Category Archives: Motoring

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

BIG CHANGE WITH SUZUKI SUV

Suzuki Across hybrid

By Bill McCarthy

Suzuki is justifiably lauded for its small cars and four-wheel drive capability, but like most manufacturers is increasingly turning to electric power and in this case, a large SUV.

And like other manufacturers, Suzuki is collaborating with others in model production, sharing engines and body architecture.

The Across has been produced in collaboration with Toyota, who now have a stake in Suzuki, and vice versa and looks suspiciously like a RAV 4, because that’s pretty much what it is.

So Suzuki has joined the big boys, literally, with the Across, a AWD hybrid that looks good, has excellent range and delivers blistering performance.

OK, people buying SUVs don’t necessarily go for performance, but in typical electric vehicle style, the Across is extremely rapid off the mark, capable of hitting 60mph in six, seconds, proper hot hatch territory. The performance comes via a combination of electric motors, one on each axle, and 2.5 litre petrol engine, mated to the CVT transmission delivers a brutal 306bhp.

Add to this low emissions of just 22g/km a theoretical 282mpg economy and the ability to charge the battery on the move via the petrol engine and you have a versatile, practical performer.

This is particularly useful when entering low emission zones, where the claimed range of 46 miles on electric power only, means it is not subject to emission and congestion charging.

It is stylish and offers a comprehensive array of standard kit, but for a Suzuki it is expensive, up there in the near premium range.

It has just one specification and offers Suzuki’s E-Four electronic 4×4 system, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, dual zone automatic air conditioning, auto function opening tailgate and nine-inch multimedia touchscreen as standard, together with all the electric and electronic aids you would expect from a vehicle costing north of £45k.

It is a striking looking SUV, with a sporty stance, with a large deep grille, slim headlights, muscular wheel arches 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 touchscreen which controls sound system and connectivity through Apple CarPlay Android Auto and MirrorLink for smartphones.

There are also various storage spaces including driver’s and passenger’s side trays, centre tray, cupholders and a console box.

They hybrid system works in tandem with the 4×4 system and allows a rear motor that works in conjunction with the front motor to provide drive to either front or rear wheels, or both, depending on road conditions such  as icy road, or genuine off road conditions.

It can run on electric only at up to 84mph. Driving modes are selected by two central buttons which allows the driver to choose electric only, full hybrid, engine only or charge mode where the engine is used to replenish the battery in preparation for entering low emission areas. This obviously has a detrimental effect on fuel economy.

In addition, Trail Mode is an automatic limited slip differential control feature that ensures the best possible grip and control on slippery surfaces. It all sounds great and while it is no wallowing beast, cornering too rapidly causes the vehicle to become unsettled. Having said, that I can’t think of any SUV driver who demands sporty handling.

In practical terms. The Across has much to offer with a total of 490 litres of stowage space and the luggage compartment is equipped with a mains voltage (220V) electrical outlet and 12V accessory socket and can be accessed via kick operation electronic tailgate

It is packed with safety kit including airbags, traction and stability controls, collision prevention, radar cruise control, lane warning and rear traffic alert. If the vehicle is involved in a traffic accident, the eCall system alerts emergency services with a phone message that includes the precise location of the vehicle.

Factfile

Suzuki Across PHEV

Price: £45,599

Mechanical: 307bhp, 2487cc, 4-cylinder, petrol engine and electric motors driving all wheels via CVT transmission

Max Speed: 112mph

0-62mph: 6 seconds

Combined MPG: 282

Insurance Group: TBC

C02 emissions: 26g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/62,000 miles

Party time with sporty Fiesta


Ford Fiesta

By Bill McCarthy


There is a very good reason why the Fiesta regularly has been Britain’s top selling car. That reason stretches right back to the very early days of the British icon which was introduced in 1976. 

Just a few years ago, I owned a 1980 version and it was still running well when I sold it on to an enthusiast.

The Fiesta has that longevity for a reason. It is a car to suit most pockets, from the relatively cheap base model at around £16.5k right up to the range topper at prices beyond £25k. It has proved reliable, practical, economical and a cracking drive.

The latest version is no different, with ever more eye-catching styling, good standard levels of equipment and, in this case, embracing the latest mild hybrid technology.

It featuresl sharp angles with ST Line bodykit features, rear privacy glass, smart projector headlights and fog lamps with cornering lights. The powered door mirrors also feature smart puddle lights.

The ST-Line is a stylish car, offering the sporty styling more akin to the brutal ST, but toned down performance from a still lively three cylinder petrol engine. 

It still delivers pleasing performance, with the signature rasp of the three pot giving a pleasing sound under acceleration.

It is no slouch. The 125PS unit propels the car to 60mph in under 10 seconds and delivers excellent fuel economy, with a claimed range of between 45 and 62mpg according to WLTP figures.

The turbocharged one litre engine is assisted by a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, which features a small lithium-ion battery pack and a belt-driven integrated starter-generator, which adds an extra 20Nm of torque and helps mitigate turbo lag.

The electric motor is fitted alongside an energy recovery system on the brakes which can then be redeployed to assist the petrol engine or provide assistance to electrical systems.

It may lack the brutal performance of its more powerful sibling, but in true Fiesta style, the handling is excellent and ride is firm, thanks to the sports tuned suspension which keeps the car clinging, limpet-like to the road, even with rapid cornering.

The interior too looks upmarket and maintains the sporty look. The centrepiece is an eight‑inch colour touchscreen that can be operated with pinch and swipe gestures and controls function like navigation, infotainment and smartphone connectivity with screen mirroring.

The flat-bottomed multi-function steering wheel offers other control options and the layout is unfussy and intuitive.

Interior fixtures and fittings are typically well put together and feel sturdy, while the optional pop-out door guards are another neat feature.

Other features include a centre console with illuminated cupholders, sports pedals, starter button and two USB connectors.

This model will set you back more than £21k, but has plenty of standard kit, including parking sensors, rain sensing wipers, auto dim mirror, seven-speaker sound system and heated windscreen.

On the road, the car feels brisk and with a little help from the hybrid technology’s hits 60 seconds in just 9.4 seconds. It is mated to a typically slick Ford six-speed box, although the high-riding clutch took a while to get used to.

It is the handling that gives this car the edge of most of its rivals. The steering is instantly responsive and it feels totally stable even when cornering at high speeds.

To aid this it includes stability control, together with a host of other safety features, including full complement of airbags, lane keeping alert and aid, speed limiter, auto headlamps and hill start assist.

In practical terms, boot space is decent and increases with the split folding  rear seats. This takes capacity from a basic 292 litres up to 1,093 litres.

Forty-five years and still going strong. You can see why.

Factfile

Ford Fiesta ST-Line Edition

Price: £21,160

Mechanical: 125bhp, 998cc, 3cyl petrol engine mild hybrid, driving front wheels via six speed manual gearbox

Max speed: 126 mph 

0-62mph: 9.4 secs 

Combined mpg: 45-62 (WlTP)

Insurance group: 13  

CO2 emissions: 117 g/km 

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

Focus on quality pays off

Ford Focus

By Bill McCarthy

IT’S fair to say that the Focus, launched back in 1998, has been a game changer in the industry. It’s only just over 20 years, but it seems so much longer, such has been its impact on the car market.

Inevitably, the latest version is the best yet, with smart styling, improved interior and ever more efficient engines.

These include powerful and fuel-efficient EcoBoost petrol and EcoBlue diesel units, some of which embrace the  latest mild hybrid technology.

This model was powered  by Ford’s highly-efficient EcoBoost three cylinder engine. Not huge, Ford says it is so compact it could fit the overhead compartment on an aeroplane. But it packs plenty of power and can hit 60mph in a shade over nine seconds, and, aided by the mild hybrid technology, delivers extra horsepower together with good economy and low emissions.

Official figures suggest around 52mpg, but the onboard computer suggested something nearer 44.

The turbocharged one litre engine is assisted by a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, which features a small lithium-ion battery pack and a belt-driven integrated starter-generator, which adds an extra 20Nm of torque and helps mitigate turbo lag.

The electric motor is fitted alongside an energy recovery system on the brakes which can then be redeployed to assist the petrol engine or provide assistance to electrical systems.

It is a striking looking car with this ST-Line version giving you the sporty look, but without the performance of the firecracker ST.  It has sharp angles and curves, slim headlamps, wide grille and sloping silhouette, rear privacy glass, smart projector headlights and fog lamps with cornering lights. 

The powered door mirrors also feature smart puddle lights. It also has its own unique ST-Line badging on door plates together with red stitching to complement the dark finish.

It feels well engineered with a combination of sturdy and soft touch finish trim.

The interior is without doubt, the best yet, particularly with this range topper. And with a price tag of around £27k, it needs to be.

The interior is dominated by the central eight inch touchscreen, which controls major functions like navigation, infotainment through a high quality sound system and smartphone connectivity.

 In addition, a central 12-inch digital instrument cluster provides all the driver information needed.

This model has just about all the bells and whistles including rain sensing wipers and auto headlights, parking sensors and rain sensing wipers.

On the road, the engine has plenty of pace and delivers that throaty rasp so familiar these days with three cylinder engines.

But it’s the handling, the feature that made it stand out when launched, that is still peerless.

The ride is as impressive as ever with the independent rear suspension system featuring continuously controlled damping, which e monitors suspension, body, steering and braking inputs, and adjusts for the smoothest ride. In fact it handles brilliantly.

Boot space is good and not having a dog didn’t try this, but Ford says it can accommodate a large dog crate without needing to fold the rear seats. Fold the rear seats and a huge stowage area comes into play. 

The boot is easy to access, using a simple kicking motion under the rear bumper to open the hands-free tailgate.

Folding the rear seats is also simplified – they now drop simply by pulling a switch in the boot space. Safety kit is comprehensive with full set of airbags and includes, stability control, cruise control, pre-collision assist with brake and pedestrian/cyclist alert.

A game changer it was, and it remains one of the best in the segment.

Factfile

Ford Focus ST-Line X Edition 1.0T Ecoboost Hybrid

Price: £27,160

Mechanical: 155ps, 998cc, three cylinder diesel engine driving front wheels via six-speed gearbox

Max speed: 131mph

0-62mph: 9.2 seconds

Combined mpg: 52.3

Insurance group: 17

CO2 emissions: 122g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

Return of the Supra legend

Toyota Supra GR

By Bill McCarthy

WHEN it comes to show-stopping cars, a few names spring to mind. But for the majority of people, I bet Toyota isn’t one of them.

They would be wrong. The Supra is a bit of a legend with enthusiasts, but has been absent from the roads for a good while.

So the gleaming and sporty looking hunk of metal parked on the drive took a few people by surprise, even a local lad who knocked to door to ask if he could take pictures

The initial four generations of the Supra were produced from 1978 to 2002. This fifth generation has been on sale in May 2019 in three litre form, with this two-litre model on sale from January this year.

The first global GR model from Toyota Gazoo Racing, (hence GR), which the firm says was conceived as a sports car in its purest form, with no compromise

With the focus on all things electric at the moment, the Supra blends performance, agility and velcro-like grip with a choice of a three litre V6 or the two litre model here, both mated with an eight speed auto gearbox. The firm is right, it looks every inch a sports car.

Priced from £45,995 it was developed in collaboration with BMW, and shares much of its underpinnings with the German firm’s Z4.

It does look stunning, with its short wheelbase and wide stance, the long bonnet, double bubble roof, muscular rear haunches and neat spoiler.

Add to this the slim headlights, huge air scoops, and preatory looking low-to-the ground stance, it is neatly finished off with striking 18-inch alloys wheels, and visible high-performance Brembo brakes.

The two-litre driven here offers model-specific Pro specification, with standard features including those 18-inch alloys, a four-speaker 100W audio system with 8.8-inch touchscreen display, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, smart entry and start and heated and powered GR sports seats upholstered in black Alcantara.

The centrepiece touchscreen controls most functions, including navigation and smartphone connectivity and can be controlled via touch or a rotor knob, while the interior is classy and well equipped. In true two-seater style, entry and exit is a bit of an art form, but worth the contortions for the  sheer pleasure of driving the car. 

Performance isn’t class leading, but hitting 60 mph in a smidge of five seconds is not too shabby either. The three litre is around a second quicker.

But it’s not just about the raw speed off the mark. Handling is a delight, and while the four cylinder engine does not develop the throaty roar of a V6, there is a sporty rasp when accelerating hard, which is just as satisfying.

Maximum power is 254bhp with high levels of torque peaking at 400Nm, so it just keeps pulling hard through the gears.

It feels hugely stable, with its active differential, which can identify the road conditions, calculate the optimum locking degree, and activate the lock accordingly.

That operates both when accelerating and decelerating and can seamlessly adjust from zero to full, 100 per cent lock, with instant response.

In addition adaptive suspension and stability and traction programmes help keep the car safe even when the driver cannot.

In practice, it clings limpet like to the road, with sharp bends dismissed with ease and delivers even harder grip when accelerating out of bends, to deliver a hugely satisfying drive.

The power on tap does not mean the car is thirsty. Official economy of approaching 40mpg is pretty impressive.

It’s a two seater, so practicality is not going to be a top priority, but there is enough space in the boot for a couple of small suitcases.

Safety kit is also comprehensive with multiple airbags, a pre-collision safety system with braking function, pedestrian and cyclist detection with braking function, and lane departure warning.

Icon is a much overused word, but the Supra really does deserve that status and is a welcome return to UK roads. It looks great and is a brilliant drive.

Factfile

Toyota Supra GR 2.0 Pro

Price: £46,995

Mechanical: 254bhp, 1998cc, 4-cylinder, petrol engine driving rear wheels via eight-speed manual transmission

Max Speed: 155mph

0-62mph: 5.2 seconds

Combined MPG: 38.7

Insurance Group: 34e

C02 emissions: 167g/km

Warranty: 5yrs/100,000 miles

Cupra has new SEAT at luxury table

It may have slipped people’s notice with the pandemic going on that a new, well newish, car brand has appeared.

Cupra is a name well-known to SEAT enthusiasts and was the badge given to more sporting models, being a combination of Cup and Racing, ergo Cupra.

Now, a bit like DS with Citroen, it has split and become a brand of its own, while remaining part of SEAT, and as the new kid on the block, offering a shiny new badge.

It has become unashamedly high end and sporty and the firm has announced a number of updates for the 2022 model. And with the curiously named all-electric Born on the horizon, it ticks most boxes for drive options.

There are four models which Cupra showcased on a driving event, the Cupra Ateca, Cupra Leon hatch and estate and the Formentor SUV.

It is fair to say that the Spanish firm’s sporty tradition is in safe hands with Cupra as all feature sharp, angular styling, distinctive alloy wheels and striking light clusters. Interiors are classy and the car delivers the kind of drive you would expect from Cupra.

I drove four of the vehicles, the Formentor 1.5 TSI V2 150PS DSG, pretty much the entry level for this model and featuring a  150PS 1.5 TSI petrol engine and capable of hitting 60mph in a smidge under nine seconds.

 This was followed by the all wheel drive powerhouse Leon Estate 2.0 TSI. Priced at 40,535, the 310PS two litre power unit here propels the car to 60mph in just under five seconds, while still delivering economy in the mid-30s mpg. 

Next up, the same power in the SUV Formentor, just over £100 more expensive, at £40,620, with virtually identical performance, but as its a heavier car, a slight drop in economy into the lower 30s mpg.

Last up was the Leon hatchback, priced at £36,760 and again delivering hot performance.

This time the two litre unit develops 300PS  and hits 60 in 5.7 seconds with economy in the mid to late 30s mpg.

Even the entry level at a little over £31k offers a comprehensive list of standard kit while still delivering an excellent drive.

In true SEAT style all offer hot performance while the 310PS models, particularly when mated to the four wheel drive, offer exhilarating performance.

The separation looks to be a shrewd move by the VW-owned Spanish firm, offering traditional SEAT sporty performance, but now with an altogether more upmarket feel, while the Cupra badge is stylish enough to rouse people’s curiosity.

All variants of the Leon and Formentor equipped with a DSG-auto gearbox also get a heated steering wheel as standard, while on the Formentor an electric tailgate is now an available option on V1 and V2 trims, and a top view camera can be added to the VZ2 and VZ3 trims.

Prices for the CUPRA Leon start at £31,555 for the Leon hatch VZ1 trim 2.0-litre TSI 245ps DSG-auto and rise to £40,535 for the range-topping Leon Estate VZ3 2.0-litre TSI 310ps DSG-auto 4Drive.

Formentor prices start at £27,745 OTR for V1 1.5-litre TSI 150ps, rising to £42,990 OTR for VZ3 2.0-litre TSI 310ps DSG-auto 4Drive.

Nissan retains X Factor

Nissan X-Trail

By Bill McCarthy

One of my most memorable experiences of driving the X-Trail a few years ago, was taking up around mountain passes in northern Greece, on the Albanian border and being held up by giant tortoises on the winding, twisty roads.

It was quite an experience, and this excellent SUV navigated those slow moving reptiles – and some challenging off-road stuff, really well.

That was the second generation and now years on this latest version is available with five seats or an optional extra two seats in the rear and is still visibly imposing, with its raised road height and smart profile.

While not a full-fat off-roader, it is more than capable of tackling all but the roughest terrain, while remaining very much a family orientated vehicle.

Available in two or four-wheel-drive and with a choice of either a 148bhp 1.7-litre diesel engine driven here, or a smaller 1.3-litre petrol engine. It can hit 60mph in just 10.7 seconds, quite nippy for a big vehicle and this version is mated to a slick shifting six speed manual gearbox.

It is visually imposing with this model featuring 19-inch alloys, black V-shaped honeycomb front grille, rear privacy glass, satin roof rails, panoramic roof and chrome additions to door handles, side mouldings and window surrounds.

The interior is smart and functional and feels solidly constructed.

Even the entry level model is well equipped, but this Tekna model, has virtually all the bells and whistles, from bird’s-eye view parking camera, through to heated leather seats, heated leather steering wheel, metallic grain interior inserts and panoramic roof. 

The centrepiece is the seven-inch touchscreen which controls main functions like navigation, infotainment and connectivity via smartphone.

Dials and controls are well laid out, logical and easy to use, while on this four-wheel drive version, the central rotary knob selects the drive modes depending on prevailing conditions.

The cabin feels light and airy thanks to large glass areas, which offsets the dark interior. Head and legroom are good with access, while in practical terms, it ticks most of the boxes. In addition to all the drink holders, pockets and cubby holes, the boot with the third row of seats folded offer 555 litres of space. This can be further increased with the 60-40 split second row folded down, up to a huge 1,996 litres and accessed via the powered tailgate, which also features a ‘kick’ option for remote opening.

In addition the second row of seats slide backwards and forwards allowing extra stowage space, or just extra legroom for taller passengers. A further clever touch is the stowage area which has various configurations to keep loads secure.

 The diesel engine has plenty of grunt and is surprisingly frugal. There is a bit of clatter on startup, but it offers decent acceleration and a towing capacity of two tonnes. Economy, according to WLTP figures, show between 39 and 44mpg, pretty impressive for a big four-wheel drive vehicle and it showed to be pretty accurate, if even a shade conservative, over a week of motoring.

Take it off-road and previous experience has shown the X-Trail to be a more than capable mud-plugger handling some pretty tough conditions, although tackling the Amazon rain forests or African bush might be a stretch for it.

This kind of vehicle will not handle like a sports car, but it remains fairly stable with only a trace of wallowing on sharp bends.

Safety kit is comprehensive with a full complement of air bags, traction control and Nissan’s own Chassis Control which automatically uses the brakes  to stabilise the car in difficult conditions.

Factfile

Nissan X-Trail Tekna 1.7 dCI 4WD

Price: £33,595

Mechanical: 150ps, 1749cc, 4-cylinder, diesel engine driving four wheels via 6-speed manual transmission

Max Speed: 121mph

0-62mph:10.7 seconds

Combined MPG: 39-43

Insurance Group: 18

C02 emissions: 154g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

Electric MG bucks the trend

MG5 Exclusive

By Bill McCarthy

NO-ONE can accuse MG of lacking ambition. Years after the brand’s disappearance and then return to British roads, it has moved on in leaps and bounds.

After a faltering start, the line-up is still limited but imaginative. This latest model, the all-electric MG5, targets the fleet market, which bucks the current trend for SUV/crossover vehicles, instead offering a repmobile-style estate car.

It is also an affordable electric option for larger families, with its impressive range, practicality and stowage space. It’s range would not be suitable for company drivers covering hundreds of miles a day, rather the local multi-drop urban work or commuting to and from an office or to visit clients, where the range 214 miles, would be more than adequate.

This alleviates one of the big problems with electric cars – range anxiety. The question of whether you can reach your destination, and if you can’t are there charging points available? Around 200 miles seemed easily achievable while living with the car.

There’s little to show the car is an electric vehicle apart from some discrete badging, the green strip on the number plate and the lack of tailpipes.

It offers smart styling, sitting low off the ground to attain better stability, ultra-low running costs, particularly with Benefit in Kind taxation for business users, just one per cent for 2021/2022 and a hugely attractive price. It starts from £24,495 (after the Government plug-in car grant), not forgetting the seven year warranty.

The vehicle is powered by a 115kW electric motor and delivers the instant, blistering acceleration associated with electric cars. Equivalent to 156PS, it can hit 60mph in 7.7 seconds.  It is a comfortable place to be and handles pretty much as well as any petrol or diesel estate and accommodates five people with relative ease.

The 52.5kWh Lithium-Ion battery pack can be charged from zero to 80 per cent in just 50 minutes using a rapid charger. A full charge at home using Type 2 fast charging can be attained in around eight and a half hours.

There’s little to show the car is an electric vehicle apart from some discrete badging, the green strip on the number plate and the lack of tailpipes.

It has a low slung profile and while it may not be the most exciting styling, the iconic MG badge on the black grille still attracts plenty of interest. The grille badge in fact discretely conceals the charging, point, swinging open to allow the car to be plugged in.

The interior feels like a much more expensive car, with a comprehensive list of standard equipment. It also has a more modern feel, with the usual gear selector replaced with a rotary knob and the instruments laid out in a clear, concise and logical manner.

There is plenty of head and legroom, even for rear seat passengers, while the front seats, on this Exclusive model are leather-style, heated and fully adjustable

 To hammer home the point of the car’s value for money, even the ‘entry level’ Excite features electric windows all-round, air conditioning, regenerative braking, cruise control with speed limiter, an auto-hold electric parking brake, rain-sensing wipers and push-button starter.

This is together with 16-inch, alloys, remote entry with push-button start, air conditioning, four electric windows, electrically adjustable mirrors, cruise control, rear parking sensors and follow- me-home headlights. This Exclusive model adds rear camera, sat nav, silver roof rails, electrically adjustable folding heated mirrors, an automatically dimming mirror and satellite navigation.

The centrepiece on both is an eight-inch colour touchscreen and seven-inch TFT display. The touch screen controls navigation, infotainment through the six speaker system and DAB radio, and connectivity for smartphones.

In addition there are four USB ports, The TFT display gives a raft of driver information, particularly on the charging and range of the car.

The large boot area is accessed through a wide tailgate opening and offers from 464 litres of space up a spacious 1,456 litres, depending on the configuration of the folding rear seats.

It’s also packed with active and passive safety systems, with front, side and curtain airbags, electronic brake assist, ABS with EBD, twin ISOFIX points in the rear and hill start assistance.

Factfile

MG 5 Exclusive

Price: £27,540

Mechanical: 156PS,115kw electric motor driving front wheels via auto via transmission

Max Speed: 115mph

0-62mph: 7.7 seconds

Combined MPG: Range 214 miles (WLTP)

Insurance Group: 19

C02 emissions: 0g/km

Warranty: 7yrs/80,000 miles