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

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: 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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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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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.

Autocar magazine is available through all good newsagents, and available for download from Zinio and the Apple iTunes store.

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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.

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.

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 misfits
Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - the misfits Our most eclectic category contained the Alfa Romeo 4C, Ariel Atom 3.5R and Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy – and produced the widest range of results

Misfits, oddballs, square pegs… call ’em what you will, our most eclectic category produced the widest range of results, one car coming bog last by 13 clear points, another missing outright victory by just three.

There is no point trying to find a thread to unite the Ariel Atom 3.5R, Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy and Alfa Romeo 4C. They all have four cylinders, forced induction and four wheels and that’s about it. So we’ll avoid the contrivance of establishing a link that’s simply not there and start – where else? – than at the bottom.

By any standards, the Alfa 4C did badly. When six out of eight judges place it 12th out of 12 and the other two 10th and 11th respectively, you don’t need to read comments like Matt Prior’s “its steering still follows lines seemingly first furrowed by farmers 700 years ago” to know how poorly it has done.

And were this some revved-up hatchback based on unworthy underpinnings, we might be disappointed but not too surprised. But it’s not: the 4C is a mid-engined two-seat sports car with a carbonfibre tub, unassisted steering and a kerb weight comfortably below 1000kg. With raw material like that, we’d expect it to be right up at the sharp end.

It stands as proof that even the best ingredients can only add up to so much if the cook is not following the recipe. The number of ways the Alfa squanders its inherent advantage includes, but is not limited to, its slow and inconsistent paddle-shift gearbox, the lag from the engine, the lack of feel from and kickback through the steering and an unwillingness to hit its marks like the precision instrument you’d think it should be.

Despite its fundamental stability, it did little to inspire confidence in younger testers and even less to encourage the more experienced hands to fling it around the track in the way that you might think a car of this shape and specification would beg. Lewis Kingston spoke for many when he said: “The leaden, numb steering and brakes didn’t impress and, overall, I found it a nervous, disconcerting car to drive.”

It wasn’t all bad. The 4C coped with the Combe bumps admirably well and it felt quick in a straight line, but perhaps the most illuminating stat of all was a lap time slower than all bar two of its competitors.

In the end, the 4C doesn’t present as an inherently bad car, just one that has been whipped out of the oven before it’s ready. This, of course, leaves open the tantalising possibility that they’ll put it back and let it cook until it’s done; despite all of its flaws, the 4C remains a car of massive potential, almost all of which right now remains sadly untapped.

In many ways, the Mégane 275 Trophy suffers from precisely the opposite issue. It’s not a low-slung, two-seat, mid-engined carbonfibre exotic. It’s a Renault Mégane. Not only that, but it’s a front-drive hatch that has been honed and honed for years until this current point, where it must be on the absolute limit of its development potential. And yet its capacity both to entertain and make us giggle at what is possible within the limitations of the front-wheel-drive format remains undimmed.

Tellingly, this was the car that almost all testers drove first, the one that would most reliably and safely allow them to dial themselves into the circuit. Matt Saunders said: “Nothing else here was as easy to drive quickly or inspired more confidence.” Mark Tisshaw’s view that the Mégane is still “the world’s best hot hatch and getting better every year” would have been hard to counter on this performance.

Indeed, a lone front-drive hatch amid a sea of rear-drive performance cars, it would have exceeded every expectation had we not already known very well just how good it is. It wasn’t cowed by company that set the highest overall standard yet seen in this competition, but instead showed that you don’t need a carbonfibre tub, a mid-mounted engine or double wishbone suspension to create a fine-handling car. If you know how to tune suspension, you can do it with front drive and a torsion beam rear axle.

Strengths? It has exceptional damping, probably the single most important component required for a happy driver at Combe. Its tail is loose enough to cope with mid-corner changes of plan but sufficiently stable to allow trail-braking right in to the apex. And torque steer, although evident, is rarely intrusive.

On the negative side, traction is inevitably an issue, even with a clever limited-slip differential; it can mitigate wheelspin away from the exit but not eliminate it entirely. Also, the engine has some lag and the gearbox is too notchy and slow to suit the character of the car. But in the end, Matt Prior called it “still the best wrong-wheel-drive car in the world” and, certainly in the context of what we were looking for here, it’s a judgement with which we’d all agree.

Which brings us to the Atom. Read these two comments: “It’s very twitchy on turn-in, catchable but not exploitable” and “Tricky to drive because it wants to oversteer on entry and it’s difficult to manage because more power just makes it oversteer more”.

The interest here is that these notes were made and published a dozen years apart, by me, as it happens. The first was when a 190bhp Rover K-series Atom first took part in this event in 2001, the second with the Atom 3.5 last year. To say that we had our hopes for this year’s Atom 3.5R under close control is probably understating it a bit.

That it would be fast was a given. A standard 245bhp Atom has the same power-to-weight ratio as a Ferrari F12. This one has 350bhp and a sequential shifter that allows clutchless changes in both direction. On past form, that would only make matters worse. But Ariel has also had a long, hard look at the chassis, introducing Öhlins TTX dampers costing over £1000 per corner, an adjustable limited-slip diff, very trick Kumho track day tyres and, if you want it (and you do if you’re serious about this car) the front and rear wing pack from the Atom V8.

The transformation is almost beyond belief. Forget the lap time – it was always going to be the quickest car here – and focus instead on the real story. Ariel reckons that on all but the longest tracks, the 3.5R is actually quicker than the 500bhp Atom V8, yet despite that, this is the easiest Atom that any of us has ever driven. And by some margin.

It feels like a car with its potential finally released, as if each additional component were the missing pieces in the jigsaw that lets you for the very first time experience the Atom in its full glory.

That nervousness on turn-in? Gone. You can drive it like the racing car it very nearly is – holding the brake way past the turn-in point, then using that seamless flow of power to cannon it away from the apex with just a touch of understeer, transitioning to easily held oversteer at the exit if you want it. In short, a flawless demonstration of poise, feel, accuracy and simply blinding pace.

It’s not important how much each alteration to the aero, tyres, diff and dampers accounts for this change; what matters is that a car we’ve always loved more in theory than in practice can finally take its rightful place among the finest-handling cars of its or any other era.

Lap times

Alfa Romeo 4C – 1min 17.7sec

Ariel Atom 3.5R – 1min 10.7sec

Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy – 1min 19.4sec

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

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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

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Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - the V8 muscle cars
Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - the V8 muscle cars The old-school charms of front-engined, rear-drive V8s rarely fail to entertain, but can the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, Jaguar F-type R coupé or Vauxhall VXR8 GTS challenge for overall glory?

Handling Day – the shorthand name for our Britain's Best Driver's Car competition – never fails to defy your expectations. The more ‘foregone’ the contending line-up seems, the greater the potential for confounded surprise.

For every underachiever, though, there is always a delightfully unpredicted ace in the pack. And nothing in the pit lane is more disappointing than prejudice.

This year, you could spot the veteran judges of these big tests by their approach to the Jaguar F-type R coupé, Chevrolet Corvette C7 and Vauxhall VXR8 GTS in particular – all front-engined, rear-drive V8s of pretty much the oldest sporting mould of them all. Cars like this shouldn’t demand many laps to decode – should they? When one of them is half as good as it’s tipped to be and another is twice as impressive, they most certainly do.

There’s performance and burbling charisma in abundant supply here whichever car you plump for – but the biggest slice of both comes not from either small-block Chevy engine with the blue-blooded V8 lineage, but from Jaguar’s rambunctious 5.0-litre supercharged lump.

The F-type R's snarl isn’t just loud; it’s angry with it – predatory, even. To listen to, you’d think it produced at least 50 per cent more accelerative force than either of the American V8s. In fact, the Vauxhall-née-Holden’s 577bhp and 546lb ft give it ultimate bragging rights.

Take into account kerb weight, though, and it’s the Jaguar that tops the order, 328bhp per tonne for the Brit playing 315bhp per tonne for the Aussie and just 299bhp per tonne for the American.

Lap times aren’t always so illuminating, but look at how those power-to-weight ratios translate into circuit clockings and you’ll begin to understand where the true dynamic achievement is to be found here. Because despite it being the least brawny under the bonnet, the Corvette tied the Jaguar’s lap time to the tenth.

The Vauxhall, meanwhile, came in 0.6sec after both of its rivals – although it still had enough speed to go quicker than both a BMW M4 and a Porsche Cayman GTS.

Getting a fast lap time out of the Jaguar was no straightforward task over the bumps and around the flat, testing corners of Castle Combe. Everyone who drove the F-type came back to the pits with the same wide-eyed expression – one inspired by a car with a great deal more poke than it can use most of the time and a notable penchant for the dramatic.

“Significantly underdamped; consequently a rather wild ride” was how one judge described the experience. “Rapid, ferocious – but only if you commit to turning off the driver aids,” wrote another.

Road test editor Matt Prior summed the car up best: “It lets go everywhere –including in fourth gear, in a straight line, at 100mph. That’s less entertaining than it sounds. This is what I imagine racing a historic saloon is like.”

By which, we can assume, he meant very evocative and very sideways, but not always where you’d like it to be.

The F-type felt a little on tiptoes around Castle Combe, its power to accelerate and willingness to turn in not quite matched by the ability of its rear axle to stay in line and hunker down. Simply put, it lacked ultimate high-speed stability and composure.

On the road, it hit greater heights, the intuitive suaveness of its powertrain and steering and its chassis balance coming to the fore. But the road impressions couldn’t redeem the car. Two judges placed it dead last in the overall rankings and no one had it higher than eighth.

That the VXR8 ranked better can be celebrated Down Under and vindicates the praise we heaped on it earlier this year. Nothing – not even 577bhp – can adequately disguise its size and weight in this company.

Relative to every other car on the day, the VXR8 felt short on stopping power, short on body control, restricted on outright grip and soft of directional response. Relative to normal benchmarks – the more relevant ones of other super-saloons, even – it would have fared much better. But then ‘normal’ never has been what this event is all about.

Those limited reserves didn’t make the Vauxhall half as demanding to drive as the Jaguar, though – which explains the judges’ warmer recommendation. To a man, they all praised it for excellent dynamic consistency, honesty and coherence.

If the Jaguar was full of surprises (some nice, some nasty), the Vauxhall was a picture of predictability. “It’s friendly, trustworthy, keen to please – like the world’s fastest Labrador,” wrote Andrew Frankel. Quite a Labrador that can tie with an M-badged German shepherd for ninth place.

In the end, it was for only one of these cars to get in among the true thoroughbreds and score a top-half ranking – and no one would have guessed that it would be the Corvette. Finishing sixth in the overall order also underplays the esteem in which the American two-seater was held in some quarters, with one judge scoring it as high as second.

'The basics’ are what the Stingray covers – quite emphatically well. That’s remarkable when you consider how far off the pace some of this car’s predecessors once languished. The atmospheric V8 is broad-chested and flexible. The chassis and steering respond cleanly and with plenty of feedback. There’s assured grip and directional bite at the front wheels, lots of lean-on stability from the rear… almost everything you need to derive confidence from a sports car.

The electronic aids are also good enough not to dilute your outright pace yet deftly prevent you from overstepping the bounds of grip. You’ll be glad of the latter, because beyond that limit, the Stingray is not quite so tame and obliging. As a road car, meanwhile, its appeal is a touch limited by left-hand drive, considerable vehicle width and questionable cruising refinement.

Still, one judge was heard to say that, of everything assembled, the Corvette was the car he’d most like to go racing in – a towering compliment in the presence of a Porsche 911 GT3 and a Ferrari 458 Speciale.

“Box office” was how another described the American’s showing. Take a bow, the ace in the pack.

Lap times

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray – 1min 14.3sec

Jaguar F-type R coupé – 1min 14.3sec

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS – 1min 14.9sec

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

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

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Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - which is this year’s best-handling car?
Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2014 - which is this year’s best-handling car? This year our quest to determine the most entertaining and capable machine, on road and track, is one of the most closely fought ever

The line-up for Britain’s Best Driver’s Car usually assembles itself. There’s a big name, a must-have, which everything else falls easily around.

But not this year. Not since Lamborghini declined, wisely perhaps, to allow any publication to compare a Huracán alongside any other car. So we mulled over a long list of what we thought we should gather for what we informally know as Handling Day.

Usually, we’d then cut that list down to 10 plus last year’s winner. But we realised that the 12-car list was one of the most stonkingly strong line-ups in the competition’s 25-year history, so we left it entirely as it was.

Handling Day is actually three days of testing, photography and video on the road and on a circuit. This year we based ourselves at Castle Combe, Chippenham, within easy reach of decent roads in Wiltshire and surrounding counties. And by decent, we of course mean poorly surfaced and badly cambered as only the finest British roads can be.

The track itself? It has been developed from the perimeter road of a wartime airbase so is fast and mostly right-handed, with a few chicanes to provide a fine test of traction and braking stability.

But although it is quick (the fastest cars exceed 150mph along the start-finish straight), it’s so bumpy and cambered that it’s a surprisingly good test of a road car. Even a modestly powered hot hatchback feels in its element around here. You’ll find one listed below, alongside the 11 other competitors.

The cars: 

Alfa Romeo 4C – deserves its chance to show what it can do here.

Ariel Atom 3.5R – most-focused version of the latest Atom. 

BMW i8 – more GT than sports car but a must-have for BBDC.

BMW M4 – a 3-series-based M coupé is usually a front-runner. 

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray – it’s already impressed us.

Ferrari 458 Speciale – a five-star road test car, but BBDC is full of surprises.

Jaguar F-type R coupé – hardcore V8 coupé with plenty of fans here.

McLaren 650S – a grower, we think, and a force to be reckoned with.

Porsche 911 GT3 – last year’s winner earns itself an automatic recall.

Porsche Cayman GTS – dubbed the best sports car in the world. Let’s see.

Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy – hot hatchback heaven.

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS – provides the brawny, large-capacity kicks.

The judges:

Richard Bremner (senior contributing editor), Nic Cackett (road tester), Andrew Frankel (senior contributing writer), Lewis Kingston (deputy digital editor), Matt Prior (road test editor), Matt Saunders (deputy road test editor), Steve Sutcliffe (editor-at-large), Mark Tisshaw (deputy editor)

The results:

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 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

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First hint of Audi’s all-new look revealed in teaser image
First hint of Audi’s all-new look revealed in teaser image New four-door concept, thought to preview the flagship Audi A9 due in 2017, outlined ahead of Los Angeles motor show debut

Audi has started trailing its upcoming Los Angeles motor show concept, which will preview its future design direction.

Plans for the as-yet-unnamed concept were first revealed by Autocar last month. It is also understood to provide clues to the size, shape, appearance, packaging and features of the long-mooted A9 — a high-tech range-topping model scheduled for launch in 2017.

The concept is the first Audi styled under new design boss Marc Lichte, who joined the firm from Volkswagen in February. Few clues are given away about the concept, which is understood to be a swoopy four-door.

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New Audi RS3 Sportback - first details and ride
New Audi RS3 Sportback - first details and ride Matt Prior joins the development team working on Audi's new turbocharged five-cylinder mega-hatch as it enters its final testing stages

Development of Audi’s new RS3 Sportback is only a few months from completion, following a summer of final testing at the Nürburgring.

The new mega-hatch’s hardware has already been signed off; only software and geometry changes will now be made before the programme finishes in February.The RS3 retains a 2.5-litre turbo five-cylinder engine, as in the previous model. Audi still won’t officially reveal its power output beyond confirming that it’ll have more than the previous RS3’s 335bhp.

Expect it to make 355bhp, but, either way, Audi’s head of development, Stephan Reil, says the five-cylinder’s “electrifying sound” and strong torque appeal more to Audi than a four-cylinder engine like the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG’s. “All other rivals power engines up, but there is no special engine for the performance version,” he said.

The RS3’s in-line five will be offered with an optional sports exhaust to amplify its sound. It will drive all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and Haldex all-wheel drive system.

As on the latest TT, the four-wheel drive system has been tuned to send more power to the rear whenever possible, to improve throttle adjustability and even drift in the right conditions. “It doesn’t drive like a rear-drive car,” said Reil, “but if you’re sliding, it won’t just pull straight.”

The previous-generation RS3 had wider tyres on its front than its rear to improve chassis adjustability. As standard, the new version has the same 235/35 R19s all round, but 255-wide tyres for the front only are an option.

“The 20mm-wider front tyres offer you higher grip, a stronger turn-in and a sharper dynamic, which makes it really fun to drive,” said Reil.

Dynamics should also be improved by the MQB platform weighing 50kg less than the previous one, and weight distribution has been helped by placing the battery in the rear.

Also optional on the front are carbon-ceramic brakes, a class first. Reil said that because carbon-ceramics are expensive and unnecessary on the back, the rear discs remain steel.

Other options include adaptive magnetorheological dampers and a sports exhaust. The production RS3 will arrive in the middle of next year, priced at about £40,000.

A ride in the new Audi RS3 at the Nürburgring

Like most major European manufacturers, Audi’s Quattro division has a workshop at the Nürburgring for both chassis and durability testing, and it retains the services of some tame racing drivers.

Which is enough to make you nervous about ride quality. But former DTM and current GT driver Frank Stippler, who drove us around a soaking wet Nordschleife in the RS3, said: “The new bosses [new managing director Heinz Hollerweger, who replaced Franciscus van Meel at the start of the year] like a softer car.”

Unlike the RS4, in which, Stippler said, he never engaged the Dynamic chassis mode because it is so harsh that it’s “stiffer even than a race car”, the new RS3 is “at the softer end of the scale”.

Also evident on the wet track was the RS3’s throttle adjustability — a willingness to begin sliding at the rear on turn-in, and strong resistance to understeer under power. “Before, a TT or RS3 would drift like this only on ice,” said Stippler. “Now it can do it in the wet.”

The RS3 has three ESP modes: all on, a more liberal setting and an all-off mode, which doesn’t even cut in under braking to avoid annoying advanced drivers who like to left-foot brake.

And given that ride harshness and a propensity to understeer have been our primary concerns about fast Audi hatches in the past, the RS3’s signs are encouraging.

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2014 Skoda Fabia 1.4 TDI SE first drive review
2014 Skoda Fabia 1.4 TDI SE first drive review New third-gen Fabia proves a comfortable and capable car in 1.4 TDI SE specification, albeit one that could stand to be less costly and more interesting This is the third generation of Skoda’s Fabia supermini, arriving 15 years and 3.5 million sales after the first-generation version of the model.Although Europe’s supermini segment – the second biggest market after the Golf class – continues to grow, it remains highly competitive. Low monthly purchase costs and running costs are all vitally important factors. The Fabia also arrives to face direct competition not only from its VW Polo sister car, but also from a cleverly revamped Vauxhall Corsa.The new Fabia is a hybrid creation, mixing an updated version if the previous Fabia’s PQ26 platform and ‘elements’ of the new MQB architecture, which is used for the new Golf family. The base structure gets a redesigned engine bay and front subframe, and updated front and rear axles and suspension – which also give the car a wider track.The result is a car that is 8mm than its predecessor, at just under 4m long, but a significant 90mm wider and 31mm lower. The wheelbase is also a marginal 5mm longer. Overall, the Mk3 Fabia is an average 65kg lighter than second-generation car.Elbow room for the front passengers is up by a useful 21mm (though up by just 2mm in the rear) and the boot space is up to 330 litres, which Skoda claims to be ‘significantly more’ than competing models. With the rear seats down, there’s a handy 1150 litres of load space.The biggest technical upgrade for the Fabia 3 is the adoption of VW’s latest generation of engines and transmissions, all of which were designed for use in more upmarket models based on the MQB platform.There are four petrol engines starting with a 59bhp 1.0-litre to a 108bhp 1.2-litre TSI and a three-cylinder 1.4 diesel in 89bhp or 108bhp forms. If you want an automatic Fabia, which uses the seven-speed DSG ‘box, your choice is either the 89bhp diesel or the 98bhp 1.2 petrol turbo.The 89bhp 1.4-litre TDI tested here offers a good compromise between real-world pace and being the most frugal unit offered in the Fabia. The CO2 rating of 88g/km and official EU combined economy figure of 83.1mpg are the kind of numbers that will appeal to cost-conscious new car buyers.You can buy this engine is the base Fabia ‘S’ mode, which is well equipped (its gets a DAB radio, Bluetooth, electrically adjustable and heated wing mirrors, remote locking, stop-start and electric front windows) but it lacks air-con.Spend another £1300 on the SE model and you’ll get plenty of other kit, as well as air-con, including a smart leather three-spoke wheel, 15in alloys, a trip computer, ‘mirror link’ (which allows you smart phone screen to be duplicated on the radio’s colour screen), upgraded ‘surround sound’ audio and ‘front assist’ auto braking. The upshot is a well-specced car, but a showroom price of £15,390.

2014 Vauxhall Corsa 1.0T first drive review
2014 Vauxhall Corsa 1.0T first drive review All-new supermini raises its game by building on its predecessor’s strengths, with the end result being a classy supermini that’s decent to drive A heated windscreen. That’s what, in customer satisfaction surveys, current Vauxhall Corsa owners said they wanted. Not a revolution in looks, nor in dynamics, nor in cabin ambience, but a heated windscreen, please.So you’ll excuse the new Vauxhall Corsa for not reinventing itself. The new model is as all new as many cars get these days. Elements of the monocoque have been carried over, because until a revolution in the cost of composites comes, modern finite element analysis means that its steel shell is as stiff and crash resistant as it’s likely to get.That makes it a similar size and weight to the outgoing Corsa, at a whiff over four metres long and 1177kg. Beyond that, new means new. Every panel on the mildly Adam-ised, slightly more butch exterior is different. Every component forward of the A-pillars is new. Every suspension component, too, as are the pick-up points for the front MacPherson struts and the rear torsion beam.GM retains an engineering centre at Millbrook in the UK and is no stranger to tuning cars here, because it knows that British road conditions are different from those elsewhere. So whereas Opel Corsas, belying their German engineering origin, will apparently have greater straight-on stability to their steering, UK cars get a different power steering tune (electric assistance makes that much easier).It’s said to be more responsive off the straight-ahead to suit our twistier roads. Although the rest of the chassis tune is no different here or across mainland Europe, development of that has taken place in Britain, too.The motor's all new as well. At least, this 114bhp one is. Like Ford, Vauxhall now has its own 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol unit.

Jensen Interceptor R Supercharged first drive review
Jensen Interceptor R Supercharged first drive review Thorough, classy modernisation dispatches big power with impressive ease The latest offering from Jensen International Automotive, creator of the GM ‘LS3’ V8-powered Interceptor R, a version of which we drove in our modernised classics feature at Goodwood in the summer.Unlike that car, the modernisation of which was largely outsourced, the £180,000 Interceptor R Supercharged you see here was almost entirely rebuilt (starting with a full shell refurb) by JIA’s five workshop staff at its new base in Banbury. Only retrimming and painting took place elsewhere, the former at long-time marque restorer Rejen near Winchester.The ‘Supercharged’ bit comes thanks to the installation of the LSA engine – essentially a blown LS3 – which makes 556bhp (a full 127bhp more than the ‘R’ we drove) and 551lb ft, dispatched via an upgraded prop shaft. This tune matches that of the LSA-powered Cadillac CTS-V. The six-speed GM auto gearbox seen here is now available in all ‘R’ models; our previous encounter was with a four-speeder.The R Supercharged also demonstrates a host of refinements that JIA is introducing to its range. Changes include a bonded windscreen in place of the traditional rough and leaky rubber seals, electric front seats and column stalks sourced from a Jaguar XJS, larger, body-coloured heated door mirrors in place of the fiddly little chrome jobs, an effective single wiper replaces the pair of flappy originals and there’s upgraded air-con.The split-prone black vinyl dash is replaced with a new custom-designed, two-tone leather layout, and two rows of illuminated aluminium toggle switches adorn the revised centre console.

BMW X6 xDrive50i SE first drive review
BMW X6 xDrive50i SE first drive review Twin-turbocharged X6 makes for a surprisingly compelling alternative to the likes of a Range Rover Sport – on the performance front, at least This, for the moment, is the most powerful BMW X6 that you can buy. Its twin-turbocharged 4.4 litre V8 generates 444bhp, which is sufficient to catapult this SUV to 62mph in 4.8 seconds – plenty enough for most.But for those feeling short-changed, there will soon be a 553bhp X6 M, which will deliver a more exacting test of this BMW’s new chassis. In the meantime, you can have the lesser xDrive50i in either M Sport or SE trim, as sampled here, and in both cases it comes with an eight-speed automatic.This second-generation X6, the bulk of which has been redesigned, features upgraded engines, more equipment, no gain in weight, an improved drag coefficient and a style that BMW’s design department has aimed to vest with an air of greater maturity.Key exterior features include a slightly lowered rear deck height, a more sophisticated nose that’s at least as imposing as the last, and a more complex arrangement of creases in its flanks that at the rear.These, however, are rather reminiscent of the rather odd rear wheelarch sculptings flaunted by the pre-facelift version of the current E-Class Benz. Fussy, in other words.

Autocar magazine 15 October preview
Autocar magazine 15 October preview Britain’s best driver’s car; Fiat chief mulls Ferrari’s future; new Ford Mondeo driven; Volvo V60 Polestar road test; goodbye to our Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG

This week’s issue of Autocar, dated 15 October, is devoted to our annual quest to find Britain’s best driver’s car.

The premise is straightforward: the year’s best-handling cars scrap it out on road and track. We mulled over a long list of what we thought we should gather for what we informally know as Handling Day.

Usually, we’d then cut that list down to 10 plus last year’s winner. But we realised that the 12-car list was one of the most stonkingly strong line-ups in the competition’s 25-year history, so we left it entirely as it was.

The line-up comprised: Alfa Romeo 4C, Ariel Atom 3.5R, BMW i8, BMW M4, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, Ferrari 458 Speciale, Jaguar F-type R coupé, McLaren 650S, Porsche 911 GT3, Porsche Cayman GTS, Renault Mégane RS 275 Trophy and Vauxhall VXR8 GTS.

Handling Day is three days of testing, photography and video on the road and on a circuit. This year we based ourselves at Castle Combe, within easy reach of decent roads in Wiltshire and surrounding counties. And by decent, we of course mean poorly surfaced and badly cambered as only the finest British roads can be.

So which car most impressed our eight-strong team of judges? Find out in our 20-page special in this week’s issue.

There are also a couple of key new car tests in this issue in the shape of the long-awaited Ford Mondeo and the new Vauxhall Corsa. The Volvo V60 Polestar gets scrutinised by our road test experts. The Swedish manufacturer has a reputation for making stonkingly quick estate cars, but does this new one hit the mark?

In light of Luca di Montezemolo’s departure as boss of Ferrari, Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne lifts the lid on why he felt change was necessary at Maranello, and explains what the future holds for the iconic sports car maker.

Our long-term fleet bids goodbye to the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, the first hot hatch from Merc’s performance car wizards in Affalterbach. We know it’s loud, fast and fun, but for a final fling we wanted to see how the A45 would fare on a 1200-mile, two-day European road trip – to AMG's headquarters no less.

This week’s buying used guide examines the relatively rare GMC Syclone, which could provide an offbeat way to get a sizeable amount of bang for your buck. The early 1990s pick-up can be had for about £10,000, and if you know where to look you can find examples for sale on this side of the Atlantic.

Autocar magazine is available through all good newsagents, and available for download from Zinio and the Apple iTunes store.

You can also buy one-off copies of Autocar magazine from Newsstand, delivered to your door the morning after.

Alternatively, never miss an issue – subscribe to Autocar magazine today.

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Ford Mondeo
Ford Mondeo The new Mondeo features a heavily revised platform, new engine options and a host of modern equipment – and it's a vast improvement over its predecessor At long last, a new Ford Mondeo. Ford insists the wait, although unwanted, has not been wasted. This, it claims, is the best looking, best equipped and best model to drive there has ever been.Of course it’s been the America-based Fusion for quite some time already, but the manufacturer’s One Ford policy has not prohibited some fairly heavy-duty Europe-spec fettling.For a start, there are more body styles. A five-door hatchback and estate largely supersede the saloon format this side of the pond, and are available with a broader engine lineup – encompassing the 1.0 and 1.5-litre Ecoboost petrol units for the first time.More pertinently, 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel motors are also offered, including the Econetic version that will emit just 107g/km CO2 and return 69.9mpg. There’s a hybrid, too, a new offering for the UK, but already in its third generation Stateside.Underneath, its predecessor’s platform has been sufficiently recycled for Ford to consider it new, and the body shell incorporates hydro-formed high strength steel in the A- and B-pillars – an industry first. At the rear, the control blade rear suspension has been replaced by a new integral link design, which, mostly by virtue of its alternative mounting to the subframe, delivers a significant NVH advantage. In Europe, the Mondeo is offered with the option of adaptive dampers as well.The pursuit of greater refinement – also apparent in the upgrade and addition of sound deadening material throughout the car – has been an obvious focus of the Mondeo’s development, as the manufacturer seeks to re-establish the model in a D segment now populated with far more premium options than ever before, and fundamentally squeezed by the rise of the compact SUV.Its new look is a crucial part of that strategy, and it would be a harsh critic not to concede that Ford has made considerable progress here. Stroll around the new car, and its mass and proportions feel very familiar, but the look is quantifiably sleeker – its desirability elevated from airport taxi to credible gravel drive-filler in one impressive fell swoop.While not quite at the same standard, its cabin continues the push upmarket. Hamstrung by its prolonged lifecycle, the previous model’s interior marked it out as primevally last-gen. In the latest car, eight-inches of dash-mounted touchscreen, powered by Ford’s SYNC2 system, confidently ushers the Mondeo into this decade. Around it, Ford has corralled a handsome, uncluttered dash design; somewhat reminiscent, in its look and material choices, of a Lexus-style architecture – which is definitely meant as a compliment.As before, the roominess going backwards is generally excellent. Accommodating adult-sized children in the back remains very much part of the Mondeo brief, and while the estate in particular excels thanks to the extra headroom afforded by its taller roofline, all versions are old fashioned D-segment heavyweights. Naturally, that goes for the boot too, which, if you forgo a spare wheel, offers a massive 525 litres of loadspace in the hatchback. The estate, seats flat, puts close to 1700 litres at your disposal.If that all sounds a little like the old Mondeo, albeit successfully renovated, rejigged and remodelled, then that’s much like it feels to sit in – but not entirely as it is to drive. Initially, whether aboard the hatch or estate, powered by petrol or diesel, the car’s across-the-board enhancement of comfort and quietness is its compelling feature.More than ever, this feels like a machine to rack up the miles in. Even on passive springs, the bump absorption is generally excellent. Ford has engineered a real ‘breath’ into the chassis, it’s primary ride being far more supple than the segment standard and capable of smoothing out the long wave undulations typical of fast A roads. The sought-for surrounding hush only amplifies the effect, and claims that the rolling refinement experienced by rear passengers has also substantially improved are easily believable.For the most part, all engines driven thus far chime with the charm offensive. The 178bhp 2.0-litre TDCi’s rumble is virtually extinguished at a cruise, and its torque band is generous enough to make the big Mondeo a suitably tractable affair. The 158bhp 1.5-litre Ecoboost feels a touch more overworked by the scale of the task – not helped by long, later ratios on its six-speed manual gearbox – but, by and large, it lives up to one’s expectations of a current generation downsized petrol engine.The hybrid, which teams a 2.0-litre Atkinson cycle petrol motor with an 118bhp electric motor (the drive harmonised via a planetary gearset) is less satisfactory. The saloon-only version delivers 99g/km CO2 motoring for no more than the equivalent diesel model, but it proves a detached drive in the atypical mode; heavier inputs triggering the distant drone of an engine made to play generator, rather than tangible, biddable power source.Nevertheless, it’s conceivable that for some Mondeo buyers, the lack of interactivity might not matter. Its predecessor was the last Ford passenger car to feature hydraulic power steering, and, predictably, its electric replacement doesn’t measure up to quite the same standard. Combined with the uprated plushness, this leaves you feeling less immediately keyed into the overall driving experience.It therefore takes far longer to get under the thicker skin. The previous Mondeo, invested with the crisper steering and a tauter attitude, made brisk progress a default state of being; here, with its loping suppleness constantly taking the edge off, the new machine makes it easier – and seemingly more natural – to just go with the road’s meandering flow.The sense of detachment then, is a two-way street. Apply a more forceful intent, and the car eventually responds in kind. Here the adaptive dampers come into their own, primarily because the Sport setting trims the suspension travel, keeping you neatly flatter right when required. True, there’s still a less satisfying relationship with the nose than before - but its linear grip and accuracy isn’t in question; nor is Ford’s enduring ability to plumb a neutral balance into a large front-drive chassis.Tellingly, the Mondeo only gets more likeable the longer you sit in it. The difference Ford has harped on about for so long is still there; immediately recognisable in the car’s ability to cosset over longer distances and gradually convincing in the well-tuned control weights that mean you never tire of using them.There is much more to come – not least all-wheel-drive, passive sports suspension and more powerful engines – but Ford is already off to a great start. At long last.

Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat first drive review
Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat first drive review The new 707bhp Challenger is an extreme beast that would make little sense on British roads, but we're glad it exists The Dodge Challenger is a legendary model for Chrysler. It’s the American company’s player in pony car game and the likes of Ford’s Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro have been its competition on and off for nearly 50 years.The original Challenger came to market in 1969; in 2008, Dodge introduced the present, third-generation version. The large, two-door coupé uses a cut version of Chrysler’s waning LX architecture, which underpins the 300C saloon. Ford’s latest Mustang GT is substantial shorter and lighter than the Challenger, for reference.Improvements since launch include the addition of an optional ‘TorqueFlite’ eight-speed automatic transmission across the model line-up, as well as retro exterior and interior updates that mimic the iconic 1971 Challenger. The new Challenger SRT Hellcat is the biggest news for the 2015 model year and is by far the most extreme version of Dodge’s muscle car.Its supercharged 6.2-litre V8 develops 707bhp, along with 650lb ft of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard but our test car featured the optional automatic transmission.It’s a wild car. The Hellcat can guzzle the full volume of its 15.4-gallon fuel tank in only 13 minutes. Its supercharger ingests oxygen through a huge 92mm throttle body and the output of a base Ford Fiesta – 79bhp – is needed to spin that twin-screw blower. Each 6.2-litre engine is run on a dyno for 42 minutes before installation. No CO2 emissions are stated for the beastly V8 and we don’t think Chrysler really cares.The Hellcat’s 20-inch wheels are available in either matte black or dark bronze (what Dodge calls 'Brass Monkey') finish. Mounted on the large wheels are 275/40 ZR20 Pirelli P Zero tires. The Hellcat’s exclusive 'Air Catcher' intake port sits inside one of the front lamps and ducts intake air into the engine.The available exterior colours are a marketing department’s dream and include: B5 Blue, Pitch Black, Sublime Metallic (green), and TorRed. You can also order the bonnet in Satin Black, just in case you find the Hellcat too subtle.

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