High Quality Car Servicing, MOTs and Accident Repair

We are a friendly, professional and family run business based conviently off the A3. We have been servicing the motoring needs of Surbiton near Kingston Upon Thames and surrounding areas for over 30 years.



Welcome to Maypole Motors Ltd

            We are a friendly, professional and family run business based convien

Family run business

With a team of qualified car mechanics and technicians, you can be assured of a truly personal service with all aspects of repairs to your car. Being a member of 'Checkatrade', we are openly vetted and monitored and we welcome any feedback from our customers.

First registered in 1976 we have expanded from a small recovery and service garage employing three staff to its current all encompassing motor group employing in the region of forty-five people. The combination of the services we provide still holds strong links to our initial well known friendly beginnings.

Expansion over the years has merely enhanced the service we provide to all our customers. Our hand picked staff still have the pleasantries of a small local garage and the benefits of large investment in technology training and equipment.

View our promotional video here : http://bcove.me/gz6dumyp

Why Porsche’s 918 Spyder has earned its five-star rating
Why Porsche’s 918 has earned its five-star rating On paper, Porsche's hypercar doesn't look capable of matching the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari, but on track it proved that it has nothing to fear from its rivals

It was daft to expect too little. But, as the old man still says to me, “expect nothing, son, and you’ll never be disappointed”. Ever the optimist. 

On paper, though, the bald figures suggested that a Porsche 918 Spyder would arrive at the MIRA proving ground for our road test too overfed and under-muscled to get near the sharpest end of these hypercar shenanigans. 

Porsche’s typical nonchalance implied that they wouldn’t be pushing to squeeze every last ounce out of it, either. “Hope you don’t mind,” they said, “because I know we don’t usually; but we thought we’d bring a technician with us, in case anything goes wrong. Is that okay?”

“Of course,” we said, because ‘a technician’, singular, is nothing compared with the army of engineers and advisory racing drivers and tyre pumpers that accompany some extremely fast cars from elsewhere. 

(We don’t mind that, either, I should say; although the rush sometimes flusters the sandwich assembler in the MIRA canteen.)

But the 918 is a Porsche, of course, and Porsche hasn’t won nine out of 26 of our Handling Days, and come achingly close 
to winning several more, without good reason. There’s a reason, too, that, during the past decade or so, the number of former Autocar staffers who’ve gone on to spend their own money on a Porsche is, I think, into double figures.

And during all that time, Porsche has never sent anyone to our tests to change its cars’ tyres, nor even check pressures, or fluid levels; yet still it often emerges totally dominant. 

So it was daft to expect anything different for the 918; and even though Porsche’s technician had some spare tyres in the back of his Macan, he looked quite happy to leave them there. His idea of checking the rubber currently fitted to the car was to have a quick look, place his hand on one to see how hot it was, and shrug his approval. 

In the event, the 918 Spyder completed all of the tests we set it at MIRA on a single set of tyres and, in the process, went faster than anything else we’ve tested around our dry handling circuit – Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, McLaren P1, Radical SR3 SL, a works Vauxhall Vectra BTCC car  included – with considerably less support. In the hands of deputy road test ed Saunders, the 918 was more than a second clear of the next fastest.

It’s also one of only three cars that have made us ponder using more than one decimal place when quoting in-gear figures. The others were the Veyron and P1, unsurprisingly: cars that want less than a second to travel from one speed, to another, 20mph higher.

All that means we've awarded the 918 our coveted five-star rating. I shouldn’t have expected anything less.

Comparison - McLaren P1 versus Porsche 918 Spyder

LA motor show 2014 preview
LA motor show 2014 preview A range-topping Audi concept, two high-performance BMW SUVs and a more powerful Porsche 911 Carrera – here's our round up of what to expect in Los Angeles

The LA motor show takes place next month, and Autocar will be there to bring you all the latest news, pictures and gossip from this important US event.

The show opens its doors to media on November 18, and runs through until end of the month at the Los Angeles Convention Centre.

As one of several US motor shows, Los Angeles has risen in prominence in recent years thanks to a series of high-profile car launches, with highlights from last year's event including the reveal of the Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-type coupé and Mk3 Mini.

Here's what to expect at the LA motor show 2014.

Audi A9 – A single darkened preview image is all we've seen of Audi's range-topping concept car thus far, but it's expected the firm will use the LA show to reveal its future design direction in the form of the high-tech A9. Scheduled to launch in 2017, the A9 looks set to take on a swooping, four-door shape. Audi also has two other vehicle debuts planned for LA.

BMW X5 M – This range-topping performance SUV forms part of BMW's plans to have an eight-strong SUV family by 2020. Having launched the third-generation X5 in the UK last year, BMW is now preparing an M badged version, which will feature a tuned twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine.

BMW X6 M – We last spotted the X6 M winter testing earlier this year, but BMW has already confirmed the model will make its debut alongside the X5 M in LA. Power will come from the same twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine as the X5 M, giving the high-performance X6 around 552bhp and 500lb ft of torque. That means the new X6 M should be able to improve on the current car's 0-62mph sprint time of 4.7 seconds.

Chrylser 300C  – Chrysler has announced plans to launch "thoroughly refreshed" versions of its 300 and 300C models in LA, with with both models arriving in US showrooms in the first quarter of next year. Details on the updated models are limited, but spy photos have shown mild styling tweaks to the car's bumpers, grille and interior.

Ford - So far, the Blue Oval has only confirmed it will be showing two new models in LA. 

Jaguar F-type AWD – Revealed in recent spy pictures, it's likely Jaguar will present this new all-wheel drive version of the F-type sports car next month. It's expected that both V6 and V8-engined AWD variants will be offered, and if the success of Jaguar's AWD XF and XJ models is anything to go by, this new F-type could be a significant launch for the US market.

Porsche 911 Carrera GTS – Joining the Boxster and Cayman GTS variants launched earlier this summer, the new range-topping Carrera GTS features an updated version of the Carrera S's 3.8-litre flat six engine, which produces 424bhp. Standard equipment includes Porsche's Chrono package and the company's PASM suspension management system. Official figures point towards a 0-62mph time of 4.0 seconds, and a top speed of 190mph.

Mazda CX-5 facelift – We've spotted late-stage prototype versions of Mazda's updated crossover testing ahead of a likely debut in LA. Expect subtle styling changes, particularly around the front grille and bumper, while the current model's engine line-up is expected to carry over unchanged. Inside, the updated CX-5 should come with a new free-standing infotainment system similar to that used on the 3 hatchback.

Mercedes-Benz S-class Maybach – a return for the super-luxury Maybach brand has been mooted for several months, but has now been reportedly confirmed by Mercedes head of design Gordon Wagener. He told Car and Driver that a new Maybach version of the S-class would be seen in LA next month, featuring a longer wheelbase and more luxury features than the current range-topping S600 models. Mercedes also has two other vehicle debuts planned at the show.

What are you looking forward to seeing in LA? Let us know below, and see more pictures in the gallery above. We'll update this preview as we move closer to the LA motor show, and you can read more LA motor show news here.

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Rallying in the Land Rover Defender Challenge - picture special
Racing in the Land Rover Defender Challenge - picture special The stout Defender might not spring to mind as an ideal competition vehicle, but it can be plenty of fun on the muddy forest tracks of Wales

It’s a neat idea, the Defender Challenge. In short, it involves applying the formula that applies to one-make, arrive-and-drive racing, to rallying.

It’s Bowler Motorsport’s idea. You might not be surprised to learn that, because the company has been doing innovative, interesting things with Land Rovers for decades.

Bowler is independent but has close links and a good relationship Land Rover. You might remember the Bowler Wildcat and Nemesis. Bowler currently makes the EXR, for road or rally. Bowler’s heart is in off-road racing.

And this, the Defender Challenge, is an easy path way into the sport. Some people have entered the Challenge just because it’s a low-hassle way to go rallying and is a right laugh. But others do it because Bowler’s experience in Rally Raids means they can move on, with Bowler, from here into grander off-road rallies than the seven-round UK Defender Challenge. Like the Dakar.

The Challenge cars, then. They start life as Defender 90 hard-tops; no rear seats, solid top. They’re registered that way and that makes them commercial vehicles - although motorsport regulations insist on the addition of a back window later. 

Then Bowler sets to work – adding its own motorsport wheels, a 170bhp engine tune and race exhaust, bespoke springs, Bilstein dampers, new bushes, anti-roll bars and steering damper; a plumbed fire extinguisher, roll cage, engine cut off, Perspex windows, racing seats and six-point harnesses. And air conditioning. 

Like that, they cost £50,000. You can spend more on other options, if you like. This is motorsport, after all. It’s all expensive.

They’re homologated for both MSA and FIA regulations, so can be entered not just into the Defender Challenge, but international rally raid events too.

Being a bright company and having spotted people might want to do just that, but are short of time or space or mechanical ability, Bowler can look after everything. Smart company.

But still, dim enough to let me have a go in round six of the UK Defender Challenge, whose seven competitors comprised a class in the Cambrian Rally, North Wales, last weekend.

I’ve raced on a circuit a few times but never rallied before. And having talked to other competitors here and at races, it’s striking how many stick to their discipline: rallyists go rallying, racers go racing.

I’ll tell you something else: rallying is hard. I’ll spare you the details of my glorious battle for the class lead, because it wasn’t glorious and I didn’t battle for the class lead, but I will tell you that these Defenders genuinely handle. 

There’s no ABS or stability control, they don’t feel as top-heavy as you’d think, and their attitude is extremely adjustable. 

If you get the braking right you can set them up on the way into a bend, Scandinavian-flick-stylee, and then, if you get back on the power correctly, they’ll drift foursquare around your given corner. I don’t get either right very often.

The problem, if you’re used to circuit racing, is that even though you can get a fair idea of where a corner goes – because there’s a co-driver telling you – you don’t really find out until you get there. Grip levels change by the metre. Cambers and gradients too. One moment you’re on dry, hard, relatively grippy stone. The next you’re under tree cover and it’s wet and muddy. 

Granted, conditions change sometimes on a circuit, too: tyres go off, rubber gets laid. But by and large a corner is in the same place you found it last time. Then, you usually regain grip on the straight, and the run-off area is not comprised of upright wooden posts with the leaves and branches still attached.

That can be quite unsettling, even though Defenders are not fast rally cars. The Challenge runs last on the road, and Defenders tend to finish towards the back of the results. Or, in my case, at the very back of the results, but let’s gloss over that. 

Still, I only, harmlessly, fall off once, by the end of the day I’m not setting the slowest Defender time, and I haven’t put it on its side or broken it. If I don’t bin somebody else’s car, it’s a decent day at work; and this feels like a hell of a lot more than a decent day at work. Seriously, if you’ve ever thought about going racing, think equally hard about going rallying.

Read the Bowler Motorsport Land Rover Defender Challenge first drive review

Read Autocar's history of Land Rover

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PSA Peugeot Citroën seeks partners for Hybrid Air tech
PSA Peugeot Citroen seeks partners for Hybrid Air tech PSA is looking for a technical partner to help share the financial burden of bringing its Hybrid Air technology to market

PSA Peugeot-Citroën’s ingenious hybrid system, known as Hybrid Air, is proving so expensive to develop that the group needs partners to help, the firm's research and development boss Gilles Le Borgne has said.

Hybrid Air compresses gas on the overrun and turns it to propulsion when the car next accelerates or climbs a hill. Autocar has already driven a prototype Peugeot 2008 fitted with the system, while Peugeot showed a 208 fitted with the technology at the recent Paris motor show.

Citroen has also fitted a Hybrid Air-based powertrain to its C4 Cactus, creating the C4 Cactus Airflow 2L concept.

The system delivers real-world savings in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of about 30 per cent. However, it requires a production run of about 500,000 cars a year to be economic, said Le Borgne, because the system needs quite a lot of components not currently found in cars – including hydraulic motors, special gearboxes and 300-bar gas tanks.

“Car companies are like big ships,” he said. “It takes time for them to change course as much as they could have to.”

Through component supply group Bosch, PSA is searching for suitable partners, but seemed disappointed by the slow response. “Hybrid Air is ready for development,” said Le Borgne, “but it needs a big investment and we are not ready to make it on our own. 

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Lotus Exige S gets new six-speed automatic option
Lotus Exige S Automatic launched New automatic version of the Exige S, designed to widen the car's market appeal, on sale in January 2015 for £56,500

Lotus has unveiled an automatic version of its Exige S sports car, which will go on sale in January 2015.

The Exige S automatic will command a premium of £2000 over the manual variants, meaning the coupé will cost £56,500 and the roadster £57,500.

Lotus' boss, Jean-Marc Gales, said: "By introducing a paddle-shifted automatic, we have expanded the Exige product range to make it more accessible to customers worldwide.

"Now, customers who are more accustomed to two pedals and automatic transmissions can enjoy the unbelievable performance and handling of the Exige S without compromise."

The Toyota-sourced gearbox is the same six-speed torque convertor-based unit used in automatic 'IPS' versions of the Evora, but it has been tailored to suit the Exige S.

Sport and Race modes are offered, delivering more appropriate gear selections and responses when required, and column-mounted paddle shifts allow for prompt manual overrides.

Lotus says that the new self-shifting Exige is in the final stages of testing. Official performance figures are yet to be announced but the company states that the new car will "exceed the manual variant in performance".

The automatic, which retains the same 346bhp 3.5-litre supercharged V6 engine found in manual versions, has so far proven as fast as its three-pedal counterpart around the Hethel test track.

It has also completed the 0-62mph sprint in 3.9sec, which is 0.1sec quicker than the manual Exige S.

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2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo first drive review
2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo first drive review Still no delicate sporting masterstroke, but neither should it be. A muscular, charismatic and fast GT with much improved road manners The increasingly coherent and self-possessing Nissan 370Z, in flagship Nismo specification.You’ll remember that last year, as a toe-dipping exercise before really establishing its Nismo performance sub-brand, Nissan gave its now five-year-old V6 rear-drive coupe an official Nismo-branded motorsport makeover.The result can best be described as a momentary identity crisis. It involved some fairly serious chassis and body stiffening and some crass-looking aftermarket-catalogue body addenda, and frankly gave this simple muscle coupe rather too much performance attitude for its own good.Roll on twelve months and, following the wider establishing of the Nismo brand, the opportunity’s been taken to shave some of the misplaced edge off the range-topping Zed. Not that Nissan will admit as much; according to the brochures, this new Nismo is the most exciting and dynamic Z-car there has ever been (blah blah blah).The truth, however, is that the outgoing Nismo version was too noisy, too stiff-legged and too extravagantly bespoilered to fit the bill. It served its purpose inasmuch as it proved the concept’s sales potential; half of all 370Zs sold in the UK are now Nismos. But as a road car, it needed refinement in more ways than one.

Daimler offloads its stake in Tesla
Daimler offloads its stake in Tesla German automotive giant relinquishes financial interest in Elon Musk's electric car company

Daimler has offloaded its financial stake in Tesla, but has pledged to continue working with Elon Musk's electric car company.

The German automotive giant initially acquired an interest in Tesla in May 2009, and the two parties have collaborated on projects including the new Mercedes-Benz B-class Electric Drive.

The batteries for the first generation of the Smart Fortwo electric drive also came from the Californian company.

Despite the end of the financial deal, Tesla will continue to supply the power trains for the B-class Electric Drive. Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche said: “Our partnership with Tesla is very successful and will be continued.”

Bodo Uebber, Daimler's finance chief, explained: “We are extremely satisfied with the development of our investment in Tesla, but it is not necessary for our partnership and cooperation. For this reason, we have decided to divest of our shares. This will also allow Tesla to broaden its investor base.”

The sale of Daimler’s stake in Tesla will result in a cash inflow of around $780 million (£487m), which the German giant says will be used to "strengthen its operational business".

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A ride in the Sin R1 shows how far this racer for the road has come
A ride in the Sin R1 shows how far this racer for the road has come It's been nine months since we last saw the road-going 444bhp Sin R1, and in that time the project has gone from hollow shell to road-ready sports car

There was a moment, right after passing the 140mph mark on Bruntingthorpe's back straight, when I began to realise just how far the Sin R1 road car has come in its short life.

I last saw this V8-engined, 444bhp sports car at Autosport International in January and, to be honest, was a little disappointed not to see a finished product. With the R1 racing car already finished and ready to race in the GT Cup, I'd expected to see the full R1 road car – but instead the firm showed a hollow prototype, a body with no engine or interior.

Nevertheless, nine months later an almost-complete car is hurtling around the Leicestershire aerodrome. I say ‘almost-complete’, because although orders are being taken this is still described as a pre-production model. It's about 95 per cent there, Sin boss Rosen Daskalov tells me. The interior, mechanicals, shape and panels are as customers would see them. What remains is to lift the fit and finish.

There's some work to do in that area, because although the R1 looks very striking on the road, close inspection reveals some panel gaps which are too large, an uneven paint finish in places and carbonfibre trim which looks pasted on.

It'll all need attention if Sin wants to succeed in attracting the kind of clientele who have £72,000 to spend on a sports car. That’s high-end Jaguar F-type and Porsche 911 Carrera money, after all.

The real proof of the car's potential, though, is in a passenger lap. I'm told the R1's Michelin tyres have already been put to good use on a cross-continental dash from Bulgaria, where the Sin company is based. Not helping is the British weather, and Bruntingthorpe is seriously wet by the time we head out.

Getting over the R1's high door sill takes finesse, but once strapped into the relatively spartan cabin the visibility is more than adequate. Though narrow, those leather sports seats are comfortable, too. Driver Jonny MacGregor straps into the other side, and as we head towards the circuit he explains this is the first time he's ever driven the R1 road car.

The 6.2-litre V8 engine's sound fills the cabin – more so than in other similar cars, it has to be said. There may be some sound deadening work to do here.

Soon enough we're on track, and it's clear what chief executive Daskalov and his team have spent their time doing. The R1 feels smooth and comfortable, even as we enter triple-digit speeds.

MacGregor works the six-speed manual transmission hard, and it seems a little notchy at first, but the car's response and handling appear to be pitch perfect. Later Daskalov tells me he rarely uses first gear as it’s so short, and instead pulls off in second. 

On the back straight the R1 hits 140mph with no trouble. It almost feels lazy, effortlessly cruising along, but I'm reminded that earlier in the year we hit the same speed here in an old £500 Jaguar XJ Sport. There’s some dancing about from the front end and lots of wind noise, but from the passenger seat it still feels impressive.

A specific type of customer will be interested in buying an R1. With the racing version helping to raise brand awareness, there'll be those who can not only afford to buy the model, but who like the idea of owning truly rare sports car.

Plus, it has to be said, getting a project from hollow shell to full sports car in nine months is an achievement, especially for a small group working out of both the UK and Bulgaria. 

The first cars could be ready for customer deliveries at the end of the year, leaving the team ample time to work out the final kinks. If they succeed, R1 owners could end up with a car capable of fulfilling its promise of offering supercar thrills at sports car prices.

Read more about the Sin R1

Video: Porsche Cayenne Turbo review
Latest version of the luxury high-performance SUV put to the test on and off the road

The 2014 Porsche Cayenne Turbo gets more power, more torque and a whole host of other upgrades. Steve Sutcliffe puts the latest version of the luxury high-performance SUV to the test, on and off the road, to see just how much it's changed.

Read more about the 2014 Porsche Cayenne Turbo here.

Mercedes-Benz B-class Electric Drive first drive review
Mercedes-Benz B-class Electric Drive first drive review Exceptionally refined with punchy overtaking abilities and impressive ride and handling. Premium driving experience at expense of ultimate usability This is the Mercedes-Benz B-class Electric Drive, the manufacturer’s pure electric version of the newly facelifted B-class.Rather than follow the lead of the BMW i3 and build an electric car around an all-new architecture, this EV is based on the standard production car, which has needed the minimum of amount engineering changes.Taking inspiration from the original A- and B-class models, the new-generation car has the option of a ‘sandwich’ version of the rear half of the car’s platform.Called the ‘Energy Space’ by Mercedes, raising the floor in the rear half of the cabin frees up underfloor space, which, in the EV, accommodates the lithium-ion battery pack. This space is also used by the natural gas-powered version of the B-class to accommodate three gas tanks.The upshot is that the B-class is as effectively as spacious as the mainstream versions, which means a good 500-litre boot, generous head and legroom and the option of a fold-forward front passenger seat, which allows loads well over two metres long to be swallowed.The electric drive system has been sourced from Tesla (interestingly, the day this production car was launched to the press was same day Daimler disposed of its four per cent stake in Tesla, which it had held since 2009).The B-class Electric Drive has a three-mode operation. Economy Plus – designed for constant steady-speed journeys – reduces the output of the motor to just 83bhp and top speed to 68mph. Economy reduces output to 132bhp and Sport offers the motor’s full 179bhp. However, the two Economy modes can be overridden and full power and torque accessed by the driver using the kickdown function.If the ‘Collision Prevent Assist Plus’ system is added as an optional extra, this B-class acquires a very neat radar-assisted recuperative braking system. Using information from the radar about the state of traffic ahead, the car can use battery-charging braking to slow itself or, when the road ahead is clear and/or downhill, switch to ‘sailing mode’ which doesn’t use any battery power.Fully recharging the B-class via a 16-amp home wall socket will take around nine hours if the battery is empty. Using a 400-volt three-phase electricity supply (rather more common in Asia than Europe), the car can be recharged in just three hours.

2014 Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid first drive review
2014 Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid first drive review A Cayenne hybrid of heightened economy potential, and quite attractively priced given its complexity and capabilities Porsche is keen to sell us plug-in hybrids. It now makes three, although one is rather unaffordable, it being the £652,849 918 Spyder. The other two are the Panamera and the new Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid, which replaces the plain hybrid version.This upgraded petrol-electric Cayenne is part of the revised range presenting a freshened styling and new features that include the economy-promoting coasting mode provided by the previous hybrid alone, stop-start that kills the engine a few mph before halting and a launch-control system with the optional Sport Chrono pack.It also has more precise suspension geometry and a greater dynamic range between the Comfort and Sport modes for both steel-sprung and air-suspended versions. Improved rear seat comfort and a heated screen option are among the detail improvements.But the upgrades to the Cayenne hybrid are a lot more substantial. Aside from the facility to plug it into a cheaper mains energy supply, a lithium-ion battery pack of almost six times the kilowatt-hour capacity replaces the previous nickel-metal hydride pack.That allows the electric motor’s output to jump from 46bhp to 94bhp, while the electric-only range lengthens from 1.6 miles to between 11 and 22 miles, although Porsche’s development engineers say they’ve gone further.It now cruises at up to 78mph rather than 40mph on amperes alone, and its 410bhp system output allows it a 5.9sec sprint to 62mph rather than the 6.5sec of the previous 380bhp hybrid. Its CO2 emissions reduce spectacularly from 193g/km to 79g/km, although the EU’s methods for measuring plug-in hybrid economy and carbon emissions are seriously misleading.That said, this hybrid Cayenne will be genuinely cheaper to run than the last, tax-wise and when maximising travel on electricity alone. Of which there’s a good chance.

Stripped-out interior of the McLaren P1 GTR revealed
Stripped-out interior of the McLaren P1 GTR revealed Extreme £1.98m hybrid hypercar gets a steering wheel inspired by McLaren's Formula 1 cars and seats derived from a DTM touring car

The cabin of the McLaren P1 GTR has been revealed for the first time as the Woking-based manufacturer continues to develop its track-focused, limited-edition hypercar.

Using the (slightly) more road-oriented McLaren P1 as a base, the cockpit has been stripped out, with a greater focus on driver engagement and weight saving, albeit without compromising comfort or safety.

A new steering wheel based on the item used in the MP4-23, McLaren's 2008 Formula 1 car, is exclusive to the P1 GTR, which was first revealed at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in August.

Key controls are located to the centre of the wheel, allowing the driver to fully adjust the set-up and characteristics of the car without having to take their hands from the wheel. The DRS and IPAS buttons for the Drag Reduction System (DRS) and Instant Power Assist System (IPAS) are retained on the steering wheel.

McLaren says it has configured the controls so they can be comfortably operated when the driver is wearing a full race suit, helmet and gloves.

The cabin is equipped with lightweight carbonfibre seats similar to those used in DTM touring cars and full six-point motorsport harnesses. These will be set up for each P1 GTR owner, and mounted directly to the chassis, reducing weight by having no additional mounting brackets. The seats are compatible with a Head and Neck Safety (HANS) device.

Unlike some stripped-out track cars, the air-con system is retained in the P1 GTR to maintain comfort during track driving.

The carbonfibre MonoCage chassis is carried over from the road car, and weighs 90kg including the upper and lower structures, roof snorkel, engine air intake cavity, battery and power electronics housing.

The development programme for the car has focused on testing the capabilities of the upgraded powertrain, optimising the balance and handling characteristics on the car's Pirelli slick tyres, and working through aerodynamic developments including the fixed-height rear wing.

Company officials reported: "All tests were completed with results meeting or, in many cases exceeding, the stringent targets set. The McLaren P1 GTR development continues its rapid progress, with further mileage scheduled over the winter throughout Europe".

McLaren has now switched the focus of its testing with the P1 GTR to extremely hot conditions, taking its latest development prototype to the Bahrain International Circuit.

The British company has also revealed more details of its P1 GTR Driver Programme, which will teach owners how to get the best out of the car.

P1 GTR owners will gain access to areas of the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking that are off-limits to the public, including the company's racing simulator.

Paul Mackenzie, McLaren P1 GTR Programme Director, said: "Before they get out on track, each driver will join us at the MTC and have unprecedented access to the cutting edge facilities.

"This will enable drivers to build up a greater understanding of the car’s capabilities and true performance, as well as learning the braking and turn-in points before they arrive at the circuit. It also allows them to analyse and discuss their performance ahead of testing themselves in the real world situation, so they are fully prepared when they take to the track.

"It is a programme that has been developed over the years for our Formula 1™ and our young drivers. It’s not just about fitness, but also about mental preparation, and looks at the full wellbeing of the driver, and prepares them mentally and physically for the activities they will experience on track."

McLaren P1 GTR owners will take part in six track events during the first year of the Driver Programme. The events will take place at "iconic racing Formula 1 circuits across the world".

At each event, drivers will have a dedicated race team responsible for running the car. This will include a personal driver coach and head engineer, who will work through telemetry and video analysis to hone skills, and optimise lap times.

The car, revealed at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, will go on sale in just under 12 months after production of the standard P1 ends. It will only be offered to the existing 375 P1 owners and will cost £1.98 million.

Watch McLaren's official video explaining its P1 GTR Driver Programme:

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A challenging birth for the pokiest Volkswagen Passat
A challenging birth for the pokiest Volkswagen Passat Pushing the most powerful variant of the new Passat through development wasn't the work of a moment, according to VW's product development chief

The most powerful version of the rather handsome new Volkswagen Passat is a four-cylinder diesel.

With quite complicated plumbing arrangements, this engine is force-fed by twin turbos, one low pressure and one high, and to pretty good effect given the 369lb ft of torque that you can undam from 1750rpm. The blower’s turbines are of different sizes, and arranged to ensure that you’re rarely short of the kind of low rev thrust that diesels are so good at delivering.

But while engineering this was an effort, it appears to have been nothing compared to the challenge of persuading the Wolfsburg management to approve an engine capable of delivering enough thrust for a range-topping Passat.

According to VW’s head of product development Jens Andersen, the powertrain department presented several engines to the board, including a transverse five cylinder, a transverse six (it was too wide with the gearbox, he says) and the final twin-turbo four among others.

The stumbling block each time was cost, the earlier solutions generating too much of it for the bosses to be convinced that it could be viable.

As it turns out, the twin-turbo four hasn’t been a cheap motor to engineer either, turbos being expensive devices, the precise control of a pair of them an involved development process and most of its innards have been beefed up to cope with the forces of its extra power. It wasn’t easy to fit the engine beneath the Passat’s bonnet either, given the bulk of the extra plumbing.

So how did this engine get past the board? In the end, says Andersen, enough money had been spent on it that it was cheaper to finish the job rather than abandon it, he explains with a grin.

It’s an engine that will eventually appear in a few other big VWs (it’s too bulky for the Golf) although Andersen isn’t saying which. His hope now is that the engine will find enough buyers to justify the outlay.

And does it deserve to? It certainly delivers a solid stream of stream of thrust, and it’s impressively smooth at higher revs, but the taxi-ish pulse at the lower revs that you often run at is a disappointment. And the extra go sometimes proves a severe test for the Passat’s electronic dampers.

But driven at eight-tenths, which is surely how most 2.0 TDI 4Motion Passats will proceed, you’ll enjoy effortlessly swift progress.

Ford is building cleaner diesels, but are politicians preparing to axe them?
Ford is building cleaner diesels, but is the government preparing to scrap them? There are mixed messages about the future of oilburning engines, and car owners need an honest broker to set them straight

News on Monday morning that Ford is spending £190 million to expand Dagenham production of 2.0-litre turbodiesels for use in both vans and cars – and has won an £8.9 million grant from the government’s Regional Growth Fund into the bargain – makes certain elements of both the daily media and the political classes look rather silly. And confuses many people.

For many weekends recently, the Sunday papers have published stories from academic research sources to the effect that the decades of encouragement we’ve had to buy diesel cars – mainly because, on balance, they’re cleaner – is completely wrong.

The combination of exhaust particulates and oxides of nitrogen they emit, not well enough measured in current official tests, is allegedly killing both us and our children. London mayor Boris Johnson has been vocal about the damage being done by diesels – yet David Cameron and Vince Cable deal out financial incentives to encourage further production, in outer London, regardless. 

What’s the truth, then? The overall situation is simple, but poorly explained. The official tests are indeed inadequate. They need urgent overhaul to better measure particulates and nitrogen oxides, and in typical, not laboratory use.

Equally, the activists need to acknowledge that the problem is on its way to being defeated: the Euro 6 standards that latest diesels are required to meet by September but many meet now – admittedly measured in the old way – are already clean enough to pass the standards Boris has in mind for his 2017 ultra low-emission zone.

The Euro 6 standards are particularly strict on especially on particulates and NOx, though neither the mayor’s people nor the activists seem inclined to acknowledge the progress.

The desirable situation, as usual, sits between extremes. The tests need revision, and soon. Those with diesels with exhaust standards below Euro 6 need to keep them out of polluted and congested areas — preparatory to swapping them as soon as possible for something cleaner.

And by the way, Boris and company could bite the bullet and rid the metropolis of the many ancient taxi diesels they still allow to ply our inner city, individually pumping out more exhaust rubbish than any other 20 cars of the past decade. Why they’re still allowed is beyond us all.

Bottom line? Well done Ford for upping production of ultra-clean diesels. Well done the government for encouraging them to do it. These engines will surely replace dirtier ones. Well done the activists, also, for continuing to point out the grievous inadequacies of current testing, even if you are seeing fit to leave out a part of the story not convenient to your narrative. 

Now is the time for an honest broker equipped with accurate research findings to emerge from the gloom and tell us a balanced story. 

Plenty of us are owners of venerable diesels; we need advice about what to do with them. If it’s curtains, someone needs to tell us. But who will it be?

Comparison: new Vauxhall Corsa versus Ford Fiesta and VW Polo
Comparison: new Vauxhall Corsa versus Ford Fiesta and VW Polo The Ford Fiesta is Britain’s best-selling car, the VW Polo the country’s classiest supermini. Can the new Vauxhall Corsa topple them?

Want to know how important the new Corsa is to Vauxhall? It’s the company’s most profitable car. One in three Vauxhalls sold is a Corsa. Even last year, late in its model cycle, Vauxhall shifted 85,000 of them in the UK. Four per cent of all new cars sold here is a Corsa.

And half the people who buy them are spending their own money. They’re not fleet buyers, they’re private punters, and you upset those at your peril. 

The new Corsa, then. It is not radical. It is not outlandish. It takes the previous formula – which was not an unsuccessful one – and refines it. More economy, more refinement, a heated windscreen, more safety systems and lower running costs: all are promised. 

Most are delivered, as we found out on in our first drive. Whether they are enough to take the Corsa from middle-order to class front-runner is another matter entirely.

We’ve come to suburbia to find out, shooting around a housing estate in the south east that’s like so many others. It’s where private buyers pick from options sheets and choose new-build, broadly-similar homes on finance; where colours and specs and costs sway them one way or another. These cars fit in well here. 

The journey to our urban destination features motorways, town roads and a few country lanes.  A modern supermini should be easily comfortable on all three.

Best among them, by our reckoning, has hitherto been the Ford Fiesta, by a nose. Primarily that’s because we’re an enthusiasts’ magazine and it is the most pleasing car in the class to drive, with slick steering, keen body control and the kind of dynamism, even on base models, that you’d do well to find in lukewarm versions of the opposition.

It arrives here with spec slightly out of kilter with the others, because that’s all we could borrow. But no matter that it arrived burdened with two additional doors, and that it’s slightly down on power.

The 1.0-litre, turbocharged three-cylinder engine making 99bhp isn’t far behind; and from experience we know it’s a revvy, peppy, smooth piece of kit. In Zetec trim it’s priced at £14,545.

Read the full Volkswagen Polo review

Then there’s Volkswagen’s Polo. If you’re choosing a supermini you need a pretty good reason not to look at one. Memory and experience tells us it majors on perceived quality and refinement instead of dynamism, which is no bad thing. It comes to us with the same number of doors as the Corsa, and is closer on power. 

The Polo has a four-cylinder 1.2-litre turbo and makes 109bhp. It costs £15,610; expensive, but that’s because it’s an SEL. You can buy one that’s priced more in line with the Corsa but it’s SE Design, which means you only get 89bhp. The short of it, then, is that the Polo asks a premium. We’ll see if it warrants it.

So to the Corsa. It’s the same model we tested in the first drive. A three-door, 1.0-litre turbo petrol, with a new three-cylinder engine and in SRi-VX Line 115 form; not a sporty specification for the most part, but including 17in wheels and some red flashes on the interior.

Fact is there’s too much intrinsic value in the ‘SRi’ tag for Vauxhall not to use it, even if the suspension or intent doesn’t warrant it. But with 114bhp the Corsa is the most powerful car here and, at £14,460, also the cheapest.

Does it feel the cheapest? Inside, not particularly. Elements of the dashboard have received some Adamification, but Vauxhall hasn’t overloaded the Corsa with highlights from its premium city car. Supermini drivers are too conservative to yield to that sort of thing. 

Instead, then, the Corsa’s dashboard has a new touch-screen, through which the entertainment and communications systems are controlled, with only a few supplementary buttons – city steering, door locks and the like – remaining on the dash. Below are conventional dials for the heating and ventilation; though not of high material quality.

The rest of the cabin materials are as good as you’d expect – no more, but no less. Piano-black plastic adorns most of the dash, firm plastics abound, but the steering wheel and stalks – the pieces your fingers touch most – feel of reasonable quality and the driving position is comfortably adjustable.

It out-does the Fiesta in many respects. The Ford doesn’t show the same consistency of material choices. The Corsa’s steering wheel feels more pleasing to the hands and the Ford has an untidy upper dash.

There is nothing wrong with having buttons on the console, but the Fiesta’s controls are far from an ergonomic delight, and the large centre heater dial in the dash centre clicks with no more refined a feel than a washing machine’s dials. The faux silver plastic on the wheel is too obviously plastic, as well.

But the driving position is a match for the Vauxhall’s; a couple of our testers felt the driver’s seat could be a little lower, but most thought it comfortable.

All of our drivers, though, agreed that neither the Vauxhall nor the Ford’s interiors were a match for the Polo’s. Volkswagen has great consistency across its models. I think you’d know you were in a VW, blindfolded, whether you were in an Up or a Phaeton, such is the consistency of material choices and the slickness of control weights.

Read the full Ford Fiesta review

The Polo is the only one of these three to use metallic highlights successfully – the rings around the dials, on the dash buttons and the gearlever. These little slivers lift what is, otherwise, a fairly austere cabin.

But even if there are hard surfaces in here, they’re satin, not shiny, and the weighting and slickness of all the controls – major and minor – make it feel the most complete piece of design of the three. Not the most interesting, not the most alluring, but the one you’d be happiest to stay in for hours. The driving position is superb, too, with a hugely adjustable wheel and the lowest-set seat of the trio.

Rear accommodation is also good in the Polo. Truth is, it’s fine in all – you can carry four adults should you choose.

Set with my driving position, the Fiesta gives slight advantage to the Polo, which gives more again to the Corsa; which is not surprising given the Corsa breaches four-metres in length and has the longest wheelbase. But none is uncompetitive. There just isn’t that variation in the class. There’s only 10 litres between the seats-up bootspace of these three. On paper, they’re millimetrically different.

On the road, the differences are rather more marked. And in the first instance, the Corsa pulls an advantage. The new 1.0-litre triple engine is excellent. It pulls well from low revs, and maintains its enthusiasm at high revs, not that there’s great reason to go there. There’s a touch of bump and notch on the six-speed box, but it’s positive.

It makes the Ford’s triple – hitherto a paragon in the 1.0 class – start to feel ordinary. Not that it is, mind; its economy, noise and refinement are still strong. But the Corsa has moved things onwards. 

The Fiesta, with this power output, only gets a five-speed box, but it’s so long geared – it can reach 60mph in second and spins at 3250rpm at 90mph in top – that it hardly matters. 

Such is the flexibility of the Ford triple too that, although the quoted 0-62mph time is 11.2sec, it doesn’t feel overwhelmed by its rivals. The Corsa’s claimed 0-62mph time is 10.3sec and the Polo’s 9.3sec. 

But all are capable of accelerating even once at motorway speeds without changing down a gear. There’s less in it than the figures suggest. The Polo feels comparatively quick, but it’s also smooth, with low road noise levels, and has the best gearshift of the three, via its notch-free, easy six-speed gearbox.

If there’s an area of the powertrain where the Corsa’s not on top of its game, it’s the way it consumes. During their time with us, these three didn’t follow the same route – so a like-for-like fuel consumption comparison can’t be had. But we do know that the Corsa is a 115g/km car, the VW a 110g/km one, and the Ford, at 99g/km, is the only one to break the 100g/km barrier.

It’s also the one most likely to put a smile on its driver’s face. This is only a cooking Fiesta, don’t forget, but Ford is happy to sacrifice some low-speed ride quality for better body control. Not that you’d know – it was just as comfortable as the others. 

Perhaps there’s a touch more road noise – that’s another of those areas where there’s precious little in it – but the Fiesta’s taut and composed. That it rides on small wheels and 55 profile rubber probably compliments the bump absorption, while body movements and agility are so high on the agenda that the Fiesta is a particularly rewarding steer.

Read the new Vauxhall Corsa first drive review

Control weights are heavier than in either of the other two – which can make them feel more agile over the first 20 metres or so – but once you delve deeper it’s clear that the Ford has the most complete dynamic repertoire.

The Polo does what most Volkswagens do. The consistency that is present in the cabin materials is replicated by the control weights. They’re all light and smooth, which is enough to make the Polo the easiest car to drive of the three. If your commute consists of loads of low-speed, stop-start traffic, then the VW is the most relaxing choice.

More so than the Corsa, certainly; which, as it did before, falls in neither camp. That’s despite some UK-exclusive tuning for the power steering, making it more responsive off the straight-ahead to suit our twistier roads,  and extensive British testing for the damping.

The ride is mostly fine, though our test Corsa betrays the fact it’s on 17in wheels from time to time around town with the odd thump. The steering, though, can feel wickedly sharp at times, pitching the Corsa at a corner and seldom settling to be free of nervousness.

The body pitches over quickly and the springs push back against body roll firmly too. The Fiesta just feels more composed, more often. The Polo feels more relaxed, but no less enjoyable.

The verdict

And it’s the dynamics, as much as anything, that seals the Corsa’s fate. A Fiesta is more rewarding to drive. The Polo is more relaxing to drive. And while the Corsa’s interior is superior in feel to the Fiesta’s, it doesn’t come close to matching the Volkswagen’s. The Corsa is a good car in its own right, but third in class, and third in test, is where it sits.

The top two are harder to decide. If you value dynamics you’ll prefer the Fiesta’s natural feel, responsive steering and fleet-footedness. I can understand that. I’d rather drive a Fiesta and therefore, for me, for us, it’s the winner.

However, I suspect most supermini buyers would prefer the relaxed, composed way the Polo does things. And given the choice, there would be as many times as not when I’d be happier to see  the Volkswagen sitting on the driveway.

Read Autocar's previous comparison test - McLaren P1 versus Porsche 918 Spyder

Ford Fiesta Zetec 1.0 100 5dr

Price £14,545; 0-62mph 11.2sec; Top speed 112mph; Economy 65.8mpg; CO2 99g/km; Kerb weight 1101kg; Engine 3 cyls in line, 999cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 99bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 125lb ft at 1400rpm; Gearbox 5-speed manual

Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI 110 SEL 3dr

Price £15,610; 0-62mph 9.3sec; Top speed 121mph; Economy 58.9mpg; CO2 110g/km; Kerb weight 1135kg; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1197cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 109bhp at 5000rpm; Torque 129lb ft at 1500-400rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual

Vauxhall Corsa SRi-VX Line 1.0i 115 3dr

Price £14,460; 0-62mph 10.3sec; Top speed 121mph; Economy 57.6mpg; CO2 115g/km; Kerb weight 1177kg; Engine 3 cyls in line, 999cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 114bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque 122lb ft at 1800-4500rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual

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Comparison: What’s the best car in the wet?
Comparison: What’s the best car in the wet? Only one way to find out: get seven very different cars, a wet track and a data logger. We reveal who reigns in the rain

How entirely fitting it was that the day of this test was that day that always comes each autumn. 

You know the one. It’s Monday morning. You leave the house in darkness. It is pelting with rain. You know that you’ll not return before darkness. There is no question about it: you will need a decent coat, from this very day forward, until the return of spring.

The only question is what car should accompany you from this day forth, too. A car for squalid, wet road conditions during which, when the asphalt isn’t merely covered in rainwater, it’s covered in mud, frost, wet leaves, snow, ice or gritted slush.

Conventional wisdom and shrewd advertising suggest that you want four-wheel drive. However, do you need it and, if so, how large a vehicle do you want with it? A full-blown 4x4? A rapid estate? A sports car, supercar or conventional hatchback? Is either front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive completely out of its depth?

To answer all of these questions and more, we gathered together the cars that you see here. Five are four-wheel-drive, and each a different kind of vehicle: our SUV is a Range Rover Sport with a supercharged engine; the sporting GT car is a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S; the hatchback is a fast one, a Volkswagen Golf R; the family estate another fast one, an Audi RS4; the archetypal all-weather supercar is Nissan’s GT-R

In the front-driven corner, we have a fairly regular hatchback in the shape of a Mini Cooper, and representing rear-wheel drive cars is a Toyota GT86. Both are light and wear sensible rubber.

We’ve left it to the discretion of those who supplied the cars as to which OEM tyres their cars arrived wearing. 

At 13deg ambient temperature, theoretically it was too warm for winter tyres to enter their optimum zone, but some winter tyres can disperse more water than their ‘summer’ counterparts.

As it is, the Range Rover’s Continental Crosscontacts are winter-proof anyway, and all of the other cars came on conventional rubber bar the 911, which arrived wearing Pirelli Sottozero winters.

To complete the equation, we enlisted MIRA proving ground’s wet handling circuit and wet straights, on which we ran five different tests. Our Vbox supplied the data. Our spreadsheet did the mathematics. By the end, we will know in a fairly scientific fashion which car is, beyond doubt, the best in the wet.

Test 1: 70-0mph

Fairly straightforward test, this. You’re travelling on a motorway at the legal limit when somebody swings into a lane in front of you and loses control. You have to stop. Now.

Here, four-wheel drive is, of course, no use whatsoever, because none of the wheels is driving. What helps are good tyres, little weight and sound weight distribution. Which is why the Mini Cooper steals a very early advantage, stopping in just 55.2m.

It’s a good result that is almost matched by most of the other cars here. Toyota’s GT86 is one exception. Despite being light and on generous rubber (215/45 R17) it needs 60.1m. 

The other exception is the Nissan GT-R, whose 255/40 ZR20 front and 285/35 ZR20 Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres simply won’t bite initially. There’s also its notable 1740kg kerb weight. So even though it slows from lower speed with lots of conviction, it takes a long time to get going. Ditto the Range Rover Sport, whose tyres do what they can but cannot alter the fact that it weighs over two tonnes. 

Results: 1) Mini Cooper 2) Audi RS4 3) Volkswagen Golf R 4) Porsche 911 Carrera 4S 5) Range Rover Sport 6) Toyota GT86 7) Nissan GT-R

Read the full Porsche 911 Carrera 4S review

Test 2: 0-30mph on a mixed surface

MIRA’s wet straights aim to replicate some of the less predictable elements of wintery driving. So the left wheels of our test cars are parked on low-grip basalt tiles – think ice. The right pair are on regular asphalt. Stability control systems are left in place. We then accelerate as fast as possible, to 30mph.

As tests of traction go, it is a good one. It’s perhaps no surprise that, because acceleration tests push weight on to the rear tyres, the rear-engined 911 is king here. And how. Its traction and stability systems are deftly judged to minimise slip and ask for just a quarter turn of opposite lock as it reaches 30mph in 2.98sec. 

Nothing else gets close. The Range Rover, which has significant weight transfer and runs on knobbly tyres, is next best, at 3.74sec. Audi’s RS4 is the only other car to beat 4.0sec. Worst is the GT86, but it is light, which is no help here, and its stability and traction control systems feel clumsy. 

Results: 1) Porsche 911 Carrera 4S 2) Range Rover Sport 3) Audi RS4 4) Volkswagen Golf R 5) Nissan GT-R 6) Mini Cooper 7) Toyota GT86

Read the full Volkswagen Golf R review

Test 3: 30-0mph on a mixed surface

This split braking test is like the acceleration one, only you stop rather than go. Simples.

Tyres and brake sizes and weight affect the result here, but because speeds are low, it’s just as much about the cleverness of the electronics. Anti-lock, electronic brake-force distribution and stability control all play a part. The driver might have to wind on a little lock here and there, but largely he’s a passenger.

Pleasingly, the results are all satisfactory. The quickest stopping time is 3.28sec, for the 911 again, presumably because of the water dissipation allowed by its winter tyres, and the slowest time is the Range Rover’s, presumably on account of its mass, at 3.93sec. The gap between second (impressive Golf R) and sixth (GT86) is only 0.17sec. The Mini needs the most steering correction. 

Results: 1) Porsche 911 Carrera 4S 2) Volkswagen Golf R 3) Nissan GT-R 4) Mini Cooper 5) Audi RS4 6) Toyota GT86 7) Range Rover Sport

Read the full Audi RS4 Avant review

Test 4: Lateral g

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: four-wheel drive gives you traction, not grip. At least, I thought I knew that. 

Yet the two cars that displayed the least lateral grip around our wet circular track were the Mini and GT86. Two-wheel-drive. I think it’s because when they push wide, more power only makes things worse. That and the GT86’s slow stability control system. 

However, with the other cars, great stability is garnered by their four-wheel drive systems. When one axle lets go, they apportion power intelligently to the opposite end and then grip is regained. 

For the most part, they’re accompanied by excellent electronics so that none of them is a stranger to the high side of 0.6g. However, here the Golf R – hitherto merely a near front-runner – comes to the fore. That it can maintain a lateral g figure of 0.665g is unsurpassed here. The next best is Nissan’s GT-R, whose powertrain finally reveals its impressive shuffling capabilities.  

The rest of the 4wd cars are at the 0.62sec-something mark, but that’s way ahead of the 0.5sec-something of the 2wd cars. Although tyres give you grip and 4wd gives you traction, without traction, you can’t exploit the fullest extent of the lateral grip.

Results: 1) Volkswagen Golf R 2) Nissan GT-R 3) Audi RS4 4) Range Rover Sport 5) Porsche 911 Carrera 4S 6) Mini Cooper 7) Toyota GT86 

Read the full Nissan GT-R review

Test 5: Lap time

The final test is the only one for which the stability control systems are switched off. We’ve tested them enough already and, come on, seriously, what did you expect when slides are in order? Besides, all of these cars go faster with the stability control switched off (we tried it), and this is, it’s true, as much a test of amusement as it is outright ability.

Scoring high on both fronts are the Golf R and 911 C4S. The 911 feels like it would make a terrific rally car. It’s easy to use its weight distribution on turn-in to keep the nose tucked in, and then drive it out on the power with a little corrective lock applied.You can do similar in the Golf, to an extent, only without the advantage of an engine hanging over the rear. However, the Haldex 4wd system’s ability to apportion power to the rear before the fronts have even relinquished grip is a boon. The RS4 has similar traits, too.

The Range Rover Sport’s fourth-best lap time is impressive, as is its willingness to apportion power rearwards. When it starts to slide foursquare, it takes a lot of space, but if we were in any doubt as to whether we’d picked the right SUV for the job, this lap won us over.

The GT-R’s tyres did it no favours under braking but it comes in ahead of the 2wd cars. The Mini – nimble, entertaining – hangs gamely on to the coat-tails of the rest. The Toyota does not even try to stay with them; this a sideways car in the dry. In the wet it’s hilarious, so it doesn’t matter that it finishes 7.5sec adrift of the Mini and 14.85sec behind the 911 and Golf.

Results: 1) Porsche 911 Carrera 4S, Volkswagen Golf R 3) Audi RS4 4) Range Rover Sport 5) Nissan GT-R 6) Mini Cooper 7) Toyota GT86

Read the full Range Rover Sport review

The verdict

What’s best in the wet? Not a Toyota GT86, unless your idea of ‘best’ is simply spinning up a pair of rear wheels and giggling. That is far from without its appeal but, in this test, the Toyota fares no better than last by a distance – even if it is the car that all of our testers would choose first to re-run all of the tests.

That the Mini finishes sixth, albeit closer to the pack, justifies the decision to include five four-wheel-drive cars here. I thought that they would be better, and they are.

The fact that a Nissan GT-R can gather no clear air over a Range Rover Sport, though, says quite a lot about both: the pair finish equal fourth. The GT-R has fabulous tyres in the dry, but its lower weight, better body control and terrific power can’t open up a gap over the Range Rover, which is a mighty performance SUV.

The Range Rover still doesn’t make the podium, which is rounded out by Audi’s RS4. We suspect that it, too, would have fared better on rubber more suited to wet conditions than its 30-profile Bridgestone Potenzas, but it was a small distance behind the front two.  

The 911 finished first in so many tests that it could have won, such is its traction and the water displacement properties of its tyres. In lateral grip tests, however, that was less of an issue and its inherent rear-biased weight distribution unsettled it to the extent that the Golf R nips ahead of it. Strong everywhere – under acceleration, braking and laterally – the Golf R is the ideal way to make a car for wet conditions. It goes, stops and grips like no other. 

Read Autocar's previous comparison test - new Vauxhall Corsa versus Ford Fiesta and VW Polo

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Autocar magazine 22 October preview
Autocar magazine 22 October preview BMW M2 coupé scooped, wet handling test, new Corsa takes on Fiesta and Polo, Bentley GT3-R driven, Porsche 918 Spyder road test, our long-term Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV goes off-road

This week's issue of Autocar magazine, dated 22 October 2014, reveals the secrets of the forthcoming BMW M2 coupé. We've got the latest information on the Munich manufacturer's latest performance car, which is currently under development.

As the autumnal weather takes a turn for the worst, we ask what car is best in the wet? Included in our shoot-out on a soaked test track are the Toyota GT86, Range Rover Sport, Volkswagen Golf R, Nissan GT-R, Audi RS4 and Porsche 911 Carrera 4S.

Matt Saunders drives the thundering Bentley Continental GT3-R. With 572bhp, a top speed of 170mph and a price tag of £237,500, the GT3-R is a glorious tribute to Bentley's return to racing, but how does it compare with the Crewe manufacturer's more luxurious grand tourers?

The stunning Porsche 918 Spyder is the subject of our in-depth eight-page road test. Does the high-tech hypercar convince our team of intrepid testers than it is as compelling as rivals from McLaren and Ferrari? Find out in this week's issue. 

At the more modest end of the performance envelope, we compare big-selling superminis, pitching the new Vauxhall Corsa against the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, the two cars it must beat if it wants to achieve the Luton brand's aim of becoming the nation's best-selling car.

Other key first drives in this issue include the clever and practical Skoda Fabia 1.4 TDI 90 SE, the prodigiously powerful Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, the rugged Seat Leon X-Perience 2.0 TDI and the retro-themed Jenson Interceptor Supercharged.

Our Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV blends go-anywhere looks with the promise of hybrid frugality, and this week we put the former part of that equation to the test by taking to Britain's green lanes to find out if it really can cope with off-road driving conditions.

The subject of this issue's used buying guide is the Jaguar S-type R, offering hints and tips on how to bag this slice of sporting elegance at a bargain price.

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ADVERTISING PROMOTION: Castrol Edge – why does an oil need to be strong?
Your engine oil needs to be strong and stay strong. The unique Titanium FST in Castrol Edge physically changes the way oil behaves under extreme pressures

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Goodwood Festival of Speed dates announced for 2015
Goodwood Festival of Speed dates announced for 2015 The motoring extravaganza will return to the Goodwood Estate in June next year, with dates also announced for the retro-themed Goodwood Revival

Dates for the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed have been announced, with the motoring festival returning between 25-28 June next year.

The Festival of Speed, which has risen in prominence in recent years to become an unofficial British motor show, takes place at the Goodwood estate in West Sussex. 

The famous Goodwood hillclimb is expected to return, while the event also serves as a launching ground for new models. The Moving Motor Show, which gives the public a first glimpse at new production cars, will take place on Thursday 25 June.

Highlights from the 2014 event included the launch of the new Elemental RP1, our ride in a Hyundai i20 rally car, and driving a 350bhp Ariel Atom 3.5R up the hill. See more pictures from this year's Festival of Speed here.

Dates for the Goodwood Revival have also been announced, with the retro-themed weekend returning to the Goodwood circuit on 11-15 September.

Tickets will provisionally go on sale next month, and Autocar will be bringing you the very latest pictures and news from both events.

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2014 Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI ultra first drive review
2014 Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI ultra first drive review Cosmetic, equipment and efficiency tweaks serve to increase the appeal of Audi’s practical A6 estate Hot on the heels of the recently launched high-efficiency ‘ultra’ variants of Audi’s 5-series rivalling A6 is this, the facelifted version.As well as encompassing the revamped engine line-up, the latest iteration of Audi’s luxury saloon benefits from myriad tweaks. The styling has been revised, with changes made to the lights, grille, bumpers, air intakes, sills and exhausts. The alterations result in a look that echoes the high-performance S6 and imperious A8, granting the A6 a much more muscular look.Inside, upgrades including acoustically damped front and side glass, quad-zone climate and new trims, which improve the already upmarket cabin further.There have been equipment changes too; Bi-Xenon lights are now standard on entry-level SE models, while S line versions and above get LED headlights with ‘sweeping’ rear indicators. Standard kit remains otherwise adequate, and includes keyless start, heated electric mirrors and Audi’s media and drive select systems.Opting for an S line version, as tested here, adds 18-inch wheels, sports seats, leather trim, an S line bodykit and all-LED headlights. Avant versions also feature new lightweight composite springs as standard.

Mercedes-AMG targets Porsche 911 GT3 with hot GT
Mercedes-AMG targets Porsche 911 GT3 with hot GT AMG is already hard at work on a harder, faster version of its new GT sports car, which could launch in 2016

Mercedes-Benz’s AMG performance division has already started work on an ultra-high performance version of its forthcoming GT coupé, company boss Tobias Moers has told Autocar. 

‘Why not?” said Moers when quizzed on the prospect for a high-performance AMG GT.“A street-legal version of our GT3 racing car – that sounds like a pretty good idea.”

The new car will be targeted directly at the Porsche 911 GT3 though it will use neither that name nor be a Black Series model. “GT3 belongs to the other company,” said Moers, “we will find another name for our car.”

Moers would not be drawn on when the new car will be available but confirms the FIA GT3 racing version of the GT will be available from the 2016 season to replace the immensely successful SLS GT3. It would be logical to introduce the road car in a similar timeframe.

The target for the car, said Moers, is a package that excels in every area. “I don’t want to make a dragster that’s only good for doing 0-100km/h [0-62mph] in 2.8sec. We need more power, less weight, better aerodynamics and different suspension but the targets should be the power to weight ratio, drivability, lap time and tremendous feel.”

The aim for the new car will be to reduce weight by 80-100kg compared to the 1570kg S version of the GT, a task Moers admitted would not be possible without using different materials. “The car is already 80kg lighter than the SLS and has a similar power to weight ratio, so to lose much more weight we will need to use carbonfibre as we have with our Black Series models.”

He was less easily drawn on how much additional power will be extracted from the new 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo engine, though admitted it would be fair to speculate it will be around the 550bhp mark, a near 10 per cent power increase on the more powerful (503bhp) of the two engines available for the GT at launch.

Making that power from the engine should be straight-forward as the engine shares its internal architecture with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor used in the likes of the A45 AMG, from which 355bhp is already extracted. He added: “That doesn’t mean we can get 700bhp from the V8 – it is not as simple as that – but the V8 is currently very understressed.”

A 550bhp GT weighing 80kg would provide a power to weight ratio of 369bhp per tonne compared to the 312bhp per tonne of the current Porsche 911 GT3.That should be enough to knock its 0-62mph time back from 3.8sec to a traction-limited 3.6sec.

Top speed is unlikely to increase from the current 193mph, as Moers is keen to equip the car with considerable downforce even at the expense of extra drag. AMG now employs an entire department of aerodynamicists for the first time in its history.

The new car will also receive a wider front and rear track to help mechanical grip. The entire package should lop 10 or more seconds off the GT’s Nürburgring lap time, which currently stands at 7min 30sec using, as Moers put it, “standard tyres, not special compounds designed to last just a few laps”.

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Bentley Continental GT3-R first drive review
Bentley Continental GT3-R first drive review With 572bhp, a top speed of 170mph and a price tag of £237,500, the GT3-R is a glorious tribute to Bentley's return to racing This is the glorious contradiction that is the Bentley Continental GT3-R. From a distance, you’ll take it for a road-legal competition car with number plates. If not, perhaps, a homologation special. It’s neither – but at the same time, it’s no ordinary luxury grand tourer either. The GT3-R is, in fact, a tribute to Bentley’s maiden season back in international motorsport after a gap of more than a decade. It’s also nothing short of the fastest-accelerating, most performance-focussed road car that Crewe has ever made.It’s also still a rich, luxurious, long-distance machine thoroughly in the traditions of the marque. A stripped-out, silver-tongued heavyweight, in other words.A limited run of three-hundred GT3-Rs will be made over the coming months, in recognition of Bentley Motorsport’s Blancpain Endurance Series win in the Continental GT3 race car at Silverstone earlier this year.But unofficially, you could say the car earned its place in the showroom two years ago at the Paris motor show, when Bentley publicly stated its intention to return to motorsport by airing a racing concept version of the Continental GT.That show car, with its even more enormous splitter and rear wing, inspired enough direct expressions of interest that a road-going version was a no-brainer. Unbeknown to Bentley, Crewe’s customer base was in love with the idea of a grand British coupé with the soul and sharpened cutting edge of a track special. So it’s made one.

BMW promises more distinct styling for next-gen models
BMW promises more distinct styling for next-gen models New versions of the 1, 3, 5 and 7-series will looks more visually different say officials, as BMW plans to evolve its design language

Following the launch of the upcoming BMW M2 in 2015, the firm's designers and engineers will focus their attention on creating the next generation of mainstream models.

The firm plans to evolve the design language of its 1-, 3-, 5- and 7-series models in their next generations to create more visual differentiation between models.

“We want each and every model to have its own little world. We think that’s important in a market where we sell two million cars [BMW, Mini, Rolls-Royce] this year,” said Karim Habib, BMW brand design director.

“We need to maintain exclusivity, and if anything we will make them more separate,” he added.

BMW’s core model range of 1-, 3-, 5- and 7-series models have styling that has developed to give each one a distinct identity, a trend started in the late 1990s under Chris Bangle after BMW was criticised for making small, medium and large versions of the same car.

Today the 3-series, for example, has crisp-edged styling, whereas the 5-series has a softer look.

“Whatever we do must be authentic design, which represents the inner qualities of the car,” said Habib.

“Why edges? With edges you express precision and the 3-series drives crisply, with precision. But the 5-series is a bit more about elegance, with more volume in the surfaces,” he added.

Habib said BMW can use new headlamp technology, particularly that involving high intensity LED lamps, to give each of the saloon cars a more different and individual front-end graphic to build around its hallmark double-kidney grille.

BMW will shortly launch a new flagship 7-series, which is likely to employ slim LED headlamps as its price point can justify making use of the pricey technology.

Slim headlamps would enable Habib and his team to design the next 7-series around a much larger double-kidney grille with a greater road presence.

The price point of the 3-series, however, can’t yet justify purely LED lighting, so the design would need to incorporate conventional technology headlamps.

Depending on how the cost of LED technology develops the 5-series, due for launch in 2016, could go either way. “The LED tipping point is pretty much here,” said Habib.

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BMW to launch M2 Coupé in 2015
BMW to launch M2 Coupé in 2015 New 400bhp M2 to arrive in late 2015 and be priced from £45,000; manual transmission and rear-wheel drive offered as standard

BMW’s M division is preparing to revive the intrinsic spirit and driving appeal of its original six-cylinder powered M3 with a new racy two-door, the 370bhp-plus turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder-powered M2 Coupé.

Depicted above in exclusive computer generated images based on prototypes spied testing at BMW’s M division headquarters on the outskirts of Munich in Germany, the new price-leading M-car has been conceived to sit between the existing M235i and fifth-generation M3. Its price is expected to be around £45,000 when sales kick off in just over 15 months from now.

This will see the new M2 Coupé compete directly with an upgraded version of the Mercedes-AMG A45 and the upcoming second-generation Audi RS3 when it reaches UK showrooms during the first quarter of 2016. A public debut for the new BMW in lightly-veiled concept car guise is planned for next year’s Frankfurt motor show.

As with the earlier limited-volume 1M Coupé, which it indirectly replaces in the BMW M line-up, the M2 Coupé will be powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre in line six-cylinder direct injection petrol engine. It won’t, however, be the powerplant used by the larger and more expensive four-door M3 and its mechanical identical two-door sibling the M4, according to departing M division boss Friedrich Nitschke.

Described as an all-new development, the S57 B30-designated unit is based around the German car maker’s upcoming B57 powerplant that is planned to make its debut in the sixth-generation 7-series early next year - rather than the older N55 engine that forms the basis of the unit that powers the M3 and M4, the so-called S55 B30.

A heavy cloak of secrecy surrounds the new engine, which is also earmarked to power a range of future petrol powered ‘M Performance’ models for BMW M’s subordinate go-faster brand. Nitschke revealed it could develop up to 400bhp in production form, beating the future power output of the four- and five-cylinder engines of the A45 and RS3.

“Four hundred is the magic number,” said the BMW M division boss, referring to the power output of the M2’s new engine. “With forced induction it is no trouble to achieve this, but we have to make sure it doesn’t get too close to the power level of the new M4,” in reference to the engine used by the M2 Coupé’s larger sibling, which delivers 425bhp.

BMW M division insiders say initial prototypes of the M2 Coupé run an engine tune that gives it 375bhp.

Channelling those reserves will be a standard six-speed manual or optional seven-speed dual clutch transmission with remote steering wheel mounted shift paddles – both featuring automatic stop/start and brake energy recuperation alongside a thermal energy recovery function.  

Although nothing is official ahead of the new car’s planned unveiling in concept car form, BMW M division sources suggest the new M2 Coupé will be geared for a 0-62mph time of 4.4sec in seven speed dual clutch guise – 0.5sec inside the time quoted for the 335bhp 1M Coupé and 0.2sec slower than the M4. The model's top speed, as with all existing M-cars, will be limited to 155mph in standard guise.

Early examples of the M2 Coupé will be sold exclusively in rear-wheel drive configuration, complete with an electronically controlled limited slip differential that incorporates a torque vectoring function for enhanced traction.

The combination of six-cylinder power and rear-wheel drive is set to provide the new price-leading BMW M car with what Nitschke describes as “a unique selling point” in a market segment he says is “completely dominated by four-cylinder four-wheel drive performance cars”.

Autocar understands BMW’s M division is planning to make a four-wheel drive xDrive option available for the M2 Coupé in selected markets later on as part of a broader sales strategy that will see it offered as an option on all future series production M models.

Further performance-enhancing initiatives include the use of a number of lightweight components aimed at bringing the M2 Coupé’s kerbweight well down below 1530kg to be lighter than the existing M235i. Among them will be a carbonfibre strut brace within the engine bay and composite plastic panels – developments first seen on the new M3 and M4.

Differentiating the new M2 Coupé from the existing M235i Coupé will be uniquely styled front and rear bumpers, front wings, sills, boot lid and standard 19-inch wheels.  

The M2 Coupé is planned to be produced on the same production line as the standard 2-series Coupé at BMW’s Leipzig plant in Germany, with the first examples scheduled to land in showrooms during the final quarter of 2015. It will be followed in 2016 by a new M2 Cabriolet.

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BTCC 2014 race report - highlights from Brands Hatch
BTCC 2014 race report - highlights from Brands Hatch The 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship reaches a conclusion at Brands Hatch, where Jason Plato and Colin Turkington duel over the crown

Colin Turkington versus Jason Plato. BMW versus MG. Catch the action as three incident-packed races around the demanding Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit decide the destiny of this year's Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.

Hyundai plans new sports car
Hyundai plans new sports car Korean firm says there's an appetite for a new sports car in Europe, with Hyundai's new N performance division creating "opportunities" for the brand

Hyundai is considering a small sports car. European MD Allan Rushforth told Autocar that discussions about a sports car have taken place and that there is an appetite for one. 

If the car makes production, it will not be a relaunch of the Coupé. The market for such a car is difficult to sustain, according to Rushforth, who also revealed he is leaving Hyundai for a senior role at Nissan. 

“Cars like these, such as the Audi TT, create a huge demand when they’re new, but then that dies off quickly,” he said. “It’s about demographics, too. The buyers of the old Coupé no longer want these cars.” 

Any new sports car would have to be a global model. Hyundai’s World Rally Championship and other motorsport ambitions make a sports car more relevant, and its planned N performance division creates what Rushforth called “opportunities” for new models. 

Inspiration for the new model could come from the firm's recent PassoCorto concept, which made its debut in Geneva earlier this year. Designed by the IED design school in Turin and powered by a twin-turbocharged 1.6-litre engine with 262bhp, the PassoCorto concept was billed as being purely a design study.

Hyundai is also planning a new B-segment crossover to arrive “within two years”, as part of plans to launch 22 new vehicles by 2017.

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Why there’s still a place for car classifieds in print
Why there’s still a place for car classifieds in print There's a school of thought that ads in mags are so last-century, but the experience can still be quite fulfilling

What could be easier than clicking, prodding and pressing your electronic device and seeing thousands and thousands of cars for sale?

I love the crystal clear pictures I see online. If the picture is a rubbish one taken on a mobile with the sellers thumb in the way, then I won’t bother taking it any further.

Like the old days I can ring the seller up, but it’s even better if I can just email them. It wastes less time and money and I get all the information I need. Even better, I’ve had sellers who are tech savvy enough to send me film of the motor and scans of the documentation.

However, the fabulousness of modern technology is no substitute for going to see the car. You must never, ever get lazy and buy without trying. A great online advert should tickle your fancy and if you like the car enough then you must go back to basics and start kicking the tyres.

It's true that classified ad magazines have less of a purpose now that we can see what's for sale right now. Online ads give us that instant fix at any time of the day and in a far better format than was ever possible from those grubby, dated little mags.

Hold on there, because actually the car mags are wonderfully chock-full of nice ads, as well as some great articles too.

In fact, I am not so sure that looking exclusively online is the answer. I love the sheer randomness, particularly in the classic newspapers, when you can stumble across a fire engine and automobilia.

I get fed up looking at screens all the time and handling paper is much more satisfying. I can make notes, put rings around ads and jot details down when I phone up the seller.

I think the two can co-exist quite happily and, on balance, I would prefer to browse through a mag.

What do you think?

Jaguar Land Rover plans more Special Operations vehicles
Jaguar Land Rover plans more Special Operations vehicles With the Range Rover Sport SVR now on sale, JLR's new tuning division has turned its attention to the Defender

Jaguar Land Rover is promising a nimble response to both the competition and customer demand from its Special Operations division – the newly formed entity that’s responsible for quickly turning the F-type Project 7 from concept to road car.  

Headed by former Land Rover boss John Edwards, the 500-employee department has four main areas of expertise: special vehicles, personalisation, heritage and branded goods. Its special vehicles work will deliver halo derivatives in the mould of the new Range Rover Sport SVR

Speaking to Autocar, Edwards explained that these will be sub-divided into luxury, performance and all-terrain offerings. The last of these, he said, would next year include special run-out editions of the Defender, identifying the broad conceptual space between the Camel Trophy and Paris-Dakar as interesting ground for such a vehicle. 

Land Rover will use 2015 as a celebration of its outgoing Defender. Edwards was adamant that the car’s owners would not be forgotten about in the years to come and highlighted the opportunities to engage with its fan base via the heritage wing of the new division. 

It is likely to be a busy year for Special Operations elsewhere. Edwards described the search for a ‘Project 8’ as a continuing process and confirmed that limited-run, stand-alone models fuelled by buyer enthusiasm were certainly going to be a significant part of the division’s future. 

What the SVR badge will mean for Jaguar derivatives is also still being finalised. Edwards cited the need to properly “define the DNA” of the brand before it could be appropriately applied to Jaguars. 

Using it to signify extreme all-wheel-drive versions of Jaguar models wasn’t ruled out. Nor was the incorporation of high-powered diesel engines, suggesting that JLR is determined to make SVR as relevant to Europe as it will be in lucrative petrol-based markets.

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Toyota cuts GT86 price by £2500
Toyota cuts GT86 price by £2500 New entry-level GT86 model is available to order now, priced from £22,495, while Toyota also introduces a new range-topping Aero model

Toyota has cut the price of its GT86 sports car by £2500 with the introduction of a new entry-level model.

The new GT86 Primo, which has already opened for orders with first deliveries scheduled for January, costs £22,495. Available with a six-speed manual transmission only, the Primo keeps the standard car's 2.0-litre naturally aspirated boxer engine, which produces 197bhp.

Primo models get 17-inch alloy wheels, a limited-slip differential, aluminium pedals, and interior luxuries including air conditioning, a tyre pressure monitoring system and Toyota's touchscreen infotainment unit with Bluetooth connectivity.

The lower price means that at the moment the GT86 costs the same as an entry-level Subaru BRZ.

After an introductory offer on the GT86 Primo ends, the price of the model will be set at £22,995 - which still represents a price cut of £2115 over the standard car. Its lower price point means the Primo does without the keyless entry and go, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, LED DRLs and HID headlights of the regular GT86.

Additionally, a new GT86 Aero model - which features a new body kit, rear spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels, joins the range priced from £26,495.

A new special edition Giallo version, which is also only available with a manual transmission, features black leather heated seats, new exterior trim and new yellow paintwork. Only 86 examples will be coming to the UK, with each priced at £27,495.

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BMW M4 convertible UK first drive review
BMW M4 convertible UK first drive review Drop-top M4 proves a civilised, muscular car – albeit one that's not as involving as it should be A drop-top version of BMW's recently launched high-performance M4 coupé.There are two major advantages to having a roofless BMW M4. One is the obvious fact that you can be much closer to process of achieving motion, the rush of scenery that much more apparent when there’s only a windscreen over your head.The other is that you can much more prominently hear the magnificent, controlled cacophony of the straight-six turbo’s exhalations via a tuneful quartet of pipes.

Ford to produce a range of cleaner diesel engines at Dagenham
Ford to produce new, cleaner diesel engines at Dagenham Blue Oval confirms an additional £190m of investment in engine plant to create new range of diesels for passenger cars and commercial vehicles

Ford has announced an additional investment of £190m at its Dagenham facility to produce a range of new 2.0-litre diesel engines for cars and commercial vehicles.

The development, which includes an £8.9m contribution from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund, will result in the creation of 318 new jobs related to the investment.

Today's announcement is the second part of a two-stage investment in the new engine programme. The original investment of £287m relates to the production of the engine that will find its way into Ford commercial vehicles around the globe.

The first of these engines will come off the line at the east London plant towards the end of next year. Production capacity will be up to 350,000 units per year and the first units will be powering Ford's vans in 2016.

Ford says the new engine will deliver dramatically lower Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions and satisfy the air quality requirements of the proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) that could come into force in London in 2020.

The new tranche of funding relates to the engine for passenger cars. Production is scheduled to start in 2017 – ramping up to a capacity of 150,000 units per year – with the first installation in Ford cars planned for 2018.

The new diesel engines have been designed and developed at Ford Dagenham and at the Ford Dunton Technical Centre in Essex.

Stephen Odell, Ford Executive Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “Ford is delighted to announce this next phase of investment at Dagenham. The overall investment of over £475 million, supported by the UK Government, underlines Ford’s commitment to the UK.

"This all-new, state-of-the-art, low carbon diesel engine has not only been designed and developed here, but it will be manufactured by Ford in the UK too. And it will be great for UK plc as these engines will be exported to markets around the world.”

Ford produces engines at two locations in the UK –  petrol engines from Ford Bridgend in Wales and diesel engines at Ford Dagenham. Total production from the two plants exceeded 1.5 million powerplants in 2013.

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Rolls-Royce still undecided on SUV plans
Rolls-Royce still undecided on SUV plans Plans to launch the first ever Rolls-Royce SUV in 2017 are put on ice as the company struggles to commit to production

Rolls-Royce continues to work on proposals for an SUV but has still not signed off the project. 

“We’re looking seriously into it,” said the BMW Group board member for Rolls-Royce, Peter Schwarzenbauer. 

“Fifty per cent of cars sold around the world are now SUVs,” he added. “But there’s no decision yet. If we’re not totally convinced, we’re not going to do it. It’s got to look like a Rolls-Royce.” 

Schwarzenbauer added that the design proposals have got closer, but they’re not there at the moment. 

Originally, the company was expected to launch its long-awaited SUV model in 2017, one year later than the already-confirmed Bentley SUV.

Priced at more than £200,000, the Rolls SUV would be aimed primarily at wealthy entrepreneurs in the Chinese market.

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Ferrari 458 to get new twin-turbo V8
Ferrari 458 to get new twin-turbo V8 New downsized twin-turbo V8, producing in excess of 650bhp and 550lb ft, destined for 458 successor

Ferrari will launch a twin-turbocharged V8-powered replacement for the 458 Italia at the Geneva motor show next spring, marking the start of a new era under chairman Sergio Marchionne.

The new car is a reskin of the aluminium platform that underpins today’s 458. The car’s project name is 142M — M for modified, 142 being the project number of the 458.

The new two-seater is expected to break fresh technical ground for a ‘mainstream’ mid-engined Ferrari by featuring a twin-turbo V8. It is based on the California’s 3.8-litre unit and test mules have been running it for some time.

Modified with dry-sump lubrication compared with the wet sump in the California, the V8 will have a capacity below 4.0 litres to comply with an influential Chinese tax threshold. Currently, the 4.5-litre V8 in the 458 suffers high taxes in China, hampering sales.

The California’s V8 has a capacity of 3855cc, based around an 86.5mm bore diameter, shared with the 3798cc Maserati version. To raise capacity, the California’s has a slightly longer stroke.

For the new 458, Ferrari must select the V8’s stroke carefully to ensure ‘over-square’ dimensions for a short stroke to promote peak power delivery at high engine revs.

A 4.0-litre capacity, for example, would be delivered with a relatively long stroke of 85mm, very close to the 86mm bore. In comparison, the outgoing 458 engine has a 94mm bore and a much shorter stroke of 81mm.

Ferrari may even need to select a stroke of 75mm, equivalent to just 3.5 litres, to maintain similar engine geometry to the rev-happy V8 in today’s 458. However, whether that is sufficient to generate the required power is a point for discussion.

The target car for the new 458 will be the 641bhp McLaren 650S and there are suggestions the Ferrari might be rated at 666bhp. To develop 666bhp from under 4.0 litres, the new V8 will have to produce 168bhp per litre, and from 3.5 litres 192bhp per litre.

To achieve that, the engine will feature a relatively high 12:1 compression ratio, aided by Ferrari’s ‘ion’ knock detection system, which adjusts combustion conditions individually in each of the eight cylinders.

The engine’s capacity is also likely to form the car’s name, a tradition started by the 206 Dino in 1968 — a 2.0-litre V6. A 3.5-litre V8 opens up the possibility of 358, a 3.8-litre 388 and a 4.0-litre 408. By adding a T, Ferrari might denote turbocharging. However, experience suggests that Ferrari is just as likely to opt for a new naming direction.

Other aspects of the new 458’s engine design are likely to diverge from the California’s, too. “Do not expect the same induction system as the California,” one source told Autocar.

One possibility is an electrically powered turbo. Ferrari is known to be experimenting with this technology, although it requires a 42V electrical system, which is probably too expensive to reverse engineer into an existing architecture. More likely is a conventional twin-turbo set-up, with two low-inertia turbo units that allow instant throttle response and high peak power at the expense of torque.

One of the challenges facing Ferrari’s powertrain engineers is how to reliably match a 650bhp-plus, 550lb ft-plus torque output to the seven-speed Getrag ‘7DL750’ dual-clutch automatic gearbox employed on all models from the California up to LaFerrari. Peak torque from the California’s 553lb ft V8 was set at the ’box’s limit and is only delivered in seventh gear. In the six lower gears, it’s limited to 400lb ft.

Autocar understands that developments are in the pipeline for the Getrag ’box, but whether that means beefier internals or an extra gear, for example, is unclear.

Styling is said to be the work of the in-house Centro Stile Ferrari design chief Flavio Manzoni and it is likely to be evolutionary. Developments in aerodynamics are likely to lead changes, with the front-end graphic centred around aggressive twin intakes.

Read the Ferrari 458 review

Read the Ferrari California T review

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Audi unleashes racing version of the new TT
Audi unleashes racing version of the new TT New Audi Sport TT Cup, based on the third-generation TT road car, will compete in a one-make series in 2015

The new third-generation Audi TT has been transformed into a racing car for a new one-make series for 2015.

The Audi Sport TT Cup will run on the undercard of the German DTM touring car championship. The series is angled at beginners, club-level competitors and celebrity drivers.

The racing version of the new Audi TT uses the road car's lightweight steel and aluminium body and weighs 1125kg in total. It is powered by a two-litre TFSI petrol engine that's been adopted from the production model with very few changes, and a six-speed S tronic transmission.

The engine produces 306bhp, but is equipped with a 'push-to-pass' function that temporarily boosts maximum power by 30bhp. An active differential that is electronically variable from the cockpit ensures optimal traction at the front axle.

Other tech is adopted from Audi's existing racing series, such as the 'PS1' racing seat, which is taken from the Audi R8 LMS ultra.

The cars will all be prepared by Audi's performance and sporting arm, Quattro, and two races are planned at each of the six DTM rounds that will be held within Germany next season.

Former Formula 1 driver and Audi sportscar racer Markus Winkelhock will be on hand to coach the participants of the Audi Sport TT Cup during the season.

The German has tested the Audi Sport TT Cup car and said: "It is a genuine race car, ideal for rookies, yet challenging to drive. You immediately feel that you’re sitting in an Audi and recognise the close kinship with the brand’s other race cars."

Audi says the winner of the championship will receive support to move up into the manufacturer's  GT3 sports car programme.

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All-wheel-drive Jaguar F-type spied
All-wheel-drive Jaguar F-type spied What is believed to be a definitive four-wheel-drive variant of the British manufacturer's coupé is caught on camera leaving the factory

An all-wheel-drive Jaguar F-type has been spied leaving the British manufacturer’s Castle Bromwich production plant.

Although this coupé being hauled away from the Midlands factory on the back of a double trailer is partially disguised, Autocar understands that it is a F-type S AWD equipped with the 3.0-litre supercharged V6 engine.

The badges on the rear of the F-type have been obscured by camouflage tape, but the one on the right is believed to feature ‘AWD’, denoting the car’s all-wheel-drive underpinnings.

The frontal images show that the Jaguar has a sticker in its front windscreen denoting it as a ‘plant launch vehicle’, as opposed to a definitive production car.

It could be on its way for final testing or, with the next major motor show in Los Angeles now just four weeks away, it could be heading to a port for shipping to the USA.

The twin-exhaust configuration of the car matches that of the existing V6-powered F-type models, but it seems likely that V8-engined AWD derivatives will also be offered. Four-exhaust test mules were spied undergoing winter testing in January.

Although Jaguar has so far remained tight-lipped about the prospect of all-wheel-drive F-types joining the model range, its all-wheel drive XF and XJ models, equipped with a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine, have been a significant sales success in the US.

Additionally, high-ranking Jaguar personnel have previously revealed long-term plans to offer four-wheel-drive variants of all the company's models.

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In praise of the 25-year-old Land Rover Discovery
In praise of the 25-year-old Land Rover Discovery A visit to an event celebrating the Land Rover Discovery's quarter-century is proof of the high regard in which the venerable, versatile family SUV is held

A quarter of a century ago this month, Land Rover launched the Discovery, the model that was to set it on its current highly successful path to becoming a full-line SUV manufacturer.

Whereas the Jeep-inspired original Land Rover of 1947 and the luxurious Range Rover of 1970 had already defined the boundaries of a new off-roader sector, the Discovery aimed squarely at its heartland, where ordinary car buyers could afford, and would see the need for, a tough but comfortable, family-oriented off-roader.

Riding on a version of the Range Rover’s twin-rail chassis and coil-sprung suspension, but with exterior and cabin designs all its own, the Discovery shot to prominence at the undisputed star of the Birmingham motor show in November 1989.

One reason why crowds flocked to see it was that in the previous month, Land Rover had staged a press launch for the model in Plymouth.

A testing route over local tracks and highways began on the city’s famous Hoe, overlooking the sea, where Sir Francis Drake is claimed to have finished his famous game of bowls before attacking and defeating the Spanish Armada that had appeared on the horizon. That 1989 car launch was inspired by the fact that the Range Rover had been launched in the area 19 years earlier.

All of which is why 120 Discoverys of all ages, shapes, conditions and hues, plus around 300 people, foregathered there last Saturday to celebrate the model’s 25th birthday. They’ve been going there since it was 20, but this year was a bit special. Entrants came from all points of the compass, starting with a photo-call on Saturday morning before setting off to retrace some of the test routes of 1989 and settle at a nearby campsite on the Mount Edgcumbe estate.

Cossetted in a 64-plate Discovery HSE Luxury, the Steering Committee and I joined them on the Hoe, chatting to Discovery Club members and admiring the cars. Stars of the show were a smattering of original Discoverys with G---WAC number plates, which showed they were among the 80-odd original three-door models built and registered for the original press launch.

The lurid decals on their flanks, once criticised but now celebrated, drew attention to the earliest models, still impressive for the modern, airy quality of their cabin design, attributed at the time to celeb furniture designer Jasper Conran but (now it can be told) not all his own work.

What struck us was the self-contained cheeriness of the several hundred people who were there, happy in one another’s company and with the simple achievement of having arrived. And the disparate spec of the vehicles was fascinating.

One, obviously used for extreme off-roading, didn’t have a single straight panel (roof included) and its owner had proudly kept it that way. Another was a healthy, hand-painted Mk 1 farm workhorse, clearly with many years of useful life still ahead.

Many were kitted out with racks and rails containing get-you-home equipment and well-stowed camping gear. No two cars were identical; nearly every one has clearly done things well beyond a normal car’s capability.

In the circumstances, we were glad to have parked our shiny newcomer out of the way. It hadn’t yet earned its spurs like this distinguished group.

But as we rolled quietly home, enjoying favourite music enhanced by the Disco 4’s sensationally low levels of road noise, we also knew that this brand new 1000-miler would face tough obstacles of its own before too long, because Land Rover believes as stoutly as ever in demonstrating that its cars can handle tough conditions. And it would defeat them, just like its brave ancestors.

How we shot the McLaren vs Porsche vs Ducati video - from the sky
How we shot the P1 vs 918 vs bike video - from the sky Drones are revolutionising the way we shoot our videos, and the best news is the technology is getting more accessible as prices come down

The video we posted this time last week on the 200mph drag race between a McLaren P1, Porsche’s 918 Spyder and a Ducati 1199 Superleggera should, anytime now, surpass the one million views mark on our YouTube channel, about which we are quietly chuffed.

But it's also attracted an unusual amount of attention on this website, too, and one of the reasons why is because it contains a lot of footage shot from the air. Quite a few of you have asked us how, and on what, we shot the footage.

Well, we filmed it using a pair of dji Phantom 2 drones, one fitted with a GoPro camera, the other using dji's own Vision+ system that has an integrated camera that can be operated using a simple iPhone.

We’ve sourced ours through Crawley-based electronics specialist RCGeeks, who are top people to deal with. But if you do a Google search for ‘dji Phantom’ you'll find the company is all over the internet nowadays as well. Hence the reason why drones are in the news quite a lot at the moment.

Just yesterday, for instance, a senior UK air chief claimed on the front page of The Times that within 10 years drones will be “everywhere in the skies above our heads” helping to deliver anything from mail to personal gifts to anyone and everyone who buys stuff online.

At the moment, though, we’re more concerned with making our vids look better by shooting them with drones, and judging from your reaction to the McLaren P1 vs Porsche 918 vs Ducati 1199 Superleggera video, they seem to be having the desired effect. We also shot some of the best driver's car video using the same equipment, and hopefully you'll enjoy that, too.

The great thing about the drones we’re using is that they are reasonably easy to fly and don’t cost a silly amount to buy – between £1500 and £2500 depending what spec cameras are attached – and the results seem to speak for themselves. Which probably helps explain why dji has gone from being a two-man band in China just a few years ago to a company that employs more than 1300 people today.

The downside to drones is that, technically, you need a licence to fly and film with them commercially in Europe, and the laws governing their use in public spaces are becoming stricter by the day as their popularity grows.

And if you crash them – which is all-too easy to do whilst learning how to fly – they can be heinously expensive to fix. As can the cameras that are attached to them, if they survive.

But until the laws change to prevent us from flying and filming with drones, and until we run out talent while flying them, expect a fair bit more footage shot from the heavens in our forthcoming vids – because at the moment we can’t get enough of our shiny new Phantoms.

So cheers dji, cheers RCGeeks. And cheers to you good people for watching.

Video: Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014
Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 The likes of McLaren, Ferrari, Porsche and Chevrolet do battle on road and track to determine this year's best-handling car

The daunting Castle Combe circuit in Wiltshire plays host to our quest to determine the most entertaining and capable machine of the year. New cars from Ferrari, BMW, Porsche, Jaguar, McLaren and many more are put through their paces on road and track to decide the outright winner, and our judges explain which cars impressed them most.

A hot lap in the passenger seat of Audi’s self-driving RS7
A hot lap in the passenger seat of Audi's self-driving RS7 Ingolstadt's tech boffins have developed a piloted driving concept car that can storm around a race circuit at the same pace as an enthusiastic driver

Daylight is fading as our Audi RS7 shoots past the pit complex and races up to the challenging first corner of the Oschersleben circuit flat-out in top gear.

The engine, a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 with a stout 552bhp and 516lb ft of torque, emits a hearty computer-enhanced blare as we approach the first of the braking markers at well over 120mph.

Just another day on the track for Autocar, one might casually surmise. However, this is far from your ordinary new car test.

Why? Because no one is behind the steering wheel of the five-door liftback as it arcs into the tight left-hander right at the limit of adhesion before switching direction into a long, tightening radius right hand corner. In fact, apart for a series of wires attached to an emergency cut-off mechanism sitting there, the driver’s seat is conspicuously empty.

I'm riding in the passenger seat, but the prototype doesn't need a driver – not a physical one at any rate.

A series of sensors monitoring the surroundings, the latest in centimetre-perfect digital mapping, GPS-guided navigation, a bank of computers mounted within the forward section of the boot and Audi’s own proprietary software enable it to lap the 2.3-mile German circuit on the racing line at genuinely high speeds, complete with hair-raising moments of opposite lock, hearty busts of acceleration, rapid gear changes and hard braking.

Such is its command, even in damp conditions, you could close your eyes and swear there was an experienced driver at work. The real measure of its overall competence, however, comes a little while later when, curious to replicate the feat of the driverless Audi, I venture out onto the track in a standard RS7 and discover its 1min 57sec lap time is competitive enough to give an enthusiast driver a proper run for their money under similar track conditions.

Audi has engineered the RS7 piloted driving concept as a showcase for the sort of self-driving technology we can expect to see filter down into production cars within the next decade provided regulatory changes are enacted to make it legal on our roads.

Like similar projects unveiled by rival car makers in recent times, it aims to provide fully autonomous operation in a move the German car maker says will not only make driving inherently safer by reducing the chance of collusions but also fundamentally change the way we perceive personal mobility, both in everyday situations and under the heat of competitive track day driving.

The rolling laboratory is described by the German car maker’s head of research and development, Ulrich Hackenberg, as a glimpse of the future. Yet while he suggests it will be at least another ten years before regulatory conditions allow car makers to offer such technology on series production cars, certain elements of the self-driving system being worked on are planned to make their way onto the next-generation Audi A8 in less than two years from now, including the ability to take over the driving process in traffic jams at speeds up to 37mph.

Audi is confident it will be at the forefront of the autonomous car movement when it does take off. It became the first car maker to gain permission to run driverless cars on roads in Nevada. Earlier this year it also became the first car maker to conduct public testing in Florida. Recently it received the first test license under new regulations allowing testing on highways in California.

On our first outing in the RS7 piloted driving concept on the Oschersleben circuit we were accompanied by Peter Bergmiller, an Audi driving assistant engineer, who has spent the last two years perfecting the system. But after a couple of laps, he steps out and I get to ride solo.

At the push of a button, the prototype starts with a meaningful blast of exhaust. The instruments and infotainment monitor spring into action, the electronics blip the throttle as if to signal their intent and the eight-speed automatic gearbox is automatically set to D (drive). Then, without any prompting from the Ingolstadt engineer, we’re off with great rush of acceleration from the number one grid position.

Intuitively, the prototype instantly chooses the correct racing line, picks the turn in point well and uses every centimetre of the track. It hits apexes with all the expertise of an experienced track driver and brakes late into corners. The algorithms controlling the steering could be a little smoother and it takes its time before it decides to plant the throttle on the exit to corners, but otherwise it is astonishingly proficient.

Audi’s engineers have measured lateral forces of up to 1.3g under braking with the RS7 piloted driving concept during testing. It is also capable of pulling 1.1g during cornering, according to Bergmiller.

The new Audi uses the latest in GPS technology for orientation on the track. Accurate down to a centimetre, the data is transmitted to the vehicle via wireless LAN. At the same time, 3D images collected by a stereo camera mounted in the windscreen are compared against graphical information stored on board. The system searches in each of the countless individual images for several hundred known features which it then uses as additional positioning information.

The notion of autonomous cars zipping around our streets is not really my idea of fun. However, I couldn’t help but smile when, on one of the more demanding kinks at the back of the circuit, the RS7 piloted driving prototype backed off mid-corner and corrected a slide with a generous amount of opposite lock rather than just standing on the brakes.

So, what happens when the computer crashes or you get into a situation that can’t be retrieved? “The electronics are backed up by a secondary system which is programmed to bring the car to a stop,” says Bergmiller. “We have attempted to pre-empt regulatory factors by building in a comprehensive safety net.”

At the turn of the century the notion of a driverless car lapping a circuit faster than a car piloted by an experienced race driver over any given distance was considered nigh-on impossible – an intriguing idea for sure but one rooted more in the realms of science fiction than reality, or so it seemed back then.

However, rapid advances in technology together with new digital mapping techniques incorporated in to the latest generation of navigation systems has now brought the notion to the brink of actuality. Among the developments we’ll soon see on new Audi models is a system that goes under the working title 'traffic jam pilot'.

Set to appear first on the next-generation Audi A8, it has been conceived to control the lane positioning, steering, acceleration and braking at speeds between 0 and 37mph during tail backs on the motorway when activated.

The new function relies on the same radar system used by today’s adaptive cruise control, which monitors a 35-degree field in front of the car at a distance of up to 250 metres.

It operates in combination with a wide-angle camera mounted within the windscreen to detect lane markings and other objects, including other road users, along with twelve individual sensors used to monitor the immediate space around the car.

Among these sensors is a new hi-tech laser scanner, which is described as a central component in Audi’s efforts to deliver fully autonomous driving. It emits up to 100,000 infra-red light pulses per second in a 145-degree arc on six levels at a distance of up to 80 metres to deliver highly precise monitoring through light reflections.

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Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne on why change is needed at Maranello
Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne on why change is needed at Maranello Marchionne explains why he's hellbent on preserving the sports car manufacturer's "uniqueness, exclusivity and technical prowess"

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) group chairman and new Ferrari chief Sergio Marchionne gave a press conference at the recent Paris motor show on the same day that outgoing Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo bade farewell at the Ferrari press conference.

This is a near-verbatim report transcribed from a recording of Marchionne’s comments on the future of Ferrari. Questions have been inserted to make the full transcript readable. Marchionne took over from Montezemolo on 13 October, the day before shares in FCA started trading on Wall Street.

Can we expect significant change at Ferrari with the arrival of you as chairman?

SM: I think Luca and the team have done a phenomenal job of building the road car division. If you look at the uniqueness of the product, if you look at what was revealed today [the 458 Speciale A] – I have an Enzo and from zero to 100kph it is fighting this new 458. We have made huge strides technically in the last 10 years.

Does that mean significant changes are needed?

SM: There is a tradition that can’t be interrupted by a change of chairmanship. The uniqueness of the brand and the uniqueness of the technical skills are at the core of what Ferrari is. 

Some critics fear that Ferrari may change too significantly…

SM: Just to clarify some of the gibberish that’s been going on in the press about trying to turn Ferrari into Lamborghini: even if we tried desperately, I don’t think we could!

So will the strategy change materially?

SM: It is absolutely clear that all Ferrari’s uniqueness, exclusivity and technical prowess must be preserved. So you’re not going to hear any significant deviation from the strategy that Luca put together.

How about exploiting Ferrari by selling engines or engineering services?

SM: The technical prowess of the brand needs to be preserved. I still think that there is a piece of Ferrari that may become available to a larger audience, but people may be buying engineering services and engines from them, as opposed to cars. 

Does that mean Ferrari branching out into other areas?

SM: Cars need to stay the domain of Ferrari and it needs to do it as it has been for the past 10 years.

What about the Formula 1 team?

SM: The issue about F1 is a more difficult question. I keep getting reminded that racing is not a science, that a number of factors influence performance, and then I go to Monza and see that the first six cars are not Ferrari or powered by a Ferrari engine, and my blood pressure just popped. 

So the poor performance of the F1 team is the main reason for change?

SM: If it happens once and happens twice, you wake up and maybe think there’s a better way to do this.

Ferrari last won a Formula 1 championship in 2008. Is that a problem?

SM: Ferrari since 2008 has been plagued by a number of mishaps, has lost a couple of championships – one at the last race. We have phenomenal drivers. Somehow, the chemistry of all this has not worked.

How important is fixing the F1 team?

SM: That continues to be my main objective in terms of Ferrari going forward. A non-winning Ferrari on the Formula 1 track is not Ferrari. I can live with periods of bad luck, but it cannot become a structural element of the brand.

Is that why new management is needed at Ferrari?

SM: We’ve got to kick some ass and we’ve got to do it quickly. It takes what it takes. We might screw up, but we’ve got nothing to lose, right? Let’s risk something.

Reports have suggested that Ferrari might increase production. Can you explain the position?

SM: I have outlined the financial implications if Ferrari went from 7000 to 10,000 cars a year and the gradual progression of earnings and cashflow. For me to tell you today that we are going to sell 10,000 cars is nonsense. The plan we presented in May only had a forecast of 7000 cars and no more. We have built in no increase of volumes.

Increased production might affect second-hand car values…

SM: The real issue — the result of a joint effort between me and Luca — was to agree the right elements of exclusivity of Ferrari. This came out of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and we choked off volumes so that we would never, ever create a glut of Ferraris in the second-hand market.

But what if demand goes up as global markets recover?

SM: If there’s a point in time where the population of high net worth individuals increases substantially, then I think we have an obligation not to choke supply. But that’s something that has to be based on empirical data.

How might this affect delivery waiting times?

SM: We cannot allow this to become in any shape or form an easily available product. People need to wait for some time to get their hands on a car, but if you wait 24 months for a Ferrari, you’ve waited too long. There’s a point where the wait is too long. I think that’s crazy.

How might that affect one-off, halo models? Would you increase the numbers, like LaFerrari?

SM: The LaFerrari sold out — 499 cars — as soon as it was announced. The F60 America [we showed] in California is already sold out. Ten on-offs, €2.5 million each; they're all pre-sold. I can go down there and do all the bandwagon stuff, but commercially it’s already sold out. I’m not saying we should make 20, but I think we should make the product available. And it becomes a point where exclusivity goes too far. It’s no longer reachable. We’re in business to sell cars to people. We’ve got to make product available. There is not an absolute restriction.

Insight – Luca di Montezemolo's final Ferrari press conference

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Motor racing champions, but do you want to buy one?
Motor racing champions, but do you want to buy one? It's not clear whether the old adage 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday' still carries any weight for manufacturers in motor sport

This week, three car makers have announced championship title victories in the world of motor racing.

Most obvious, and prestigious, is Mercedes’ decisive winning of the Formula One Constructors’ Championship, something it has never done before despite its many successes in the 1950s F1 series, there being no Constructors’ prize back then.

Then there’s Citroën, which has won the World Touring Car Championship. This the first time it has taken to race tracks – its previous specialism was the World Rally Championship, in which it has repeatedly campaigned to great effect.

The WTCC races have taken run in places as far-flung as Morocco, China and Argentina as well as Europe, but with a Citroën we can’t buy here in the shape of the C-Elysee saloon.

Closer to home, tiny MG Motor has won the manufacturers' award in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship with the MG6.

Great news for all these manufacturers, but I have a question for you, dear reader. Do you think these championship victories will have any bearing on your willingness to buy a car from one of these brands?

Or if not that, does it make you feel warmer towards them? Not that I’m against car brands campaigning on the track, but I’m just curious. Thoughts appreciated…

Jaguar launches new heritage car driving experience
Jaguar launches new heritage car driving experience British manufacturer to offer members of the public the opportunity to drive iconic vehicles such as the Jaguar D-type at a test track

Jaguar Land Rover's new Special Operations division is to let members of the public sample iconic cars such as the Jaguar D-type and E-type in a new driving experience.

The Jaguar Heritage Driving Experience events will be based at the manufacturer's 200-acre Fen End test facility in the West Midlands.

The vehicles are taken from the collection of more than 500 British heritage cars that Jaguar recently bought from private collector James Hull.

A variety of experiences will be available, from one-hour drives to half-day Le Mans 24 Hours themed specials.

The Jaguar Experience costs between £95 to £250 and includes passenger rides alongside professional drivers and the option of driving heritage cars such as an E-type alongside a modern F-type.

The Le Mans Experience, at £750, includes drives in the C-type, D-type, XKSS and F-type R Coupé.

The headline 'Grace and Pace' package, which costs £2000, includes a full day of driving everything from post-war racers to sports saloons and roadsters, as well as creations of the company's Special Vehicle Operations division.

Jaguar Land Rover Special Operations boss John Edwards said: “The first time in Jaguar’s history that we have made a collection of vehicles of this calibre available for ‘arrive and drive’ experiences.

"It’s an extremely exciting new project that underscores the very essence of what Special Operations is all about – celebrating heritage with our eyes firmly on the future.”

The programme launches next month, with the first date scheduled for Friday 14 November.

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2014 Vauxhall Corsa SRi 1.4i Turbo Ecoflex first drive review
Vauxhall Corsa SRi 1.4i Turbo Ecoflex first drive review New Corsa’s turbocharged 1.4-litre engine majors on torque and frugality, but might not appeal to keener drivers who like vivacious petrol units It’s all very well for Vauxhall to come out with cheap, youthful and quirky three-cylinder versions of its much-improved new Vauxhall Corsa, but there also needs to be one for the traditionalist who wants more open-roads oomph that the average low-powered city-car versions, and is prepared to pay for it.The 99bhp, four cylinder, 1.4-litre turbo version is just that car. We drove it in slightly sporty SRi guise, which is well-equipped inside (nearly all Corsas come with plenty of kit, mind). It also sports black 16-inch alloy wheels, with black pillars and body-colour doorhandles.However, it retains the smoother-riding, slightly quieter Comfort chassis settings that are standard across most of the range. Opt for 17-inch wheels, though, and you'll get a Corsa with a firmer Sport chassis.

Mercedes-Benz C-class recalled due to potential steering fault
Mercedes-Benz C-class recalled for steering fault A total of 8145 new C-classes set to be inspected following the discovery of a potential minor fault with the steering system

Mercedes has recalled 8145 new C-classes following the discovery of a potential fault with the cars' steering systems.

The fault, which could affect cars built between 17 January 2014 and 22 September 2014, results in an audible noise from the steering column. Mercedes says that there is no danger of a loss of control in any case, however.

Mercedes states that the problem is the result of a steering column coupling lock that may have been incorrectly assembled. In each case it will be inspected and replaced, if necessary, at no cost to the owner.

Some 1000 cars have already been checked, according to a Mercedes representative, and found free from any issue.

Mercedes will be contacting those with the affected cars by post, but owners can also ring their local dealer – or Mercedes on 00800 9777 7777 – for additional information.

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Infiniti to enter British Touring Car Championship in 2015
Infiniti to enter British Touring Car Championship in 2015 Premium car manufacturer lends its support to new not-for-profit Support our Paras race team for tin-top assault

Infiniti will enter the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship next year as title sponsor of a new not-for-profit motorsport team named Infiniti Support Our Paras Racing.

Two new Infiniti Q50 race cars built to the BTCC's NGTC rulebook will join the domestic tin-top series. The cars will be driven by Richard Hawken, who has won three championships at club level and tested for the Speedworks BTCC outfit in 2013, and Derek Palmer Jr, who has raced in touring cars and sportscars.

The team, overseen by long-time motorsport preparation specialist Derek Palmer Sr and his Pro Motorsport operation, has been set up to help raise awareness and funds for Support Our Paras, the official charity of The Parachute Regiment.

A number of injured Paratroopers will work on the cars to prepare them not only for race weekends. The team has a long-term goal of developing, training and ensuring an injured Paratrooper graduates through the racing ranks to pilot an Infiniti Support Our Paras Racing car in the future.

"The ultimate goal is to have a third car out there with an injured Para competing in it," said team principal Palmer. "We've set ourselves a number of significant, but achievable targets.

"Of course we are aware of the challenges ahead of us, but with the united forces of the Paras and Infiniti, we believe we have the power to deliver results in the BTCC."

The car is expected to hit the track for the first time towards the end of this year. Infiniti will leave the preparation of the cars to Pro Motorsport, but will supply the body shells and panels.

Steve Oliver, Infiniti Regional Director for North Europe, said: "We can provide some support and make sure the charity is being promoted in the right way. We're a relatively new premium manufacturer, and the recently launched Q50 is a car that is the future of Infiniti – to have it racing in the championship will be fantastic.

"Infiniti is establishing itself as a main player in the premium sector in the UK, with sales on the increase, a new design Centre in Paddington London and from next year we will manufacture the first Infiniti for Europe outside of Japan from the plant based in Sunderland.

"These race cars reinforce our commitment to the UK and provide an ideal platform to link together two truly British establishments, The Parachute Regiment and the BTCC.”

Infiniti also has technical ties with Formula 1 team Red Bull Racing. For the time being the two programmes remain entirely separate, but said "sharing expertise is something we may look at for the future".

All profits generated by the team will be donated to the Support Our Paras charity. The new team, which has the non-financial, full backing of the Parachute Regiment, will ensure that funds are raised for the welfare and benevolence of injured Paras and their families.

The BTCC's series director, Alan Gow, said: “It’s fantastic to welcome a new manufacturer to the BTCC and particularly a premium brand such as Infiniti. There’s a great initiative behind the team too, with the Support Our Paras charity being such a worthwhile cause.”

The team will operate out of a newly refurbished base at Mallory Park. The Leicestershire race circuit started life as Royal Air Force Station Kirkby Mallory, a standby landing ground during WWII, before closing in 1947.

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Mercedes-Benz lays out its vision for the powertrains of the future
Mercedes-Benz reveals future powertrain plans Downsizing, down-speeding and electric tech to play key parts in Mercedes' powertrain strategy in the next decade

Mercedes-Benz technical chiefs have revealed an exciting mixture of technologies aimed at meeting short and long-term European CO2 legislation.

More efficient engines, electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel cells all form part of Mercedes’ development strategy over the next 10 years.

In engine development, the focus is on improved efficiency and performance. Downsizing engine capacity combats friction and the pumping losses caused by the effort of drawing air into the engine. The new V8 engine of the Mercedes-AMG GT and C63 is a classic example of this approach.

The capacity has been reduced from 6.3-litres to 4.0-litres by adding twin-turbocharging to maintain or increase power. Friction-reducing 'Nanoslide' technology has been carried over in the cylinder bores allowing pistons to slide with less resistance. The result is an efficiency improvement of 30 per cent compared to its naturally aspirated predecessor.

New Mercedes-AMG GT tech secrets revealed

Turbocharging can generate high torque at low engine speeds on both petrol and diesel engines, so downspeeding is also on the agenda at Mercedes. If the engine turns more slowly, friction is reduced and so are heat, wear and CO2 emissions. That’s one of the reasons, despite the downsizing regime, Mercedes still favours four-cylinders over three. Engineers argue that a slower-turning four-cylinder gives the same frictional benefits as a three-pot, but is smoother.

“The name of the game is to combine driving fun with efficiency,” says Thomas Weber, group board member responsible for research and car development at Mercedes.

The research chief also believes there’s a crossover between F1 and passenger cars, in terms of learning – if not actual components.

“F1 plays a part with our new hybrid solution. The efficiency we achieve there is huge," he explains. "In the past we were limited to 28-30 per cent efficiency with combustion engines, but with our current hybrid F1 drivetrain we are dealing in the 40 per cent range."

Weber predicts a future where all vehicles will be electrified, but there won't be a 'one size fits all' solution: “Even in lane one, we will see mild hybrids using belt-driven starter-generators or crankshaft integrated starter-generators. In lane two we will have the premium plug-in hybrids and by 2017 we will launch 10 plug-in hybrids. The third lane will be zero-emissions vehicles powered by batteries or fuel cells.

“By 2020, we expect the energy density of battery technology to have doubled and the cost halved,” he continues. “Without any other changes being made, the range of the B-Class Electric Drive could increase to 185 or 250 miles.”

Beyond that, Weber believes there’s more to come with new battery chemistry: “Lithium sulphur will be the next step after lithium ion, followed perhaps by lithium air. Lithium sulphur is comparable to lithium ion but lithium air will be a completely different world.”

With lithium ion batteries, the oxygen needed for the chemical reaction which generates electricity is stored internally. Lithium air batteries ‘borrow’ airborne oxygen from the air and then release it again when the battery is recharged. As a result, they theoretically have a large energy storage capacity – some sources estimate it could be close to that of petrol.

Mercedes-Benz B-class Electric Drive prototype first drive

Looking ahead further still, Weber believes the hydrogen fuel cell is still a strong contender: “With a fuel cell car you can fill up with hydrogen in three minutes but even our fastest chargers take half an hour to charge a battery, so 20 to 30 minutes will probably remain the limit.”

However, Harald Kroger, vice president of electronics and e-drive for Mercedes, thinks the limited range of an electric vehicle is an overstated problem: “These questions often evaporate if you use an EV on a daily basis. A lot of customers realise their regular driving is covered by a 95-mile range.”

Kroger concedes that on-street parking is a problem if drivers are not guaranteed a charging point at work or when shopping but under-street wireless inductive charging is technically possible. Mercedes recently demonstrated a system comprising a pad which can be placed on a driveway or in a garage and plugged into a household wall socket. The rapidly cycling electromagnetic field in the pad induces a current in an electrical coil pack on board the car to generate electricity and charge the battery.

The system is being developed in collaboration with BMW and the same system is capable of charging either brand’s cars. “The cost should be similar to that of an electric door opener,” says Kroger. The system is technically ready but a date for its introduction has yet to be set.

The technology could also make kerbside charging more practical. “My belief is that if electric charging gets into every household owning an electric BMW or Mercedes, then a technical standard could be established. If other manufacturers join that standard it may be possible to put the technology under the road as well, but that’s a little further away," says Kroger.

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Seat Leon X-Perience
Seat Leon X-Perience Four-wheel-drive and rugged makeover adds a dash of all-weather capability and security to the Seat Leon estate, should you desire it The Seat Leon X-Perience marks something of a diversion for the Spanish brand, which doesn’t have an extensive track record for rugged models. The Altea Freetrack and Alhambra 4x4 are among infrequent forays into the go-anywhere market.That will change in 2016 with the arrival of Seat’s first compact SUV, but in the meantime this new four-wheel-drive version of the Leon ST estate is intended to prime the market. It’s also a second range-topper for the expanded Leon family, designed to offer a more practical alternative to the sporty Cupra-badged variants.Like Cupra, Seat intends to develop X-Perience as a sub-brand, so expect to see more models getting the rugged makeover in the future, starting with a brace of two-wheel-drive estate-bodied Leons in the summer of 2015.Produced alongside the regular Leon at Seat’s Martorell factory in Spain, the Leon X-Perience has a ride height that is 15mm higher to provide greater ground clearance. With bigger wheels and tyres bolted on, the total height gain over a standard Leon ST is 27mm.Apportioning power to all four wheels is a Haldex multi-plate clutch permanent four-wheel drive system allied to two different electronic differential lock systems and an electronic stability control function specially calibrated for off-road driving.The Leon X-Perience spends most of its time in front-wheel-drive, but if more traction is called for – either under heavy acceleration or on a slippery surface – it apportions up to 50 per cent of the power to the rear axle.The Leon X-Perience is 8mm longer than the Leon ST at 4543mm, thanks to the enlarged bumpers. New front and rear bumpers with protective plastic skid plates combine with additional black plastic cladding within the wheelarches and along the sills to provide the new model with a suitably toughened appearance.The addition of extra mechanicals for the second driven axle hasn’t impinged on boot space, which remains the same as the Leon ST at 587 litres with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1470 litres with the bench collapsed.The Leon X-Perience comes in two trim levels, SE and SE Technology, and a choice of a 2.0 TDI in two states of tune.Both engine variants offer identical fuel consumption and CO2 emissions at a claimed 57.6mpg (combined) and 129g/km. The four-wheel-drive system and beefed-up bodywork adds more than 120kg to the kerb weight, meaning the fuel economy is roughly 10mpg below what Seat claims for the equivalent Leon ST.Nevertheless, the Leon X-Perience is one of very few four-wheel-drive models to dip below the 130g/km banding; it carries a benefit-in-kind of 21 per cent. It can also tow up to 2000kg, although the top-spec car can only manage 1600kg and you’ll have to specify a tow-bar preparation as an option.The entry-level version is an SE 2.0 TDI 150 equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox. It is priced at £24,385 and produces 148bhp and 236lb ft. Above that sits the SE Technology variant. Equipped with the same engine, it costs £26,370. The range-topper is a more powerful 2.0 TDI 184 – which produces 181bhp and 280lb ft – with dual-clutch DSG transmission. It costs £28,870.By comparison, a Leon ST estate in FR trim with the same engine and gearbox would cost £25,165, although Seat points out that the specification of the Leon X-Perience includes more kit as standard.The range-topping diesel variant is equipped with Seat’s Drive Profile function. It enables the driver to vary the characteristics of the electro-mechanical steering, throttle mapping and shift points of the dual-clutch gearbox in four modes: Eco, Comfort, Normal and Sport. In addition, it also incorporates a sound actuator to enhance the acoustic qualities of the engine.The driving position remains most definitely like an estate car, and while most of the cabin is carried over straight from the standard Leon, there are some attractive interior colour combinations on offer, plus some bold badging to distinguish the car’s rugged credentials. The upgrade to the graphics on the top-spec car’s infotainment screen is a welcome addition – the new version has easier-to-read satnav maps.There’s a touch of tell-tale diesel chatter on start-up, but under normal driving conditions the refinement from the powerplant is good. In both states of tune the engine feels punchy and capable throughout the rev range. The six-speed DSG transmission has an occasional tendency to hold a gear for longer than you’d desire under gentle acceleration, but is unobtrusive for the most part.The Leon X-Perience copes well with road imperfections and retains its poise quite well during cornering too; there’s a smidgen of body roll during cornering but nothing that feels uncomfortable. The onus is on sure-footedness rather than apex-clipping precision, but the Leon X-Perience never feels ponderous – there’s plenty of grip on offer and direction changes are dispatched with a confident composure.The steering is very light when Comfort mode is engaged on the Drive Profile system (standard only on the top-spec variant). Some extra weight can be dialled-in to the steering by switching to Sport mode, although in either case there’s little in the way of rewarding interaction.A short drive off-road proved there’s some merit in Seat’s claim of all-terrain hardiness, with the Leon X-Perience competently traversing rutted farm tracks, slippery grass and steep hills. As with most SUVs, however, it’s a moot point whether many UK owners would exploit this functionality to its fullest.Adding cladding, kick plates and jacking up an existing model isn’t exactly original thinking. Indeed, the Skoda Octavia Scout is a rival from within the same group, while Seat highlights the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer and Volvo V40 Cross Country as cars it intends to tempt buyers away from.The Leon beats the equivalent all-wheel-drive Insignia Country Tourer and V40 Cross Country on price and boot space, although the Volvo is nicer inside. However, the Octavia Scout is cheaper at £27,990, triumphs when it comes to boot space but narrowly loses out on emissions and fuel consumption.Seat anticipates the Leon X-Perience will account for less than ten per cent of Leon sales. With the marque currently basking in the warm glow of its strongest-ever UK sales figures, that should mean around 2500 examples per year.The Leon X-Perience’s all-wheel-drive traction will appeal to those who want to feel safe and comfortable in all road conditions, and the rugged appearance could attract those who fancy a hint of crossover styling in a conventional body style.Seat thinks the most popular variant will be the mid-range SE Technology model with the manual gearbox, which strikes a balance between a decent spec and a more attractive sticker price than the DSG-equipped range-topper.If you don’t plan to venture off the tarmac, however, a regular front-drive Leon ST shod with winter tyres might handle all-seasons driving equally competently, at the same time returning superior miles-per-gallon and costing less at the outset.Seat Leon X-Perience SE Technology 2.0 TDI 184 DSG
Price £28,870; 0-62mph 7.1sec; Top speed 139mph; Economy 57.6mpg; CO2 129g/km; Kerbweight 1529kg; Engine type, cc 4 cyls, 1968cc, turbodiesel; Power 181bhp between 3500-4000rpm; Torque 280lb ft between 1750-3000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic

Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - sports coupes
Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - sports coupes Is this the year when new technology usurps the enthusiast’s preferred mechanical hardware in the fine-handling stakes? We find out by pitching BMW's i8 against the Porsche Cayman GTS and BMW M4

A trio of rear-drive cars here, two of them with your enthusiast’s preferred mechanical hardware, the third with something quite radical and no less promising for that.

BMW’s M4 coupé is a traditional front-engined, rear-drive machine powered by a 425bhp twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six, and the Porsche Cayman GTS is mid-engined and propelled by a naturally aspirated 335bhp 3.4-litre flat six.

The BMW i8, however, is twin-engined, the 228bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged triple sitting behind its cabin boosted by a 129bhp electric motor driving the front wheels to make the plug-in hybrid, carbonfibre-bodied i8 all-wheel drive.

The i8 is new to our Handling Day, but previous editions of the Cayman and M3 have been front-runners or outright winners. So although these three are far from the most potent cars here, two of them have very positive form.

Despite its driveline, this M4 is far from old-school in detail make-up. Its gearbox is the optional M DCT seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and its engine is turbocharged for the first time in the model’s history. It revs to 7600rpm and delivers a resonant rumble under load that certainly builds the excitement.

But not as much as the BMW’s behaviour near the limit, its body tilting towards oversteer that often trips up its on-track pace. That’s fun, but as one tester said: “It can be quite annoying because it compromises the car’s ability to get into a corner. You can find yourself busier than you were expecting before the apex and in a way you might not always appreciate.”

On the other hand, the suppleness of dampers that allow some close-to-the-limit roll also enable the M4 to soak up Castle Combe’s often unhelpful dips, crests and mid-bend bumps with less disturbance than some of the other cars here, although the Cayman and i8 are calmer.

Some testers complained that the M4’s gear ratios weren’t ideally suited to Combe circulating duties, but for the most part there was praise for a powertrain that delivers substantial thrust with a minimum of fuss and a potent soundtrack.

The BMW’s dynamic crudities are less intrusive than the mildly wayward Jaguar F-type coupé’s, incidentally, but present enough that you feel slightly short-changed. The original E30 M3 (and BMW must be sick of reading about this car) was far less fast but provided better balance and a lot more high-precision control.

And that’s what you get from the Cayman, as well as the intriguing swivel-about-the-centre turn-in that you enjoy in the best mid-engined cars. Its reactions are measured enough to avoid twitchiness, allowing you to lean on it until it produces controllable oversteer that’s rewardingly straightforward to control. ‘Measured’ captures the character of much of this car, its confidently precise way with bends, its unflustered absorbency of bumps, its secure braking and evenly delivered acceleration making this an easy car to drive fast and a forgiving one, too.

However, this doesn’t mean that it’s not exciting, especially for one tester, who complained that it was too easy to tip the Porsche into oversteer. But most marvelled at the Cayman’s balance, not only in chassis terms but as a complete car. “What can’t this thing do?” asked one. “The only reason the Cayman S didn’t get my vote last year is because it lacked that final hard edge when you really wanted it. The GTS has that and also improves every component on top of it.”

Despite its 335bhp, ‘measured’ often describes the performance, too, the Cayman’s fuel-eking gearing making third practically a 100mph ratio, with three more to go. Absurd, and it takes the edge off its grunt.

On the road, this makes it a bit less of a thrill than you’d think until you learn to work the lower gears, doubtless to the detriment of economy. But that’s when the tactile rewards really flow and the Cayman emphatically underlines its credibility as a properly sorted piece of driver’s kit. It’s also very civilised. With the fire of lower gearing, it would be close to perfection.

Fire is what you think you’re going to get from the i8, with its satisfyingly dramatic, supercar looks. It may be the unlikely wearer of an eDrive badge, but the little three-pot sounds at least twice as big as it really is and, together with the electric motor, allows the i8 to get going pretty smartly.

This dramatic machine looks like a  mid-engined car and duly behaves like one on track, with the impression of a chassis pivot point not far forward of your seat. It turns in well and, in contrast to the early reports from its launch, understeer is not  an issue. It will oversteer readily enough on a trailing throttle, too, before transitioning smoothly to gently run wide.

Your enjoyment of this behaviour is somewhat spoiled by a steering wheel that feels unpromisingly light unless you’re in Sport and, regardless of mode, this turns out to be the numbest rim here. But the wheel does shuffle encouragingly over camber changes. Fulsome brake feel has also been neutered by the i8’s electronics, although there’s no doubting their effectiveness. And while we’re whining, the instruments are near unreadable at speed despite their trick graphics.

The brakes’ scope for recharging the BMW’s battery pack in track conditions appears to be limited, though, the battery charge sinking to a solitary segment’s worth within a couple of hours of intermittent use. Which doesn’t mean that the electric motor turns dormant; the battery always retains enough charge to power the front wheels when necessary, BMW’s aim being to provide consistent handling regardless of circumstance.

However, what you won’t get is the overboost that a semi-charged or fully charged battery pack would provide. To restore that, you’ll need a session of less committed action to allow the battery power to regenerate. Or a mains recharge.

A less frenetic drive will allow you to enjoy the BMW’s near-languid suppleness over bumps, its motion over these surfaces integral to its sophisticated allure. So is the sound of that engine – the unaware will be amazed to hear that it’s shared with the Mini – whose racey downshifting blips are satisfyingly timed. This BMW is quick, too, but feels less so at higher speeds, its progress dulled by eco-oriented gearing.

All of which makes the i8 a more intriguing machine on the road, where its twin engines usually function at full strength and its sharp handling and supple ride gel in a manner that makes you dream of long-distance drives. The disappointment of the steering is less evident here, and you get the pleasure of uncovering what it’s up to via the information displays. “A complete enigma, better on road than on track but not entirely out of its depth here,” concluded one tester.

The i8 offers many rewards, but the best of them are not found on a race circuit. Its more traditional sister, the M4, is of far less complicated character, almost too much so on the track, where its lively rear end denies it some of the delicate driftability of M3s past. Still, there’s little wrong with its powertrain, although some yearned for the previous-generation M3’s normally aspirated V8.

You won’t be doing much yearning in the Cayman GTS unless it’s for shorter gearing; the Porsche is the most complete, and completely satisfying, driver’s car of our trio. “Beguiling controls, velvet-smooth powertrain and a forgiving ride make it great on the road or track” was one summation, and that just about nails it.

Lap times

BMW i8 – 1min 19.4sec 

Porsche Cayman GTS – 1min 17.4sec

BMW M4 – 1min 16.8sec

Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014

Click on the links below to read each section of Britain's Best Driver's Car 2014, followed by the crowning of this year's overall champion as decided by our eight judges.

The supercars – Ferrari 458 Speciale vs McLaren 650S vs Porsche 911 GT3

The V8 muscle cars – Chevrolet Corvette Stingray vs Jaguar F-type R coupé vs Vauxhall VXR8 GTS

The misfits – Alfa Romeo 4C vs Ariel Atom 3.5R vs Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy

The verdict – Britain's Best Driver's Car 2014 is crowned

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Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - the verdict
Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - the verdict Our eight judges each ranked the 12 cars in order of merit, with their combined scores being used to determine the ultimate pecking order in Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014

We feared for the Alfa Romeo 4C when we planned this feature, but not all of our testers had driven one and there was a chance, we’d heard, that the geometry had been knocked out on the last one we drove. So it got another chance but didn’t take it.

We thought that Jaguar’s F-type R coupé would fare rather better. But Castle Combe is a testing circuit, to which the Jaguar’s front wheels were better tethered than its rears. We like an oversteering car, but when that’s inadvertently in a straight line at 100mph, it’s less amusing.

Also less amusing than it could be is BMW’s M4, whose trick of going as sideways, and only on demand, is combined with too few other abilities to lift it clear of Vauxhall’s VXR8. That its daytime job is being a large saloon means equal ninth is more dignified for it than it is for the BMW.

BMW’s i8 is not a sports car and its handling changes dependent on the state of its batteries. It’s also quite charming, hence a respectable eighth-place finish, just behind the Renault Mégane 275, which we all liked a lot, and the Corvette Stingray, which some of us loved more than others. A better road performance would have placed the ’Vette higher still.

The top five were much harder to separate. McLaren has extracted so much from the 650S’s mechanical layout that it’s difficult to imagine it being better, so engaging is it. It finished a whisker behind the Porsche Cayman GTS, which would have fared better still, we suspect, were this a road-only contest.

Which leaves the top three. Last year’s winner, Porsche’s 911 GT3, occupies the bottom step on the podium. On the road, it feels utterly focused. On a circuit, it feels like motorsport. But even it couldn’t match the Ariel Atom 3.5R, which was unlike anything else on the track but whose unforgiving road nature prevented a few of our testers from placing it high enough to snatch first.

Which leaves the Ferrari 458 Speciale, which, by dint of three judges placing it first and no judge lower than third, takes a very narrow victory. Come the final reckoning, none of us felt it was undeserved.

The final scores:

1. Ferrari 458 Speciale – 16 points

2. Ariel Atom 3.5R – 19

3. Porsche 911 GT3 – 27

4. Porsche Cayman GTS – 33

5. McLaren 650S – 39

6. Chevrolet Corvette Stingray – 43

7. Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy 54

8. BMW i8 – 64

9=. BMW M4 – 78

9=. Vauxhall VXR8 GTS – 78

11. Jaguar F-type R coupé – 80

12. Alfa Romeo 4C – 93

Britain's Best Driver's Car 2014

Click on the links below to read each section of Britain's Best Driver's Car 2014.

The supercars – Ferrari 458 Speciale vs McLaren 650S vs Porsche 911 GT3

The sports coupés – BMW i8 vs Porsche Cayman GTS vs BMW M4

The V8 muscle cars – Chevrolet Corvette Stingray vs Jaguar F-type R coupé vs Vauxhall VXR8 GTS

The misfits – Alfa Romeo 4C vs Ariel Atom 3.5R vs Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy

Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below:

Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - the supercars
Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - the supercars The supercar section traditionally throws up three strong contenders for outright BBDC honours. This year, Ferrari's 458 Speciale squares up against McLaren's 650S and Porsche's 911 GT3

These three are sure to be at the business end of this year’s contest: Ferrari’s achingly brilliant 458 Speciale versus McLaren’s unfeasibly potent 650S versus last year’s outright winner, the already proven Porsche 911 GT3 – in non-barbecue specification this time around.

Between them, these three represent the pinnacle of dynamic possibilities this side of a full-blown hypercar. In many ways, they are the most capable road cars that money can buy in the real world. Around a circuit like Castle Combe, they are also a whole lot more approachable than their hypercar cousins and are therefore not that much slower than them against the stopwatch.

Inevitably, though, the Ferrari ended up posting the fastest time, and by a fair margin. But then the 458 Speciale is one of those rare cars that always over-delivers, no matter what your expectations of it may be.

The noise that it makes is enough on its own to make your heart skip a beat. Quite how it manages to pass road car noise regulations is hard to fathom, considering how deliciously deafening it sounded every time it hammered past the pits. And every time it did so, anyone lucky enough to be standing around in the paddock would stop, stare and smile.

From behind its multi-function, suede-rimmed steering wheel, the 458 feels, well, just very special indeed. Its cabin is quite sparse, deliberately so, with bare aluminium staring back at you from down in the footwells. But all of the main ingredients for major driving thrills are there and, as it turns out, are all in exactly the right position. So you sit nice and low in the car, with a big, yellow revcounter dominating the instrument cluster, arms outstretched slightly, right foot hovering over a big accelerator pedal.

As you move off, the 458 Speciale bounces a touch along the bumpy pit lane, but the moment that it makes contact with the circuit at anything approaching a decent speed, it settles and feels immediately at home, totally at one with its surroundings.

Its steering is extremely light and perhaps a mite overly responsive to begin with. Relatively small inputs exact a surprisingly instant response from the front tyres, and if you’re in any way clumsy with your inputs at the rim or with the throttle, the 458’s tail will let you know how keen it is to contribute to your progress. As a result, the Speciale can, just to begin with, seem a little bit neurotic in its responses.

However, learn to drive it in the way its makers intended, which takes no more than a couple of laps, and the Speciale really does burst into life beneath your hands and backside. And the thrills that it can deliver from that moment on, not to mention the speed that it can generate along the straights and through the corners, really is something to experience.

“Closer to a racing car than a road car,” was how Andrew Frankel summed up the Speciale, and Mark Tisshaw said that it has “a quite ridiculous turn of pace, with an amazing willingness to change direction”. Matt Prior also noted how the Ferrari “keeps you quite busy but is supremely accurate and steers on the throttle rather well”.

Everyone who climbed out of the 458 Speciale wanted to climb straight back in and do it all over again, in other words, and for a car to make you feel like that when it is this quick – its lap time of 1min 11.9sec is outrageous for a car with number plates – is a very rare thing indeed.

Having said that, the GT3 and 650S were far from blitzed by the Ferrari at Castle Combe, neither subjectively nor against the clock. The Porsche lapped in 1min 13.1sec, the McLaren in 1min 12.9sec.

And in its way, the Porsche was just as exciting to drive as the Ferrari, with massive composure under brakes, bundles of feel from its rear end, great traction (better traction than the 458, to be honest) and amazingly good feel through its electric power steering, plus a phenomenally good dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

The only element that the GT3 lacked beside the others was pure horsepower. It couldn’t quite live with the 458 or the 650S along the straight bits, basically, which is not something you find yourself saying very often about a ‘991’ GT3. But for many – for most, indeed – this didn’t matter one iota because the GT3 was (a) still extremely rapid in isolation and (b) if anything, even better at the touchy-feely stuff than the 458 in certain places, especially when riding the kerbs.

Matt Saunders described the GT3 as “the one you most want to make your own. You unwrap it like a jewel in a gift-wrapped box. This is a proper, grown-up sports car.” Prior noted simply that the GT3 is “still the one”.

And what of the McLaren? Despite being quite brilliant at dealing with Castle Combe’s notoriously bumpy surface, which endowed it with a composure in certain places that threw both the Ferrari and the GT3 (under brakes into Quarry, for example), the 650S wasn’t quite at the same level overall.

Not for pure speed – along the main pit straight and through the flat-out kink down to Quarry, the McLaren was actually the fastest of all – but instead for pure driver indulgence. People tended to climb out of the 650S with a knowing smile, full of admiration for the speeds that it could generate and the composure that it maintained over the bumps, but rarely were they giggling with delight. Not like they did after stints in the GT3 and 458.

The McLaren also understeered where the GT3 and 458 just gripped at the front and went. At the exit of Quarry and through Tower, for example, the 650S’s front end washed away surprisingly fast, and all you could then do was wait and be patient. Dialling up more throttle merely added understeer, or a wild hit of oversteer, and in these two corners alone the 650S lost a fair chunk of time (and reputation) on the day.

A couple of testers also noted that its brake pedal began to go long after sustained lapping, although, to be fair, most drivers emerged after a session in the McLaren feeling pretty exhilarated.

Frankel noted that “over the bumps, it is from another world. Hard to believe it is related to the car they brought to Rockingham three years ago”. Tisshaw also had high praise for the McLaren, saying that “whatever the thing that was missing from the 12C has been well and truly found in the 650S. Shows how far McLaren has come in such a short time.”

A very long way in a very short space of time, yes, but not quite as far as Ferrari and Porsche have come, albeit over a far longer period of time. Give it another year or two, though, and the sky will be the limit for McLaren. One day, it’ll win one of these things outright.

Lap times

Ferrari 458 Speciale – 1min 11.9sec

McLaren 650S – 1min 12.9sec

Porsche 911 GT3 – 1min 13.1sec

Britain's Best Driver's Car 2014

Click on the links below to read each section of Britain's Best Driver's Car 2014, followed by the crowning of this year's overall champion as decided by our eight judges.

The sports coupés – BMW i8 vs Porsche Cayman GTS vs BMW M4

The V8 muscle cars – Chevrolet Corvette Stingray vs Jaguar F-type R coupé vs Vauxhall VXR8 GTS

The misfits – Alfa Romeo 4C vs Ariel Atom 3.5R vs Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy

The verdict – Britain's Best Driver's Car 2014 is crowned

Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below:

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