Category Archives: Motoring

Range anxiety puts damper on holiday break

 A thought-provoking journey in an electric car

They call it range anxiety, but at times it can feel like range despair. Range anxiety is the fear that there will not be enough power in the battery of our electric vehicle to get to your destination. Something that happened on a trip to the Lake District, writes Bill McCarthy.

Range anxiety has been around since modern electric cars first hit the road in the shape of the Nissan Leaf.

I drove one of those around 11 years ago, to a football match dur- ing the cold and rain and left again in the dark.

It was not fully topped up, but the range was showing 64 miles, to cover a round trip of 24, but with the lights, wipers and heater drawing the power, just one mile was showing on the range when we got home. That’s range anxiety.

More than 10 years on battery life has improved immeasurably, with some models boasting a range of around 350 miles, enough for most journeys.

And the costs benefits are obvi- ous, particularly with spiralling fuel charges.

They are still not cheap to buy, even with the Government EV grant. But if you do decide to go electric, everything is cheaper with zero road tax and the lowest Benefit in Kind ratings if you are a compa- ny car driver. There are of course costs to your electric bill but these are outweighed by savings on petrol and diesel.

But there’s still range anxiety.

This is despite the increase in the number of charging points at service stations and their fast-charging facilities which will deliver an 80 per cent charge in around 20 minutes.

Which is great if you are not in the queue to use one which, as it turned out, was quite often in a journey from hell to the Lake Dis- trict.

It was a bit of a dilemma, should we take a relatively untried model with a claimed range of 195 miles on a proposed round trip of 450 miles? What better way to test it I thought. Well it was a test all right,

Some careful planning was needed. Yes, there were several charging points at motorway services right up to Lakeland itself.

So a quick top up to 80 per cent range on one of the latest fast chargers at an M6 service station around half way should do the trick, before completing the 190-odd mile journey to our destination.

We were also aware that once inside Britain’s biggest and arguably most beautiful national park,

Finding a charging point can sometimes prove to be a headache and charging points would be far less frequent. So a few were pinpointed, just in case.

Well you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

The minute we hit the motorway the heavens opened. At this point the range was showing 140 miles, but once the wipers, lights and demister came on, and travelling at above 60mph, the power meter headed south in a big way and guess what? Range anxiety set in.

Two M6 services stop offs were needed. The 100kW fast chargers are easy to use. Just plug it in, show your credit/debit card and within 20 to 30 minutes you will have at least an 80 per cent charge.

The second stop was nearer our destination as the range was again plunging alarmingly, but there were problems with charging. One station was out of action and the other would not charge until the car next to me had finished.

All this added to journey time and a growing sense of frustration and trepidation.

By the time we got off the motorway, it was getting dark and still raining heavily with about 60 miles to our destination and the predicted range dropping relentlessly.

Ninety buttock-clenching minutes later we arrived, with a range of just under 40 miles showing. So what next?

The Lake District EV infrastructure is patchy to say the least. So we had to spend our second, and only full day, planning how to charge up. We found one place at a hotel that was free, but out of action. Again range anxiety.

Helped out by a friendly campsite owner

However, it was a beautiful day and where we were staying had spectacular views across the western lakes and fells. So we pretty much stayed put and approached a friendly campsite owner who agreed to let us use our three-pin trickle charger overnight.

That can give a full charge, but takes up to 15 hours from flat. However, ready to journey back the next morning, we had a full charge.

The return journey pretty much mirrored the first. Driving rain, multiple charging stops and problems finding unoccupied charging points and, yes, arriving with about 40 miles range left. One thing this trip has shown is that just like petrol or diesel motors, fuel figures take a battering when cold, electrical components and speed come into play.

With combustion engines, however, filling stations – even in the Lake District – are plentiful. Not so with charging points and the same applies to most rural areas. Electric cars are seeing rapidly growing sales and are widely perceived as the future of emissions-free motoring, with combustion engines are due to be phased out by 2030 and hybrids by 2035.

Hopefully, by then, range anxiety and infrastructure problems will be a distant memory.

Even with the current energy crisis, EVs remain cheaper to run than combustion engines. I have driven many electric cars and no matter what the predicted range is, you cannot stop yourself keeping an eye on the range.

It is the first time I have driven one this far, in such awful conditions, and it will be a rare occurrence for most. But for those using it for work and travelling the country, it needs careful consideration before taking the plunge.

Super Gran packs a real punch

BMW M440i Gran Coupe

By Bill McCarthy



When it comes to producing compact performance coupes, BMW has few peers. Stylish, desirable, pricey and offering, blistering performance together will all-wheel drive technology, there’s a huge amount to like, although this model will set you back north of £53k.

It’s not perfect, no car is, but it comes close. It gives a whole new dimension to the phrase ‘hot hatch.’, with its four-doors, hatchback and brutal pace.

The BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupé, has a rather grand sounding name and no, doesn’t refer to shoehorning your gran into the car.

There are small things I am not keen on, like the flush door handles that can be fiddly in the rain and  I am unsure about the larger kidney grille. Actually though, I think I like it.

But it is a striking looking motor, with predatory stance, sweeping profile with short overhangs, cat’s eye type light cluster and that black honeycomb grille flanked just below by huge air scoops finished, like the grille, in high-gloss black.

An M-specific spoiler on the boot lid rounds off the distinctive appearance, as does the performance brake callipers painted in blue and the striking alloys.

BMW describes the interior as a driver-centric cockpit, the dash layout is familiar with the central touchscreen, while a sport leather steering wheel also controls various functions.

The classy leather interior is finished with neat blue stitching, while soft touch finish abound throughout the car offset with contrasting metal inserts.

There are five seats with three full sized to the rear which, despite the compact look of the car, offer decent legroom and reasonable headroom.

Controls are logical and intuitive with the familiar iDrive operating system linked with a central screen and 12.3-inch high-resolution instrument cluster behind the steering wheel.

The central screen controls, infotainment, navigation and connectivity for smartphones, with built-in SIM card with 4G LTE connectivity and BMW’s  Connected Package Professional enabling remote digital information services.

It is pretty practical, being a hatchback, with 470 litres of boot space up 39 litres on the previous model, which can be expanded to a maximum of 1,290 litres while the hatchback features an automatic opening and closing mechanism.

There are various petrol and diesel models available, but the M version is all about performance and it doesn’t disappoint.

Powered by a three-litre, six cylinder turbo-charged engine it delivers blistering pace, hitting 60 mph in under five seconds, while the eight-speed automatic transmission slips seamlessly through the gears.

A mild hybrid system boosts electrics and adds to the engine power when required.

It is a thrilling experience to give it the full beans and all the while the adaptive M suspension works in the background together with the four wheel-drive to deliver maximum stability and a satisfying driving experience.

The driver can also select various drove modes from COMFORT, ideal for motorway cruising through to the most driver-orientated SPORT mode.

 Here you get the full roar and the spitting and crackling from the exhaust as everything sharpens up and you can give the car its head on the open road as it powers through bendy, twisting roads with ease. All within the law of course.

As you would expect, this model features a comprehensive list of safety kit, with full complement of airbags, traction, steering aids as well as cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking and speed limit information.

FACTFILE

BMW M440i xDrive Gran Coupe

 Price: £53,980

Mechanical: 374PS, 2199cc, six-cylinder, petrol engine driving all wheels via 8-speed automatic transmission

Max Speed: 155mph

0-62mph: 4.7 seconds

Combined MPG: 35.3

Insurance Group: 40

C02 emissions: 184g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

Diesel still makes sense for smart Sportback

Audi A5 Sportback 

By Bill McCarthy



Diesels have had a bit of kicking in the last few years, but are still being produced by executive brands like Audi.

Almost entirely lacking in diesel clatter, but delivering in spades when it comes to economy and low CO2 emissions, they are still a serious option, certainly until 2030 when new sales are due to be phased out. That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to drive them after 2030, however, so they are still a longer term option.

The A5 has been around a few years now, a smart, coupe-Like design, disguising loads of space and challenging anything on the road for style.

When it looks that good, revisions need to be subtle and the latest incarnation still features the low, almost predatory stance of the car, but now has a honeycomb grille that is wider and flatter, and ventilation slits which reference, says Audi, the classic Audi Sport quattro from 1984.

Headlights with LED technology come as standard, with Matrix LED headlights available from S line.

The interior is real premium quality with high-end soft-touch finish, paint black inlays with contrasting brushed aluminium trim and leather seats which feature the S-line ’S’ embossed into the head restraint.

It features the 12.3-inch cockpit-style dash, which is customisable via the multi-function steering wheel to three different views while the centrepiece is the touchscreen, which controls major functions like music, navigation and connectivity via smartphone.

In fact, the steering wheel controls have largely replaced the MMI dial on the central console, operating a number of functions.

Also Audi connect infotainment services deliver numerous web-based features such as up-to-the-minute news, Google Earth mapping and Street View and flight, weather, traffic and fuel pricing information.

It is well equipped, with the S Line version offering 19in alloy wheels, Matrix LED headlights, privacy glass,  and stiffer, lowered suspension.

On the road, the car is a very able performer. The 163PS on tap from the two-litre unit propels the car to 60mph in a very respectable eight seconds, as it slips seamlessly through the seven-speed auto transmission.

The suspension in all A5 models has been tuned with an underlying emphasis on comfort but also an appropriately sporting bias, which delivers a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience, especially on tight, twisting roads. It is pretty frugal as well, with a real-world economy of around 50mpg.

It may look like a coupe, but there is still a generous amount of storage space, with 465 litres available which expands to a pretty cavernous, for the type of car, 1,300 litres with the rear seats folded.

In typical Audi style, it also boasts the latest hi-tech safety kit, from full suite of airbags to stability control, parking sensors, daytime running lights, assisted braking and pre-collision mitigation.

Quiet, powerful and frugal, the diesel is still a player.

Factfile

Audi A5 Sportback 35 TDI S tronic (163PS)

Price: £45,599

Mechanical: 163PS, 1968cc, 4-cylinder diesel engine driving front wheel via 7-speed S tronic auto transmission

Max Speed: 130mph

0-62mph: 8.2 seconds

Combined MPG: 51.4

Insurance Group: TBC

C02 emissions: 144g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

Supercars with power and panache

The stylish and powerful McLaren GT
The more powerful, yet equally stylish McLaren 720S

McLaren GT and 720S

By Bill McCarthy

When is a supercar not a supercar? Well according to McLaren, it’s the GT, classed as Grand Tourer, but without doubt delivering supercar performance. Its stablemate, the 720S, has no such nuances and is classed as an out and out supercar.

There’s no doubt both deliver supercar prices, with the GT starting at £163k and the 720S from £215k.

Both offer stunning performance on the track or, when permissible, on the open road.

Both look stunning with 720S coupe and 720S Spider cabriolet delivering a brutal 720PS from its four litre V8 engine, while the GT delivers a less muscular 620PS, but both are capable of reaching 200 mph.

Both are light with monoframe bodies surrounded by carbon fibre chassis and aluminium panels, which also allows for good interior space and the lowest kerb weights. At 1,530kg (DIN), the McLaren GT is more than 130kg lighter than its closest core competitor

There’s also practicality in the shape of the GT, with ample room under the full length, glazed, powered tailgate for a set of golf clubs and, because it is mid-engined, space in the front storage area. The 720S is tighter with baggage space behind the seats and 150 litres of space under the front pane.

The low height of the engine and positioning of the exhaust system has allowed the volume, shape and usability of the luggage bay to be optimised. 

A golf bag or two pairs of 185cm skis and boots, as well as luggage, can be carried with ease, while a further 150 litres of storage at the front means the GT can accommodate a total of 570 litres.

And unlike some supercars where you need to be a contortionist to get in and out, the signature gull-wing doors offer easy access and egress, although the GT offers the easier access of the two.

They look the part, sleek and elegant with longer overhangs, muscular curves, with large air scoops, showstopping alloy wheels and aerodynamically turned to slice through the air with minimum resistance.

A key feature on the 720S is the absence of radiator intakes on the side of the car, which has been replaced unique ‘double-skin’ aerodynamic form of the dihedral doors, which channel air to the high-temperature radiators that cool the mid-mounted engine. 

As you would expect with both cars, the cabin is sports focussed, but offers some luxurious leather offset by aluminium switchgear, and high-end sound system although not on the same level as a similarly priced Bentley Continental GT.

The GT has a more sophisticated feel, with the 720S more stripped back to unleash the extra power.

On the road, both are remarkably responsive and the harder you push, the better the drive. Both were taken on a simulated Alpine route, followed, a straight mile power run and laps on a two mile oval banked track.

Both are mated to a seven-speed auto transmission with the option of using steering wheel paddles. 

The immense power and torque of both were evident at all times as was the superb handling on the twisting, sometimes icy mountain track.

With the aid of the new generation of McLaren’s Proactive Chassis Control combined with power-assisted, electro-hydraulic steering they deliver a thrilling experience as they cling limpet-like to the road on the tightest of hairpins. 

They respond with an almost balletic poise as the steering keeps the car where you are pointing it.

In addition, the Proactive Chassis Control suspension of the 720S, uses inputs from sensors to ‘read’ the road ahead, interpreting what is likely to happen next and reacting predictively in just two milliseconds.

Switch to the straight mile run for blistering acceleration, both the GT and 720 race to 60mph in 2.8 seconds, and 3.2 seconds respectively. Stand on the brakes as they end of the track approaches at 150mph and the car comes to a standstill in just over four seconds.

For those looking for an even more raw, full-fat driving experience, choose from Comfort, Sport, or Track modes for an even more jaw-clenching experience.

Just as impressive is the GT which can hit 60mph in just 3.1 seconds and on to 125mph in just nine seconds, again with instant braking.

And just in case anyone hadn’t noticed you, a bespoke exhaust system can deliver a spitting crackling roar under acceleration, or a more discrete sound under more normal circumstances.

Stunning performance, but both are capable of being driven in a more sedate environment with the braking and steering at lower speeds optimised for everyday ease of use as ride height and ground clearances engineered for urban usability

Creature comforts are catered for with the GT offering Standard, Pioneer and Luxe interior specifications with high-quality materials throughout and advanced technologies including ambient lighting, new McLaren Infotainment System II and optional electrochromic panoramic glazed roof.

The 720S comes as Standard, Performance and Luxury trim.

Suffice to say economy and CO2 emissions are nothing to write home about, but when you spend on a car, it’s not a major issue, is it? 

There’s no doubt they are superb cars and brilliant to drive. Supercars in the true sense of the word.

Electric ID.3 opens new chapter in VW story

Volkswagen ID.3 

By Bill McCarthy



VOLKSWAGEN has high hopes for the stylish ID.3. A slightly odd name for a car VW hopes will emulate the iconic Beetle and Golf, to become a third major chapter in the history of Volkswagen. No pressure then.

It is their first purpose-built electric model and built on their new modular platform, the MEB, on which, by 2029, VW hopes to sell around 26 million electric vehicles.

Again, no pressure. So it’s new but it’s very much a VW, with eye-catching styling and, well, just being a VW. Electric cars are no longer immediately distinguishable from their combustion engined siblings and, unsurprisingly, this does have the look of a Golf, but is rear wheel drive with the motor and gearbox situated at the rear axle. Think of the original Beetle.

It looks stylish with swooping, coupe-like lines and a smart but slightly minimalist interior which now uses a combination of touch controls and voice commands for the majority of functions. The car also features clever light animations that respond to voice commands.

The MEB platform, says VW, allows different-sized batteries and offers a similar footprint to the Golf, but interior space comparable to a Passat. Clever, or what?

Like all electric cars, it offers swift acceleration from a standing start and choice of three batteries of Pure, Pro and Pro S specification. Trim levels include Life, Style, Family, Max and Tour. They are 45, 58 and 77 kWh power units and the claimed range for each is 216, 264 and a whopping 340 miles, all but negating range anxiety that has been prevalent with electric cars.

Prices are now ever more competitive with the first ID.3 available in the UK for under £30,000 (including the plug-in vehicle grant).

This model was the range-topping Tour with the 77kWh battery and mega range.

All are well equipped and this model included goodies like heated seats with integrated armrest and height adjustment, heated steering wheel, interior ambient light with a choice of 30 colours and split folding rear seats with headrests plus the usual array of electric and electronic driver aids.

It looks the part with exclusive efficient alloys, dominant LED matrix headlights, daytime running lights and contrasting black roof and hatchback which features a small spoiler.

The interior is impressively roomy, with large glass areas and little instrument clutter. The gear selector, a rocker switch, is just behind the steering wheel, and the lack of a handbrake lever means there is plenty of space between the front seats. It proved a boon when I had to climb across from the passenger seat when someone had parked too close to the driver’s door.

 A bit like the Tesla, a central console dominates and handles major functions, like connectivity  and navigation and is aided by the Hello ID intelligent voice control which can handle infotainment and climate control.

There is another five-inch display behind the steering wheel which gives immediate driver information. In addition strip light which runs beneath the windscreen flashes up different colours and responds to voice inputs.

On the road it is a versatile car, a composed motorway cruiser, and, with its low centre of gravity a fun car to drive with plenty of grip on offer when accelerating into corners. It is quick off the mark, hitting 60mph in just over seven seconds.

As a compact family car it needs to be comfortable and the suspension offers a composed and comfortable ride. Pottering around town the car is simplicity itself, with nicely weighted steering which gives a good turning circle for easy parking.

You can select two drive modes, D for normal and the energy recovering B mode, which allows the car to slow down while regenerating energy at the same time, improving the  greater range.

As a family hatchback it must be practical and offers decent boot space of 385 opening up to 1,267 litres with the seats down. And plenty of other cubbies and storage spaces available for nick racks.

VWs are packed with safety kit and the ID.3 the full range of airbags, traction and stability control and assisted braking, together with a range of traffic and pedestrian warnings.

Factfile

Volkswagen ID.3 Tour 77kWh Pro S 204PS

Price: £38,815

Mechanical: 207bhp/150kWh, electric motor driving rear wheels via CVT transmission

Max Speed: 99mph

0-62mph: 7.9 seconds

Range: 340 miles (WTLP)

Insurance Group: 30E

C02 emissions: 0/km

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

Sleek and sophisticated Cupra makes an impact

CUPRA Formentor e-HYBRID 245PS VZ2

Cupra Formentor e-Hybrid

By Bill McCarthy



WHEN SEAT decided to split the sporty arm of its brand, Cupra, away, they came up with something special with the Formentor design.

It is a dramatic looking vehicle bold and in your face, yet at the same time chic and sophisticated, while eye-catching copper colour to badge and bits of trim to give it a certain uniqueness.

Previously, Cupra was the badge given to more sporting SEAT models, being a combination of Cup and Racing, ergo Cupra. In the   periodic table, copper’s symbol is Cu, which derives from Cupra, Latin for copper, which features heavily on the vehicle.

Now, a bit like DS with Citroen, it has split and become a brand of its own, while remaining part of SEAT.

It is a kind of coupe/crossover/SUV with a low set, predatory look with muscular wheel arches, distinctive alloy wheels and striking light clusters and the distinctive Cupra badge, a copper coloured inverted triangle. The puddle lights on the electric door mirrors are also a nice touch.

The interior is stylish and features high end trim and upholstery and logical and intuitive layout. The copper colour features again on the stitching of the leather bucket seats which also see the Cupra logo incorporated into the head restraints. It is also visible with the copper coloured and aluminium accents.

It feels spacious, with good head and legroom thanks to its 2.68m wheelbase. It’s very practical as well with a boot capacity of 450 litres which stretches to 1,475 with the rear seats folded.

Central is the 12-inch touchscreen, the brains of the car, which controls navigation, sound system and connectivity via smartphone. In addition, it features a customisable digital binnacle which provides key information for the driver. The flat-bottomed steering  wheel also incorporates gear change paddles plus the stop/start and sport mode buttons.

On the road, performance matches the sporty look with rapid acceleration and plenty of torque available.

The model tested here was one of the plug-in hybrids, with a combination of a 1.4 litre petrol engine and electric motor developing 245PS combined. That’s a fair bit of power and depressing the throttle doesn’t disappoint.

It can hit 60mph in just seven seconds, with a theoretical top speed of 130mph, unless you are in Germany of course.

As a plug-in hybrid it is also capable of running on battery power only for up to 34 miles, perfect for low emission or congestion zones, while combined CO2 emissions are just 33g/km.

The ride and handling inspire confidence and thanks to a sports-tuned chassis, drivers can push the car that little bit extra. It delivers a firm ride but comfortable enough with responsive steering and plenty of grip. Press the sport mode and everything sharpens up for a more engaging drive.

The five trim levels are well equipped and include the V1, V2, VZ1, VZ2 and VZ3. 

As standard on V1 trim, there are 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, wireless smartphone charger, rear parking sensors.

This model adds further bells and whistles, including the powered seats, heated steering wheel and door mirrors and rear diffuser with twin exhaust pipe on each side

In addition the safety and driving pack includes  Dynamic Road Sign Display, High Beam, Assist, Side Assist, Exit Assist, Lane Change, Assist and Emergency Assist

Prices start at £27,745, a competitive price for a stylish premium quality vehicle. A new kid on the block, but it sure to be familiar sight in the near future

Factfile

Cupra Formentor e-Hybrid 245PS VZ2

Price: £40,560

Mechanical: 245PS, via combined 1395cc, 4-cylinder, petrol engine and electric motor driving front wheels via DSG transmission

Max Speed: 130mph

0-62mph: 7 seconds

Combined MPG: 176-188

Insurance Group: 26

C02 emissions: 33g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/62,000 miles

Suzuki makes space with the Swace

Stunning addition to line-up

By Bill McCarthy



MANY people may be wondering about two new Suzukis appearing on the scene, the size of both bucking the trend of the firm’s small car/offroad reputation.

Both the new Swace and SUV Across are models launched from the Suzuki /Toyota collaborative Business agreement which saw both firms take a stake in each other.

The oddly-named Swace is based on the Toyota Corolla Hybrid Estate with Suzuki signature front design changes, re-badged essentially, but manufactured in the UK with exports to Europe.

It features two models, SZ-T and SZ5 models, both lavishly equipped, and featuring a 1.8 litre petrol engine with 53kW electric motor to deliver excellent economy and low CO2 emissions.

It is a large car which has room for five adults with a spacious interior and loads of stowage space. It also features a comprehensive array of safety kit.

It is striking looking, sleek and muscular with a large honeycomb pattern deep grille, slim headlights, integrated roof rails and eye-catching 19-inch alloy wheels.

The interior too, feels high end and features  quality upholstery with soft touch finish throughout, powered leather seats, multi-function steering wheel and the centrepiece tablet-style touchscreen which controls sound system and connectivity through Apple CarPlay Android Auto and MirrorLink for smartphones, which is vital as it does not feature its own sat nav.

Standard specification is good with the ‘entry’  SZ-T model featuring dural zone automatic air conditioning, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, rear parking camera and radar cruise control.

This tested SZ5 model further adds auto door locking, park assist with parking sensors and wireless phone charging tray.

It has a roomy, executive feel with ambient lighting, soft touch finish offset with chrome and silver accents, with sturdy fixtures and fittings throughout. Another neat touch is the S-Flow air conditioning.

This uses a detection control function to ensure that air conditioning is only provided to occupied seats. It also takes the set temperature, ambient temperature, interior temperature and sunlight into account to maintain optimum cabin comfort. Head and legroom are among the best in class with 

On the road, the petrol/electric combo mated with CVT transmission, works well to deliver excellent economy and low emissions. Performance from the petrol engine and electric motor produces 122PS with economy of around 64mpg. And as this is the kind of vehicle that could appeal to business users, emissions of 99g/km puts it in the 24 per cent bracket for Benefit in Kind taxation purposes.

Acceleration, if you will pardon the pun, is not exactly electric, hitting 60mph in around 11 seconds. The hybrid system selects an electric motor, engine or both depending on driving conditions.

It is also equipped with an EV drive mode function where the vehicle is driven solely by its electric motor with power supplied from the battery. This mode can be used for driving short distances in low emissions zones.

The driver also has two other drive modes: 

NORMAL, as the name suggests, ECO, which helps the driver deliver better fuel economy through more gradual throttle response and minimal air-conditioning use. This mode is useful during stop-and-go city driving.   

SPORT boosts acceleration, and sharpens acceleration and handling.

The car does sit low to the road with consequently benefits handling characteristics, and is designed to reduce body roll around corners, improving stability and contributing to a smoother ride.

Stowage space is excellent with 596-litres available, while the rear carpeted floorboard can be placed in a lower position to store taller objects and is also reversible with a resin backside that can be used for stowing wet or dirty items.

Space is further increased using the remote lever to fold down the second row of seats for a flat floor and maximum stowage capacity of 1,606 litres.

There are other convenient oddment spaces and cup holders throughout the cabin.

It is packed with hi-tech stuff including intelligent parking on this test model. Fitted as standard on the SZ5 model, S-IPA assists the driver when reversing into a parking space, parallel parking, or departing from a parallel parking space, by providing audio and visual guidance while automatically operating the steering wheel. The system uses ultrasonic wave sensors for sensing and allows accurate parking even in narrow spaces.

Other safety measures include Pre-Collision System which detects  other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists; Lane Tracing Assist which adjusts the steering if it veers off on a marked road; traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitor and rear crossing traffic alert.

Factfile 

Suzuki Swace 1.8 Hybrid SZ5

Price: £29,299

Mechanical: Combined 122PS, 1798cc, four cylinder petrol engine and 53 kW electric motor driving front wheels via CVT gearbox

Max speed: 112 mph 

0-62mph: 11.1 secs 

Combined mpg: 64.2 (WlTP)

Insurance group: 17E  

CO2 emissions: 99 g/km 

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

In the lap of luxury with Bentley

Continental remains an icon of British motoring

By Bill McCarthy

There is no doubt that the Continental convertible is breathtaking. Breathtaking in looks, breathtaking in performance and, breathtaking in price.

Paying well north of £180k for a car takes it beyond the means of the majority, but if you can afford it, it is a hugely desirable grand tourer that remains a British icon

If a car can be described as beautiful, then this Bentley both with the roof up or open car, fits that description – a compelling combination of elegance and power.

It never failed to get admiring looks, and comments on the stunning green colour of this particular model.

Bentley is German owned, VW in fact, but the hand-built features are a tribute to the master craftsmanship of British expertise at their factory in Crewe.

On the road, the car is a superb drive and brutally powerful

Now in its third generation the GT features a tailored roof that can be deployed or stowed in just 19 seconds, with the car travelling at speeds of up to 30 mph (50 km/h).

We love our convertibles in the UK but the weather doesn’t always play ball. But the Continental makes the wind in the hair experience throughly enjoyable. A discreet neckwarmer is integrated into the front seats, together with a heated steering wheel and heated armrests.

It looks sensational, with a low slung predatory look, featuring muscular haunches, swooping bonnet and the latest LED cut-crystal effect matrix headlamps. Sitting on 21 and 22-inch wheels it looks a powerhouse – and it is, with a four litre twin-turbo V8 engine on this model propelling the car to 60mph in four seconds. 

The interior is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and opulence, almost decadence. Just like its sibling the Flying Spur, it is a riot of handcrafted wood and leather of choice and chrome, together with jewellery-inspired diamond knurled finish switchgear and classy analogue style clock.

This model added the optional Mulliner Driving Specification which includes three-dimensional diamond quilted leather to seats, door casing and rear quarter panels, sports pedals and jewelled fuel and oil filler cap and embroidered Bentley emblems.

On the road, the car is a superb drive and brutally powerful. The 542bhp V8, mated with a seamless eight-speed transmission, delivers incredible acceleration, with the throaty roar of the V8 through the quadruple exhausts adding to the enjoyment, especially with the roof down.

It goes on to a theoretical 198mph, nearly three times above the legal speed limit in the UK. All the power is all well and good, but it needs to be kept in a straight line and that is where the intelligent four wheel drive kicks in, delivering traction where required.

There are four driving modes that adjust engine, suspension and gearbox settings, which, given the enormous power in ‘normal’ mode, seems fairly superfluous.

Listing all the features would fill a book, but tin addition to a host of bells and whistles, the centrepiece is a 12.3-inch central touchscreen system including HDD-navigation, two SD card slots, Bluetooth and WiFi streaming, a CD/DVD slot and digital radio. 

Also included is Apple CarPlay, Sirius satellite radio, 60GB solid-state hard drive and 4G telephone system. 

Hugely aspirational

Like other German car makers, Bentley provides plenty of options with the rotating display, a particularly clever piece of kit. It switches between touchscreen, three analogue gauges (compass, chronometer and outside temperature) and unbroken veneer.

But boot space is also surprisingly good, even with the roof stowed in the rear, with 235 litres, enough for a couple of small cases.

Safety is vital with such a powerful car and the  kit, some optional, features huge brake callipers, stability and traction control, a full complement of airbags and features including Active Lane Assist, Traffic Jam Assist and Park Assist with 360 degree all round cameras, infra-red camera, and head-up display.

Hugely aspirational, but practical and British built. What’s not to like?

FAST FACTS

Bentley Continental GT Convertible

Price: £182,800

Mechanical: 546bhp, 3,996cc, V8 petrol engine driving all wheels via 8-speed auto gearbox

Max speed: 198mph

0-60mph: 4 seconds

Combined mpg: 22.6

CO2 emissions: 284g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/unlimited miles

Highlander makes its mark in UK

Toyota Highlander

By Bill McCarthy


The Highlander has certainly taken its time to land in this country. The big seven-seater SUV has been on sale in other parts of the world for 21 years, but it has now joined  the RAV4, C-HR and the new Yaris Cross to complete the Toyota European SUV line-up. Not forgetting, of course, the full-fat off-road Land Cruiser.

 The all wheel drive model now on sale in the UK is the  fourth generation and its full hybrid self-charging system provides up to 80 per cent emissions-free driving. 

There are just two versions Excel and Excel Premium and both provide triple-zone air conditioning, Skyview panoramic roof, LED headlights, wireless phone charging, heated front seats and 11-speaker JBL sound system. Premium adds  hands-free tailgate operation, head-up display and digital rear-view mirror, plus a host of other driver aids, bells and whistles.

The powertrain is mated with CVT transmission and high levels of torque gives a two-tonne towing capacity. The 245bhp/182kW hybrid combination delivers fuel economy of around 40mpg, which is pretty impressive for such a big vehicle.

It is  more than capable off-road, but it offers so much more and is more likely to be seen at the school gates than the Amazon rainforest.  It offers the longest load space in its class and up to 1,909 litres of boot capacity.

The rear seats slide backwards and forwards and with the rearmost two seats folded into the floor a huge amount of space can be opened up.

With the rearmost pair of seats in situ, it can accommodate adults but is probably more suitable for children. When all seven seats are in place, this provides 332 litres of storage, including 27 litres beneath the floor.

It certainly has striking looks, sitting high off the ground and with wide grille, slim light clusters and flared wheel arches encasing the alloy wheels.

The interior itself has an executive feel with leather seating, satin and woodgrain finish and soft touch materials to the door and dashboard, while instrumentation is logical and sensibly laid out.

The central point is the eight-inch multimedia touchscreen which controls major functions like navigation and infotainment and can mirror your smartphone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while the seven inch TFT screen provides instant driver information.

On the road, the powertrain delivers smooth and swift acceleration. It can hit 60mph in just over eight seconds and can cruise on electric power only at speeds approaching 80mph.

There are four drive modes, Eco, Normal, Sport and Trail. The final mode acts like a limited-slip differential but uses braking to help send power from the slipping wheel to the wheel with traction, between the left and right sides of the vehicle. 

All four modes can still be used when the vehicle is operating in its separately selectable EV all-electric mode. In addition the intelligent all wheel drive system delivers extra stability in slippery or rough conditions. 

The Toyota Safety Sense active safety and driver assistance include a Pre-Collision System that can detect pedestrians by day and night and cyclists during daytime driving, with Emergency Steering Assist and Intersection Turn Assistance.

On-the-road prices are £50,595 for the Highlander Excel and £52,575 for the Excel Premium. Both are protected by Toyota’s five-year/100,000-mile new vehicle warranty.

Factfile

Toyota Highlander Excel

Price: £50,595

Mechanical: 245bhp, 2487cc, 4-cylinder, petrol engine and two electric motors driving all wheels via CVT transmission

Max Speed: 112mph

0-62mph: 8.5 seconds

Combined MPG: 282

Insurance Group: 40

C02 emissions: 162g/km

Warranty: 5yrs/100,000 miles

Premium performance from Lexus

Lexus UX 300e 

By Bill McCarthy


LEXUS styling and build quality has always been impeccable, not to mention its brand desirability as a premium vehicle.

And as the rush to electrification gathers pace, the brand is in a pretty unique position to take advantage, having been a leader in the hybrid market for a good 15 years, when the RX 400h hit the roads. Parent firm Toyota goes even further back with the iconic Prius.

Now Lexus has gone the whole hog with the compact UX 300e, a stylish car that is now available in full electric mode as well as hybrid.

It has a striking design, all sharp angles and creases with sculpted side panels. It features the now familiar spindle grille, together with eye-catching light clusters, distinctive bespoke 18-inch aerodynamic alloys on this model. In addition, the chiselled-looking rear end with full width light bar gives it a real road presence.

As with the growing trend with full electric cars, it is barely distinguishable from other UX models, with just the word ‘electric’ on the door.

It is offered with single equipment grade, UX, but options like the Premium  pack here and Takumi Packs provide additional equipment features.

The interior is typical Lexus quality, refined with high-end leather hand stitched leather seats and finish to dash and doors together with soft materials throughout. Major functions are controlled by a central touchscreen and can also be operated from a small keypad next to the drive selector. 

The standard specification includes aluminium roof rails, bi-LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, illuminated entry, eight-way power front seat adjustment, power steering wheel adjustment, seven-inch display, reversing camera, six-speaker audio system with DAB, four USB ports and Aux socket and smartphone connectivity using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Premium Plus Pack here adds smooth leather upholstery, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated outer rear seats, rear privacy glass, smart keyless entry, card key, smartphone wireless charger and illuminated door handles with puddle lights.

On the road, the front-wheel drive battery-powered electric vehicle (BEV) system uses the latest lithium-ion technology, and high performance motor to deliver a claimed range of up to 196 miles and rapid acceleration from a standing start, so typical of electric cars.

A clever touch is the heating element system under each of the battery’s modules. This minimises the impact of low temperatures on the driving range, ensuring full power is available from start-up.

It hits 60 in under eight seconds, however despite feeling stable, piling on the power causes the steering to snatch, or torque steer slightly.

Otherwise it accelerates away smoothly, with only a hint of road noise intruding into the cabin. The handling is good and it feels agile when cornering, while the steering is direct and nicely weighted.

It also offers a stable ride, with low centre of gravity, thanks to the battery being located under the car body and the electric motor set low in the engine compartment, while new shock absorbers give greater control.

Despite the large battery, boot space  has actually increased by 47 litres to 486 litres, when loaded to the roof, which is made easier with the availability of a hands-free power tailgate.

In practical terms front head and legroom are excellent but it is a bit more cramped in the back and three adults might feel some discomfort over longer journeys.

You would expect a hushed interior with a premium vehicle and cabin noise is reduced by the thickness and weight of the battery pack under the cabin floor, which acts as a sound-insulating barrier. In addition, undercovers and wing liners reduce the noise generated by small stones, dirt, water and the road surface, while acoustic window glass reduces wind noise.

Safety kit is comprehensive and includes full complement of airbags Pre-Collision System with pedestrian detection, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Trace Assist, Road Sign Assist and Automatic High Beam

Lexus rarely disappoints and this model is no exception.

FAST FACTS

Lexus UX 300e Premium Plus Pack

Price: £45,995

Mechanical: 201bhp, 150kW electric motors driving front wheels via auto transmission

Max Speed: 99mph

0-62mph: 7.5 seconds

Electric range: 196

Insurance Group: 38-39

C02 emissions: 0 g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/62,000 miles