spires in the sport, were both zonked on morphine when they broke the 8,000-meter barrier in a harrowing 1950 summit of Annapurna. Stephen Venables’s 1988 ascent of the Kangshung Face, thought to be insane at the time, was accomplished with the help of prescription-strength caffeine pills. I could go on.

“In Hermann Buhl’s day, drugs weren’t constructed as a problem — it was like taking a cup of coffee with you.” – Verner Møller

What’s surprising is the recent hand-wringing in the sport over prescription drugs and stimulants, on which alpinists have long relied. Steroids, amphetamines, erythropoietin (or EPO, Lance Armstrong’s drug of choice), epinephrine and nifedipine, morphine and codeine, what else? Viagra and Cialis, which increase blood flow to the lungs (among other places) and mitigate high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Lesser painkillers like aspirin and Ibuprofen. Rehydration salts and electrolyte solutions. All have been regularly used, if rarely discussed in mountaineering.

“The climber who doesn’t rely on his own strength and skills, but on apparatus and drugs, deceives himself,” wrote legendary mountaineer Reinhold Messner in his 1999 book Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate. But Messner also had great praise for Hermann Buhl, who used meth to survive a descent on Nanga Parbat in 1953; Messner’s own climbing partner, Peter Habeler, was “heavily drugged” during their legendary 1978 Everest summit, the first done without supplemental oxygen. (Photo: Adidas Archive)

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For much of the past half-century, when drug use in the mountains has cropped up, elite climbers were quick to vilify it — mostly they were concerned with the use of supplemental oxygen, which many still consider a betrayal of the lofty ethos of high-altitude climbing. The issue of prescription drugs and stimulants was largely ignored. But in 2013, a strange new drug hysteria swept mountaineering after Outside magazine published an article about an Everest climber who almost died after binging on multiple medications, including dexamethasone (dex), an anti-inflammatory steroid that lessens brain-swelling and is used to treat altitude sickness and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Dex is a potential lifeline for alpinists struggling on big ascents like Everest. It has saved dozens of lives over the years — Beck Weathers got a four-milligram injection during the 1996 Into Thin Air disaster — and has been part of every guide’s first-aid kit for decades. But misusing dex, as the Outside piece detailed, carries some risks, and the article foretold of “a dangerous trend in mountaineering: rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs.”

Today’s professional climbers consider preemptive use of dex, or of any “performance-enhancing drug” for that matter, to be cheating, though there’s been scant public reflection on what “performance-enhancing” and “drug” might mean, and no regulatory agency exists in climbing to define it. Mild painkillers and stimulants like coffee and tea typically get a pass, and are even considered part and parcel of a climber’s gear, while prescription drugs and acclimatization meds like dex don’t; the use of supplemental oxygen falls somewhere in between. The upshot is a general state of confusion in the sport about what kinds of pick-me-ups are permissible at extreme altitude. Many climbers are reluctant to discuss the topic; in some quarters a veil of secrecy prevails.

“Climbers are definitely using performance-enhancing drugs and hiding it,” says Cory Richards, who recently summited Everest without the help of supplemental oxygen. “There’s no governing body in climbing, so there’s no rule against drugs, and the logic is, why disclose it?”

“Sucking Os is definitely doping. And it is clearly cheating. Not one ascent made with Os counts in my book.” – Steve House

Richards is mostly referring to dex when it’s used not as a recovery aid but as a failsafe measure to increase a climber’s chances of summiting. These days you can buy it on the street in Nepal for about a dollar. Some outfitters and guides are said to encourage its use on summit day. Dr. Luanne Freer, the founder of the Everest ER at base camp, has taken care of several climbers suffering from side-effects of dex and other prescription drugs, including one who took large doses of dex on his ascent and died of HACE near the summit. “Using dex on summit day as a performance-enhancer is dangerous,” she says. “It makes it less likely that it’ll work in a rescue situation. I would liken it to pulling the cord on the parachute too early. When you really need it, you’ve lost your rescue. For this climber, there were no drugs left to get him moving for descent.”

According to Dr. Peter Hackett of the Institute for Alpine Medicine, however, the misuse of dex is exceptionally rare. “In the Outside piece, the guy took dexamethasone every day for two months, which is really stupid. It was totally inappropriate use of a drug. If you use any drug that way, you can get into trouble…I think [the article] was more hype than reality, a big to-do about nothing.”

Another potential lifeline for climbers is acetazolamide, also called Diamox, which speeds up acclimatization and helps prevent altitude sickness. It, too, has been a part of high-altitude climbing since at least the 1970s. Unlike dex, however, Diamox’s side effects are fairly innocuous: it’s a diuretic, so it makes you pee a lot. While technically not a performance enhancer — Diamox actually inhibits your ability to exercise — climbers have been known to take it early on summit mornings to prevent altitude sickness. To purists, that still counts as cheating.

In 2013, a drug hysteria swept mountaineering after Outside magazine published an article about an Everest climber who almost died after binging on multiple medications, including dexamethasone (dex), an anti-inflammatory steroid that lessens brain-swelling and is used to treat altitude sickness and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Another potential lifeline for climbers is acetazolamide, also called Diamox, which speeds-up acclimatization and helps prevent altitude sickness. To purists, that still counts as cheating.

Both dexamethasone and acetazolamide are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which has helped monitor doping in the Tour de France and the Olympics. (It should be noted that the original Olympic athletes, in first-century Greece, had few qualms about doping; they ate sheep testicles, coca plants, hallucinogenic fungi and cacti, and drank seed extracts that contained pharmacological agents, “magic” wine potions and strychnine, in the hopes of gaining a performance edge. If caught, however, they were banned from the games for life.) WADA prohibits substances that fulfill two of three criteria: (1) they’re performance enhancing; (2) they’re harmful to your health; or (3) they run counter to the spirit of the sport. But WADA has no regulatory say in mountaineering, which is entirely self-governed. The only semi-official oversight in the sport comes from the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), but it has little enforcement power either and concerns itself instead with preserving the ideological “spirit and traditions” of alpinism.

“Why should you only be allowed to use a drug in the event that you become sick or die, if you can prevent it beforehand?” – Verner Møller

In climbing, then, climbers make the rules. The professional take was captured by Reinhold Messner in his 1999 book Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate: “The climber who doesn’t rely on his own strength and skills, but on apparatus and drugs, deceives himself.” (One sentence later he decries the use of supplemental oxygen: “The face mask is like a barrier between Man and Nature.” More on that in a moment). In a later interview, he suggested drug-testing Everest climbers. “I am curious if anyone is willing to give a urine sample,” he said. Messner must’ve blanked on Buhl’s meth use, not to mention that of his climbing partner Peter Habeler, who was “heavily drugged” during their legendary 1978 Everest summit, the first done without supplemental oxygen. The implication seems to be that, for Messner, certain climbers and certain kinds of drugs — speed, painkillers — are acceptable, while the newer wave of bucket-list Everest summiters and the acclimatization meds they sometimes rely on aren’t.

Verner Møller, author of The Ethics of Doping and Anti-Doping: Redeeming the Soul of Sport? and professor of public health at Aarhus University in Denmark, thinks the moral censure on drugs in alpine climbing is at best an argumentative rabbit hole, at worst an obfuscating con intended to distance big-mountain climbers from the average schmo.

“The ‘purity’ of alpinism is a ridiculous concept,” he says. “It’s a narrative that elite mountaineers decided to write. But some of them, they’re sitting around drinking coffee at base camp and nobody questions it. A day may come when someone says, ‘You know, coffee has caffeine, which is a performance-enhancing drug, so you’re destroying the ideal of alpinism if you’re drinking coffee.’ And that would be a new narrative.”

Caffeine, it’s easy to forget, is the most widely consumed stimulant in the U.S., one that can have profound physiological effects: a sharp decrease in fatigue and the artificially stimulated release of fatty acids into the blood, allowing the body to conserve glycogen and increase physical output. It was only removed from WADA’s list of prohibited substances in 2004.

For Møller, there’s been a widespread “abdication of logic” with regards to drug use, a rigidity in our thinking that deserves serious reconsideration both on the mountain and off.

“The ‘purity’ of alpinism is a ridiculous concept,” said Verner Møller, author of The Ethics of Doping and Anti-Doping: Redeeming the Soul of Sport? and professor of public health at Aarhus University in Denmark. “It’s a narrative that elite mountaineers decided to write.” (Photo: Morten Flarup/Polfoto)

“In Hermann Buhl’s day, drugs weren’t constructed as a problem — it was like taking a cup of coffee with you,” he says. “Today, they are constructed as a problem. But back then, we didn’t have all of these remedies we have now. We didn’t have the boots. We didn’t have the quality of crampons. The ropes that are in place on Everest now weren’t there when Hillary was trying to climb it. The more technical advances we’ve seen, more and more people have had a chance at summiting Everest, something that was previously reserved for the select few. So it’s very convenient to suddenly declare ‘performance-enhancing drugs’ off-limits.”

According to Møller, the recent international cycling scandals and pervasive doping in the Russian Olympic team are to blame for some short-sightedness with regard to drug use in high-altitude climbing. When it comes to mountaineering, in which participants risk far more than medals and endorsement deals, he says, a broad cultural prohibition on doping in sports is obsolete.

“Why should you only be allowed to use a drug in the event that you become sick or die, if you can prevent it beforehand?” says Møller, asking us to imagine being held to such unremitting strictures in other aspects of our lives. “There’s this thinking that drugs are a crutch [in the mountains], which is one way to interpret it. You could also interpret it as climbers putting on their safety belts. If you’re driving a car, nobody complains about you putting on your seat belt before you hit the ignition.”

When you really get down to it, Møller says, drugs and stimulants — everything from Pervitin to caffeine to dexamethasone — are “just another technology, just another piece of equipment” on a continuum from Edmund Hillary’s Shetland wool jumper to today’s FlashDry base layers. “What’s the logic in saying, ‘You’re allowed to use these various forms of fancy gear, crampons, ropes, etc.,’ and in the same breath saying, ‘Wait! You’re also popping a pill? You’re a disgrace to the alpinist idea!’ Often these are the same people who’re saying you shouldn’t be allowed to use supplemental oxygen either.”

Of the 4,000 or so climbers who’ve summited Everest, only about 200 have managed it without bottled oxygen. For the vast majority, the trophy-hunter climbers paying $65,000 for the privilege, supplemental O2 is an indispensable part of their equipment. Without it, most wouldn’t make it to Camp I at 19,900 feet.

“Oxygen is the ultimate drug,” says Conrad Anker, the iconic mountaineer who has summited Everest three times, with and without supplemental oxygen. “It drops the elevation of Everest by 7,000 feet or more, depending on where you’re at with it.” Dr. Hackett of the Institute for Alpine Medicine agrees: “Supplemental oxygen is the only drug that has been shown to be absolutely performance-enhancing at high altitude. Most people couldn’t climb Everest without it.” Ditto Cory Richards: “With the new regulators, lighter bottles and more efficient masks, you’re getting a medicinal amount of oxygen, which it makes it much easier.” Pro guide Adrian Ballinger: “It takes doping to a whole other level.”

Writing on the Patagonia website, famed alpinist Steve House took the hardest line: “Sucking Os is definitely doping. And it is clearly cheating. Not one ascent made with Os counts in my book.”

“It’s no longer just a question of cheating. There’s a deeper moral implication, because by using Sherpas you’re putting their lives at risk for your benefit.” – Conrad Anker

Anker has a more charitable view. “Climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen, there’s only a few people who have the skills to do it, because it’s so physically debilitating,” he says. The debate over its use bleeds into other ethical facets of the sport. In 2007, Anker free-climbed the Second Step on Everest’s north side (free-climbing means ascending without pre-fixed hooks, ladders, ropes, etc.; in mountaineering, if you free-climb something, it becomes the new standard). “It was my choice, and I felt I had the strength within me to do it,” Anker says. “But would I now take the two ladders that are up there and throw them off the mountain and say to everyone, ‘You have to do this by my standard?’ It’s a little harsh trying to foist your accomplishments onto everyone else.”

Conrad Anker, another climbing and mountaineering legend, says the reliance on Sherpa support in the mountains is a bigger ethical question than drugs and supplemental oxygen use. (Photo: Sung Han)

A bigger question, Anker says, is the reliance on Sherpa support in the mountains. “Sherpas do more to make a climb easier than supplemental oxygen,” he says. “To climb Everest by fair means would really mean doing it with no Sherpa support.” Around 95 percent of Himalaya climbers rely on Sherpas to carry gear, set ropes and establish routes. On Everest, it’s the Sherpas who take many of the risks — for instance, crossing and recrossing the dangerous Khumbu Icefall. Between 125 and 130 have died while working for Westerners and bucket-list climbers, including 16 in the 2014 earthquake.

“It’s no longer just a question of cheating,” says Anker, whose Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation aids Sherpa communities in Nepal. “There’s a deeper moral implication because by using Sherpas you’re putting their lives at risk for your benefit. You have to come to terms with the moral fallout of that.”

The sin, then, isn’t in trying to do what you suspect you’re not quite up to except on the best of days, but is much more complicated and profane, because it suggests that intense experience can be bought and sold, and that feats of courage and ability in the mountains are in a sense transactional. The most obvious remedial gesture is to take a moral stand.

“We get into climbing because it’s basic freedom,” Anker says, “a way to exist without the temporal constraints of time and space and without all of the rules and human constructs that we impose on every other sport. Climbing is simple. You go to the top, you have a good time, and you don’t harm other people in the process.”

Perhaps this should comprise alpine climbing’s guidelines and nothing more. Perhaps we should conclude what Buhl did 60 years ago near the summit of Nanga Parbat, when he was out of food and water, and with blood and spittle pouring from his mouth, when time was running out: maybe, sometimes, meth is the answer.

Up Next: An Interview with the Greatest Living Mountaineer

Drinking beers and climbing rocks with mountaineer Conrad Anker. Read the Story

2020 BMW M235i Gran Coupe Review

The BMW M235i Gran Coupe is a little difficult to wrap your head around if you’re a traditionalist. For one, it is not very closely related to the outgoing, and soon to be replaced, M240i which is a coupe driven by its rear wheels and a 3-litre 6 cylinder engine. Instead, it’s more of a stretched M135i sharing the same 2-litre 4 cylinder engine and front wheel drive biased all wheel drive system (boo hiss). There will be a new M240i Coupe that will feature a 6 cylinder engine and will have the correct number of doors to wear the coupe name. Gran Coupe seems to skew more than just the number of doors in this instance.

The M235i and other 2 Series Gran Coupe models are, obviously, the result of the successes of the Audi A3 Saloon and Mercedes-Benz CLA models. Mercedes-Benz seem to have an appetite for niches and recently added an A Class Saloon to the range that makes no sense in my mind given that it looks like a slightly podgy CLA with no significant space gains. I’m sure the researchers at MB have their justifications…

Visually BMW were quick to flash up profile images of the, to my eyes, gorgeous 8 Series Gran Coupe overlaying sketches of the 2 Series Gran Coupe at the evenings press presentation. Again, to my eyes, one of these cars looks taught, sharp and rather tasty. Unfortunately the scaled down 2 Series doesn’t seem to wear the lines so well, they aren’t striking and melt away into the large and aesthetically heavy rear end.

Maybe it is a peach to drive? Well, the 1 Series is not available in China or the United States of America so it is up to the 2 Series Gran Coupe to whet the appetite of American and Chinese buyers. As a result, this is not just a stretched 1 Series. The suspension set up is softer to better accommodate poorer surfaces. The road route set up by BMW features a variety of road surfaces which the M235i I am piloting takes in its stride.

Make no mistake, the car is very good for doing the tasks that the vast majority of buyers will use their cars for, daily commutes and school runs. It is relatively spacious inside, comfortable, features tech that you would find in a 7 Series and it even feels plenty quick off the line with all wheel drive traction. 0-100 is done in 4.9 and accomplished courtesy of 306 horsepower and 450Nm.

My gripes relate to feedback and feel: there is, literally, none. Yes, the steering rack is quick and BMW have fitted a Torsen limited-slip differential in addition to the BMW Performance Control which ‘intelligently applies the brakes at the wheels on the inside of the bend before the slip threshold has been reached’ a bit like a McLaren does. As great as this sounds, the M235i GC is not engaging or particularly exciting to chuck into the bends.

Understeer still plagues the driving experience and when the front end is not pushing on, the car remains neutral and does not have you lusting to explore your favourite twisty roads with zeal. The M badge typically denotes more dynamic, and adrenaline fuelled drives. The synthesised exhaust noise is very clearly fake, more so than in other BMW models.

By no means does this mean that the 2020 M235i Gran Coupe is a bad car. If you are looking for a car to ferry your family around on short city journeys in comfort with great connectivity and convenience, this could well be the car for you. The M235i variant looks more imposing that lesser models and is well equipped. But if you’re looking for something with a little more zing, the Golf R is more dynamic and the Mercedes CLA 35 AMG is equally well appointed and feels more alive.


Special Report: The Mercedes-AMG G 63 Is The Ultimate All-Rounder

What do Britney Spears, Kylie Jenner, Sylvester Stallone, Bradley Cooper, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and The Weeknd all have in common? Yes, they are all household names, but, they also all drive Mercedes-Benz G Wagons. The G was born back in 1979 and was an instant success. As I write this, Iran and the United States of Donald J Trump are locking horns and driving fuel prices through the roof. Thanks Iran, just what I needed to kick of my week with a G 63 AMG. In something of a coincidence, it was the Iranians that triggered the production of the G Class more than 40-years ago.

The Shah of Iran at the time suggested to the German manufacture that it would be interesting to see what a MB 4×4 would be like. Mercedes-Benz teamed up with Austrian military vehicle manufacturer, Steyr-Daimler-Puch, and started production of the “Geländewagen” (German for cross-country vehicle). This was not restricted to military use, but also civilian cruising.

The G Class was an instant hit, the price tag has always been as big as the boxy wheel arches and, as a result, the 4×4 has been an object of desire. The desire, price tag and power all grew to new levels in 1998 with the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz G 55 AMG, a V8 brute packing 358 horsepower. The foray into the AMG power for the G Class continued as the G 55 transitioned into the G 63. The on road handling continued to improve, but never to the detriment of the offroad capabilities. Every G Wagon model still has to pass the gruelling trail of conquering the Shöckl mountain in Austria.

As you would imagine, the G has been getting better with age, that being said, few generations have improved as much as the latest model that was updated in 2018. It won many awards including the GTspirit Car of The Year accolade. The engine is downsized to 4.0-litres but power and torque were significantly improved. Remarkably, the engineers were so confident in the improvements that they made to the chassis that they dropped a V8 closely related to that of the AMG GT R halo car into the 2.485 tonne brute. The power figure is identical, that’s right, 585 horsepower in a truck with a near vertical windscreen. Who said Germans don’t have a sense of humour?

I had a week to understand the G 63 in a plethora of different environments. I lived with it through the traffic plagued City of London and spent a weekend in the country to explore the AMG side of the G.

In the city the G looks monumental. London is a city that is home to exceptional wealth, G wagons, particularly 63s, are a common sight. That does not detract from how much presence they have. Against architecture, old and new, it looks imposing and modern, yet still harks back to Gs of old. Enough posing, what’s the G 63 AMG like to drive? Having driven every variant of the current model and almost all of the precious generation, I feel I am well placed to comment on just how vast the improvements are. It’s difficult to overstate just how much more dynamic and willing the latest offering is in comparison to its predecessors.

Having escaped the cities narrow streets and constricting speed limits at dawn, it was time to see what the G felt like when it could stretch its legs. Make no mistake, this is no Caterham or GT3 RS, the 63’s nose points to a sky under throttle like a cigarette racing boat with a sizeable bow wave. It leans in the corners, but the chassis can really handle the power. The steering is a revelation in comparison to the agricultural style system has been replaced by a modern, conventional rack and pinion and the difference could not be more significant. In conjunction with an independent suspension arrangement up front, there is a confidence that was absent in its predecessors that makes this an SUV that really can be driven enthusiastically. The trade-off is the suspension which is stiff, well engineered dampers take the edge off harsh bumps and holes, but it does not possess S Class rivalling levels of comfort.

In 63 guise, there is genuine speed mixed into the G Wagon recipe. The G 63 is a wonderful car, one that could be considered the ultimate all-rounder. I guarantee that any challengers will not be as iconic, capable in such a wide range of scenarios or cool to look at as the G 63. It is a living legend and one that laughs in the face of the endless new ‘SUVs’ that the markets are needlessly demanding. Don’t think about buying one, just do it.


Winter Special: Visiting Ski Paradise Val Gardena

Our latest winter road trip destination is a famous ski destination in Northern Italy. Easily reached from Germany and most of Western Europe just over the Brenner Pass that connects Austria and Italy it is a true ski paradise. But that is not all Val Gardena has to offer!

Val Gardena, also known as Gröden in German, is a valley in the Italian Dolomites. The three main towns St. Ulrich, St. Christina and Wolkenstein are all directly connected to the ski slopes and provide direct access to over 79 lifts and 175 km of pistes. With the Dolomiti Superski pass there is even more to explore – 448 lifts and 1,258 km of slopes await visitors across 12 ski resorts all surrounded by the magnificent peaks of the Dolomites UNESCO world heritage site. Val Gardena also provides direct access to the Seiser Alm, a plateau especially suitable for families with kids and beginners.

The most famous ski tour in the Dolomites is the Sella Ronda which laps the Sella mountain range. It can be skied in two directions, we prefer the green counter-clockwise variant as it crosses the Sella pass, Pordoijoch, Campolongo pass and finally the Grödner Joch before returning to the Val Gardena valley. The orange variant runs clockwise and can be started and finished from any of the four valleys it passes. The tour is about 30 kilometers skiing distance and can be done by average skiers. More advanced skiers who keep up the pace can do the Sella Ronda twice in one day.

But Val Gardena offers a lot more than Sella Ronda. We particularly enjoyed the south facing slopes in the Santa Christina’s Col Raiser area. With only a handful of lifts and slopes it is not the most extensive ski area in Val Gardena but what it lacks in numbers it makes up in sunshine and gastronomy. There are no less than 12 restaurants and bars to choose from. One even better than the other. Keep reading for an overview of our favorite mountain side restaurants.

Despite having fairly little fresh snow this season the slopes were in excellent condition. Thanks to dozens of snowmaking machines and the latest slope preparation techniques the conditions were perfect. Add modern lifts and seemingly endless slopes and it is not hard to understand why we consider Val Gardena one of the best ski resorts in the world.

Where to stay?

Val Gardena offers a large range of hotels from simple bed & breakfast to luxurious spa hotels. Here are our favorites:

Dorfhotel Beludei

The Dorfhotel Beludei in Santa Christina provides 24 rooms and suites, a modern spa, restaurant and bar. It opened in 2014 and combines modern amenities with a cozy alpine style. The young team managed by Luis Schenk provides a personal service and makes you feel at home quickly. A hotel shuttle takes guests to a from the ski slope.

Hotel Adler Dolomiti Spa & Sport Resort

This five star hotel has welcomed guests in Sankt Ulrich for more than 200 years. The Adler Dolomiti resort offers a 3,500 m2 spa and wellness area with two different indoor- and outdoor pools, waterfalls, jacuzzis and a dozen or so different sauna and steam baths. If its luxury and wellness you are after this hotel is not to be missed.

Mountain Design Hotel Eden Selva

Ski-in, ski-out at Mountain Design Hotel Eden Selva. Located directly next to the slope of the Sella Ronda this new design hotel in Wolkenstein provides modern rooms and suites, a wellness area and restaurant. It is located within walking distance of Wolkenstein with its bars and restaurants.

Alpina Dolomites

Technically the Alpina Dolomites hotel is not in Val Gardena but located up on the Seiser Alm but we still want to include it. This modern five star resort is regarded as one of the best hotels in the entire Dolomites and provides spacious rooms, an incredible wellness center with indoor- and outdoor pools and perfect service.

Where to eat?

The Dolomites are not just famous for their mesmerizing mountains and natural beauty but also for the high quality Italian food. We made a list of our favorite stops during our stay in Val Gardena:

Berghaus Zallinger

Hidden away in the furthest corner of the Seiser Alm ski area Zallinger is a true refuge. Enjoy the sun with a glass of wine and some of the fine homemade dishes served on the terrace.

Troier Hütte

Troier Hütte

This cozy mountain hut in the Santa Cristina ski area provides authentic South Tyrolean dishes and panoramic views of Val Gardena.

Baita Daniel Hütte

A little further down from the Troier Hütte next to the main ski slope is Baita Daniel Hütte. A great place to stop for a nice lunch or a refreshing drink.

Boe Alpine Lounge

If you decide to ski the Sella Ronda you will probably want to stop at some point too. One of the nicest places is the Boe Alpine Lounge. At the top of the Boe cable car you find a pizza and burger bar, a self service restaurant and last but not least Kelina fine-dining restaurant with panoramic views of Corvara.

Where to Apres-Ski?

The Italian apres-ski does not come close to the parties you can find in Austria and France. But every town in the Gröden valley has a few bars where skiers meet for a drink or two after a long day at the slopes. These include Siglu in St. Ulrich, the snowbar at the bottom of the Saslong World Cup track in Santa Christina and La Stua and Luislkeller in Wolkenstein. Those looking for a party are best served in Wolkenstein.


CES Automobitive Highlights 2020

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020 is the first major show of the year for customer tech and a lot more. Since cars these days have more tech on board than your computer at home it is no surprise that more and more car manufacturers find their way to Las Vegas. We had a look at what the car manufacturers, suppliers and other tech companies had to offer in the automotive and picked our top highlights.

Sony wows the world with an electric car

The biggest news, by far, was that Sony had been working on autonomous car tech in relative secrecy. As you would expect, entertainment is firmly in the driving seat with this concept car. The Japanese behemoth isn’t expected to put the Vision S into production any time soon, but it is expected to offer its technology to the wider industry.

What Sony presented is a fully operational electric car, packed with technology. It is 5G-enabled and capable of over-the-air system updates. There are four main cameras around the outside of the vehicle – back, front and the two sides – all fitted with Sony’s high-end CMOS sensors and an in-car 360 Reality Audio system.

What’s most impressive though, is that a company with no history in the automotive segment (as a traditional manufacturer at least), can put together something so polished. The project is supported by automotive supplier Magna but even then we’re sure it had some of the traditional manufacturers scratching their heads.

Mercedes-Benz teases organic battery

Mercedes-Benz had a concept car to release this year. Tied with the upcoming Avatar 2 film, the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR previews the future of autonomous driving. There is no steering wheel, much like James Cameron’s characters, Mercedes-Benz believes that the vehicle will blend with the driver, recognising the human driver’s heartbeat and breath.

It gets a 110-kilowatt-hour electric motor that can produce 469 hp and a range of roughly 435 miles. But it is not the powertrain which makes this concept very interesting but the battery tech: The batteries are presented as a graphene-based concept. The organic material was discovered in 2004 and is currently the strongest material known to man. While no commercially available battery exists at this point, research has found that graphine batteries charge 12 times faster than lithium-ion batteries and can be produced and recycled in a very environmentally friendly manner. Perhaps this is the future?

Hyundai presents their vision of mobility with Uber

Hyundai and Uber’s joint vision for the future of the automotive looks suspiciously like an aeroplane. Developed under the title Uber Air Taxis, this concept is called the Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) model, S-A1.

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It has a cruising speed of up to 180 mph (290 km/h) at altitudes of roughly 300 to 600 metres above the ground. Trips will be limited to 60 miles on 100% electric propulsion. Each ‘car’ will seat four passengers.

Amazon sets aims to invade the automotive industry with Alexa and Fire TV

Amazon extended its Alexa and Fire TV offerings in the automotive industry. It announced new partnerships with Rivian and Lamborghini to bring Alexa into their vehicles. They join Ford, Audi, BMW, GM, and Toyota who had already announced partnerships. Even if you don’t buy one of these vehicles, the Echo Auto device will soon be available to make your car Alexa-ready.

Alexa gets new auto-specific skills including the ability to pay for gas at Exxon stations through the voice assistant. BMW and Fiat Chrysler add Fire TV systems to their vehicles too with the ability to stream TV shows through an onboard LTE connection.

ZF presents Level 2+ and Level 4 autonomous driving tech

ZF Level 2+ and Level Autonomous

ZF Automotive also presented new technology. The German giant is a market leader in autonomous driving technology. It presented an update on progress with its Level 2+ systems for consumer vehicles and Level 4 systems for commercial vehicles. The level 3 system hurdle which transfers responsibility in certain autonomous driving modes from the driver to the manufacturer is proving a big step to tackle with regulators around the world withholding manufacturers permission to homologate their systems. Level 2+ is a temporary solution that offers customers the most of the available tech with the restriction that the driver remains responsible at all time.

Its releases for the Level 2+ market focused on its coASSIST system, an affordable system which is expected to enjoy demand from a range of manufacturers. For a price of around $1,000 it offers feet-free and hands-free operation, automated lane change and overtaking, automated garage parking and route learning.

In the meantime ZF among others offers Level 4 systems for applications on non-public roads and private grounds like airports, factories and harbors. The demand for these full autonomous systems is stronger than ever and it is just a matter of time until we will see the first autonomous cars on the road.


Special Report: One Last Drive – Bullitt Mustang

The word ‘icon’ is banded about a lot in the auto industry. In my mind, there are a few categories that are defined by the cars which have been sold for generations. Think SUV and Defender or G Wagon will, more likely than not, be projected in your mind. Supermini? Mini. Hot Hatch? Golf GTi. This is quickly morphing to a scenario not too dissimilar to laying flat on a red sofa in a psychiatrists office and being probed for the first word a blot of ink conjures. One more: Muscle Car? Ford Mustang.

Unlike the other aforementioned icons, I have never driven a Mustang. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, it took 52 years for the Mustang to be sold in the UK, 2016 was a big year for the ‘Stang. Secondly, I didn’t fancy a Mustang for one of my fly-and-drive visits to the States as I feared losing my Mustang v plates to a 4-cylinder which, like my first time losing other v plates, would have been all to brief and underwhelming. I needed to wait for the right time, place and specification to captivate me enough to take the dive. The final drive of the year is always a special one for me. Most sane human beings would rather curl up next to the fire with their loved ones watching mushy Christmas movies than ever consider going for a drive for anything more than another bag of sprouts. I, on the other hand, can think of nothing worse that sitting on a sofa for days on end eating my weight in mince pies. Instead, I packed the, self made, mince pies into a plastic box and jumped into a car, one that I have been waiting decades to drive.

Why decades? Because of a movie titled ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ that I watched as a 6-year-old at the turn of the millennium. The movie itself was nothing to write home about. There were two stand out scenes – one featured Angelina Jolie (I’m sure you can imagine why) and the other, more relevantly, focused on a 1967 Shelby Mustang called Elanor. It was the hero car of the movie and one that captivated six and 60-year-olds alike, I guess the same can be said for Angelina.

Bear with me, I’m not rambling aimlessly, movie cars really do capture the hearts and minds of viewers. For me it was Gone in 60 Seconds, for the generation of movie goers in 1968, it was Bullitt, the hero car was a Mustang. Much like Gone in 60 Seconds, the movie itself was never destined to win Oscars, but, there were a couple of scenes that have been viewed millions of times on YouTube (add to the tally by watching below).

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Enough of the old, what’s the deal with the movie talk? Well, the Mustang I’m buckling into is a tribute to the Bullitt car you see above. The link is obvious – the wheels, Highland Green paint, distinct lack of pony badges and cue ball gear shifter have all be copied and pasted onto the 2019 Mustang. It is available with a Mustang ordered with the 5.0-litre V8 (no EcoBoost silliness here) with the manual box and not as a convertible – the good stuff then. This was the perfect opportunity to drive my first Mustang. Back to the mince pies, they were secured on the lap of my copilot, an equally deranged human that suggested we compliment the mince pies with a drive to feed a reindeer herd a few hours drive out of London.

The drive involved long flowing sections of well paved ‘highway’ where the V8 could sing, and twisty country roads where the chassis balance and gearbox could be put to the test. The Bullitt package is not just cosmetic. Adding to the appeal are a plethora of parts that you cannot configure on any other Mustang. Power is up to 453bhp, part due to the intake manifold from the GT350 which has the added benefit of making the Mustang sound like a V8 NASCAR. Furthermore, ticking the Bullitt box adds the Ford’s GT Performance Package which, apparently, improves chassis control significantly courtesy of suspension springs that have been lowered and stiffened by another few degrees, beefed-up anti-roll bars, recalibrated dampers and a Torsen limited-slip differential. Tasty. Magnetorheological adaptive dampers are fitted to the car I am driving and a noticeable difference can be felt through the modes.

How did it feel on the road to visiting Rudolph and co? Refreshing, if you’re a regular reader you’ll know I’m that guy raving about how sublime Porsches are and how the feel and feedback of a McLaren is so delightful. Jumping into a naturally aspirated, manually operated American muscle car is a far cry from the usual for me and it was an unforgettable experience. There is a raw, old school feel. There is immense character and a connection that comes with less sophisticated cars.

The Bullitt Mustang is one of the best examples of that. The traction control seems to be too busy to stop you from pulling massive angles out of every junction. The cold and salt paved streets at this time of year mean you can feel the chassis shuffling underneath you and there is so much confidence in its abilities. The gearbox is fabulous, the cue ball is gorgeous and the rev-matched downshift bring a smile to your face and the revs yelp. The digital dash is tremendous and there a host of layouts to pick from. The Recaros hug you tight and are immensely comfortable and are almost good enough to make up for the questionable build quality, poor plastics and terrible infotainment system. Then again, the Mustang is a unique offering and I am just pleased to be able to drive a manual V8 free of turbochargers – the infotainment could be running Windows ’95 and I would still be grinning from ear-to-ear. The noise from the exhaust is bewitching in race mode and eggs you on to chase the redline.

The car does feel massive on tight British country lanes but the car still feels reasonably nimble. Big open motorways are where it really can be set free. The engine isn’t the most responsive below 3,000, you need to wind it up and it really is explosive in the mid-range. The gearbox, though physically great to shift, needs to be handled with patience. The engine does not like to be rushed, this is not a Cayman GT4 that relishes a lightening quick shift.

The Bullitt Mustang really is a unique proposition and like nothing I have ever driven before. It brims with character and presents endless joy. You’ll want to find any excuse to drive it down your favourite road at any time of day. It is a very special car, one that will make you feel better than cars that cost two or three times the price. It feels even better than it looks.

P.S. Ford, please make an Elanor edition, I’ll be ready with my deposit.


2020 Porsche Taycan 4S Review

The Porsche Taycan has landed and made not just a splash, but tsunamis in the automotive world. The model was unveiled and released in Turbo and Turbo S forms at first, models that boasted tremendous power and stats aimed at dethroning Tesla as the king of AC/DC power. The Turbo models are astonishing and fulfil the brief of being high performance vehicles that sit as flagships of the range; as a result the pricing was a breathtaking as the acceleration. 750 bhp does not come cheap.

To broaden the appeal of the Taycan Porsche unveiled this, the 4S and I was shipped over to the -19 degree icebox that is Kittilä, Finland to experience the 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S. The 4S is, of course, down on power compared to the Turbo and Turbo S. As standard 523bhp is available on overboost with a range of 405 kilometres. One option that I suspect will be ordered by all customers is the Performance Battery Plus that increases power to 563bhp and the range to 462 kilometres for around €5,000. 0-100 with either battery is done in 4.0 seconds.

At this point I would love to share my driving impressions with you. I will, but it must be noted that it was horrifically cold, this really was a winter wonderland and there is no tarmac in sight, just icy surfaces and standard winter tires to connect with it. There were no spikes in sight. As a result, any feedback in muted and power statistics are almost irrelevant as traction management is far more important.

That being said, I have driven a handful of cars in similar conditions so am somewhat familiar with how cars typically handle when dancing on ice. The first part of the program was a 90-minute road drive in the darkness of the Finnish winter. First impressions are all about traction and the mighty impressive Goodyear winter tires. Although absent of spikes, traction under gentle braking and acceleration. The Taycan 4S felt balanced and incredibly quick, even on the slippery ice. The 992 steering rack that feature in the Taycan still felt well weighted, of course, there was very little feedback on the ice. Braking was still reasonable although the weight became evident when braking harder and the ABS cutting in.

The main event was the Porsche Experience set on a frozen lake, the ideal place to exploit instant torque from the 800volt batteries powering all four wheels. First up was a tight twisty circuit. The aim if the game was to understand the torque split front to rear and swing the car into delicious drift angles. It is harder than you would imagine, opposite lock doesn’t help and you have to be gentle with the power or the car does what it is meant to do and drags itself into a straight line.

Next on the list of activities is a slalom where the weight and its distribution would be tested. The 4S weighs in at 2,215 kilograms and often had me questioning just how thick the ice on this frozen lake was. It is still some 200 kilograms lighter than the Turbo S model but it is still a substantial mass for anything that is considered ‘sporty’. The slalom test highlights the impressive agility that comes courtesy of the antiroll and stability systems.

The third and final test was the drift circle. Again, this is a test of balance and the torque split and where feedback and feel are key. This is a Porsche and at times the Taycan really did feel comparable to a 911, it is spooky, but there is just a level of disconnect that you would never find in a conventional petrol burning 911. The instant torque is spectacular, the acceleration, even on ice, takes you by surprise despite this being the 4S and not a Turbo or Turbo S. The Taycan in 4S is an extremely capable car. If the greater power is not of paramount importance to potential customers, I would strongly argue that the 4S is the pick of the bunch.

The case for the 4S is further heightened by the significant saving over the Turbo models. In the United Kingdom, the 4S starts at under £90,000, a considerable £50,000 less than a base Turbo S. The 4S is the electric car that offers significant steps forward in the industry at a realistic price point with stats and prestige that make it capable and desirable in equal measure. Let’s hope Porsche can build them quickly enough.


Everything You Need to Know About James Bond’s Watches

There’s a bit of dialogue in Casino Royale, the 2006 reboot of the James Bond movie franchise, when Vesper Lynd thinks she has Bond figured out, right down to his watch:

“Rolex?” she asks.
“Omega,” Bond replies.
“Beautiful,” Lynd assesses.

Those three words sum up 50 years of Bond and his wristwatches. They also have either made Rolex and Bond purists shake their heads and mutter, “product placement,” or Omega devotees cheer wildly and clink their Planet Oceans in a sort of watch-nerd toast. The history of James Bond and his timepiece choice can really be divided up into these two eras, despite the fact that the Bonds of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton donned digital Seikos and a TAG Heuer in between.

The Mystery of the Original Bond Watch

In the beginning, there was Rolex. James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, gave his secret agent hero a “heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding bracelet,” a watch Bond put to use as a knuckle duster while punching out a henchman in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There is no mention of the exact Rolex Fleming intended. Despite many theories, including that it was an Explorer (ref. 1016), no one will ever really know. The fact remains, though, that Rolex still has a model called the “Oyster Perpetual” in its lineup. It is a simple, time-only watch with the legendary Rolex self-winding “Perpetual” movement and the 100-meter (at least) water-resistant Oyster case, a direct descendant of the watch Rolex sent to Mount Everest with the successful British expedition in 1953. It certainly could have been one of these tough but understated watches that Fleming intended for his character. But we’re talking about the James Bond movies — where the silver screen would make 007’s timepieces iconic.

The Rolex Submariner Years

The Rolex ref. 6538 Submariner was the first (and some say best) Bond watch.

In 1962’s Dr. No, we first catch a glimpse of Bond’s watch: a Rolex Submariner, reference 6538, on the wrist of Sean Connery. Though Fleming made no mention of a diving watch in his books, the Submariner is a fitting choice for 007’s screen debut. Diving had reached a high point in popularity in the early ’60s and was seen as an activity for the bold and adventurous — making dive watches lifestyle symbols, just like Bond. Connery wore the Submariner throughout his tenure as 007 and the watch became so linked with his Bond that collectors today call the reference 6538 and similar “big crown” versions, “James Bond Submariners.”

In addition, the strap he wore the Submariner on has also achieved a cult status. Though Bond wore the Submariner on a leather strap in Dr. No, by Goldfinger, the third Bond film, the same watch is seen on a one-piece striped nylon strap. The Internet contains endless debate and speculation about this strap.

First of all, it is obviously undersized for the watch. The distance between the lugs of the Submariner is 20mm, yet the strap we see on Connery’s watch was clearly made for a smaller timepiece, most likely with a 16mm lug width. Why? Some say it was a hurried addition to a watch that was chosen at the last minute, and easier fix than sizing a riveted steel bracelet. Again, a mystery for the ages.

Tricks Up His Sleeve

Live and Let Die James’s Rolex 5513 Submariner saved his life on multiple occasions thanks to an integrated buzz saw for cutting binds and a high powered magnet.

The second point of debate about this strap is in regard to its stripes. On grainy videocassette, the strap looked like it had alternating stripes of black and “Admiralty gray.” Many strap makers sold reproductions of this pattern in the NATO style. But the advent of high-definition DVD told the real story of this most mythical of watch straps. Countless watch nerds paused their Blu-ray editions of Goldfinger as Bond raises his wrist and lights a cigarette to check on the status of the bomb he’s planted. The strap is not gray-and-black striped, but in fact appears to have a subtler pattern, with some red, a green-gray and black. Or is that Navy blue? Strap makers scrambled and a new, more authentic version is now found on thousands of Submariners worldwide.

Rolex was perfect for Connery’s Bond — the first dive watch on the first 007, rugged and authentic, in an era before Bond went commercial and Rolex became a status symbol.

Bond Embraces the Quartz & Digital Movement

Packing a Punch

Moonraker “No Moneypenney, that’s not floss.”

When Connery handed over the reins of Bond to Roger Moore, the quartz (and first “smart” watch era) had dawned and the world went digital. Bond kept up with the times and the digital watches that spit out typed messages from HQ seemed perfectly fitting for a high-tech hero. The Seiko M354 Memory-Bank Calendar shown in came in handy thanks to a built-in Plastique explosive detonator. Unfortunately, the detonator cord had to be wired directly into the charge and was shorter than Oddjob.

Watch? More Like Stalk..

Octopussy James gets a TV on his wrist, which he immediately misuses.

Octopussy featured two advanced tickers highlighting the pinnacle of technology in the ’80s. The Seiko G757 5020 Sports 100 was equipped with a GPS tracking device for locating a lost Faberge Egg (yawn). The flashier Seiko Liquid Crystal TV Watch featured a digital screen with traditional timekeeping functions, as well as a then- state-of-the-art LCD television screen that could receive UHF and VHF channels (as well as FM radio signals). Like a modern smartwatch, the TV Watch would eat through its batteries, consuming two AAs after watching five hours of television.The watch that’s shown in the movie just didn’t include the clunky receiver the real device needed to pull off such feats. Bond is shown using it to take satellite video calls from Margaret Thatcher as well as creepily “spying” on bond girls.

Waaay Before Texting

The Spy Who Loved Me This one honestly felt like a step backward.

Bond’s Seiko 0674’s Ticker Tape shown in The Spy Who Loved Me was a pre-texting solution for staying in touch with HQ. It also made for a damn good label maker.

But just like the safari suit with its wide lapels, what seemed like a good idea at the time started to look too dated for a classic character.

Omega Takes Over

Ever since Goldeneye, Bond’s been an Omega man. It started with the “Bond Seamaster”.

Fast forward to the 1990s. After the cartoonish Moore years and the dour Dalton films, Pierce Brosnan strutted out as a perfect Bond for his — glib and handsome, he had cut his pearly white teeth as a TV star. The costume designer at the time, Lindy Hemming, considered everything from cufflinks to socks and when it came to his watch, she passed over Rolex for Omega. The Rolex Submariner was by then the most ubiquitous luxury watch around. Omega had a long history with the British military, with its Seamaster having been the choice for Royal Navy divers in the 1960s. So, to the chagrin of Rolex (and Bond purists), Brosnan strapped on a Seamaster Professional and Omega has been “Bond’s choice” ever since.

To an entire generation of Bond fans, Omega is the watch of James Bond. What started out as a costume choice became a marketing bonanza, with Omega making full use of the movies to sell a lot of Seamasters. The timepiece that Brosnan wore for all of his films was a blue-dialed Seamaster with a blue rotating bezel, on a steel bracelet that had alternating polished and brushed links. As the Rolex 6538 was dubbed the Bond Submariner, so too the blue Seamaster was dubbed the “Bond Seamaster.” Omega featured the model on its website, with Brosnan’s photo and produced limited edition (if 10,007 can be considered limited) 007 versions that had gun-barrel case backs and “007” marked dials.

The Bond Watch in the Daniel Craig Era

The current James Bond, Daniel Craig, also wore Omega, but in Casino Royale, his screen debut, he introduced a new watch to the mix: the Seamaster Planet Ocean. For a more serious, more physical Bond, the Planet Ocean was a perfect choice. It is bigger, burlier and less “pretty” than the dandy blue polished Seamaster of Brosnan’s days. Bond also wore it on a rubber strap, better suited for parkour chases through third-world construction sites. Later in the movie, when he slips into a dinner jacket for some high-stakes gambling, Craig swaps out the Planet Ocean for the old blue Brosnan Bond Seamaster. It’s the last time we see that watch on James Bond. In the gritty sequel Quantum of Solace, 007 only wears the Planet Ocean, now on its steel bracelet, and it gets ample screen time.

Omega Extras

Goldeneye 007’s Omega Seamaster emitted a laser for cutting through armored panels and acted as a remote activator/detonator for magnetic mines. A few years later, it would also inspire one of the most entertaining ways to frag in multiplayer console gaming.

The World is Not Enough All Omega Seamaster’s feature luminous markers for reading in low-light, but Bond’s version in The World Is Not Enough was bright enough to set the mood in an avalanche survival balloon and also boasted a miniature grappling hook.

In Skyfall, James Bond was again in Omega, again the Planet Ocean, but also a blue-dialed Seamaster Aqua Terra for a few scenes. The Aqua Terra was a fine choice for Bond, subtler than the chunky dive watches, but still rugged enough to withstand 150 meters of water pressure. Though Connery’s Bond would never think to be traveling with a second watch, and the Aqua Terra on a bracelet is a far cry from the old Rolex on an ill-fitting nylon strap, Omega is a perfect choice for the modern James Bond. It is well made with classic styling and the right mix of rugged and refined. Omega also retains the pedigree of a storied brand, and one with a credible link to England’s military, but without the contemporary Rolex baggage.

With the release of Spectre, Bond took a decidedly backward step with his timepiece choice, but in a good way. When the movie opens, Bond is sporting a dressy Aqua Terra, but once the action heats up, Q Branch issues him a dive watch on a striped nylon strap, an obvious nod to the Connery era. But instead of the old Rolex, Craig’s Bond sticks with Omega, wearing a special edition of the Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial (shown at the top), a watch fittingly inspired by the 1960s-era Omega diver that was issued to Britain’s Royal Navy. Despite its retro design, this one sported an all-new anti-magnetic movement and swapped the usual elapsed time bezel for one that can be used to track a second-time zone, fitting for a globetrotting super-spy.

The latest Bond watch is the first version designed with input from Bond himself.

Bond’s upcoming watch for newest movie installment of the series, No Time to Die, is an original creation with a neo-vintage look. Worn in the movie on a mesh Milanese bracelet but also available on a special dark brown, grey and beige NATO strap, the new piece is a 42mm Seamaster Diver 300M manufactured in full titanium. With a rugged, military feel, it features “old radium”-style lume, a “black tropical” dial with a brown tone, a broad arrow marking on the dial and case back (used to indicate Crown property), and, best of all, it’s non-limited release, marking the first time a James Bond Omega product has seen full serial production.

Excitingly and in a first for the Bond franchise, Bond actor Daniel Craig worked personally with Omega for the past two years to help design the Seamaster. You can read more about that process in our full breakdown of the new Omega Seamaster Diver 300M 007 James Bond Watch.

While watch aficionados like to debate whether Omega or Rolex is the true “Bond watch,” both are well suited for the eras in which Bond wore them. There’s certainly room in the watch box for a vintage Rolex Submariner and a modern Seamaster. And who’s to say that when Bond goes home to his London flat after another difficult, bruising mission, he doesn’t slip his Omega onto his watch winder and pull out his old Sub and think about the past. We just hope he’s got a better-fitting strap on it by now.

This post has been updated from it’s original version with additional contributions from Ben Bowers and Oren Hartov.

Special Report: The 2019 Aston Martin Vantage, better than a 911?

For decades the Porsche 911 has been the yardstick, the go to car for the affluent man or woman that fancies a great sports car that can thrill on the weekend and, if they so choose, trundle through commuter traffic without fuss or issue in the week. The formula has remained the same too – flat six at the back a couple of seats for the little ones just ahead of the engine a manual or auto transmission in the middle and a reasonably sized boot/frunk at the front. Buying a 911 is a no brainer, they hold value as a result of the ludicrous demand, they are almost all a joy to drive and they are as reliable as a Volkswagen Golf. Few challengers have come and gone, even fewer have the lineage or provenance of the 911 and few are as accomplished all rounders.

An Aston Martin would normally not cross a Porsche 911 buyers mind, the previous generation 2005-2018 Vantage was often considered a competitor. In reality there was a signifiant gulf between the two not only in abilities, but also the ownership experience. That all changed with the introduction of this, the latest generation Vantage. Why the sudden change? Well, the partnership with Mercedes-AMG brought a tried and tested, modern V8. The partnership extended to the infotainment system that was always a point of criticism in Astons of old. These updates significantly boosted the appeal of the Vantage, it started to catch buyers attention. Then the media drove the Vantage on road and track and the rave reviews did wonders for the credibility of the Vantage.

Here I am, in Q4 2019 having recently driven the Porsche 992 911 Carreras in S and 4S guises, both as coupes and cabriolets. I find myself somewhat well placed to draw comparisons with the Vantage that has just been delivered on my driveway. Styling is subjective, but it cannot be denied that the gaping Vulcan like front grill, dramatic taught lines and wide rear haunches provide a visual punch that knockout the subtle, stylish and suited Porsche. These cars are visually sending out different messages.

The same can be said for the interior, the 992 is clean, sharp, functional. The Aston is, again, a lot more dramatic with its button festooned square steering wheel. The dash is also littered with buttons and the gear selector is not a conventional stick, but the buttons that Aston have used for a number of years. The British contender lacks rear seats – for the few that shoehorn their children in the back seat or use them as extra storage space, this may be a dealbreaker. On the topic of space, there is no glovebox in the Aston.

Onto the engines. Once again, this is a story of contrasts. For cars that share a target audience, this is the biggest difference. Front mid engined V8 plays rear engined flat six. Both are turbocharged and both are available with auto and manual gearboxes. Start them up and another sensory contrast makes itself known – sound. This, for me, is a significant differentiator. The 992 sounds the same way as it looks, smooth and sophisticated. It turns heads but does not snap necks. The Aston does the latter, the V8 with the sports exhaust is rude on startup and in Sport+ or Track mode, it warbles like an old school V8, then splatters, bangs and howls as you push on. The whip cracks on up shifts and gun shots on downshifts are a far cry from the 911s image. The relation to the Mercedes-AMG’s noises is there, but the Aston is far more brutal, raucous and hard-edged. It is different enough.

The sounds accompanying the gearshifts may be entertaining, the shifts themselves from the ZF eight-speed cannot match the finesse and scarcely believable speed of the PDK box. The Aston’s steering is not hyper fast as many cars on sale today, but it does lack precious feel. Given that it is the first time Aston has adopted an EPAS system, it is fair to say that it will improve in the future as Porsche’s did.

The Aston wins on power, 503bhp vs a Carrera S with 450. 0-100 times are very similar, both will hit the measure in the mid threes according to their press releases. Porsche, as per, are conservative and in the real world would leave the Aston behind from a standing start.

As a daily driver the Vantage is fantastic. Around the congested London streets it is comfortable, the steering is light, the ride supple and the seats are comfortable. The brake pedal is a touch too sensitive but adjusted modulation over time alleviates this, a little more travel would be an improvement as would a glovebox. I suspect the reason for their being a lack of glovebox is the engine being situated so far behind the front axel, the dash itself is quite high. This means there is a sporty post box like view out of all the windows. Racy, not very good for general visibility. The blindspot from the wing mirror position also takes some getting used to.

The comparisons on tangible elements are all good and well. The majority of measures swing towards the 911, particularly when you consider the Carrera S is around £20,000 less than the Vantage. Then you turn to how the cars make you feel and this is where the Aston sets itself up fabulously. Could you imagine James Bond driving a 911? No. The feeling of rarity, bonafide specialness is part and parcel of owning an Aston Martin. If you drive through London you’ll need an abacus to keep count of the 911s that you’ll cross paths with in just an hour around Kensington and Mayfair. Vantages are far rarer, they command attention, something only the most hardcore 911s can do. This may sound trivial, but to me, and I suspect a genuine sports car owner, the way the car make you feel is taken into consideration. Mute the head and focus on the heart and there is a gulf separating the Porsche and the Aston, the Aston gives you this warm happy feeling that is a charm that few competitors possess.

It cannot be denied that the 911 is more accomplished in its abilities, in equal measure anyone considering a 911 would be foolish not to get behind the wheel of the Vantage, it is a fine machine and one that might just charm them off of their feet, perhaps for the drama and noise alone.


Hotel Kesselspitze Obertauern Review

The Hotel Kesselspitze in Austrian ski resort Obertauern recently received their fifth star. Enough reason for us to stop by and check it out ahead of the upcoming ski season.

Obertauern is part of Salzburg state and lies on the top of the Tauernpass. With ski lifts and slopes running around the town on all sides it offers an incredible amount of ski-in, ski-out accommodations. Thanks to its high elevation it has gained a reputation as one of the resorts with the highest snow guarantee in Austria.

The hotel Kesselspitze is located right next to two chair lifts; the Achenrainbahn and the Schaidbergbahn. Both are part of the ‘Tauernrunde’ – a ski lap of the Tauern mountains which can be completed in clock- and counter-clockwise direction. The town with its popular apres-ski bars is a 10-15 minute walk or short ride away from the hotel.

Obertauern & The Beatles

In 1965 the Beatles came to Obertauern and produced part of their film ‘Help’ in the ski resort. During their stay they performed in a hotel in town, their only ever concert in Austria. Until today the visit of the Beatles inspires international visitors to come to Obertauern for ski- and apres-ski action.

Rooms & Suites

The Hotel Kesselspitze has 66 rooms and suites including 5 new rooms and one apartment in chic country style. Highlight is the 70m2 presidential suite with a private sauna and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Each room class features a distinct style but all share a high standard of finishing including flat screen TV, mini bar and modern bathrooms.

Restaurant & Bar

The hotel has one restaurant called Jagdstube serving a daily gourmet menu with extensive buffet of salads and starters. The food is excellent and included in most room rates. Across the lobby from the restaurant guests will find the Einhorn-Bar with a slightly chintzy but cozy lounge and bar area.

The Spa

The spa at Kesselspitze was renovated in 2016 and features everything from an indoor pool, outdoor whirlpool and aroma steam bath to several saunas and a sole rock cave. It is a nice place to relax after a long day on the slopes and watch the snow flakes as they swirl down outside.


The Hotel Kesselspitze is a very nice place to stay if you are looking for a ski-in, ski-out hotel in a resort with some of the best snow in Europe. Comfortable rooms paired with a quality spa offering and excellent food round up a very good offering.


Special Report: The McLaren 720S Spider is Britain’s Finest Export

Be warned, this tale features the B word, Brex*t. The title has been coined to address the colossal saga that is the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and must be one of the most used words in international news in the past three years. There have been amendments, referendums, prorogations, high court rulings and even Queen’s Speeches. I shall not dwell, you’re not here for politics, but for automobiles.

Ever switch on the 10 o’clock news and see politicians being ferried from conference to conference in rather dull executive limousines? The best you can hope for is a Mercedes-Benz S Class, black on black, of course. This got me thinking, it was the night before the final European Union Summit that would be deliberating the latest iteration of the Brexit deal, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first attempt. Tomorrow, news agencies from across the world would crowd and jostle outside Le Berlaymont to catch a word from the 27 EU leaders that would be reviewing the latest version of proposed deal.

What if BoJo didn’t arrive in a mundane, vanilla S Class or Jaguar XJ, but instead stunned the crowds by representing British business, an example of the very businesses that will be impacted so significantly by the outcome of this tumultuous series of events? I felt Boris needed a helping hand, I took matters into my own palms. The next morning I left home at 0630 on a mission to not only improve Boris’s image, but to showcase one of the finest exports that Britain produces. It is an example of why the UK is one of the worlds leading automotive manufacturing countries, and why trade deals with the UK should never be doubted, but encouraged.

The ambassador of choice was perfect. Bentley and Rolls-Royce are British brands, but are both now parts of Audi and BMW, respectively. Jaguar is Indian and Lotus Chinese. Caterham and Morgan are British, but neither are known internationally as representing the best of British, more cottage industry forerunners. There is only one brand suited to this endeavour – McLaren.

I recently was on the continent in a McLaren GT, a car that left me somewhat conflicted and confused. Having previously driven to Paris and back to London in a single day in a 720S, I was in no doubt that it doubled as both a track monster and a capable GT car. To reaffirm my thoughts, I had a 720S Spider for the ride to Brussels to see if the additional 49 kilograms for the roof mechanism would alter the driving characteristics and if the GT would make more sense for such a journey.

One thing that does not change, roof or no roof, is the fuel economy. It is abysmal, even when trundling towards the Channel Tunnel with the cruise control set to a smudge above the speed limit. Seeing anything above 23 miles per gallon was a rare treat. Boris’s refusal to take no deal off the table had sent the pound into a tizzy and fuel prices were through the roof, premium unleaded was emptying my wallet faster than the my ex girlfriend – just as thirsty too. Best not to worry about saving fuel and instead blow it to thy kingdom come with a smile on your face and bangs and cracks coming from the twin exhaust pipes.

A grey drive to Folkestone, quick Starbucks and a deep breathe in to squeeze onto the train later, it was time to cruise across the Continent. Well, part of it at least. It is always surprising how quickly the French autoroute gives way to terrible Belgian tarmac. With the active panel engaged and the handling and drivetrain toggles in comfort, the 720S cruises quietly and somewhat comfortably. The hydraulic suspension is fabulous and plaint. It is upset by bigger holes and cracks in the road, but it is a tradeoff worth making for the terrific handling through the bends on more engaging roads. One element that, still, cannot be faulted is the steering. It remains hydraulically assisted and a pleasure to work with.

The mighty torque is impressive too. The gearshifts are as great as you would expect from a McLaren dual clutch, but when touring you need not be pulling the left carbon paddle for downshifts as you can ride the torque in the upper gears. This is, of course, when the revs are above 2,500rpm, there is a world of lag below this threshold. As the kilometres trickled by, the weather worsened and the chances of experiencing the 720S Spider with the roof down diminished. A special mention, once again, to the awesome rear window that can be lowered or raised regardless of the roof being up or down. It is a great way to enjoy both fresh air and that hard edged engine tone, even when it is raining.

This car featured a clever and very expensive option, an electrochromic glass roof panel. This meant that the panoramic glass was able to go from fully clear to dark in a couple of seconds. It is cool and strangely satisfying to press the button and watch the glass ceiling change from ‘shade mode’ to ‘full sunlight’.

Other interior highlights included the luxurious Cognac leather in this ‘Luxury’ spec 720S. The 720Ss I had previously driven were all configured in ‘Performance’ trim meaning there was far more Alcantara and less leather to be found. The quality of the leather is great, as is the colour, my opinion of course. The infotainment is a generation behind the updated McLaren GT system, but I was not a huge fan of the update and the older system felt no less capable as it also lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems.

As Brussels neared, the rain relented and there was time to relish precious minutes with the roof down. Heated seats work brilliantly to negate wind chill and the car looks utterly spectacular in shop front reflections. Say what you like about the eye-socket headlamp design, few will argue that the 720S does not look like a missile from its side profile. The well behaved demeanour from the motorway cruise continues in the congestion of Brussels. The Start-Stop system decided to go on strike, other than that the 720S Spider was flawless around town. Visibility was good, the ride supple and the turning circle…acceptable. Things are a little scarier when squeezing through narrow gaps or high kerbed car parks, more a case of driver fear and being unfamiliar with the supercars dimensions.

As the infamous Berlaymont building neared, Theresa May had been collected, riding shotgun and Boris Johnson jumped in behind the wheel. The time had come to change the bumbling Prime Ministers image once and for all. Passers by gasped and laughed in equal measure. Camera phones flashed and selfies were taken. It seemed that it was mission accomplished, a hypothesis that was all but confirmed later that day when Boris Johnson announced that Jean Claude Juncker had accepted his governments proposed deal. I’m not saying that it had anything to do with the McLaren or my mission…but maybe, just maybe, it did.

In another bizarre ‘coincidence’, McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt confirmed that McLaren Automotive will keep production entirely UK based despite Brexit in an interview to CNBC on the same day. He continued saying that the firm is ‘born and bred’ in the UK. The brand is one that is proudly British and one that should be celebrated. The McLaren F1 is, arguably, the greatest car ever and when the 12C rolled off the production line in 2011 a new era was born. McLaren seemingly came out of the blue and shattered any complacency that the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini had, pushing performance to new levels.

Almost 9 years on, McLaren continues to push it rivals to the extent that it is difficult to compare its offerings to that of the aforementioned rivals. The 720S is pitched against cars like the Porsche GT2 RS, Ferrari 488 Pista and Lamborghini Huracan Performante – hardcore special edition models that are stripped out track animals. The 720S obliterated the trio in a number of tests and it is the ‘standard’ car complete with creature comforts and touring credentials that make it just as usable as the McLaren GT. The LT model is expected to demolish its European rivals. McLaren Automotive represents the best, not only of British, but supercars produced anywhere in the world. Brexit or not, deal or no deal, McLaren will continue to be a flag bearer of British innovation and technology for years to come.


Porsche Taycan Turbo S Review

This is a big deal and perhaps the most significant car I have ever written about in my short, prepubescent life as an editor writing about cars. I am also a sceptic of electric cars, I am just not a fan, this is a chance for Porsche to change my views. Some 350 journalists have been driving the Taycan before me, specifically the Turbo and Turbo S models, on a mega road trip starting in Oslo. Nineteen days later, the convoy would reach the spiritual home of Porsche, Stuttgart and I had the honour of driving the final leg of the journey from Berlin.

Stepping into the Taycan is quite an overwhelming experience for me. Knowing that I would be able to finally drive a car I have sat in on multiple occasions before and even been a passenger in when in pre production form, it was my time to drive one of the most eagerly anticipated and important cars in a decade.

When I jump behind the wheel the first thought is that there is a wall of screens to comprehend. There are a lot of screens, four in this car (including optional passenger screen). That being said, it all is very clear and logical, futuristic but still familiar in a typical Porsche way. If you have not previously sat in a Taycan you may need a second to: a) know whether or not is is on, b) find the gear selector (it is hidden to the right of the wheel like it was in a 918 Spyder).

Orientation completed, what is it like to drive? Crawling around the congested streets of Berlin in a Taycan is a quiet and tranquil experience. Then you find yourself in the left turning lane but you need to take a right. Sport Plus engaged…red, red, red. GREEN. I am pinned to the seat and crossing four lanes and feeling like a naughty school child. The feeling of speed is intensified by the synthesised spaceship noise the accompanies the neck snapping acceleration, the noise can be turned on or off at the touch of a button. So it goes like a Porsche, a very fast one at that. The Taycan Turbo S will do 0-100 in a blistering 2.8 seconds, that GT2 RS quick, in a family saloon that will fit four adults and has two boots. As I am sure you would have seen, the Taycan Turbo S recently set the fastest Nurburgring lap time for a four door EV with a sterling time of 7min42, a time that was seemingly set on very ordinary tires, bring out the Cup 2 Rs and watch Tesla cry.

Out onto the country roads of rural Germany the Taycan can stretch its legs, and boy, it has legs. The acceleration from standstill is potent, instant and and honestly, takes your breath away. When you’re up to speed you can focus on placing the car fabulously using the brilliant steering, typical Porsche. Thread it through a corner and the acceleration out of the bend dominates again. Into the next one and it dawns upon me that I am chucking a 2.4 tonne car through the corners like a car that weighs a tonne less. The weight is all down in the floor, the Taycan has a lower centre of a 911 and it shows. There is little to no body roll, there is supreme control and composure. The only time the illusion wears thin is under heavy braking, you can’t cheat physics forever. It stops well and hard using the giant carbon ceramics, but the inertia can be felt.

So it is a revelation for electric cars in the way it drives, it has a futuristic interior and it looks the part. The car is fabulous, but then we come to the other side of the coin: the infrastructure.

When setting off from the start line in Berlin the navigation was set and the car displayed an estimated battery change percentage upon arrival. It read 12% to the lunch stop where the car would be charged at one of the Ionity 800watt chargers. 12% is a reasonable level and my passengers and I felt confident that we could arrive without giving the range much thought. Remember that quick lane change in the city that I mentioned earlier?

That switch into Sport Plus and the pedal to the metal acceleration cost 1% of that 12% estimate. A few amusing accelerations from standstill to the speed limit cost a further 5%. A short 3km autobahn blast to the vmax of 260km/h and the estimated battery upon arrival is at 1%. With more than 100kms to go, the famed range anxiety set in. I shift into Range mode to try and earn back some precious power. This is where things get a little dull, there are some stunning roads coming up, but I cannot push or my passengers and I will be stranded on the side of the street playing I Spy.

Some careful driving and arduous steady kilometres later we are close to the destination with around 4% charge remaining. Into sport plus I hope to make the most of the remaining power, only to find the car is warning me to preserve the remaining charge and it has limited the max speed. Killjoy.

Throw in a short unexpected detour, such as dropping a friend to a train station a few kms off the route and you will not make it to your final destination without having to visit another charger on the way, make sure it supports 800watts or you’ll be sat around for far too long staring at the percentage of charge in a service station memorising the Burger King menu.

The Taycan is a fabulous machine, one that has, without a doubt, changed perceptions and the expectations of electric cars. I cannot help but question how the concept of electric cars can be considered feasible in a world where the infrastructure is not yet ready to alleviate the woes of range anxiety. We are so accustomed to the convenience of having endless access to petrol stations where we can brim our tanks with fossil juice in seconds. Until we can charge our batteries in less than the time it takes to do a shot of espresso and chomp down a Snickers bar, there will always be sceptics of the need to build in 20-30 minute stops to recharge a battery. For day-to-day short commutes in congested towns and cities like London, the efforts of the BMW i3s or Renault Zoe are far more compelling. A week of commuting can be completed on a single charge overnight on the weekend, a real alternative to combustion motoring. Why claim that electricity is ready to replace fossil fuels in all scenarios?


2019 BMW M8 Competition Coupe and Convertible Review

The BMW M8 Competition is a difficult car to place. The replacement of the M6 is tagged by BMW as being a luxury GT car, but one that packs 625 horsepower and 750Nm of torque. Those aren’t numbers that are used to waft from the country estate to the golf course, something I learnt when I went to The Algarve to put the most powerful series production M car in BMW’s history to the test.

After an evening of being inundated with stats and filled with the finest prawns I’ve ever eaten, it was time to see how the figures felt in the real world. Exploiting 625 horsepower on the street isn’t exactly easy, the infamous Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, colloquially referred to as Portimao, had been booked out for us to put the M8 Competition through its paces (the base M8 was not on offer to test on this occasion). Boy, oh boy there was pace. BMW claims 0-100km/h in 3.3 and it feels every bit as fast. 3.3 isn’t a number typically attributable to a wafty GT car, and neither is the way the M8 Competition handles itself around what is one of the most testing tracks in Europe. Stability and control were a focus for the M division and can be directly linked to three innovations that have been created with sharp handling characteristics in mind: M xDrive, Active M Differential and M-specific Adaptive suspension. They each do what they say on the tin and each element takes the poise of the M850i and turns it up a notch to far more serious, track usable levels.

Yes, the car still feels all of two tonnes when you really start to hustle it into bends and quick direction changes, but you’ve got to be forcing it into such a scenario. I suspect 98%, if not more, of owners will never venture onto a track with their M8, but it’s spectacular to know how capable the car can be. The xDrive system deserves a special mention as it allows you to apply power extremely early after an apex, you feel it dragging the car out with terrific grip and speed. That’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had, with the traction and stability systems in MDM, the rear end comes in to play and is easily adjustable on the throttle.

The 4.4-litre V8 revs to 7,200 but peak power is done at 6,000. The 750Nms come courtesy of two turbochargers that are nestled between the two cylinder banks for a sharper response and less lag. This unit teams up with an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission which is as good as any dual clutch setup on sale today, you are never left helplessly tugging at paddles for downshifts multiple times before they are delivered.

Braking performance is often a point of criticism on BMW M cars, even the carbon ceramic setups of the past have been known to find themselves in a spot of smokey bother after a couple of intense laps on track, not in the M8. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, the brake activation, brake booster and braking control functions are brought together within a compact module. The brake pressure required is triggered by an electric actuator, which means it can be generated more dynamically, pedal feel is optimised and the interventions from the stability control system are significantly faster and more precise. The driver can choose between two pedal feel settings: one more comfort-oriented and the other a particularly direct, instantaneous setting. I can report that the feel remains remarkably consistent even after a pounding on the track.

As I said, I can never imagine myself seeing an M8 on track except for in special circumstances such as a motoGP safety car. The road is where M8s will be used and that’s where the real world consumer testing needs to be done.

Weighing in at 2.1 tonnes, the convertible M8 Competition is around 100 kilograms more than the Coupe and is the variant assigned for the road testing element of the test. It is 0.1 seconds slower to 100 (3.4 seconds) but with the roof retracted the sensation of speed is heightened.

With every new car review I write, I seem to drone on and on about the crippling OPF that has restrained the exhaust noises that enthusiasts so crave. The story is the same here and the soundtrack is not what you would traditionally associate with a 4.4 V8. That being said, M have worked hard to give the M8 some serious bass. It’s not great, it’s acceptable.

On the billiard table smooth tarmac of the track the steering felt numb, there is more weight in the sportier modes, but the feel is absent. The same can be said for the steering on the road. So not very good then? Hold your horses, the M8 really surprised me on the deserted, tight and twisty roads away from the circuit. The coupe was great on track, the convertible continued to exceed expectations on the street. The xDrive system means you can use the power and mammoth torque without fearing for your life, the systems mentioned before, particularly the suspension and diff shine and come together to make the M8 not only savagely fast, but also very easy to drive at speed.

Then you slow down to admire the scenery and stick everything into comfort and the character of the car completely changes – it demonstrates an impressive breadth of ability. The cabin is comfortable, the seats could be a little more supportive but are well suited to long drives. The back seats are usable for adults too, perhaps not for longer journeys but certainly suitable for children. The infotainment system remains one of the best in the business and there are new M displays to separate this from the rest of the 8 family. Gone is the questionable crystal gear selector from lesser 8 series models.

This brings me back to my opening statement: the M8 is a difficult car to place. Is it a 911 competitor? I feel it’s not sporty enough and lacks feel in comparison to the Porsche. Maybe the Bentley Continental GT or DB11? I feel the M8 is not premium enough. The Aston Martin Vantage or AMG GT could be in the sights of the M8, but neither of those can demonstrate the soft, supple cruising abilities of the M8 Competition. Regardless, the M8 Competition stands tall and proud as the current head of the BMW M table with the ability to cruise quietly or attack a road with seemingly endless torque and power. A mighty fine M car.


2020 Audi RS7 Sportback Review

There forever has been and, hopefully, will always be an inexplicable level of cool associated with a fast German saloon car. Perhaps it is that they are based cars on which are typically a little beige, boring and, more often than not, diesel barges that trundle down the autobahn minding their own business. Then the skunkworks departments at the likes of M, AMG and RS get to work and the results are snarling hulks that both look and feel like swollen hulks of the timid cars they once were.

Since the turn of the millennium, there have been a couple of personal highlights: the E60 BMW M5 saloon and estate which both featured derivatives of the Williams F1 V10 that howled like nothing else, and the Audi RS6 Avant that also featured a mighty large V10 taken from the Lamborghini Gallardo. The recently replaced Audi RS6 is also up there nestled amongst the best. The pressure is on for the new one to deliver, but the opportunity to drive the RS6 is a few months away. To whet the appetite, Audi asked if I would like to drive the RS7, a car that seems to have been somewhat overshadowed by the mass hankering the market had for the RS6, despite both cars sharing the same mechanicals underpinnings. Could the latest iteration steal the hearts of many as the RS6s of the past had? To find out, I flew to Frankfurt.

Let’s get the numbers bit out of the way: at the heart of the package sits a 4.0-litre V8 engine producing 600 hp and 800 Nm of torque. 100 km/h is dispatched in just 3.6 seconds with a 250 km/h top speed. The Dynamic package removes the limiter, pushing this up to 305 km/h.

A 48-volt system runs a belt alternator starter with car recover 12 kW of power for use between 55 and 160 km/h. The system is meant to provide instantaneous power to the drive while offering the ability to coast on electrical energy with the engine switched off. The cylinder on demand technology further aids fuel consumption. Power is fed to a Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed tiptronic transmission. The RS7 gets a launch control function with torque control provided through a sport differential, part of the optional Dynamic and Dynamic plus packages.

That’s that, what does this all feel like off the paper and on the tarmac? Well, that depends on one decision that owners will have to make, it makes a rather considerable difference: suspension. The RS7 can be optioned with either the standard, more comfortable, RS adaptive air suspension or an optional sport suspension with Dynamic Ride Control, that is the one you want. Why? The optional DRC set up is harder and, yes, it is touch harsher on the road. Make no mistake, it is still comfortable when you’re cruising, but when you get a hustle on, the body control and the limit before understeer and tyre squeal become a factor, is far higher.

I am no track day magician, but I was finding the handling limits of the car in the air suspension fitted cars remarkably easily. The conventionally sprung car felt far more up for a good time, and as a result, I feel it is worth the comfort trade-off. All cars tested rode on massive 22 inch wheels all around.

What about the performance? My first thoughts on the autobahn were ‘oh, it’s not THAT quick’, I then looked down and noticed I had hit the top speed. In gear acceleration in first, second and third in particular, is astonishing. It feels every bit 592bhp quick. At speed, the sensation of power is somewhat stymied by the lack of a certain characteristic: sound. There is a huge 4.0-litre V8 under the hood, but you would have no idea judging by the sound in the cabin. It is a little depressing, but it is a sign of the times in a world muzzled by the legislative necessity for the awful OPF. Audi combated my comment stating that they wanted to keep the noise authentic and refused to pipe fake sounds into the cabin…if you listen carefully you can hear BMW M retreating into the bushes.

Back to the bends, there is a lack of something here too, steering weight and feedback. This is a gripe that I’ve had with Audis for years, the chances of this being remedied in the RS7 were slim, it is a little difficult to understand what the front tires are doing and where the limits of adhesion are when there is such an absence of palpable communication coming through the wheel. That being said, there is good news too. The car is savagely fast out of bends and the 48 volt antiroll system masks the weight as well as you could ask from a car that weighs in at 2,500 kilos. As previously mentioned, the DRC suspension is where the car is at its best. It must also be noted that the gearbox is fine on the way up, but hesitates on downshift – third to second, in particular, seems to take an age.

Inside there are a few niggles, but on the whole, the interior is a very pleasant place to be. There are lashings of leather, alcantara and plenty of room in the front and rear. There are also walls of screen. The dash is impressive and there and a multitude of configuration options to display as much data as I’ve seen in a machine this side of an F16. For me, the two stacked central touch screens are a little fiddly on the move and require more concentration than I would like to give them when pushing on or trying to focus on a twisty stretch of tarmac. This, I guess, is personal preference and others may love them as much as I loathe them. On the whole, I feel there could be more going on in the interior to set the RS apart from the series A7 to reflect the changes to the exterior. It lacks a special touch.

On the whole, the RS7 is a mighty fine piece of kit. If you’re in the market for an M5 to E63, the RS7 really is a viable alternative. It is a little softer and quieter than the aforementioned cars, but is by no means slower. It features all the tech you could ever need, is spacious and in plenty fast. Audi claim 0-100 in 3.6, I saw 3.2 time and time again with the deeply effective launch control activated. To answer my opening question, yes, I really think this car deserves adoring fans as there is plenty to love in this new RS7 as there has been in every RS6 to date. Now we need to see just how impressive the new RS6 is.


2020 VUHL 05 Review

It has been 4 years since we first tested the VUHL 05 Mexican supercar. Now during our first day at Monterey Car Week 2019 the brothers Iker and Guillermo Echeverria presented us with an opportunity to test drive their updated 2020 VUHL 05. It comes with a more powerful engine and several other improvements over the first generation cars.

Since the world premiere of the VUHL 05 in 2013 over 50 VUHLs have been produced and sold. Recently the line-up was extended with an even more hardcore high performance version called the VUHL 05 RR. This RR comes with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine from Ford. The 2020 VUHL 05 comes now also with this new engine versus the 2.0-liter engine in the predecessor. The 2.3-liter Ford EcoBoost engine is paired with a Sadev six-speed sequential gearbox.

The performance takes a big leap forward; gaining 75hp bringing the total to 360hp and 485Nm of torque (+65Nm). The sprint from 0-100 km/h takes 3.7 seconds and the top speed is limited to 250 km/h. The most impressive figure however is the weight; dry the 2020 VUHL 05 only weighs 695 kilograms.

The low weight is thanks to VUHL’s unique X-Vario platform constructed from 6061-T6 aluminium extrusions and aluminium honeycomb. Its extreme torsional stiffness allows the suspension to be finely tuned.

For me it is the first time to drive the VUHL 05 and I was worried for a bit that I would struggle to fit as I’m 1.90m tall. But after taking the steering wheel off I managed to slide right into the carbon fibre bucket seats. The seats are pretty tight but with the harness keep you in place like nothing else. And believe me you will want to be bolted in as the G-forces you can achieve are breathtaking.

Once you are set lift up the cover of the master switch and flip the switch up as if you are firing a torpedo and press the start button to bring the engine to live. Being a small series supercar built in Mexico the 2020 VUHL 05 has none of this European noise regulation bullshit that castrated most new sports cars recently. Instead it is loud and sounds like one of the best sounding four-cylinders I have ever driven.

Put the throttle into gear, lift the clutch and off we go. The turbo hisses and whooshes as we make our way through the gears on the treelined Californian roads. There is no brake booster so applying the brakes requires a proper punch but it is not disturbing.

The bright orange car turns heads and raises thumbs where-ever we go. Even during Monterey Car Week with dozens of Paganis and Bugattis taking over the streets of Pebble Beach the VUHL 05 is an absolute attention magnet.

However one man is not particular pleased to see us. To one of the local officers of the law the VUHL works like a red muleta to a bull. Apparently the aggressive appearance of the VUHL 05 is so intimidating that while taking a few photos roadside I must be bullied into submission. My photographer Philipp is shock frozen by the verbal tirade and forgets to capture the with hindsight hilarious moment on film. A few minutes into the monologue a Bentley flies by and we are no longer worthy of attention as the Sheriff sets off in pursuit.

With the VUHL 05 and the road back to ourselves we continue our test drive; the suspension consists of 2-way adjustable Bilstein dampers and high-rate Eibach springs and provide the VUHL 05 with handling like a race car. The light weight, optimized aerodynamics and cup tires allow you to corner like nothing else. The low ground clearance is a bit of an issue on some occasions but the VUHL 05 is not intended as a daily driver but as the ultimate track toy.

I’m surprised by the quality of the finishing. The hybrid carbon – aluminum monocoque can be finished with exposed carbon inside and out giving the VUHL 05 a very high-end look and feel. All the switchgear is elegant, simple and well executed. The digital driver display shows all key driving elements and more. There is no aircon, no radio and no navigation but who needs that on track anyway.

The VUHL 05 is so much fun to drive I don’t want to give it back and consider stealing it so I can really drive it like I stole it. But the thought of crossing paths again with my new friend at the local law makes me slowly reconsider and long after dark I return the car to our friends at VUHL. I can’t wait to have a rendezvous with this incredible machine on a race track.


The 5 Best Protein Powders Available — and How to Use Them

Protein is one of the many building blocks of life — you need it to bulk up, lose weight and maintain weight. It’s what keeps you fuller for longer, and helps prime your body for repair. It enables you to recover after a hard workout and optimize your training routine. While bodybuilders and gym rats have long taken protein powders, they’re still pretty polarizing. Either you use them, or you don’t. People don’t really dabble in protein powders. What you might not realize is that getting enough protein can be tricky, and protein supplements and powders are an easy way to up the amount of protein you’re getting without having to increase your total consumption levels.

What’s in Protein Powder?

When dipping your toes in the protein powder water, you should know what you’re consuming and how to consume it. “We understand one of the essential amino acids, leucine, is critical as a signal to promote muscle protein synthesis, which is tissue growth and repair,” Dr. Sue Kleiner, a registered dietician, a fellow of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and author of The New Power Eating, says. Whether you want to build muscle or slim down, protein is essential in your diet. Dr. Kleiner recommends eating protein four to five times a day, as the research shows eating multiple times throughout the day help an average person get the amount they need. If you’re looking to build muscle or bulk up, you should aim for five times a day.

What If I Eat a Lot of Meat?

While aiming to get all of the protein you need from whole foods is best, you can’t always get as much as you need from food alone. Sometimes our bodies just can’t handle eating all that protein. “Everyone can’t necessarily sit down to that kind of meal, or even have the appetite for that, so that’s where using a protein supplement as a snack [comes in].” Ideally, you’re mixing it with some fruit or in a smoothie, but the main draw to protein powder is that it’s more portable and easy to consume.

How Much Protein Should I Aim For?

With each meal or snack, you should aim for 25 to 35 grams of protein at a minimum to sustain your body during hard workouts. “It takes at least 20 grams of whey protein, which has the highest leucine composition, or 25 to 30 grams of whole protein whether you’re eating animal product or plant protein,” Dr. Kleiner says. Most protein powders come with a pre-measured scoop, which likely has at least 20 grams of protein.

Does It Matter When Picking between Whey, Plant and Animal-Based Protein?

When comparing proteins, you can get your necessary 25 grams from one, two or a mix of all three. The catch with plant protein is that “the quality of [plant] protein is lower than animal protein in supporting health, so you need 10 percent more,” Dr. Kleiner says. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, consuming all-plant protein is sufficient, just be sure to add that extra amount.

What to Look for in a Label

Look for at least two grams of leucine per serving, but you need to be careful when purchasing supplements. “There is a lot of contamination, particularly in the supplement industry channels that focus on bodybuilding, that can be laced with drugs,” Dr. Kleiner warns. “I am adamant about using third-party certified lab products.” Look for NSF for Sport, or BSCG, which is a banned substances control group, or Informed Sport. All of those check for banned substances in supplements.

One of the reasons protein powders can be so polarizing is because there’s no one-size-fits-all. “Your nutrition needs, including how much protein you need, is dependent on many factors: age, gender, weight, activity level, the presence of an injury or a disease, as well as nutrition or fitness goals,” Megan Ostler, MS, RDN of iFit, says. It’s all very individualized.

Buying Guide

We spoke with top nutritionists and sports dieticians to hear what protein powders they recommend. McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN and founder of Nutrition Stripped swears by the first three picks on this list. Ostler recommends the iFit Nourish program, a questionnaire that creates the perfect protein mix for you — whether you’re a runner, CrossFitter or yogi.

Thriving Protein by Nutra Organics $50

Pea Protein by Now Sports $17

Nourish by iFit $82/30 days

Organic Protein by Tone It Up $41

MySmart Shake Plant Protein Base by USANA $70

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2020 Mercedes-AMG A45 S Review

The Mercedes-AMG 45S is the “Super-sportscar” of the compact class and ranging topping offering from Mercedes-Benz.
With the previous third generation Mercedes-Benz A class getting it’s first taste of the AMG treatment over six-years ago, it was time for the team in Affalterbach to give the now fourth generation A Class a new incarnation. For this we headed to Circuito del Jarama on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain.

Now at Circuito del Jarama we get our first look round the new A45S which is now fitted with the worlds most powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the M139. Producing an impressive 384hp as a “standrard” A45, the A45S manages to output an outstanding 421hp! This is an improvement of 40hp over the previous M133 DE20 LA engine found in the facelift third generation Mercedes A45 AMG, and gives the M139 a output of 211hp per litre which places it on-par with engines you’d expect to find in high class ranges. As with all AMG produced engines, the powerplants found in the A45 are from Affalterbach and adhere to the “One Man, One Engine” principle. The A45S will reach 100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds and will continue on to a top speed of 270 km/h, whilst the standard A45 is 0.1 seconds slower to 100 km/h (4.0) and is electronically limited to 250 km/h, though this can be raised to 270 km/h with the optional AMG Drivers package.
The new engine has been rotated around its vertical axis 180°, meaning the turbocharger and exhaust manifold are now positioned to the rear of the engine bay, allowing for a more aerodynamically and the flattest possible front section of the car. Inside the engine, Mercedes has coated the cylinders with their patented NANOSLIDE technology that is also found in their Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 engines.
Both variants of the M139 are coupled to the eight speed AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT-8G dual clutch transmission, which provides shifts in mere milliseconds, and comes equipped with the AMG Performance 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive. Also new for this generation of A45, is Drift mode, which comes as standard with the S and is included in the optional AMG DYNAMIC Plus package on the standard A45. Drift mode is called up when in “RACE” mode when the ESP is turned off and the transmission is in manual mode, allowing for powerslides on any road condition.

Twisting the wheel-mounted driving mode dial round to “Race” and you feel the car tighten up, the exhaust valves open and in general become more aggressive. Opening up the throttle and the power is almost instantaneous, the gearshifts are smooth and lightening quick with a little crackle and pop on every one, or when you lift of the throttle. The steering is light and responsive in conjunction with the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres, giving you feedback as you go through the corners and making you feel comfortable pushing harder into each upcoming corner.
The AMG Torque Control differential helps to bring the car back around on occasions when you find you’ve pushed a little too hard into a corner, with the font tighten up and the rear being pull round in a “powersliding” style.

Now back in the paddock area we have a better chance to look at the exterior changes on the new A45S. The most striking feature across both variants is the addition of the AMG specific grille on the A Class for the first time. The flared wheel arches and front winglets add to the aggressive look that the contoured headlamps and aerodynamic styled hood give the A45S. This continues round to the side of the car, where the AMG side skirts give the A45S a more road hugging stance, whist the wing mirrors are mounted in a similar fashion to those found on the larger coupes and sportscars. At the rear of the A45S, the thinner rear light clusters help to emphasise a wider rear, with the twin 90mm round exhaust pipes sticking out on both sides of the rear diffuser.
One optional extra that helps that were a big fan of is the AMG Aerodynamic package, which with its modified font splitter, winglets, additional diffuser blade and rear wing help to not only improve that handling abilities of the A45S through improved downforce, but also finish of the aggressive styling of the car. Other options include a range of 19-Inch alloy wheels, the AMG night package or a Silver Chrome package.

Inside the A45S the driver and passenger are seated in sports seats that have a firm lateral support and are covered in black ARTICO man-made leather and DINAMICA microfibre is timeless, and creates typical AMG highlights with double topstitching in yellow. The steering wheel comes in nappa leather/DINAMICA microfibre, with either red, yellow or black stitching, galvanised gearshift paddles nestled just behind it and an adjustable button that allows the driver to set the AMG driving mode without the need to remove their hands from the wheel. As always, the centre console is present in a gloss black finish with a touchpad that is surrounded by additional switches that control the ESP, transmission mode and exhaust mode to name a few.

The MBUX infotainment system has three AMG styles, “Classic”, “Sport” and “Supersport”. When Supersport is selected you get a striking central, round rev countrer and with the other information being moved to the side in a bar form. Mercedes have also added the AMG Track Pace as standard to the A45S, meaning the virtual race engine is fully available through the MBUX infotainment system. By measuring more than 80 different vehicle-specific data channels, the drivers are then able to analyse and improve their driving skills. Another feature of the AMG Track Pace is the ability to record your own circuits into the memory, be it major race tracks famous across the world, or you nearest club circuit, and have the ideal racing line stored and displayed.

Out on the road the ride quality is very good for a “super-sports” compact car, and it’s only when you move into Sport+ and Race that you start to feel more of the road below, it handles the highways with ease and comfort. On the more winding mountainous roads that lead up the Sierra de Guadarrama, the A45S hugs the round, staying planted in the corners with the power coming back smoothly and quickly when you punch the accelerator on the exit.

With their completely re-designed A45 models, Mercedes-AMG has showcased their competence in developing an already class-leading compact into a ground breaking “Super-sportscar” both equally comfortable at highway cruising as it is at windy country roads and race tracks.
Overall the new Mercedes-AMG 45S is a cooling looking, extremely well equipped and punchy compact class car, that has definitely raised the bar in the “Super-sportscar”, compact class market!


Special Report: Purity and Driving Pleasure In The Caterham 310R

A few weeks ago Caterham invited me to spend a few days with a Caterham 620R – these were some of the most thrilling and scary motoring days I have ever lived. The 620R can only be compared to well lubricated roller-skate that has been strapped onto a hulking great firework that would be the centre piece of any new years display. To say the power to weight ratio of the 620R (508bhp/ton) will test even the most skilled driver, is an understatement – applying throttle mid corner is something you have to be very brave to do. Caterham called me again a few days ago, this time to try a 310R (281bhp/ton) to see if less power and a conventional manual gearbox, not a savage race car derived sequential, would make the driving experience less intimidating and more usable.

Most Caterhams looks fairly similar, it is the details and badges that set the various models apart from one another – the stark anomaly being the 620R I had. There was no windscreen or roof, the interior was sparse and dominated by carbon fibre and switches that had no function. The 310R I am collecting is, in comparison, tame. There is a roof, windows and an interior with dials that you would find in any conventional car. It still looks like a go kart, just one that looks a lot more accommodating and welcoming.

Would these characteristics continue through into the driving experience? In short, yes. Unsurprisingly, having half (152bhp) of the 310bhp the 620R packs, makes a profound difference. The 1.6 litre Ford engine is more than powerful enough to fire the 540kg car down the road. 0-60mph is completed in a respectable 4.9 seconds, but that is not what this car is built to do, nor where it is at its best.

In the corners the 310R is an utter joy to pilot. The gearshift is so beautifully weighted, a pleasure to use and the power is so usable that you can use all of it most of the time. It just grips and goes and you’ll thread apexes together with unparalleled satisfaction being able to see the wheels running exactly where you imagined they would. The tiny steering wheel and the weight transfer make the 310R feel like a real life, street legal go kart. You’ll try and pin the throttle and steer the car in through corners carrying more and more speed. There is a rhythm that comes courtesy of having a modest power figure and a gorgeously light body that is just not available in modern day cars. It is spectacular and addictive. This is a car that feels alive being driven hard, it pushes you to test the levels of grip. It even makes a great noise – let the revs fall to 2,500 and the exhaust pops and rubles as if someone emptied a packet of popcorn seeds into it.

With the roof stowed in the back and the wind running through the cabin, the 310R is at one with the elements. You’ll occasionally lose yourself in the thrill of the road, it feels like you’re well into triple digit speeds and then you look down and notice you are going half as fast as you thought you were. You do not need to be flying along at illegal, dangerous speeds to make the most of it, and that is reassuring and refreshing. It is guilt free, uncorrupted glee and, as a result, it is the most fun I’ve had in a car in a long time. Caterham have banged home a point I am a strong advocate of – power isn’t everything. It is also incredible value for the experience it delivers at £27,900, but it feels and looks extraordinary. It catches attention and starts conversations with pedestrians and fellow motorists alike.

This is a car for the drivers, people like me that enjoy back to basics purity. With no ABS, traction control or power-steering, you know and feel like you are in control. This is a car we need to celebrate – there are very few cars that can be compared.