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

Jaguar F-type R coupe
Jaguar F-type R coupe Most powerful Jaguar F-type coupé is sensational to drive, with even better driving dynamics than its convertible sibling This is most powerful version of Jaguar’s new sports car, the long-awaited F-type coupé.The top-spec V8 sits alongside its supercharged V6 siblings, although none of the range should be described as underpowered. The base V6 has 337bhp available, rising to 376bhp in the V6 S and ending with an impressive 542bhp in V8 form.Most staggering about the new F-type coupé is the simple fact that Jaguar has improved the torsional rigidity of the convertible by 80 per cent.That such a large change can come from adding a fixed aluminium roof is more than impressive, with the extra metal turning the F-type into a true monocoque structure in the process.The extra rigidity means Jaguar engineers have been able to make the new F-type coupé even better to drive, granting extra dynamic ability by raising its spring rates at the front and rear.The coupé should have more control, better agility and greater steering precision than the convertible, then. And that was hardly lacking in the first place.Size wise, the all-aluminium, front-engined, rear-drive F-type coupé is comparable to a BMW 3-series. Indeed, it shares many of its components with Jaguar’s own upcoming 3-series rival, the XE.With a top speed of 186mph and the 0-60mph sprint covered in just 4.0 seconds, the most powerful F-type coupé is thunderingly fast.As well as the burbling 5.0-litre supercharged V8 engine there are extra additions in the form of 20-inch wheels with larger steel brakes. Carbon-ceramic units with performance tyres and lighter forged wheels also feature on the options list.Even sitting at its governed top speed, the V8 coupé remains flat and able to steer faithfully, with its large tailgate spoiler handling the generated lift confidently.On track, I found it easy to bring the Jaguar F-type coupé to its limits and hold it there, with the car’s excellent torque vectoring system eliminating understeer in most of the corners.There’s a real feeling of the F-type directing you to the right line, even if, like me, you have a tendency to hit the apex of a corner too early.If you’re not looking for a hardcore racer experience, its best to leave the F-type coupé with its Dynamic stability mode turned on. That allows you to oversteer fairly shallowly while also keeping your speed up.Of course, if you get brave you can turn off all the electronic aids, and doing so will allow you to pull off the kind of wild oversteer-induced drifts favoured by magazine photographers.It’s surprisingly easy to do, too, even at 40mph, because the F-type coupé feels so balanced. It’s tail pokes out willingly but can be held with the right power for what seems like minutes.That depends on whether you decide to spend more to get this top-spec F-type R. It costs from £85,000, a considerable jump from the £51,235 of the base model.Still, if you choose the V8 there’s no chance you’ll be disappointed. With all three F-type coupé models, there’s a shared quality of simply going straight that’s quite wonderful.You feel lordly as you drive along, fingers resting lightly on the wheel, enjoying the beautifully crafted interior, not needing to adjust anything. That kind of faith in a car is rare to come by, and it’s something that will lift the F-type coupé out of the realm of being another mere sports car, and into the history books.Jaguar F-type R coupéPrice £85,000; 0-60mph 4.2 sec; Top speed 186mph; Economy 25.5mpg; CO2 259g/km; Kerb weight 1650kg; Engine V8, 5000cc, longitudinal, RWD; Power 542bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 502lb ft at 3500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd auto

Mercedes C-class cabriolet in development for 2015 launch
Mercedes C-class cabriolet in development for 2015 launch Latest C-class lune-up expands with new soft-top cabriolet, which will use carried-over engines from the saloon

Mercedes-Benz is speeding up development of the upcoming C-class cabriolet ahead of a planned launch mid-way through next year.

Likely to make its debut at the Frankfurt motor show next September, these latest images show the C-class cabriolet retains the latest C-class' large front grille and headlight clusters. 

The new model is likely to rival the BMW 3-series convertible and Audi A5 cabriolet, and will feature a folding fabric roof.

While its exact engine line-up is yet to be confimed, expect it to mirror that of the C-class saloon. Current reports also suggest that a plug-in hybrid version will also join the range later, following on from the C350 saloon which arrives next year.

A C63 AMG cabriolet is also planned, and will sit alongside saloon, estate and coupé variants when it goes on sale before the end of 2016. That model is likely to use a new twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine with around 500bhp.

Leaked images from a recent technical presentation have also given away the look of the cabriolet's interior. While keeping the same overall style and feel as the C-class saloon, the new model gets a row of secondary buttons on the centre console to control its roof functions.

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Aston Martin revives Lagonda brand with new super saloon
Aston Martin revives Lagonda brand with new super saloon New luxury V12 Aston Martin saloon heralds the return of the Lagonda nameplate; limited production run destined for the Middle East

Aston Martin has resurrected its Lagonda nameplate for a small production run of limited-edition super saloons.

The new Aston Martin Lagonda, which is set to arrive in 2015, will be made available to customers on an invitation-only basis.

Styling cues come from the original Lagonda, which was designed by William Towns and launched in 1976.

Underpinning the new car is the company's VH architecture, which is used throughout its current line-up.

Official technical details have yet to be released but it is understood that the production models, like the prototype seen earlier this year, use the 5.9-litre V12 from the Rapide S.

In the Rapide, the naturally aspirated V12 produces 550bhp and 457lb ft, granting a 0-62mph time of less than 5.0sec and a top speed of 190mph.

Power will be sent to the rear wheels, most likely via a six-speed ZF automatic transmission.

Sales are by invitation only and official pricing has not been released, with Aston Martin simply stating that "it will be commensurate with the car's exclusivity, quality and luxurious nature".

The Lagonda will also only be be offered in the Middle East due to a "specific market demand".

Aston Martin Design Director Marek Reichman said: "The new model, like its exclusive siblings the One-77 and V12 Zagato, has been created as a piece of exceptional automotive art.

"It has been designed and developed entirely in keeping with the spirit and ethos of previous Lagonda super saloons – notably the William Towns Lagonda – and as a tribute to this car it proudly bears the Lagonda nameplate."

At its 1976 launch the Lagonda was notable for, among other things, its use of advanced technology – including LED display panels.

The Aston Martin Lagonda, like its forebear, also makes use of modern innovations. For example, it utilises carbonfibre for its exterior panelling.

Each Lagonda will be hand built at Aston Martin's plant in Gaydon, in a building that was previously dedicated to construction of the One-77 supercar.

The new Aston Martin Lagonda follows recent bespoke projects including the £500,000 Aston Martin CC100 Speedster, production versions of which were built by the 'Q by Aston Martin' division.

Launched in 2013, the Q division is responsible for offering customers the ability to customise existing models to their own specifications, or to commission entirely bespoke cars.

An Aston Martin spokesperson had previously said that the Lagonda was part of a series of coach-built models produced by the Q division.

The company also recently secured approximately £100 million in fresh funding, which may go towards the mooted Aston Martin Lagonda SUV.

This all-new model has recently been brought back into the limelight following Aston's ongoing discussions and parts sharing deal with Mercedes-Benz.

Earlier in the year Aston Martin had trademarked an updated version of the Lagonda emblem, hinting at the imminent return of the nameplate.

The company says that the launch of the new saloon revives the Lagonda ethos of "the finest of fast cars".

Read more Aston Martin reviews.

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More extreme Continental GT3-R possible, says Bentley design chief
More extreme Continental GT3-R possible, says Bentley design chief Luc Doncerwolke believes there's an appetite for more motorsport-inspired versions of the Continental GT3-R that could tempt younger buyers

An even more extreme version of the Bentley Continental GT3-R is possible, according to design chief Luc Doncerwolke.

The GT3-R was revealed as a range-topping performance version of the Continental at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed. The production run was limited to just 300 examples which were hand-built in Crewe and finished in Bentley’s motorsport division.

Powered by a retuned version of Bentley’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, the Continental GT3-R produced 572bhp and 516lb ft, and was the fastest-accelerating Bentley ever, capable of reaching 60mph from a standstill in 3.6 seconds.

Doncerwolke said that a more extreme, rear-wheel drive version of the GT3-R was possible and there would be an appetite for it.

"Why not?" he said, "as the GT3-R has been a success. We've sold all 300 and a lot of people would want an even more extreme one.

"I want us to celebrate our race success and have an even more extreme version, with not only an updated drive and powertrain but also new styling to closely link the race and road cars."

He also said that such a model would help bring younger buyers to Bentley: "There's a big opportunity to make more emotional cars in Bentley's future for younger people. We did it in the past and we can do it again."

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BMW X4 UK first drive review
BMW X4 UK first drive review The new X4 makes a more usable proposition for British roads than the larger X6, but this SUV lacks all-round ability The new BMW X4 - driven for the first time in the UK, and with a diesel engine upfront rather than the petrol lump previously made available to us.Much about BMW’s latest we already know; this is an X6 clone with its cheeks sucked in to fit the smaller platform currently found beneath the X3. The body swap makes the car slightly longer and a fair bit lower, and sacrifices a modicum of practicality in the good name of SUV sporting pretension. Almost everything of consequence is carried over from the X3, although its higher status in the lineup means the two-wheel-drive sDrive18d entry-level version gets culled.Instead, the X4’s are all-wheel-drive as standard and the range kicks off with the xDrive20d SE at £36,595 - a £3600 premium over the equivalent X3, which is consistent across the board. That four-cylinder car comes with a manual six-speed gearbox as standard, but expect BMW’s eight-speed auto to be a popular option (it’s standard with the 3.0-litre motor).Trim choice splits the X4 into SE, xLine and M Sport, with the straight-six 255bhp 30d and 308bhp 35d filling out the oil burner-only engine selection. We drove the former, albeit in range-topping format. Aside from the cosmetic alterations, the X4 gets you a chassis tweak and the toys to go with it - including Performance Control, Variable Sport Steering, and, in the case of our test car, the even firmer M Sport suspension.To help justify its positioning, the new model gets bigger 18-inch wheels as standard over the X3, as well as the convenience of a 40-20-40 split rear seat. Heated front seats, parking sensors, automatic tailgate and BMW’s Business Media pack are also among the default kit. 

Nissan reveals new high-performance Note Nismo
Nissan reveals new high-performance Note Nismo Sporty Note Nismo features an upgraded powertrain and new bodywork and will go on sale this autumn, but it won't be coming to the UK

Nissan has revealed a sporty Nismo-badged version of the new Note, although the model won't be coming to the UK.

Set to go on sale in the Japanese market in the autumn, the Note Nismo comes with an upgraded powertrain package, although Nissan hasn't released any performance details so far.

The car's tyres, suspension and bodywork are also upgraded, with a new grille seen here alongside special front and rear bumpers, side sills and a roof spoiler.

The Note Nismo also comes with custom sports seats inside, while Recaro sports seats are optional. Two grades of the car will be available, the standard Note Nismo and the Nismo S.

Describing the two models, Nissan says the Note Nismo "caters to customers who enjoy spirited driving, but who also regard fuel efficiency as an important motoring factor," while the Nismo S "is to appease the pure high-performance neeeds of the sports driver, the person who wants to experience the fruits of Nismo's motorsports heritage."

Nismo product specialist Hiroshi Tamura said: "The development concept of this model was to build a car that makes you want to keep driving, no matter where your destination may be."

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Seat gears up for development of new SUV
Seat gears up for development of new SUV Spanish manufacturer's sports-utility vehicle will be "like a big brother to the Leon", say company chiefs

Seat's new SUV is on track for launch in 2016. The first development mules are soon to start testing, and the model will enter pre-production in the coming months also.

It will be pased on the MQB platform and is set to be built by sister brand Skoda in the Czech Republic. Company chief Jürgen Stackmann revealed it was unlikely to have any connection with the Leon name, despite the new model having a similar footprint to the Spanish manufacturer's family hatchback.

A Cupra version is being mulled, according to Stackmann, with research underway on how far Seat's sporty brand can be extended. Even in standard form, the SUV will still be one of the sportiest cars in its class while retaining everyday usability and practicality.

Design chief Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos revealed that design work was now complete and that it was "a big step for Seat – the car is like a big brother to the Leon".

Stackmann said the business case was fully in place for the SUV and "industrialisation" work was now ongoing. It should add significant volumes for the brand, with the segment expected to count for around 10 per cent of all cars sold in Europe.

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Bentley plans two new models after SUV launch
Bentley plans two new models after SUV launch Company boss considers plans for a two-seat sports car and a more conventional model to sit between the Continental and Mulsanne

Bentley is planning to launch two more models after its forthcoming SUV, currently at a prototype stage, hits the market in 2016. 

Returning chairman and chief executive officer Wolfgang Dürheimer says the company is considering launching either a two-seat sports car or a more conventional model, priced between the Continental and Mulsanne, and concentrating at first on whichever looked more profitable.

"My own preference would be to build them both" said Dürheimer, "providing a business case for each can be made."

Planning for the models is included in a new R&D spending round, the biggest in Bentley history. The company will spend £800 million between now and 2016, mostly at Crewe, on new model development.

The SUV will appear towards the end of 2015 and reach its first customers in 2016, Durheimer says. The staple engine will be a redesigned version of the W12 engine – with a "double digit" improvement in the present version's CO2 output.

It will also be first to offer the plug-in hybrid powertrain with a 30-mile battery-only range, which Bentley will eventually introduce as a "core technology" for its model line-up.

The SUV, which according to Dürheimer will have its air suspension tuned more for coping with suburban speed bumps than extreme off-road conditions, is also likely to be the first diesel Bentley, featuring an adapted version the 4.2-litre V8 diesel already used by Audi.

"We will offer the fastest, most powerful and most exclusive SUV on the market," says Dürheimer, with an obvious nod towards the Range Rover, "and we will solve the problem that people cannot at present spend more than about £140,000 on an off-roader."

At a press conference to announce bullish half-year sales for the Crewe-based company, Dürheimer said he expected 2014 to be "a fifth straight year of substantial growth" but stopped short of claiming a record.

Sales had grown in every market, he said, with China scoring the greatest first-half growth of 61 per cent, though that rate of improvement was unlikely to be sustained for the full year. America was still Bentley's biggest market, with sales of 1388 cars in total.

Bentley is also launching a new move to "contemporise" its cars, providing modern alternations to the traditionalist wood, leather and British Racing Green so often associated with its models.

A recently opened modern, glassy showroom at Crewe – named CW1 House – provided a guide to dealerships around the world to modernise the customer experience and introduce upgrades needed for the arrival of the SUV, which could well push volume beyond the 15,000 units a year already announced.

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Bentley SUV design finalised, reveals design boss
Bentley SUV design finalised, reveals design boss The styling for Bentley's first SUV has been signed off ahead of production starting in 2016, but it won't look like the controversial EXP 9 F concept

The design of the Bentley SUV has been signed off for production in 2016, but it will have no relation to the controversial EXP 9 F concept car, company design chief Luc Donkerwolke has revealed to Autocar.

Donkerwolke said that he started designing the SUV in the spring and summer of 2012, in the days after the concept's reveal at the Geneva motor show, while working at Volkswagen Group's main design centre. He was then appointed Bentley design chief that summer, tasked with bringing his design to production.

"The design is now signed off for production," he said. "The concept is completely set apart and was done separately. After Geneva 2012, I was told to do a new one. It's completely different to the concept car.

"The concept was only intended to pose the question, 'can we do a Bentley SUV?', rather than showing a production car. I started with new parameters and a clean sheet [of paper]."

Donkerwolke, who has just spent a week driving test mules of the car, said he's never actually seen the concept in person, and that the model is now in storage, having been used for customer clinics in 2012 after the Geneva show.

He said he did not yet know the name of the production car, but several were being proposed. A decision is expected to be made soon so that design work can begin on elements such as badges.

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New Seat Ibiza - first details
New Seat Ibiza - first details New Seat Ibiza hatch is expected in 2017 and the Spanish manufacturer's design boss has revealed plans to "redesign an icon"

Work has begun on the fifth-generation Seat Ibiza ahead of an expected launch in 2017.

Until the new model arrives, the current fourth-generation Ibiza – which has been on sale since 2008 – is set to undergo a facelift next year to keep it fresh, with the main changes expected inside.

Company chief Jürgen Stackmann said the new Ibiza was now being "defined". He added: "It needs to be normal enough to be bought by everyone but different enough to stand out in the market."

Seat is this year celebrating 30 years of the Ibiza, and last night assembled key designers of the car from its past – including VW Group design boss Walter de Silva, Bentley design chief Luc Donckerwolke and current design boss Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos – to celebrate the car's past, present and future.

Mesonero-Romanos revealed a sketch showing how the Ibiza's key design themes have evolved, which also hinted at a future styling direction of the car. He said to not expect a smaller clone of the Leon, but themes developed on that car would continue on the Ibiza, perhaps in the LED front light graphic, for example.

"This is an opportunity to redesign an icon," said Mesonero-Romanos, who owned an Ibiza Mk1 and was also part of de Silva's design team for the Ibiza Mk3. "It's going to have great horizontality, and blister lines developed from the Leon. The lines of the current car will change but the spirit won't.

"It will be a design revolution for the Ibiza, as firstly the market demands it and secondly to set it apart from the Leon. It will have strong character, tautness and a feeling of movement when stopped. The spirit of a fun, agile drive will remain. It will be a different car, but clearly an Ibiza.

"The current Ibiza, of course, still has life and we're still planning a long life for it based on innovations."

Mesonero said the new Seat SUV, due 2016, would evolve the design language of the Leon but the Ibiza would be a bigger step.

The new Ibiza will be based on the compact version of VW Group's MQB platform, also destined for the new Polo in two to three years, rather than use a re-engineered version of the current car's underpinnings as sister firm Skoda is doing with its new Fabia.

Seat insiders confirmed the Leon-sized SUV would be the firm's next new model launch, and that the Ibiza would come after that, meaning a 2016 reveal is likely ahead of sales starting in 2017.

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Behold, the Active Tourists who will buy BMW's new compact MPV
Behold, the Active Tourists who will buy BMW's new compact MPV Munich's embracing of front-wheel-drive might be hard for some to accept, but it makes sound commercial sense

The launch of the new BMW 2-series Active Tourer took place in the very pleasant Tirol region in Austria. You can read Hilton Holloway's driving impressions of the first full production front-wheel-drive offering from BMW here.

When I sampled the car last Friday, the main roads into the Alps were packed with Germans and Austrians heading off for long weekends in the mountains near Innsbruck.

It was late morning on a sunny day, and the amount of people not working took me aback. It dawned on me that the collective British workforce might graft a little bit too hard in comparison to our continental peers…

Another thing that struck me was that the majority of the healthy looking damen und herren driving to the Alpine countryside were the sort of people BMW is targeting with the 2-series Active Tourer.

They are, I suppose, Active Tourists. In other words: adventurous, affluent folk who want to sling the bikes/pets/kids/tent into the back of a capacious, comfortable vehicle and head to the chocolate-box scenery.

I'm not convinced many of those people care as much about whether their car drives its front wheels, rear wheels or maybe just the near-side ones except on Sundays. They want a tidy car created by an aspirational brand they recognise.

Viewed purely as a commercial decision, then, there can be little argument with BMW's desire to grow its presence in small-premium vehicle markets.

Herbert Diess, BMW's development chief, says: "We expect the premium segment to grow strongly over the next ten years, especially within the smaller vehicle classes.

"With our new models we are aiming for a share in this development. Today, there are customers who really would like to drive a BMW, but we still do not have an appropriate model for them. So the BMW 2-series Active Tourer will open up new target groups for BMW."

Having driven the 218d Active Tourer, I'm not sure I swallow the manufacturer's party line about the 2-series Active Tourer "standing for driving pleasure" like any other BMW. It's very good at what it does, but I can't imagine the chaps at M division are salivating at the prospect of fettling a cooking version. Although they probably enjoy a challenge.

Then again, there's a more compelling argument for front-wheel drive. Diess says: "Front-wheel drive in this vehicle class provides conceptual advantages thanks to the transverse front-mounted engine. For example, in the interior we are able to offer a raised seating position, a large amount of space with a luggage compartment capacity of up to 1510 litres."

Will BMW's new front-wheel-drive strategy tarnish the sheen of the rear-drive 'ultimate driving machines'?

Perhaps for some enthusiasts it will. However, as with Porsche's decision to build the original Cayenne in the early 2000s, the 2-series Active Tourer is likely to turn a tidy profit for BMW – cash that can be ploughed back into future development of the rear-drive performance cars that we know and love.

Why is the design of the new Audi TT so predictable?
Why is the new Audi TT so predictable? The TT was a revolutionary car design when it was first revealed in 1995, but subsequent versions have played it safe

Walk along pretty much any high street in the UK, in almost any town, and you will instantly see sights that are familiar.

There will be a Greggs pie shop, a Starbucks, a golden arches perhaps, a Tesco Express and maybe a Subway. And the weird thing is, most of us feel subconsciously comfortable with such familiarity, because it’s been this way now for many years.

At one time, however, high streets didn’t look or feel anything like as predictable as this. And at around about the same time Audi was busy inventing a car called the TT

When it was first shown to the world at the 1995 Frankfurt motor show, the Audi TT was revolutionary. It looked fresh and exciting and different, and it made the local high street look more sophisticated and interesting somehow, merely by its very presence.

Now, though, the Audi TT has gone down the exact same route as our beloved high street. It’s become predictable and samey and safe. And for a car that was once so bold and brilliant and ground breaking, that’s almost unforgivable, is it not?

Unfortunately, I fear the answer is no; it’s not so much unforgivable as inevitable. 

Audi knows what it is doing with the TT way more than the rest of us put together. Audi knows that the TT as a brand is far too precious and profitable to be mucked around with at this stage of its life. And so Audi knows that to veer off-piste with the car’s design would be tantamount to commercial suicide.

So Audi has played it safe with the TT. Of course, it will be a perfectly decent sports car. But it will also be a car that, I predict, will break no boundaries. It will tread no new ground.

The new TT will be as predictable to drive as it is to look at. And so in its own way it will be much like the next new local high street that gets built. It will be comfortably familiar but also, in its way, rather ordinary.

As long as customers keep aspiring to drink coffee at Starbucks and march like lemmings towards and beneath the golden arches, however, cars like the TT will continue to thrive. And they will continue to be reprocessed using the same old design templates.

But you can’t help but stop and wonder sometimes: will it always be like this from now on? Are we forever locked into a world of design that we can predict merely because the bottom line has become so vital? Or will one day some originality return to our lives, to our cars, and to our high streets?.

Who will come up with the next model as exciting and original as the first Audi TT, for instance, now that Audi itself appears to have given up trying?

See exclusive studio pictures of the new Audi TT

Read Autocar's history of hot Audis

Renault working on hotter Twingo for 2015
Renault working on hot new Twingo for 2015 launch Higher performance version of the Twingo spotted testing ahead of a probable launch in mid-2015, but it is unlikely to be badged as Twingo RS

Renault appears to have started development work on a new, higher performance version of the recently unveiled Twingo. An uprated Twingo sporting a new air intake at the front and dual exhausts at the rear has been spied testing.

The rear-drive model, which made its debut at the Geneva motor show earlier this year, arrives in the UK in August to compete with the likes of the new Citroen C1, Toyota Aygo and Peugeot 108 models as well as its sister car, the Smart Forfour.

Although the warmer variant could take some styling cues from the outrageous Twin'Run concept seen in 2013, it is unlikely to be a full Renaultsport-fettled RS-badged model when it goes on sale.

Speaking to Autocar at the Geneva show, Renault's head of small car development Benoît Bochard said it was difficult to make a compelling business case for a Twingo RS: "The last Twingo RS was great to drive, but not a success in sales terms. It was too expensive – customers did not want to pay £15k for such a small car. An RS version wouldn't sell."

However, Bochard said at the time that more powerful turbocharged engines were a possibility for future Twingo variants: "We have more powerful turbos in the engine range, so there are possibilities for the future if we decide to go that way."

While engine details for this new variant are currently unknown, the most powerful version of the standard Twingo runs a newly-developed three-cylinder 0.9-litre engine with 89bhp and 100lb ft of torque, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. 

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Facelifted Porsche Cayenne revealed ahead of Paris motor show launch
Porsche Cayenne facelift revealed The updated Porsche Cayenne SUV, which is now on sale in the UK, gets new styling inside and out as well as big gains in efficiency

A facelifted version of the strong selling second-generation Porsche Cayenne has been revealed ahead of a planned public debut at the Paris motor show in October.

Included as part of the updated range is a new 410bhp petrol-electric S E-Hybrid model that is claimed to offer a 0-62mph time of 5.9sec and a combined average of 83.1mpg. That's alongside a 151mph top speed and a zero-emission electric range of up to 22 miles at up to 78mph.

The reworked Cayenne is already on sale, and will be in UK showrooms from October. The model further benefits from a series of exterior and interior design changes that bring it in line with the manufacturer's current offerings.

There's also a range of reworked petrol and diesel engines allied to new fuel saving technology – all aimed at providing it with fresh appeal some four years after it first arrived in UK showrooms.

The mid-life styling changes appear subtle but bring some significant changes to the front-end design of the Cayenne. Updates include a larger grille, a new bumper with additional blades within the air ducts for more efficient cooling of the intercoolers, redesigned front wings and a larger bonnet boasting subtle contouring.

More angular headlights, with standard Xenon main beams (LED with Porsche Dynamic Light System on the top-of-the-line Turbo), are fitted to the new Cayenne too.

At the rear there are revised tail-lights that, like the headlights, adopt a more angular shape. The number plate recess and boot opening mechanism now also blends more elegantly into the tailgate. Porsche's design team has also added a revised bumper with integrated tailpipes.

Changes inside include a new multi-function steering wheel with shift paddles modelled on that used in the 918 Spyder, which come as standard equipment together with a more contoured rear seat that now comes with optional ventilation.

Heading the long list of efficiency boosting features brought to the facelifted Cayenne is a new coast function as well as improved version of the existing model’s stop/start system – both of which have been integrated into its standard eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Further innovations include active air flaps located behind the grille. They open or close depending on the cooling requirements for the engine, constantly adjusting the volume of air entering the engine bay and helping to reduce aerodynamic drag.  

New to the Cayenne line-up is the S E-Hybrid, which replaces the S Hybrid. It runs the same Audi-engineered supercharged 3.0-litre V6 direct injection petrol engine as its predecessor. With 328bhp and 325lb ft of torque, it is mated to a new electric motor that develops 94bhp.

Altogether, Porsche’s third dedicated plug-in hybrid model, after the 918 Spyder and Panamera S E-Hybrid, delivers a combined output of 410bhp at 5500rpm and 434lb ft of torque between 1200 and 4000rpm, improving on the model it replaces by 35bhp and 7lb ft.

The S E-Hybrid is claimed to accelerate 0.6sec faster than the S Hybrid from 0 to 62mph, with an official time of 5.9sec. Top speed has also marginally increased to 151mph.

Porsche quotes a zero-emission electric range of between 11 and 22 miles depending on the topography of the road and driving style. Top speed in electric mode is limited to 78mph.

Big gains have been achieved in fuel economy and CO2 emissions thanks to the adoption of plug-in technology. Porsche figures point to a whopping 48.6mpg improvement in combined cycle fuel economy at 83.1mpg, with CO2 emissions dropping by 114g/km to 79g/km on the European test cycle.

In further changes, Porsche has replaced the naturally aspirated 4.8-litre V8 direct injection petrol engine in the Cayenne S with a new twin-turbocharged 3.6-litre V6 direct injection petrol unit from the recently introduced Macan Turbo.

With 414bhp at 6000rpm and 405lb ft of torque, the new unit delivers an added 20bhp and 37lb ft, providing the Cayenne S with a 0.5sec improvement in its 0-62mph time at 5.4sec, together with an incremental increase in top speed at 161mph. Fuel economy increases by 2.8mpg to an official 29.7mpg, while average CO2 emissions are reduced by 22g/km at 223g/km.

Further up the range, the Cayenne Turbo gains a more powerful version of Porsche’s turbocharged 4.8-litre V8 direct injection petrol engine developing an added 20bhp at 512bhp and an extra 37lb ft of torque at 553lb ft.

Its 0-62mph time is reduced by 0.3sec to an official 4.4sec, while top speed increases by 1mph to 174mph. In combination with the Cayenne’s new fuel saving technology, combined cycle fuel economy improves by 0.6mpg to 25.2mpg, providing the rapid SUV with a 29g/km improvement in average CO2 emissions at 261g/km.

Porsche has also increased the output of the 3.0-litre V6 common rail diesel engine in the Cayenne Diesel. It now produces an additional 16bhp and 12lb ft with 258bhp at 6000rpm and 427lb ft of torque between 1750 and 2500rpm. The subtle bump in reserves cuts 0.3sec from the 0-62mph time to 7.2sec, while top speed extends by 1mph to 137mph.

Even milder are the changes brought to the Cayenne S Diesel. Its turbocharged 4.2-litre V8 common rail diesel engine gains 3bhp, taking its output up to 380bhp. Torque, however, remains the same as before, rising to a peak of 626lb ft between 2000 and 2750rpm.

The slight increase in power combines with the efficiency gains to the gearbox to reduce the 0-62mph time by 0.4sec to 5.3sec while retaining the previous model’s 157mph top speed. Fuel economy is up by 1.3mpg at 35.3mpg, resulting in a 9g/km reduction in CO2 emissions, at 209g/km.

Together with the myriad engine changes, Porsche says it has fined tuned the Cayenne’s chassis to provide what it describes as a “greater spread between comfort and sportiness”.

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New Audi SQ7 to use electrically assisted turbocharging
Hot Audi SQ7 to feature new electrically assisted turbocharging system High-performance variant of next-generation large SUV set to use electric turbo system designed to reduce turbo lag on both petrol and diesel engines

Audi plans to bring its electrically assisted turbocharging system to production on a high-performance 'S' version of the next Q7 SUV in 2016.

Versions of the system – which combats turbo lag and improves response – are already fitted to two concept cars, the 322bhp Audi A6 TDI Concept and the 380bhp Audi RS 5 TDI-e.

The system is set to make its production car debut on the Audi SQ7, which will follow the introduction of the next-generation Q7, due in 2015.

Audi's board member for technical development, Ulrich Hackenberg, told Autocar: "The new Q7 will be available in the market next year but the electric turbo will come a bit later in the Audi SQ7 available in 2016.”

The SQ7 would be a new variant, although Audi currently offers the smaller SQ5 SUV, its first-ever diesel-fuelled 'S' model, which is powered by a bi-turbo oil-burning engine producing 309bhp.

Car makers and turbocharger manufacturers alike have worked hard to reduce turbo lag on both petrol and diesel engines in recent years.

Audi is trialling two different systems on its concepts. The system on the A6 TDI Concept combines an electrically driven supercharger with a single turbocharger, while the RS 5 TDI combines it with a series sequential twin-turbo system with a large and small turbocharger.

The electric charger is arranged last in line in both cases, boosting directly into the inlet manifold, while an intercooler preceded by the conventional turbos sit upstream.

At low rpm, when diesels suffer most lag, the electric charger is brought into play reaching maximum boost in just 250 milliseconds for near instantaneous throttle response. Once high enough exhaust pressure is detected, a valve opens bypassing the electric turbo and the conventional turbos take over.

On the RS 5 TDI, the smaller of the two turbos acts first and as revs and power climbs, it too is bypassed, leaving the larger turbo to take over.

Audi first revealed the idea in 2012 with an early version of the A6 3.0 TDI Concept. The system comprised a Honeywell, 48-volt electric supercharger fitted in line with the conventional turbocharger.

The electric charger was only brought into play at low revs but when it did, unleashed near instant response, the experimental V6 diesel producing a mighty 420bhp and 480lb ft torque between 1450rpm and 2800rpm.

The reduced power of both the current development cars suggests the engines are nearing production readiness and that robustness and durability have been taken into consideration.

The single turbocharger plus electric charger configuration of the A6 Concept provides a lower cost option than the more complex twin turbo system of the RS 5. Like the earlier prototypes, both depend on the adoption of a high power 48-volt electrical system to drive the 7kW motor of the electric charger.

Initially, the 48-volt system will run in parallel with the conventional 12-volt electrical system to power conventional electrics.

This involves two batteries and two wiring harnesses and is likely to be an interim solution. Audi engineers admit that, “retaining the 12-volt system is not essential to implementing a 48-volt system.”

That’s another way of saying that in the future, cars will run a single 48-volt system, power being stepped down to lower voltages using sophisticated transformers called DC-to-DC converters. Doing so would save weight, cost and complexity.

The development of ultra-high performance diesels by Audi is not just to bolster brand image and impress the media, it makes sound business sense too.mIt’s true today and will be more so in the future, that every little helps when bringing down a manufacturer’s CO2 fleet average and that includes Audi’s S and RS derivatives.

Switching to diesel engines for those models would make a difference but more importantly, create stir in the showrooms and significantly increase the halo effect on higher-volume diesel models like the Audi A4

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Volkswagen Polo SE 1.2 TSI first drive review
Volkswagen Polo SE 1.2 TSI first drive review New convenience and safety gadgets, plus a great new TSI engine, help keep the Polo close to the top of the class As the adverts proclaim, this is “the new Polo”. That seems a bit of a stretch when you consider that the latest revisions to Volkswagen's supermini include neither alterations to the exterior sheet metal nor to the lights and plastic bumpers, which are the more usual candidates for facelift revisions.Instead, VW has concentrated on refreshing the engines and upgrading the gadgetry, and despite the lack of headlines has made a pretty good job of it.There are now four petrol engines – the 59bhp and 74bhp 1.0-litre petrol triples from the Up, plus two versions of the 1.2-litre TSI turbo petrol four, in 89bhp and 108bhp forms. Naturally they’re all Euro 6 compliant and carry VW’s Bluemotion badge of unobtrusive frugality, which entails the fitment of features including a stop-start system. The SE version we tested was the lower-powered of the two TSI engines, good for 60.1mpg on a combined cycle and stated to emit just 107g/km of CO2. As well as the mechanical changes, there is also a general equipment upgrade. Our SE had a new central 6.5in screen (in the lesser models it’s only a 5.8in) that incorporates a comprehensive new infotainment system.All Polos now come with electronic stability control, a hill-hold system and a post-collision braking system that reduces the severity of a second impact after an initial crash.Typical big-car options include adaptive cruise, a driver alert warning system and city emergency braking, all for £500.In fact the SE (well equipped but not luxurious) gets close to being the ideal supermini, were it not for the fact that its styling is well proportioned but extremely bland: a Polo is one of those cars that almost entirely escapes notice.

Citroën C4 Cactus
Citroën C4 Cactus Gallic quirkiness meets pragmatism in the new crossover hatchback With the increasing diversification of the new car market, finding a hitherto untapped niche is no easy thing.But the Citroën C4 Cactus – which is not a C4 (we’ll come to that in a moment) and bears little resemblance to a real cactus – is no easy thing to define.The Cactus is such a new thing that the short of the history is this: revealed at the Geneva motor show in March and on sale now.But there was also a C-Cactus concept — although it didn’t look much like this — in 2007, and before that there have been Citroëns with elements of the Cactus about them.If you’re looking for inspiration that is affordable and practical, gives a loping drive and is unpretentious, the obvious source material is the 2CV. The Cactus isn’t a successor to that, but it is closer than most.If there’s anything Cactus-like about the new car, it’s the Citroën's most notable design feature: the soft pads on its flanks.They are, in some manner, like a Cactus’s spikes in that they’re a defence mechanism, but they visually differentiate the Cactus from the pack, too.They add a ruggedness to the hatchback, although that isn’t backed up by a raised ride height or four-wheel drive.Throw in an eye-catching price, then, and what do you have? A new niche? A DS-like sub-brand? Just what is its closest rival?We’ll investigate more in a moment, but suffice to say: who else could make this car than the company that brought us the DS and the 2CV?But whether our C4 Cactus is as compelling as its name appears to be is something we’ll discover during this review.

Vauxhall boss confirms low-cost Dacia rivals in development
Vauxhall boss confirms Dacia-rivals in development As part of its European revival plans Vauxhall will look to rival the Dacia Sandero and Duster models with its own entry-level hatchback and small SUV

Vauxhall boss Karl-Thomas Neumann has confirmed the company is planning a new line of entry-level vehicles to rival the likes of Dacia.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Neumann said the budget sector was "very interesting," and confirmed the brand was "definitely looking at the segment."

The plan involves bringing in two new low-cost models to plug the gap left by Chevrolet, which will be axed from the European market next year.

One of the cars has already been spotted testing, and is likely to be badged as Viva when it makes its debut at the Geneva motor show in March next year.

Sitting alongside the Adam and below the new Corsa in size, the car is based on the next-generation Chevrolet Spark, but likely won't be priced to compete with the £5995 Dacia Sandero. Instead, Vauxhall is understood to be pitching the new model towards the Ford Ka, which costs from £8945.

"We think there is possibility for Opel to come up with some entry-level product, specifically now Chevrolet is out of the market," said Neumann. "We had Chevrolet, which looked like a budget brand, but it was not."

Neumann also confirmed that GM is eyeing up a compact crossover to sit alongside the new Viva in its budget line-up. That model is likely to be pitched against the Dacia Duster, and could well form the basis of a replacement for the current Meriva MPV

In the first six months of this year, Dacia's sales in Europe have risen by more than 36 per cent, to 192,876 units, with 37,802 cars sold in June alone. GM's sales – incorporating the Opel/Vauxhall and Chevrolet brands – are down by 0.5 per cent in the first half of 2014, selling a total of 497,143 cars.

Neumann has previously stated that with Chevrolet's departure from Europe, "all the burden" will now be on Opel and Vauxhall to perform: "GM can only be successful as a leading car maker in the world if we have a strong stake in Europe, so we can't give up."

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A ride in Porsche's 918 Spyder evokes memories of the rapid 959
A ride in Porsche's 918 Spyder evokes memories of the 959 The prodigious power output of the hybrid hypercar is as monstrously awesome as the shove provided by the twin-turbocharged flat-six in the Porsche 959

Attending a recent Porsche driving day at the compact but versatile Aldenhoven proving ground near Dusseldorf, I was lucky enough to hitch a passenger ride in the new Porsche 918 Spyder.

On Aldenhoven’s 1.3-mile oval circuit, Porsche’s man in the hot seat demonstrated the hybrid hypercar’s numerous show-stopping skills: electric-only mode (super-stealthy, yet swift enough to reach 62mph in 6.2sec), launch control (0-62mph in 2.6sec, then on to 124mph in another 4.7sec), ultra-flat cornering (with significantly greater body control than the almost equally heavy 911 Turbo) and, finally, the high-Wattage kidney punch delivered by the electric motors under full throttle.

During demonstration of the latter, which takes effect when engaged in the drivetrain’s most aggressive modes, in-gear acceleration from low revs was strong from the 4.6-litre V8 alone, but then a flex of the right foot brought on the electric beans. Cripes. So that’s what 944lb ft of torque feels like. As the electric motors kicked in with their technical-sounding whine, the revs shot up (this extraordinary engine has 9150rpm to exploit before the red line) and we were flung down the home straight in a surging blur.

I tried to recall the last time I felt pinned back into my seat with such force, and one memory stood out. In our special issue to celebrate 5000 Autocar road tests (2 March 2011), we featured a 1988 Porsche 959 as part of our never-tested ‘Ones that got away’ group (alongside a Ford GT40 and Ferrari F50).

As a hand hired to help with driving that day, I spent 20 minutes circling Millbrook’s high-speed bowl in the 959. Once the photographer had bagged his snaps, he waved me past. We’d been doing about 50mph for the pics, but the empty four-lane bowl ahead tempted more.

Like the 918’s driver, I applied throttle from low revs, but initial progress was stately at best. However, when the second of the 959’s two sequential turbos kicked in, there was a genuine whiplash moment. I’d never felt anything like it, and I’m not sure I have since – 918 included – such was the hammer blow from the 959’s comparatively tiny 2.85-litre flat six.

In 450bhp standard tune, the 959 could reach 62mph in 3.7sec and go on to a 197mph maximum – just 1.1sec and 17mph off the 918’s best. Our test car on that day in Millbrook was factory-tuned to 532bhp, and for that split second, when famine turned to feast as the 959’s mega-charged drivetrain truly came alive, the g-force it imparted on my body became a personal automotive milepost.

Clearly, the 918 is by far the more complex machine, and it’s much more usable, too – not to mention eco credentials that put it in a different universe to the 959. But there are strong similarities. Both cars have four-wheel drive with a variable torque split, advanced aerodynamics and adaptive damping (the 959 had two electronically controlled dampers per corner) and both provide outrageous pace despite weighing a not-inconsiderable half tonne-plus.

Sure, where the 959’s cabin was 911-familiar, the 918’s is starship-grade futuristic – all daring shapes, slick, integrated touchscreens and custom switchgear – but the tradition of innovation is clear as day in both. The 959 even had tyre pressure monitors – claimed to be a first among road cars.

So, with its binary, off/on power delivery like a cartoon boxer windmilling his arm into a knockout punch, the 959’s slugging prowess remains a landmark for me, but the 918 has just become another: incredibly fast, yes, but composed, usable, comfortable and economical, too.

Audi A7 Ultra first drive review
Audi A7 Ultra first drive review The appeal of the A7, which offers smart looks, refinement and luxury, has now been bolstered by the improved economy of a new Ultra version When the Audi A7 was introduced in 2010 its fastback coupé styling and five-door package proved to be a compelling combination.Now Audi hopes to improve the A7’s popularity still further with a facelift and revised 3.0-litre TDI engines, including a high efficiency 3.0-litre TDI Ultra variant.The standard 268bhp 3.0-litre TDI engine has been substantially upgraded to improve efficiency and reduce fuel consumption, and is being introduced to the A7 range for the first time.Audi's Ultra version is calibrated to further optimise fuel consumption and CO2. There’s less power at 215bhp but torque is still a plentiful 295lb ft.The trade-off is worth it in terms of economy though, with the Ultra returning 60.1mpg compared to 54.3mpg for the more powerful engine.CO2 emissions are correspondingly lower too, at 122g/km rather than 136g/km. SCR (selective catalyst reduction) means the Ultra meets Euro 6 emissions standards and earns ‘clean diesel’ status too.

Best car deals: Ford Mondeo, Mazda CX-5, Subaru BRZ, Suzuki Swift
Best car deals: Ford Mondeo, Mazda CX-5, Subaru BRZ, Suzuki Swift The best new car deals and new car leasing deals for this week, including offers on the Ford Mondeo, Mazda CX-5, Subaru BRZ, Suzuki Swift and Peugeot RCZ R

If you’re in the market for a new car, or after the best new-car leasing deal, you can save thousands of pounds with a little research. Here are the picks of what our deals experts have found this week.

Best new car deals

With class-leading driving dynamics and a truly massive boot, the Ford Mondeo estate is a practical choice for families on the move. With a replacement coming soon prices are currently dropping, and we found this 1.6-litre EcoBoost model in Graphite specification for £15,128 on Car Cost, a saving of £3,122.

One of the best cars in the crossover class, the Mazda CX-5 combines excellent fuel economy with a roomy interior. New Car Discount is offering a 2.0-litre Sport Nav modell for an attractive £22,590, some £2,200 less than the asking price.

Best new car leasing deals

Like its twin, the Toyota GT86, Subaru's BRZ is a very desirable sports coupé. National Vehicle Solutions is offering a 2.0i SE version for £378 per month. That's on a two-year contract with an initial payment of £1,136 as well as an annual mileage limit of 10,000.

In the crowded hatchback segment, the Suzuki Swift makes a compelling choice thanks to its entertaining driving style and value for money. We spotted a 1.2-litre SZ2 model £133 per month on a two-year contract at Lease 99. There's an initial payment of £800, and an mileage limit of 10,000 per year.

Deal of the week 

As we found out when we pitted the Peugeot RCZ R against the Toyota GT86 last week, this latest fast Peugeot is the best for a generation. We found a discounted model on UK Car Discount going for £26,162. That’s a big saving of £6,357 off the list price.

Can you find a better deal? Let us know in the comments section below

Callum McAvoy

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Renault Megane Renaultsport 275 Trophy UK first drive review
Renault Megane Renaultsport 275 Trophy UK first drive review Host of upgrades give Renault’s flagship hot hatchback the edge it needs to just stay ahead of an increasingly competitive pack The Renault Mégane Renaultsport has long been lauded as one of the best hot hatchbacks available. That’s not a title awarded without just cause; it is, after all, a remarkably capable and rewarding car.Recently launched rivals like the Seat Leon Cupra 280, however, are infringing dangerously on the Renault’s territory.Keen to hold on to its hot hatch laurels, Renault has countered the new threats with an upgraded flagship version of its Mégane Renaultsport called the 275 Trophy.Besides a host of upgrades, including an attention-grabbing insert in the front bumper and an Akrapovič titanium exhaust system, the Trophy gets the all-important ‘Cup pack’ as standard. This adds a limited-slip differential, stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.Renault’s engineers have also extracted another 10bhp from the Mégane’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, granting it a total of 271bhp, and widened its power and torque bands.

New seven-seat SUV to spearhead Skoda model blitz
New seven-seat SUV to spearhead Skoda model blitz Skoda insiders confirm the manufacturer is plotting a rash of new vehicles, including a rival for the Hyundai Santa Fe and a sportier crossover

Skoda is set to embark on a new model blitz in order to reach its target of selling 1.5 million cars per year by 2018.

Inside sources at the highest level have confirmed a rash of new models is on the way, including an all-new seven-seat SUV which is on the brink of being given the green light by senior management. When it does, it is set to go on sale at the end of 2016, priced to compete with the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe.

It’s understood that the new SUV will be built using VW Group MQB architecture and, like the current Yeti, will be available in front- or four-wheel drive form. A five-seat configuration will be standard and a third row of seats that can fold away into the boot floor will be an option. It will be powered by existing VW group petrol and diesel engines, with a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine being the entry-level option.

Engineering sources have confirmed that four-wheel drive versions will have a "lots of off-road capability" with the expectation that it will be able to cope with quite testing conditions and have good towing credentials too.

The new model programme will start as early as this October, though, with the arrival of the all-new Skoda Fabia. The estate version, promising class-leading boot space for a supermini-derived wagon, will go on sale three months later.

Next year it’s also expected that we’ll see the arrival of the all-new Superb hatchback and estate. Again it will be build on MQB underpinnings and sources indicate that it will not be any longer than the current car. A significantly longer wheelbase and greater width will give both versions even more cabin and luggage space that the current offerings, though. The hatch version is also expected to drop the complex dual tailgate, in favour of a conventional fifth door.

The styling of the next-generation Superb is said to be heavily influenced by the recent Vision C concept, and so it will have crisper lines and the saloon will have a more coupé-like profile.

As before, the Superb will probably be offered in four-wheel drive form, although this third-generation model won’t have the option of V6 petrol or diesel engines. The range-topper is likely to be a 280bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol model.

Further out, Skoda bosses are mulling over a third SUV for the line-up which is likely to be a sportier crossover model, described by an insider as "a good-value BMW X4 or Range Rover Evoque". A baby Nissan Juke-rivalling car has been ruled out on the grounds that it can only be sold in Europe and can’t work in China.

Skoda bosses have also ruled out making niche models such as a sports car or coupé for the time being. It’s believed that the firm wants to get to 2018 targets only by operating in large established segments.

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New Honda NSX takes to the Nurburgring for final testing
New Honda NSX takes to the Nurburgring in final testing Honda's long-awaited NSX puts in some fast laps at the Nürburgring ahead of a likely reveal later this year and sales starting in 2015

Honda is putting the final touches to its new NSX sports car ahead of a likely reveal later this year.

Looking visually similar to the prototype model which has already been seen putting in laps in Ohio, this latest mule has taken to the Nürburgring in what is likely to be the final stages of testing.

Among the minor changes made to the production bodywork is the adoption of a seperate lower grille at the front, while the bonnet gets new air vents.

Honda has already confirmed the new model will be built at its Performance Manufacturing Centre in Ohio from next year. The firm has promised the new car will offer "the excitement of a [Ferrari] 458 at the price of the [Porsche] 911." Therefore, it's likely that starting prices for the new car will sit at around £75,000.

As well as the Ferrari and Porsche, other benchmark cars the manufacturer has reportedly used for development include the Nissan GT-R, Audi R8 and McLaren 12C.

The new NSX was first revealed in concept form at the Detroit motor show in 2012. The production car retains the concept's Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (Super Handling All Wheel Drive) system, which sees a mid-mounted V6 petrol engine mated to an electric motor which drives the rear wheels.

Twin electric motors also drive the front wheels, while the powertrain is fixed to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Total power is likely to be around 400bhp, but the most significant factor in the NSX's performance is likely to be its torque - harvested from three electric motors as well as the engine. Its layout should also provide the NSX with sharp handling, as the twin electric motors in the front also allow torque vectoring.

Honda has previously confirmed that a convertible version of the car will also be launched, following at least two years after the standard car goes on sale in 2015. 

Other pictures appear to show this test mule suffering a fire while performance testing at the circuit. The car can be seen smouldering with much of its bodywork and components destroyed.

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Mercedes starts testing new C63 AMG coupe
Mercedes starts early testing on new C63 AMG coupe Hot new coupé to join C63 AMG saloon, estate and convertible variants before the end of 2016, with power coming from a new 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine

Mercedes-Benz has started early testing on a new C63 AMG coupé. The model, which is expected to join the C-class line-up at the end of next year, has been spotted carrying out performance tests at the Nürburgring.

With the current C63 AMG coupé is due to continue production until May next year, this early development mule wears bodywork from the upcoming C63 AMG saloon, with only its modified track giving away its true identity.

The C63 AMG saloon is due to go on sale following a public debut at the LA motor show in November, with estate, coupe and cabriolet versions set to join it before the end of 2016.

As with the other planned C63 AMG variants, the C63 AMG coupé is likely to use a new twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine with close to 500bhp.

That engine will replace the current C63 AMG's 6.2-litre V8 engine, which comes with 451bhp in standard form. The use of forced induction on the new model is likely to push its available torque beyond the 443lb ft of today's car.

Mercedes is likely to pitch the new C63 AMG coupé directly against the new BMW M4, which comes with 425bhp from its 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

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Presenting the laser-guided Range Rover of the future
Presenting the laser-guided Range Rover of the future Wider, larger cars are beginning to dominate the urban sprawl, and that could spell disaster for commuters unless new technology can ease the way

London’s Albert Bridge – a very pretty and illuminated part-suspension bridge – crosses the Thames between Chelsea and Battersea. It often appears in films and TV ads (Cheryl Cole’s new hairspray is the latest).

A few years ago, it was closed to traffic for over a year for repairs. Kensington and Chelsea council blamed ‘Chelsea tractors’ for damaging the fragile structure, which had a two tonne weight limit. 

That turned out to be a load of spin: the damage was mostly being caused by London’s Black Cab fleet, which easily weigh over two tonnes with a couple of passengers on board.

After the re-vamp, the bridge’s weight limit was upped to three tonnes. With Black Cabs now less of a threat, the real problem for the bridge would clearly have been commercial vehicles, such as super-sized vans and lorries.

Common sense would suggest that the best way to prevent the vans crossing the bridge would be to install a height restriction. Instead, the council re-installed the dreaded width restrictors at each end of the bridge. 

These pillars are permanently scarred by the impact of expensive premium metal as car drivers struggle to squeeze through the steel trap. I have a feeling that the distance between these tank traps has not been reconsidered since somebody measured a 1978 Ford Cortina across the mirrors.

Of course, cars are getting wider and wider, making it tricky to negotiate even common obstacles like supermarket car parks and 1970s multi-stories. Both Gatwick and Heathrow airports have recently laid out wider parking spaces, as the existing slots were likely to leave even a Vauxhall Insignia driver trapped inside his car, unable to open the driver’s door.

I’ve driven Autocar’s long-term Range Rover and as fabulous as it is, it is also fabulously wide. Indeed, in the UK I’d say it was verging on being too big. Unlike the Mk3 model, with its traditional flat sides, the barrel-sided new model is harder to squeeze around.

A few weeks ago, the inevitable happened. With London’s affluent streets filling up with the new, super-sized, Range Rover and Range Rover Sports, two of them collided in a narrow Chelsea street, resulting in one of the cars rolling over onto its side.

Yes, of course you shouldn’t be using a new-generation Range Rover as a car for local errands, but the punters love the luxury and high-point view. And buying one is all-good for the UK economy.

But still, these cars are now demonstrably more difficult to drive in urban conditions, whether it’s London’s gold-paved districts or the Waitrose car park in Leamington Spa.

Fear not, though, because a solution is being developed by JLR engineers as you read this. As part of a recent technical presentation at JLR’s Gaydon facility, we were shown very early work on ‘structured light’ – laser to you and me – projections. 

Research engineer Paul Widdowson originally came up with the idea to project orange arrows onto the road surfaces after he got hemmed in on a motorway because the other drivers couldn’t see his indicators.

However, Widdowson demonstrated something even more useful. A green box is projected a few meters ahead of the vehicle and is the exact width of the car. Fitted to a Range Rover, the laser box – which can be seen in sunlight - would give a driver a way of picking through tight urban streets knowing the exact width of their vehicle as well as giving a clear indication when a gap is too narrow.

JLR is pushing ahead with suppliers on putting the idea into production. So if you think big SUVs are annoying now, wait until they start projecting multi-coloured lights onto the road surface as they sweep by.

At last, it looks like Smart is beginning to earn its name
At last, Smart is beginning to earn its name Apologies are no longer needed, as the latest Smart Fortwo and Forfour look set to become an intelligent choice

At the Birmingham motor show of 1999, not quite 15 years ago, I made one of the daftest car purchases in a lifetime of fairly flakey transactions.

I bought a grey-imported Smart Fortwo directly off the importer’s none-to-impressive stand, paying all the money to have a car that at the time was considered a rarity.

I was so beguiled by the its petite shape and technical wonders (which of us had owned an 2.5 metres long, 599cc turbocharged three-cylinder car before?) that I didn’t care that it didn’t steer or ride very well.

I didn’t even mind that the major plastic panels were lipstick pink, though within a few days I did change those to black, because at the time it was easy.

The car stayed with us at our semi-rural home for three years and was quickly improved in both handing and ride by a fat set of Brabus wheels.

It was also driven uncomplainingly by my missus until two things happened: she started having to ply the motorways to get to a new job (early Smarts were rubbish in crosswinds) and early one morning she came into sharp contact with the world’s largest badger, which shook her up quite a bit. We traded it for a Mercedes soon after.

All these years I’ve retained my tendency to apologise for Smarts and their drawbacks. If you tried hard, you could cope with the slow and obstructive gearchange. If you changed the wheels and tyres you could improve the turn-in to the point where it was almost as good as a so-so conventional car. You could improve the ride just by driving around the worst of the bumps.

Suddenly, I discover that my 15 years of apologies are no longer needed. I’ve driven the new five-speed manual version of the forthcoming Fortwo, and been driven for another 30 miles in a version equipped with the new double-clutch gearbox.

The car, still 2.6-metres long, can cope quite well with bumps. The electric power steering – insofar as you can assess steering while manoeuvring a little car around a carpark – is light, nicely geared and sensitive. The automatic gearbox, no longer a cheapo automated manual, surges smoothly up through the six ratios like any other self-shifting Mercedes.

Meanwhile, the extra 10cm of track and body width make the car more stable in crosswinds (“No longer an issue,” say the engineers) and there’s now ample shoulder room – to go with the headroom and legroom, which were always good.

In short, the baby Smart is heading for a whole new lease of life. Many congrats to Mercedes-Benz, who seem to have got it right, while taking an uncharacteristically long time about it.

Read more about the new Smart Fortwo and Forfour

Furtive e-GT electric supercar - exclusive pictures
Furtive e-GT electric supercar - exclusive pictures The boss of Exagon Motors, the company behind the £360,000 Furtive e-GT, reports significant interest in the carbonfibre battery-powered vehicle

Exagon Motors says it has sold the first 12 months of production of its new Furtive e-GT electric supercar. Based on the Swiss and US pricing, the e-GT is likely to cost any UK buyer around £360,000.

Speaking to Autocar in London, where the car made an appearance at the Salute to Style event last weekend, Luc Marchetti, chairman of Exagon Motors and brain behind the Furtive e-GT's development, said that the company wasn’t going to employ a conventional dealer network.

"We don’t need retail showrooms. We will be using 'ambassadors' [to promote the car]. The e-GT is aimed at the sort of person who has everything," he said.

It’s also possible that the e-GT could be promoted within high-end retail environments, trading on a combination of "French luxury and European technology". Marchetti says that annual production will initially run at about 150 units per year.

The e-GT is based around a carbonfibre structure, which is manufactured close to the Magny-Cours race circuit in France and weighs just 124kg. The e-GT’s SAFT lithium-ion battery pack – SAFT is said to be the leading battery supplier in the aerospace industry - is mounted in the floor of the structure and weighs 480kg.

Unusually for an electric car, the e-GT has a three-speed gearbox. Currently, most electrically driven vehicles have a single-ratio transmission, but Marchetti says there is no torque interruption from the twin Siemens electric motors, which send a base 380lb ft to the rear wheels between 0 and 5000rpm. Marchetti said that such is the torque at the rear wheels, Michelin had to engineer a new kind of tyre to deal with it.

The e-GT has a range of 224 miles on the battery pack and buyers also have the option of a range-extending petrol-fired engine/generator. Described as a "small capacity combustion engine", it is designed to run at a constant speed and returns a claimed 41mpg when it is solely powering the car.

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My personal alternatives to a new £56k BMW M4
My alternatives to a £56k BMW M4 You can buy a lot with £56,000, including a new BMW M4. Here's what I'd fill my garage with if I was spending my own money

In the 16 July issue of Autocar (all good newsagents, etc) some of our staff and contributors outlined how they’d spend £56,650 – the same money as buys a brand new BMW M4 – if they had to spend it on something other than a BMW M4.

Our writers’ choices included a Jaguar F-type coupé, a BMW M5 and Lotus 2-eleven, a Ferrari 550 and a motorcycle and so on. Good calls all.

I was not asked to suggest how I’d spend the equivalent. Partly that’s because, in my role as road test Stabskapitänleutnant, I had to write pithy verdicts on everyone else’s choices.

But mostly it was because I would have chosen a dozen or so old sheds and snotboxes and nobody in the office wanted to hear about them.

Nor do you, probably, but I’m going to tell you anyway. In no particular order, then:

1) A BMW R100 RS, lightly fettled, at around £3000.

2) A Datsun 240Z, in tidy condition at £12,000. I’d use this a lot.

3) A tidy two-stroke kart for messing around on, at £1200. I’ve already got a trailer.

4) A Volvo XC90 to tow said trailer. Around £4500 will do it and I suspect it would get used all the time.

5) A Honda CG125 plus some parts, and a lot of time to make it look like a classic pared-down scrambler. Call it a £1200 project.

6) A mid-80s Mercedes-Benz SL for when the sun is out or there’s a posh do; £10,000.

7) I’d quite like an ex-army Land Rover Defender, plus I’d spend a few quid on some interior mats and yellowy-sandy-coloured paint. Call it £2935.

8) I know I like the idea of a big American coupe with a vast V8 for the occasional cruise. I also know that I know nothing about the Dodge Polara. But given it has a 5.7-litre V8, two doors, extreme proportions and could arrive here – according to the adverts – for around £8000, I’m game for finding out.

9) I know rather more about Caterham Sevens, because I owned one. I’d like another, and an ex-Academy car for road use, hillclimbs or racing. Around £9500 would do it.

10) I regret selling the Caterham almost as much as I regret selling my Ducati 748. It was a lot better than I was at riding it, and better looking to my eyes than any other modern motorbike. Some £2900 would get me another to look at and be in awe of.

That’s me done, then, at £55,235 precisely. That leaves me a little left over for some further fettling and maybe even some insurance.

So, how would you spend your money?

See what the other Autocar staffers picked here.

Autocar magazine 23 July preview
Autocar magazine 23 July preview BMW 2-series Active Tourer driven; first impressions of the new Lexus NX; Mercedes-Benz C-class full road test; Jaguar F-type vs Porsche 911 Targa; buy a used Nissan 200SX

This week's issue of Autocar magazine, dated 23 July 2014, assesses one of the most talked-about new cars of the year – the new BMW 2-series Active Tourer.

The family friendly model ushers in the German manufacturer's new line of front-wheel-drive vehicles, aimed at tempting customers out of away from the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus.

We drive the diesel variant of the 2-series Active Tourer in Austria, and get the low down on BMW's intentions for the new vehicle from the manufacturer's sales director Ian Robertson.

Our in-depth road test assesses the new Mercedes-Benz C-class. Can our perennial runner-up in this class behind the BMW 3-series finally reach the top spot? Our expert testers analyse every aspect of the car, from ride and handling through to interior comfort and residual values.

We have our first test in the Lexus NX, the Japanese manufacturer's mid-size SUV rival for the likes of the BMW X3 and Range Rover Evoque.  

This week's comparison test pitches the Jaguar F-type against the Porsche 911 Targa. Does Britain or Germany win the battle of the fast open-tops? Find out in our six-page analysis.

Our long-term test fleet bids goodbye to the Morgan Plus 8, which has kept us mightily entertained over recent months. But does it make a practical ownership proposition in our opinion? Read our verdict in the issue.

The Nissan 200SX is the subject of our used buying guide. If you want an older sports coupé that’s accessible and fun to drive, this sports coupé could be just the ticket, and examples can now be found for as little as £2500

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

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Volvo promises pioneering safety tech for all-new XC90
Volvo promises pioneering safety tech for all-new XC90 The new Volvo XC90 SUV, which is due to be revealed in August, will come packed with new safety tech including an advanced park assist package and accident detection

Volvo claims the all-new XC90 SUV - which is due to go on sale later this year - will be one of the safest vehicles ever made. Among the new model's standard safety systems will be two claimed world-first technologies, including new accident avoidance and junction braking systems.

The expanded safety tech is part the firm's plan that nobody will die or be seriously injured in a new Volvo car by 2020.

Key among the XC90's safety features is a new system for protecting cars which have been forced off the road in accidents - something Volvo claims is a world first. 

The system, dubbed Safe Positioning, combines pre-tensioning the front seat belts if a crash is detected with using an energy-absorbing seat to minimise spinal injuries. 

A lane departure warning system can also apply torque to the steering wheel, while a driver alert system detects if motorists aren't paying attention and directs them to the nearest rest stop.

Another technology which Volvo claims is a world first is its junction braking system. If the XC90 detects that a rear impact by a vehicle at a junction is imminent, it pre-tensions the seat belts, as well as activating lights to warn the driver behind. The system also protects against turning into the path of an oncoming car. Volvo says its seats use the next generation of whiplash protection technology to prevent injuries.

Meanwhile, a roll-over prevention system can apply braking force to wheels and restrict engine torque if the vehicle is in danger of rolling over. A new Queue Assist can also allow the car to take over autonomous acceleration, braking and steering when manouvering in a slow-moving queue. City braking, road sign recognition and blind spot monitoring systems also feature. 

Buyers will also be able to specify a new suite of assistance technologies dubbed IntelliSafe. An extended parking assist function can guide motorists into parking bays while monitoring the area around the car for traffic, while a 360-degree view is presented to the driver inside.

The Safe Positioning, lane assist, driver alert, junction braking, city braking and road sign recognition systems have already been confirmed as standard equipment on the new car, although Volvo won't reveal exact specification or pricing information until closer to its launch.

The company has already revealed the powertrain options which will be available when the new XC90 goes on sale. Offered from the outset will be a T8-badged petrol-electric hybrid as well as D5 and D4 diesel options.

Read Autocar's first ride in the new Volvo XC90 prototype

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What to look out for at the 2014 Paris motor show
Paris motor show 2014 preview One of the biggest motor shows of the year, the Paris motor show in October will feature new model debuts from Audi, Jaguar, Ford, Smart, Volvo and many more

The 2014 Paris motor show begins on October 2 and Autocar will be there to bring you all the latest new car reveals, event pictures and industry news from the show stands.

Among the most-anticipated new car reveals are the Jaguar XE, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Volvo XC90, Smart Fortwo and Forfour and the Mercedes-AMG GT

There'll also be concept cars, facelifted models and some surprises, and we'll be updating this page as more cars are confirmed in the run up to the show, which takes place at the Paris expo in Porte de Versailles.

Below is our current list of the new models we expect at the Paris motor show. If you're heading to the show, let us know what you're looking forward to seeing in the comments section below.

Audi TT Roadster 

Audi's open-top version of the new TT is due to go on sale in the UK next year following its Paris debut. Likely to keep the standard car's range of four-cylinder engines, the TT Roadster could have as much as 227bhp available when coupled to a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol powerplant.

Audi S6 facelift

The hot S6 saloon is in line for a mild facelift, with revisions focusing on a tweaked front-end design and new LED headlights. Power from its 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged engine could be upgraded, too, to around 429bhp. That means an improvement on the current 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds is likely. 

Audi RS3 

To take on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG and BMW M235i, Audi needs a seriously hot hatchback. The manufacturer is set to unveil its new RS3 at the Paris motor show, already confirming that it will offer more than the 335bhp found in the previous RS3. It has been rumoured that the car's 2.5-litre forced-induction engine could produce as much as 355bhp.

Audi R8

Although not yet officially confirmed for Paris, it's likely that Audi will want to showcase its second-generation R8 supercar at the event. The sister car to the Lamborghini Huracan, the new R8 will be offered in all-wheel drive form only and will be powered by today's range of V8 and V10 engines.

Fiat 500X

Due to go into production early next year, the Fiat 500X is the sister car to the new Jeep Renegade. It will complete the Fiat 500 family line-up, sitting alongside the current 500L. While engine options have yet to be revealed, expect them to come from Fiat's existing MultiAir diesel and TwinAir petrol offerings.

Ford S-Max

Final testing on the second-generation S-Max MPV is already underway, with Ford expected to stick closely to the S-Max concept car in terms of styling. Underpinned by Ford's global C/D platform – the same as the Mondeo and Fusion – the new S-Max will aim to continue the sales success of the current car. A super-luxury Vignale version will also be launched in 2015.

Honda Civic facelift

Honda will be hoping to remedy slow sales of its Civic hatchback with a facelift, with the most major change being new front-end styling. Destined to get some of the same design treatment as the upcoming Civic Type-R, the hatch will also benefit from new, sportier versions being launched to help improve its image.

Hyundai i20

Rivalling the likes of the Kia Rio and Volkswagen Polo, as well as the class-leading Ford Fiesta, Hyundai's new i20 will mainly use carried-over engines, but with a likely addition being the 66bhp 1.0-litre option from the new i10. Expect sporty versions to come later, too, launched under Hyundai's new N performance brand.

Jaguar XE

Having already confirmed that its new BMW 3-series rival will be revealed in London in September, it's likely that Jaguar will choose Paris to show the XE to the public for the first time. Powered by a new range of 'Ingenium' engines and underpinned by a new lightweight architecture, the XE will go on sale in the UK early next year.

Kia Sorento

Kia's third-generation Sorento SUV gets the same Cross GT concept-inspired front-end styling as the new Sedona MPV, and is expected to go on sale at the start of next year. Facing competition from the likes of the Nissan X-Trail and Mitsubishi Outlander, the Sorento is likely to feature a more upmarket interior to take on more premium rivals.

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Taking many of its design cues from the Land Rover Discovery Vision concept car, the Discovery Sport will be the first model in the new, extended Discovery family. Replacing the Freelander, the Discovery Sport will initially only be available in five-seat form, though a seven-seat option will join the line-up soon after launch.

Mazda MX-5

Some Mazda enthusiasts will get their first glimpse of the all-new MX-5 sports car in September, but its full public debut won't be until the Paris show. One of the most anticipated cars of the show, the new MX-5 features the familiar rear-wheel drive layout, with power coming from an four-cylinder engine of which few details are currently known.

Mercedes-Benz S500

Due to go on sale in the UK in November at a price of around £89,000, the S500 plug-in hybrid has a claimed electric-only range of 20 miles. Using a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, the S-class is also claimed to return more then 100mpg yet can reach 62mph in 5.2 seconds.

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

The first of four planned C63 AMG variants, the C63 AMG estate looks set to be the first to launch, with saloon, coupé and cabriolet body styles following by 2016. Powered by a new twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine developing between 480bhp and 580bhp, the C63 AMG estate should also offer up to 1510 litres of storage space.

Mercedes-AMG GT

The long-awaited successor to the Mercedes SLS supercar, the AMG GT will be powered by a new 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine with 503bhp. Borrowing parts of its interior from the new C-class, the AMG GT is said to "thrill with breath-taking design and supreme agility".

Skoda Fabia

We've already seen Skoda's new Fabia hatchback almost completely undisguised, with testing pictures revealing the Fabia will take on the cleaner, more modern design also seen on the current Rapid and Octavia. Around the same size as today's car, power will come from a pair of 1.2- and 1.4-litre petrols and a 1.6-litre diesel, though the Citigo's 1.0-litre engine could also be offered.

Smart Fortwo and Forfour

The launch of these two city cars marks something of a rebirth for the Smart brand. The new Forfour will take on the Renault Twingo (with which it shares mechanical underpinnings), Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 108 and Citroën C1. The design of both Fortwo and Foufour are heavily influenced by a string of concept cars dating back to 2011.

Suzuki Compact SUV

Inspired by the iV-4 concept car, Suzuki's new compact SUV will take on the likes of the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur in Europe. Likely to share the same engine line-up as the new SX4 S-Cross, the car will be built in Hungary.

Vauxhall Corsa

Due to go on sale in the UK during the same month as its Paris debut, the new Corsa has its sights squarely set on the Ford Fiesta, as it looks to take that car's crown as the best-selling car in the UK. Expected to cost less than £10,000 in base form, the new Corsa features a new turbocharged 1.0-litre powerplant in its engine range.

Volkswagen Passat

The eight-generation Passat has gone upmarket in a significant shift, as VW looks to take on the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Entry-level models are expected to cost around £22,000, with the initial saloon and estate models joined by Alltrack versions as well as a new third-generation CC in 2015.

Volvo XC90

The new XC90 is the first Volvo to be based on the Swedish firm's SPA platform. Alhough its seven-seat interior has already been revealed, the exterior styling of the new XC90 is still under wraps. Volvo's own four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines will power the car, while a petrol-electric hybrid version also be available from launch.

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Lexus NX
Lexus NX An over-firm ride and a lack of driver engagement detract from the appeal of Lexus's rival to the BMW X3, Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q5 The BMW X3-sized Lexus NX was born out of 2013’s LF-NX concept. The edgy-looking concept previewed the production car you see here, a model designed with SUV-loving Europe as its top market in mind as Lexus bids to give its sales a leg-up here.The looks aren’t to all tastes but you can’t accuse it of being bland. The styling is not the only standout point for the new NX, however, because the new SUV also gets the first airing of Lexus’s new turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine.Buyers can alternatively opt for an efficient petrol-electric hybrid variant, called the Lexus NX300h, which is set to take 90 per cent of sales in the continued absence of diesel from Lexus’s range.The NX300h hybrid comes with standard front- or optional four-wheel drive and reaches the UK in October priced from £29,495; the NX200t petrol is due next March and exclusively available in four-wheel drive and F Sport trim.The new turbocharged engine is pleasing enough; the 2.0-litre turbo unit is potent with 235bhp and a hefty 258lb ft of torque available from just 1650rpm. It’s hooked up to a new six-speed automatic gearbox, driving all four wheels.Performance is brisk without having passengers reaching for the grab handles, the claimed 7.1sec 0-62mph figure feeling perfectly believable. The 50-75mph time of 6.0sec also indicates plenty of mid-range shove, before it trails away at the top end. While it feels brisk in this application, it would feel brisker still if it was hooked up to a better gearbox. The new six-speeder is fine for most situations, but it can hesitate to kickdown when you’re looking for sudden acceleration.It can also be tricky to drive it smoothly if you want to push on, something highlighted by the increasing smoothness of the likes of eight-speed or more autos offered by Lexus’s rivals. Still, the gearbox, along with throttle response, can be sharpened up a touch by selecting the Sport mode in the Drive Mode Select (Eco and Normal are the other options).The performance does feel a good match for a car of the NX’s size and weight; there was never a situation where we needed more shove. At motorway cruising speeds it’s also quiet and comfortable, with no refinement issues – as you’d expect from a Lexus. Economy is never going to be a strong point of such a unit – and a reason why volumes are expected to be so small in the UK in the face of the more economical hybrid – but the 34mpg pending combined economy figure is achievable on longer out of town runs. The NX300h combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol engine with an electric motor to drive the front wheels. A new addition to the drivetrain from its applications to the IS300h and GS300h in the NX is an additional electric motor for the rear axle, making the NX300h four-wheel drive, in all versions from SE up (so SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier). The base S model is only offered in front-wheel drive configuration.On paper the NX300h is a very appealing car, with its real selling point of 55.4mpg combined economy and 117g/km CO2 emissions very impressive for a car of its size.However, as with this drivetrain’s application in other Lexus models, it’s just not much fun to drive. Even the most minor of throttle inputs is accompanied by a drone from the powertrain, which quickly grates. Performance isn’t that strong either, with throttle response lazy even in the sharper Sport and Sport + modes offered through the Drive Mode Select.Lexus makes a big thing of the lightness and rigidity of the NX’s body, and sophistication of the MacPherson strut front, double wishbone rear suspension in creating a smooth ride quality yet engaging drive.The F Sport trim (standard on the NX200t and optional on the NX300h) adds firmer performance dampers to the so-called Adaptive Variable Suspension system in addition to 225/60 R18-shod 18in alloys (and a host of sporty cosmetic upgrades inside and out).At town speeds, the NX does not ride well. It is too firm and cannot be considered comfortable or soothing. Although Lexus has stated its desire to make its cars more dynamic and involving, this should not be to the detriment of a liveable ride quality.The ride quality does improve at speed, but it still never fully settles in the way it should. We briefly tried an NX300h devoid of F Sport trim so therefore without the firmer dampers, and the ride was softened off to a more bearable level.The NX handles better than it rides, cornering competently and flatly with decent body control and plenty of grip. We’d like greater communication between car and driver though, particularly from the somewhat lifeless steering, which adds extra weight but no extra feel when the Sport mode is opted for in Drive Mode Select.There’s more positive news inside, as the interior design is as eye-catching as the exterior. The NX’s cabin looks and feels plush and of a high quality, and has a clear hierarchy to the controls on the centre console, many of which have been pared back from previous Lexus cabins and are now controlled using a touchpad linked to the infotainment screen in the dash.The touchpad, called Remote Touch Interface, lacks the overall finesse of a smartphone screen, but is intuitive enough and not too sensitive, options easy to select. It’s all largely positive before pushing the engine starter button, then.On first acquaintance, the NX is a car with so much going for it, which is ultimately why we’re frustrated with how Lexus has limited its appeal in the way it drives. It looks great inside and out, is of a high quality, has a spacious cabin with a good driving position, big boot and plenty of useful technology and thoughtful touches, like a wireless charging mat for your smartphone.For many, those strong selling points may well be enough, and by all means try the NX to see if you can live with its dynamic shortcomings. But there is no getting away from the fact the NX is only okay to drive and certainly no match for the class-leading BMW X3. 

Video: Driving Bentley's new 206mph Continental GT Speed on the track
Can we max out Bentley's new Continental GT Speed on track? Matt Burt takes it for a spin

We take Bentley's new £156,700, 206mph Continental GT Speed to an airfield to see if we can reach its claimed top speed, with Matt Burt behind the wheel.

Read the full Bentley Continental GT Speed first drive

Is a second-hand Mercedes-Benz CL the best big coupe money can buy?
Is a second-hand Mercedes-Benz CL the best big coupe money can buy? There's never been a better time to consider a luxurious German coupé as a used purchase, although there's an element of risk involved

Is there any better plus-sized luxury saloon than the Mercedes-Benz S-class? Of course not. The thing is, though, there can often be a superfluous number of doors.

Thank goodness then for the Mercedes-Benz CL-class, which you can enjoy driving without being mistaken for a private hire chauffeur.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, or the CL. I notice the S500 designation has come back and the big-engined continent-crushing coupé has never been better value or arguably, a riskier buy.

About £2000 gets you into a later 1990s example, or even an early 2000s car at a push. You might feel safer spending £3000, except you probably won’t be whether you bag a CL420 or CL500. As ever there is the usual ragbag collection of Category D insurance write offs and those with marginal, fast-fit centre histories.

You can take a risk and you might get a year out of it without that much drama. Fuel bills will be big and if there is any work required to the suspension, electronics or some bodywork to be finessed, then you will need a mortgage.

It is always worth reminding bargain-hunting used car buyers that the original purchase price is always the best indication of future running costs.

For example, a 1999 Mercedes-Benz 600CL cost £108k. Even with that sobering six-figure sum in mind, I was still tempted by a CL that looked like a part exchange at a home counties car dealer with 115k miles and what seemed to be a full Mercedes history at £3450.

My default safety budget of £5000 throws up one-owner 2004 examples, but also some that have scary air suspension issues.

Then all of a sudden some very tempting AMG-related CL55 versions hove into view along with rather more CL600s than I bargained for. At this point you can also make a choice between a properly built W140 version built from 1992 to 1999, or the later four-eyed W215s that pop up everywhere.

£6000 brings up those lovely old W140s with proper histories and few owners; perfect for traditionalists who can also justify buying an oldster because the road tax is a tad cheaper.

Modernists, though, can pay the thick end of £9999 and get themselves a 2003 CL55, which has a full service history and is being sold by a dealer with some semblance of warranty.

At the right price and spec and with proper credentials is this the best big coupé money can buy? Or should I be looking elsewhere?

Jaguar reveals special Tour de France F-type coupe
Jaguar reveals Tour de France special F-type Coupe Jaguar's new special operations division creates a one-off F-type to be used as a support vehicle for the penultimate stage of the Tour de France bike race

Jaguar has launched a special one-off version of the F-type coupé which will take part as a support vehicle in an upcoming stage of the Tour de France.

The car, which has been created by JLR's new Special Vehicle Operations division, will support Team Sky riders in the penultimate stage of the race, which is run as an individual time trial event.

The support car is a fettled version of the F-type R coupé, with power coming from a stock 542bhp 5.0-litre supercharged V8 engine. It gains a roof rack with space to carry two spare bikes, and is finished in the familiar blue-on-blue Team Sky livery.

Another major modification is a separate electric supply in the boot that provides power to the radios, amplifiers, microphones, horns and televisions, which allows team officials in the car to communicate with Tour officials and race directors.

Usually, support cars are spacious estates, such as Team Sky’s own usual Jaguar XF Sportbrake, with large roof racks carrying spare bikes for all riders – up to nine – for the team.

They follow behind the riders in a stage race, where team officials inside offer tactical advice, support, and can quickly hand over spare bikes in the event of a crash.

However, in an individual time trial such as the upcoming stage 20 – which takes place this weekend – riders go off one-by-one on their own, competing against the clock.

This means the support car only need carry a couple of spare bikes for each individual rider when undertaking the short 34-mile stage from Bergerac to Périgueux in south-west France, rather than spares for all riders as normal.

Consequently, Jaguar has ditched the XF Sportbrake for one stage only, creating this special F-type R coupé in its place. The firm says it has no plans to offer this special version for series production. 

Jaguar has also released a short video of the car.

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Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge prototype first drive review
Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge prototype first drive review The high-performance Q50 Eau Rouge is more than just a concept and previews what could be an incredible sports saloon Infiniti’s four-door retort to the likes of the Audi RS6, BMW M5, Jaguar XFR and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG – the rapid Q50 Eau Rouge.First unveiled as a so-called concept at the Detroit motor show back in January, the four-wheel drive performance saloon, which runs a modified engine from no less a car than the mighty Nissan GT-R, is the brain child of former Infiniti president, Johan de Nysschen, now residing at Cadillac.Originally assembled as a styling model to test public reaction to plans to take Infiniti into the performance arena with a car developed in partnership with Red Bull Racing, the Q50 Eau Rouge has now been progressed into a road going prototype.Following a debut at the Goodwood Festival Of Speed at the hands of Christian Horner, is now being considered for low volume production, with on-going feasibility studies aiming to place it into UK showrooms by 2016.Development of the new car’s mechanical package is being overseen by Northants-based Ray Mallock Limited, whose road car department has been commissioned to carry out both early conceptual engineering and testing before an expected green light later this year.The starting point for the fastest ever production based Infiniti is the standard Q50, although the changes clearly run deep. This is immediately obvious the moment you see the Q50 Eau Rouge up close. Infiniti’s designers have given it an added dose of visual aggression in line with its extended performance potential.At the front there's a new carbonfibre bumper with added structuring around the grille and an F1 inspired carbonfibre twin plane splitter element, instantly differentiating it from the standard Q50. The fenders have been beefed up to accommodate the widened tracks and there are extravagant looking sills that incorporate extractor ducts for the front wheelhouses to reduce pressure build up at speed and provide an added cooling effect for the front brakes.At the rear, there is a new carbonfibre bumper housing a central LED stop light from Red Bull Racing’s RB9 F1 car, as well as two large stainless steel tail pipes. The Eau Rouge also gets a unique boot lid aimed at increasing downforce without the need to resorting to a separate spoiler.Further aerodynamic developments are in store, according to Infiniti, including an even larger boot lid for greater downforce as well as additional panelling to smooth under-body airflow.To provide the Q50 Eau Rouge with the necessary firepower to see it challenge the lofty acceleration claims of its keener performance saloon rivals, Infiniti’s engineering brain trust has looked beyond the standard Q50 S’s 3.7-litre V6 petrol engine. “We considered using a powered up version of the Q50 S engine but after an initial investigation by our engineers decided it didn’t provide the necessary scope to deliver the sort of power and torque we were looking to provide the car,” says Ray Mallock Limited engineer, Tom Snowball.Taking its place under the bonnet is the highly distinguished twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V6 petrol unit from parent company Nissan’s current GT-R.Sat on lightly modified mounts and boasting a heavily redesigned inlet manifold and intercooler unit packaged to suit the tighter engine bay dimensions of the Q50, the aluminium and magnesium engine has been tuned with bespoke mapping to endow the Eau Rouge with stout 552bhp and 442lb ft of torque.The heady reserves are currently sent to all four wheels via a modified version of Infiniti’s six-speed automatic gearbox – if only for lack of any suitable alternative.Earlier plans to provide the new car with the GT-R’s faster shifting six-speed dual clutch transaxle were ditched due to packaging concerns. Infiniti was keen to ensure the Q50 Eau Rouge retained sufficient accommodation in the rear – something it says would have been heavily compromised had it gone with the dual clutch solution.To see it cope with the wholesale lift in power and torque, Infiniti has extensively modified the four-wheel-drive system, although it is still very much in an early state of development.Underneath the skin – a mixture of steel, aluminium and carbon fibre - is a largely unique chassis. Among the myriad changes is a 100mm increase in the width of the front and rear tracks. Combined with a 15mm lowering in ride height up front and 20mm lowering at the rear, the Q50 Eau Rouge a much more planted stance than its standard sibling.Further changes include special lightweight components, larger anti-roll bars front and rear, firmer spring and dampers, while a set of 20-inch wheels shod with a set of sticky 225/35 profile Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tyres reside underneath the widened fenders, adding to the assertive appearance.

Six alternatives to a new BMW M4
This, or a BMW M4? Our £56,000 alternatives There are many cars which could be bought for the same price as the new BMW M4. Autocar staffers reveal their alternative purchases

Let’s pretend, just for a moment, that the majority of expensive new cars are not actually bought on finance or as company cars.

Let’s imagine, solely because it suits this story, that the accepted way to buy a new car is to stroll into a dealership with nigh on £60k’s worth of bank notes in your hand and place them quietly on to a salesperson’s desk and gently ask if they’d mind, awfully, exchanging them for a BMW M4.

A new M4, with manual transmission and no options – not that anybody will buy one like that – retails at £56,650, and very pleasing it is, too. With 424 twin-turbocharged nags, a limited-slip differential and rear-wheel drive, it is a coupé to be adored. It drives well. It seats four. It swallows golf clubs. And it is as capable at driving to and from the Nürburgring as it would be around the circuit when it got there. 

Do we like the idea of that? Consider our boat duly floated. But what if you had the requisite £56,650 to do with as you pleased in motordom, but didn’t want an M4. Where should you take your bank notes instead? And would you be better off doing so?

Personally, I’d have about a dozen ropey old sheds and snotters, have greasy fingers and no personal life, so I have been banned from the game. Instead, we have asked some of our esteemed contributors what they would do – and below are their proposals.

Steve Cropley - Jaguar F-type coupé

You'll clock that when it comes to spending Mr Prior’s £56k, my colleagues have mostly taken the two-car option. In a way, I admire their enterprise.

However, a lifetime of chucking good money after bad on cars old and new (not to mention about 50 motorcycles, two aeroplanes and a boat), I can tell you with certainty that the most enjoyable course is to choose one fabulous car that you can enjoy every day of the week. It simplifies everything: garaging, insurance, servicing, deciding what to drive tomorrow.

That’s why I’ve chosen the Jaguar F-type V6 S coupé. First of all, it’s one of the most satisfying cars that I’ve driven for years, exciting for its performance yet reassuringly easy to drive because of its precision.

Once you learn its capabilities (I’m tempted to say ‘limits’ but you’ll never approach most of them, on the road) it feels like something you wear. Subtle stuff like brake assistance build-up and steering gearing is exactly as I’d choose it myself. I like that feeling that I’m stepping straight into a car the great Mike Cross has just signed off.

There has been criticism of the ride. Some find it too firm. It seems fine to me and – important – also to the missus who (I’ve learned from long experience) has to sign up to any car we buy for it to be fully enjoyed.

The F-type is firm, but also taut and controlled. It looks terrific and is unmistakable as the new F-type. And in the more rigid, more precise coupé, even the boot space is respectable.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the coupé costs £60,000, not the £56,000 I’m offered by Mr P. The hell with it; to make up the difference, I’ll sell the racing pigeons and take on a paper round.

Matt Prior's verdict - Not bad at all, Steve. A fine-handling car with poise, and purpose, and for my money the F-type’s engine sounds better than the BMW’s. Talking of money, you owe us £3600.

Nic Cackett - Ariel Atom and Ford Focus RS

Yes, you can have an old Ferrari for £56k. You can have a fully loaded, last of the last-gen Range Rover, too. Or a slightly used Bentley GT. But I wouldn’t, and you shouldn’t, either.

If we’re spending M4 money in the real world, and not just indulging in some Pistonheads browsing fantasy, I want something that I could afford to run without the need to swap road testing for hedge fund management. 

In fact, I want two things. Because, inevitably, I want to go hazardously quickly very occasionally on my own and moderately quickly the rest of the time, potentially with others aboard.

The first criteria is easy to fulfil. For affordable track and summer day silliness, you buy British. And brand new, too, because a combination of low volume and high demand means that you get more of your money back.

The Ariel Atom 3.5 pictured is the 245, the oft-forgotten entry-level car. It’s often forgotten because its 2.0-litre Honda VTEC engine lacks the supercharger that made its more expensive siblings the subject of instant renown.

However, in my view, a bit less shove actually helps to make the car’s hectic potential seem like a tappable resource rather than a bottomless well of whining excess. By the time you’ve added a limited-slip diff and had it taxed and tested, the Atom will have set you back £32,795. 

That leaves £23,205. Used Porsche Cayman money. But anything with six cylinders or more is out (see earlier conviction) and a requirement for back seats and a boot puts us in hot hatch territory. You could opt for a new car here, too – Ford Fiesta ST3 – and be very happy, but I’ve indulged my hankering for the Blue Oval’s other recent great: the Mk2 Focus RS.

You’ll need all the remaining budget for a decent example and, yes, the warbling in-line five does like a drink. Even so, it’s the leggy Volvo donkey that now marks the car out as special, its brawny, big-engine flexibility proving a likeable world away from the current generation of overstrung four-pots. That and the exceptional front-drive chassis to which it is connected. 

Thus you have broad-batted amenability, nonchalance and invigoration for the working week, and hair-on-fire exhilaration for Sunday best. Everything the M4 is trying to be, in fact, but utterly more so.

Matt Prior's verdict - Decent choices, NC: a nice-sounding, entertaining tin-top for carrying stuff, and an Atom for ideal thrills when you reach the right road. Now, can you fit a towbar to the old five-cylinder warbler?

Hilton Holloway - Skoda Superb and BMW M235i

So with a notional £56k to play with, the first thought that comes to mind is that I won’t be buying some ‘classic’. If there’s one thing that (briefly) owning old cars taught me, it is that they are an unreliable money pit best suited to inveterate fiddlers and tinkerers.

So with new cars on the list, it’s hard to beat the ‘small body, big engine’ formula. I can still remember – over 20 years on – the thrill of being handed the keys of a Volkswagen Golf VR6 for a weekend. That car’s liquid, humming progress was a revelation. I also ran a Mk4 Golf R32 for a year, another car that combined effortless pace and a handy size.

But nothing quite matched the sophistication of Autocar’s long-term BMW M135i, a small car with a hugely muscular engine. Every time I drove it, I was amazed by the overwhelming sense of really serious engineering that pervaded the car. Really, you only usually get this kind of vibe with seriously expensive cars. 

For me, the M135i feels more ‘special’ than even a Porsche Cayman and right up there in 911 land. Oh, yes, all that and the slingshot performance and exquisite balance. The M135i was an insane bargain at £30k. Its 2-series coupé equivalent, the M235i, is hardly any less so at £35k. Oh, and don’t forget to spec the automatic gearbox. Manuals went out with the Weber downdraught.

With pleasure motoring catered for (and Sundays free to go for a drive rather than spending the day struggling with a feeler gauge), a serious workhorse is needed. Pound for kilo, there’s none better than the Skoda Superb. 

Based on the Chinese-market stretched Passat, it manages to combine both massive passenger space and massive luggage capacity. Rear seats down, the load bay has a much greater height than the shallow bay in the Volvo V70. And if you recline the backrest of the front passenger seat, it’s possible to carry Ikea’s longest flatpack: the 2.6m-long wardrobe door. 

It drives very well and is especially satisfying with the 1.8-litre turbo and a DSG ’box. The Superb is what a Volvo estate really wants to be.

Matt Prior's verdict - I can see where HH is going: the Superb will save waiting at home between 8am and 6pm because it can take its own stuff home from Ikea – allowing more time to drive the M235i, which is a limited-slip diff away from wonderful.

Colin Goodwin - Ferrari 550 and Triumph Tiger

Allan Muir, who turns what I write into something that hopefully someone might want to read, went through a phase of buying new motorbikes, as did a few other mates. Eventually, I got fed up with everyone else having new toys, so I bought a new Triumph Daytona on the drip. 

Jealousy is a dangerous thing, and while I was on holiday in Sri Lanka earlier this year it raised its ugly head again. The owner of the guesthouse in which I was staying happened to be a car fanatic and he and I spent several evenings talking cogs and stuff.

This chap owns not one but two Ferrari 550 Maranellos and swears by them. Add him in and that makes four friends who own or have owned 550s. So given this surprise of M4 money, it is my turn to have one, too. 

I remember the first time that I drove a 550: it was down at Peter Robinson’s place in Italy and Steve Sutcliffe, Stan Papior and I went clubbing in it. (Stan was on the parcel shelf.) Must have been 1996. The 550 felt like it was machined out of solid billet – so strong and tough, with no clonks or free play in the drivetrain. Eighteen years ago, 485bhp was a lot. Now it is puny but that V12 engine is lovely and the Luddite-friendly six on the floor flawed but involving. 

One owner friend said that for every tank of fuel, he had to put £40 in his back pocket as a ‘tyre fund’. I’d only be using the Ferrari for my sparrow-fart Sunday blasts to the coast for a cuppa, so tyre wear wouldn’t be too big an issue, or fuel.

And anyway, that is why I have the Triumph Tiger 800. It has enough poke, it isn’t too heavy for filtering and won’t snap off my leg if it falls over, and it’s easy on fuel. The three-cylinder engine is sweet and sounds cracking with an aftermarket zorst.

Matt Prior's verdict - Ferrari 550s are increasingly hard to get for this money, especially with enough over for a bike. And neither is that practical. But Goodwin has built an aeroplane in the garden shed of a terraced house. So he’ll probably find a way.

Lewis Kingston - Ferrari 308 GTB

An early ‘vetroresina’ Ferrari 308 GTB was the first supercar that I ever experienced. I was eight when I first sat in the passenger seat and, suffice to say, the 308 left quite a mark on me – to the extent that it’s what I’d buy now, if I had the money. I loved everything about it, from its sleek Pininfarina-penned lines to its snug, finely detailed and low-slung interior.

What really leads me to continually recall the 308 GTB, however, is the howl of its quad-cam V8. I will also never forget the first moment that I saw the tachometer of the svelte 2.9-litre engine climb above the 7000rpm mark, the quartet of Weber 40 DCNFs liberally cascading fuel into its intake tracts.

Compared with modern engines, the V8’s claimed 255bhp and 210lb ft barely register on the scale. But you can actually deploy and enjoy this engine to its fullest without risk of instantaneously losing your licence.

What further impressed me at the time was its comparative ease of use. It was well mannered in traffic, factory air-con kept the cabin cool, and the owner rarely had any mechanical issues with it – despite a six-figure mileage and track use.

With a service manual to hand, you could also undertake much of the required general maintenance yourself, making the ownership experience even more gratifying.

Values of 308s are well on the up, so perhaps it’s best to jump in now, rather than miss the boat. You should be able to find a smart steel-bodied 308 GTB with fewer than 80,000 miles on the clock for £50k to £55k. 

Besides having a rare and distinctive Ferrari to enjoy, you could also take comfort in the knowledge that you may have just bought an appreciating asset. A justifiable and usable classic supercar? Just so. 

Matt Prior's verdict - Now here is a car that doesn’t need to augment its engine noise by playing it through the cabin speakers. Would you want to use one every day? I doubt it, but that’s okay: in a month, Lewis will have sold it and bought a muscle car.

Matt Saunders - BMW M5 and Lotus 2-Eleven

I’m spending my M4 money with zero regard for the price of insurance, servicing, tyres or fuel. As everyone knows, this is the only sane way to operate your personal car collection. Better to pick cars that are old enough – and special enough – not to depreciate much, and take the hit on paying as you go to keep them in decent condition. Not lending them to the other tear-arses on the road test desk – or Goodwin – will help.

Splitting the pot, I’d commit the bigger half (£35,000 or so) to the most uncompromised thrill machine I could fit my not so waif-like backside into. Caterham Sevens and Ariel Atoms don’t count because I can’t use them comfortably; too tall, too fat, too many bruised elbows and knees.

But I reckon that you’d be mad to pick an Atom or a Caterham over a Lotus 2-Eleven anyway. Although not as light, the Lotus makes a better track car because it comes on full-sized wheels and tyres, is decently aerodynamic and more stable at high speeds than the little ’uns. It’s also usable on high days and holidays on the road – just.

I’d be lucky to get one like the now privately owned 2-Eleven you see in the gallery above. A one-off in Lotus’s evocative JPS livery, it was created by Lotus independent trader Scott Walker and supplied by Jamie Matthews of Bell and Colvill. And it’s a knockout. It has unique provenance, too: chassis number 211, with special permission granted for the paintjob. A future collector’s item.

The smaller half of my pot would go on something more practical – but little more sensible. Something to give Munich a bit of love, in the face of all this ‘I don’t want an M4’ talk.

The E60 BMW M5 was the last M car I got truly excited about. Some people can’t stand the ‘Dame Edna’ styling, but the more time passes, the better the car looks to my eyes. 

The one pictured in the gallery above is a saloon, but I’d have a Touring – a later car, as they had more reliable gearboxes, better usability and more rarity value, not to mention narrower rear wheels (nudge, nudge). There’s no reason why you couldn’t put 100,000 miles on one. I reckon you’d savour every warbling 10-cylinder mile.

Matt Prior's verdict - Nice choices by MS. A 2-Eleven is a wonderful thing, and the M5 is okay, too. Certainly worth talking about; and he’ll have plenty of opportunity to chat about it, given that he’ll have to stop at every third petrol station.

What would you buy with your imaginary M4 money? Leave your suggestions below, and read the full BMW M4 review here.

A lap of Silverstone in the Seat Leon Cup racing car
A lap of Silverstone in Seat Leon Cup racing car Autocar's new Seat Leon Cupra 280 meets the Spanish manufacturer's racing machine, the 325bhp Leon Cup car, at Silverstone

We’ve recently welcomed a Seat Leon Cupra 280 hot hatch to our fleet of long-term test cars, so the chance to ride shotgun in the Spanish manufacturer’s new Leon-based racing car was an opportunity not to be passed up.

New for this year, the Leon Eurocup is a one-make race series that visits half a dozen of Europe’s top circuits. This weekend the circus pitched up at Silverstone, where we sat alongside Seat test driver Jordi Gené for a flat-out lap.

The striking Leon Cup car looks like an amped-up version of Autocar’s Leon Cupra 280, which is the hottest version of the hatchback currently on sale in the UK. However, the bodywork isn’t just for show; the huge front splitter and rear spoiler provide substantial amounts of downforce.

Power comes from a two-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine that sends 325bhp and 325lb ft to the front wheels via a paddle-operated six-speed DSG.

The car is 166mm wider than the production Leon Cupra and weighs 1150kg. It rides on 10in by 18in racing wheels and has 362 mm steel brake discs on the front axle and 272mm discs at the rear.

Designed and developed by Seat Sport, the car costs €70,000 before tax, which seems pretty reasonable value.

Gené admits he hasn’t visited Silverstone for five or six years, before the most recent round of alterations were made.

“Do you know the track?” he asks as we wait in the pits for the all clear signal before starting our lap. I reply in the affirmative. “Okay, you can tell me where to go,” he says (in what I hope is jest).

The Leon Cup's engine sounds more meaty than a ‘mere’ four-cylinder as Gene eases down the old F1 pitlane, which filters out on the track after Copse Corner.

He warns me that because we’re the first out on the circuit, the brakes and tyres are cold so he’ll be taking it cautiously for the first few corners. It certainly doesn’t feel that way as he floors the throttle at the end of the pit lane.

As he scrubs of speed for the Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel complex, the sharpness of the braking force is surprising.

“The braking is the most amazing thing about the car,” Gené tells me later. “The deceleration is higher than many GT racing cars because we have big, wide tyres and some downforce on the front.

“This gives us a lot of load on the front axle and we have fitted the biggest brake to could on these rims. This allows the deceleration to be really aggressive. In fact that guys that really go quick, they have to know how to use it because at very high speed you can really lean on the brakes and that takes confidence.”

The Leon’s digital read-out indicates 200kph (about 120mph) on the Wellington Straight, which is one of the few points at which I remember to look at my chauffeur’s inputs rather than gawp at the scenery rushing past the windows.

The composed, controllable way the car moves around in the corners is pleasing; it drifts sweetly, but is not skittish.

“In the fast sections, such as Becketts, you have some lateral g-force, which is unusual for a touring car,” explains Gené.

The new racer is less road car based than its predecessor, the Leon Supercopa, which was based on the second-generation Leon. At the same time, it doesn’t feel as hardcore as some thoroughbred competition cars – for example, it doesn’t feel jarringly uncomfortable over Silverstone’s jagged F1-standard kerbs.

“Another good thing about this car is we managed to make the handling very neutral,” says Gené, “so in the corners there is some understeer but not a lot, and the car is always sliding all four wheels. Making the most of that shows up the good drivers, who know how to slide the car and use it to their advantage.”

From the passenger seat alongside a top-ranking driver, the Leon Cup car feels quick enough to be a challenge, yet accessible enough to be appealing to both experienced tin-top pilots and rookies.

In that respect, it strikes a similar chord as our road-going Leon Cupra 280, which is already proving benign enough for daily driving until the devil horns come out when you press the button that engages full-on Cupra mode.

Mercedes E-class E300 hybrid from Africa to Goodwood - picture special
Mercedes-Benz E-class E300 hybrid from Africa to Goodwood - picture special Andrew Frankel gets behind the wheel for a 27-hour trek from Africa to Goodwood without visiting a filling station

Some things just don’t sound possible. Among them are England winning a penalty shootout, Audi not winning Le Mans and hopping to the North Pole wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

I’d also humbly submit that driving a completely standard car from Africa to England on a single tank of fuel also has that ring of implausibility about it.

But just because it has never been done – indeed, just because it sounds like it never could be done – it doesn’t therefore mean that it absolutely, positively cannot be done. We know this now, because we’ve just done it.

The car was a Mercedes-Benz E300 Hybrid, chosen because the on-paper economy of its 204bhp 2.1-litre diesel engine and 26bhp electric motor, combined with its 80-litre fuel tank (a popular £100 option), provided the best chance.

But all official fuel figures are pretty meaningless these days and none more so than those for hybrids, which are more usefully described as simply misleading. The route from Tangier in Morocco up through Spain and France to the Normandy coast and the ferry from Caen to Portsmouth was clear. Everything else was clouded in uncertainty. 

To make matters far worse, too, I’d had the insane idea of doing it non-stop. It wouldn’t make a damn of difference to whether the car made it, but it gave us something to focus upon. I wanted to drive solo, but the problem was not the 1200-plus miles but the projected drive time, which, with contingencies, approached 30 hours. So for safety’s sake, we took a professional relief driver, too.

All I’ll say about importing a car into north Africa is that it’s something I’ll be spending the next few weeks trying to forget. In my naivety, I thought that we could drive off the ferry, top the car up, turn around and catch the same ferry back.

Suffice to say that by the time we finally arrived back in Algeciras, we’d already been up for 11 hours and burned every second of wriggle room in the schedule, plus an hour that we simply didn’t have.

Some sensible chap suggested that we abandoned the time element, and the only reason I said no was that I was mentally unable to quit before we started. So four hours behind schedule, our convoy of the E-class and two support vehicles full of camera and film crews turned dejectedly north.

Read the full Mercedes-Benz E-class review

I’d had to decide how ‘real’ I wanted this test to be; after all, we could have fitted a vast auxiliary fuel tank and proved nothing. We could also have driven at 30mph, reduced the truck-driving population of western Europe to apoplexy and produced a similarly meaningless result.

Taping up the panel gaps seemed like artificial interference, too, as did folding in the door mirrors and using special tyres. So we used the usual tyre issued on the basic 17-inch rim, which is covered by low-rolling-resistance rubber as standard. But I did think it fair to turn off the air-con and use a car that had already covered over 10,000 miles, the point at which this engine reaches peak efficiency. All luggage went in other vehicles.

The hardest decision was whether to drive alone or in company. But not even I could ignore the fact that a passenger added up to kilos that the car didn’t need to carry, so in addition to this being a hot and exhausting journey, it was now looking like a pretty lonely one, too.

We’d already discovered that the best blend of speed and economy needed both to reach the UK without refuelling and catch our ferry was achieved at  51mph, the lowest speed at which the car would hold top gear on the level. Driving through Europe in the certain knowledge that we wouldn’t get nicked was another complete novelty of the trip.

Three hours in, I made a mistake that made me want to quit there and then. Already feeling I’d earned eight hours in a comfortable bed, I zoomed out the navigation map to show both our start and our finish. And so far as I could see, the car hadn’t actually moved. I could have cried.

The next challenge was conquering stultifying boredom. There is more to economy driving than simply setting the cruise control, sitting back and waiting until you get there, but after a few hours the process becomes second nature and not very interesting.

Worse, all the things that I’d usually do to keep myself alert were off the menu. I couldn’t turn the car into an ice box, or lower the windows and blast air through the cabin, because both would have had an adverse effect on fuel consumption. And I certainly couldn’t blast up to some unpublishable speed to coax a trickle of adrenalin through the arteries.

Nor could I even dose myself to the eyeballs with caffeinated drinks, because caffeine is a diuretic, and I hope you’ll not be too disappointed to learn that I draw the line of civilisation some distance this side of answering calls of nature in the car. So that would have meant more stops, using fuel and time that we simply did not have.

Watch the Mercedes-Benz C-class in action in our video review

Salvation from the tedium came from all seven hours of Alan Partridge’s autobiography, time in which anyone in the least self-conscious about making strange noises in public will be glad to have been by themselves.

By nightfall, we were roughly parallel with Madrid and I was properly tired. So an hour before I reckoned I’d have had enough, I sent the support cars ahead to refuel and attend to their personal needs before I arrived. This meant that by the time I swept – correction, crawled – into the services, Mick, my intrepid relief driver, was ready and waiting. I fell out, then he jumped in and headed off, the E300 stationary for less than a minute. 

In that first stint, the computer reckoned it had done 76.4mpg and, if right, we remained in with a shout. I tried not to dwell on the fact that all such devices lie and that there were mountains between us and France.

I was back behind the wheel by 3am and past the Pyrenees and into France by daybreak. We knew Bordeaux would be bad, and because of the delays caused by our African adventure, we’d be hitting it during the worst of the morning rush. But in fact we were hardly held up at all.

Perhaps a touch worryingly, I don’t remember much about most of France as we motored north past Tours and Le Mans. At every péage, the support team would pay for the E300, so no time was lost running around the car to reach the booth. The fuel consumption looked good, solid as a rock at 76.4mpg. The time did not.

With about three hours to go, it became clear that unless we did something, we were going to miss the boat. So I raised the cruising speed to a recklessly exhilarating 57mph while the crew called Brittany Ferries and begged them to wait for as long as they could. Once more, the team went ahead to clear a way through the port and advise of traffic hold-ups.

There was none. Through a combination of luck with the traffic and just a bit of determination, we managed to throw ourselves on to the back of the ferry. There were even a couple of cars behind us. As for the fuel, the reserve light came on as the car disappeared into the bowels of the boat.

Six hours later, it emerged to dispatch the 22 miles to our final destination at the Goodwood Festival of Speed without delay. Forty-two hours after leaving Algeciras to catch a ferry to Morocco and 26 hours and 23 minutes of driving time since we brimmed the tank in Tangiers, our 1223-mile journey was over. 

The trip computer still said 76.4mpg, although, once brimmed, we discovered that the true consumption had been 73.6mpg. I’d have been impressed if a Smart had done as much, but for a 150mph car weighing two tonnes laden, such numbers are astonishing.

The E300 had ridden beautifully throughout, and with more comfortable seats and a trip computer capable of predicting arrival times based on how the car was being driven, it would have been perfect for such a trip.

What did we prove? To be honest, Africa to the UK on a single tank was simply an engaging headline, a hook for a less eye-catching but altogether more important fact.

The real story here is that we shifted almost 2000kg of car almost 2000km at an average speed of 46mph on just 75 litres of fuel. As adverts for the electrically assisted internal combustion engine go, you are unlikely to find a better one.

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Production VW Golf R400 leads new Ford Focus RS rivals
Production VW Golf R400 leads new Ford Focus RS rivals Ford's upcoming high-performance Focus set to battle Volkswagen's new 395bhp flagship Golf, as well as rivals from Mercedes, Audi and Honda

The spectacular new Ford Focus RS is set to encounter a raft of even more powerful and potentially faster rivals in a burgeoning global market of performance hatchbacks when it reaches showrooms in 2016.

Key among them is a production version of the Volkswagen Golf R400, which, company officials have revealed, has entered an initial stage of development after an enthusiastic response to its public debut at the Beijing motor show last April.

Created by VW’s increasingly prominent R division, the extreme four-wheel-drive hatchback is scheduled to be produced in limited numbers and priced above the recently introduced third-generation Golf R, upon which it is heavily based. It will be a competitor to some highly fancied machinery, including the upcoming second-generation Audi RS3, BMW M235i and more powerful version of the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.

The production version of the R400 is earmarked to get the same version of VW’s turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine as that showcased by the concept.

Developed under the watch of the German car maker’s petrol engine boss, Fritz Eichler – the man behind the A45’s similarly configured powerplant – it kicks out 395bhp at 7200rpm and 332lb ft of torque between 2000rpm and 6000rpm.

The prodigious reserves are sufficient, according to VW’s own performance figures, to provide the 1420kg Golf R400 with a 0-62mph time of just 3.9sec – 1.0sec faster than the Golf R and 0.7sec faster than Mercedes claims for the A45 AMG. An official 174mph top speed is also 19mph up on the governed 155mph of the Golf R and A45 AMG.

Not to be outdone by VW, Mercedes is plotting to extend the performance of the A45 through a lift in the output of its highly strung turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, which already has the highest specific output of any series-production four-pot, at 177bhp per litre.

An AMG insider told Autocar: “We’re not going to simply rest on our laurels. We already have certain developments in store for the M133 [the internal codename for the A45’s engine] that will see us retain a competitive edge if and when our rivals do catch up.”

Although Mercedes’ performance car division denies plans for an A45 AMG Black Series model, work is progressing under the watchful eye of the company’s new engine boss, Christian Enderle, on raising its specific power output close to 200bhp per litre to meet the 395bhp target set by the Golf R400.

Another high-powered rival to the new Focus RS will be the second-generation Audi RS3. Set to make its debut at the Paris motor show in October, it will continue with a turbocharged 2.5-litre, five-cylinder petrol, albeit one that has been heavily updated to meet stringent Euro 6 emissions standards.

Although it is shrouded in secrecy, Audi sources suggest that the output of the new RS3’s engine will increase to a level similar to that of the earlier RS3 Plus, which offered a 20bhp increase on the standard first-generation RS3, at 355bhp.

Even though they are unlikely to offer quite the same level of power as the German trio, work is also progressing on other exciting hot hatchbacks, including the Peugeot 308 R, Honda Civic Type R, Vauxhall Astra VXR and a go-faster version of the Hyundai i30 developed by the firm’s newly formed N performance car division.

Hot hatch rivals - what's coming when

Audi RS3 - 2015

The new RS3 is now only three months away from its debut at the Paris motor show. The turbocharged 2.5 five-cylinder engine will deliver about 355bhp. Quattro all-wheel drive will feature. 

Honda Civic Type R - 2015

Honda has already claimed that the new Civic Type R will be the fastest front-wheel-drive hot hatchback ever to lap the Nürburgring. A 2.0-litre turbocharged engine will produce about 300bhp. 

Peugeot 308 R - 2016 

Peugeot Sport is working on a production version of the 308 R concept. Expect a 270bhp 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine driving the front wheels and some use of carbonfibre.  

Mercedes A45 AMG - 2016

Mercedes-Benz will look to respond to the threat from the Volkswagen Golf R400 by making an even more potent version of the A45 AMG. Any power output up to 400bhp is possible. 

VW Golf R400 - 2016

VW is now working on a production version of its well-received R400 concept car. Likely to make it into production largely unchanged, the R400 will use a 395bhp 2.0 turbo. 

Hyundai i30 N - 2017

Hyundai has launched a new performance division called N, which aims to link the company’s rally programme to its road cars. A hot version of the i20 is likely to come first, followed by an i30 N. 

Vauxhall Astra VXR - 2017 

A new five-door Astra is due in 2015, with a sportier three-door version set to appear a year later. This will spawn another VXR model, which is sure to be the fastest, most powerful Astra yet seen. 

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Former Jaguar and Ford chief Sir Nick Scheele dies
Obituary - former Jaguar and Ford chief Sir Nick Scheele Ford's executive chairman Bill Ford pays tribute to the Briton who "mended relationships with our dealers, our suppliers and our employees"

Sir Nick Scheele, ex Jaguar and Ford boss, has died at the age of 70. He died at his Warwickshire home on Friday.

Scheele was born in Essex on 3 January 1944 and graduated from the university of Durham. He started his distinguished career in the motor industry with Ford in 1966, eventually becoming Chairman of Jaguar in 1992.

Scheele served at Jag until 1999, in that time notably persuading Ford to convert the former Escort factory at Halewood, Merseyside to manufacture the Jaguar X-type. The same plant is now globally exporting Range Rover Evoques.

Success at Jag meant a promotion to become CEO of Ford of Europe in 2000. He crossed the Atlantic to become President and COO of the company in 2001, effectively the global number two. He was knighted in the same year.

Sir Nick retired in 2005 after which he held other posts including a directorship of British American Tobacco and Caparo. He was also chancellor of Warwick University and worked for numerous charities.

Ford's executive chairman Bill Ford said in a statement: “Not only did Nick help us overcome many challenges at the time, he mended relationships with our dealers, our suppliers and our employees, and set the stage for many of today’s leaders who are moving us forward.

"Nick Scheele was an outstanding leader whose global experience and passion for our products served Ford Motor Company at a critical time."

Scheele is survived by his wife, three children and five grandchildren.

Mini All4 Racing special driven – picture special
Mini All4 Racing special driven - picture special BTCC racer Rob Collard swaps his BMW touring car for the most outrageous Mini ever made

When Autocar called to ask if I’d mind trekking to the desert to test drive the most outrageous Mini ever created, I started scrabbling around for my passport before they’d even hung up the phone.

I race an eBay Motors BMW M125i M Sport in the BTCC, but I’ve competed in many other disciplines, including hot rods, stage rallying and single-seaters.

One thing I’ve never tried, though, is a four-wheel-drive cross-country rally car. And they don’t come much better than the Mini All4 Racing, which has dominated the Dakar Rally – which now takes place in South America – for the past three years.

Now X-raid, the team that runs Mini’s Dakar assault, has entrusted me to test the car in the middle of the desert outside of Dubai.

I’m itching to drive, but first I have a good poke around the Mini. It is built around a steel tubular frame, which is cloaked in carbonfibre body panels that give it the appearance of the Countryman road car.

The rally car towers over the road car by more than 400mm and is 209mm wider. The wheelbase of the competition car is 300mm longer, too, at 2900mm, which is the maximum permitted wheelbase. 

Read the Mini John Cooper Works Paceman All4 first drive

Another significant restriction is the suspension travel. Dakar prototypes are limited to 250mm, which isn’t much when you have to cope with enormous craters on rough mountain roads at high speeds.

Powering all four wheels is a straight-six BMW diesel. It is a 2993cc unit derived from that seen in the road-going BMW X3 SUV. An air restrictor limits power to around 300bhp, but more importantly there’s a whopping 516lb ft of torque.

You can feel that low-end grunt right from the moment you engage first gear from the sequential ’box and release the clutch. In some respects, the All4 Racing is like a typical rally car, in that it feels very butch and not as refined as the touring car I drive.

As soon as you pull away, though, it’s impossible to keep the smile from spreading across your face; the car whistles away as the two massive turbos start to spin up. 

Driving in the dunes is so much fun. If the car is burying itself in the sand at low revs, you just keep your foot in and it lifts itself up and glides across the ruts like a hovercraft. It’s an amazing sensation.

The Mini is set up to be quite soft, so when you come off the power it pitches on the front end and you get really good turn-in, which is useful if you want to avoid a rock or a tree. I was amazed at how well the suspension coped with that kind of driving and how much precision there is. At high speeds, however, it will do lovely four-wheel drifts.

One difference to my racing BMW is the braking. The way the car is set up, it gives you no option but to use left-foot braking. The brakes didn’t feel very sharp, but that’s because I’m used to touring car brakes on a tarmac track, whereas in the Dakar car you’re trying to stop on sand. It’s a different ball game altogether.

Most competition cars I’ve driven have been stripped bare for weight saving, but the All4 Racing is different. Few production parts remain – the lights, door handles and windscreen are from the standard Countryman – but there are spare parts, tools and useful kit stowed in every available space.

Read the full Mini Countryman review

The heaviest are mounted as low as possible to keep the centre of gravity down. The Mini can house up to three spare tyres inside the rear hatch. Nani Roma, winner of this year’s Dakar, tells me that the sturdy, heavy wheels used to be mounted on the roof or on the back of the car, but putting them in the boot makes a tremendous difference to how the car handles and lands over jumps.

The punishment the car can take is breathtaking. As I got comfortable with it and drove further into the desert dunes, the Italian co-driver sitting with me told me to slow down.

It was good advice; when you get up to a certain speed you can’t see the dips in the dunes so easily. The terrain looks flat, but it really isn’t. It’s a bit like when you’re on the water in a powerboat: the sea looks flat but you’re jumping over the big waves.

It is amazing when you come over some of those dunes and drop down into very fine sand, which is like sinking into a swamp. You get back on the power and although the car is at very low revs, all of a sudden it just pulls. You don’t even have to go down through the gears because it powers out of those situations with that incredible torque.

In place of the road car’s 47-litre fuel tank, the All4 Racing gets a massive 360-litre tank in the rear. The rules stipulate that each car in the Dakar must be able to cover a minimum distance of 497 miles to reduce the risk of crews running out of juice in the desert.

It was very hot in the cabin, similar to what I experience in my touring car, the difference being that Dakar competitors race for six or seven hours at a time. The first thing I noticed when I met Nani Roma was his incredible strength; when I shook his hand, he nearly dislocated my shoulder without realising. Dakar is like a sprint race these days, so the drivers have to be phenomenally fit.

Later this month Roma will defend his title in the Baja Arágon, which involves a route of around 430 miles through the Spanish province of Teruel. If the X-raid team finds itself with a spare Mini, they know where to find me.

Rob Collard

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Development under way on new 330bhp Ford Focus RS
Development underway on new 330bhp Ford Focus RS Third-generation Ford Focus RS, powered by 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, due to go on sale in 2016

Development is under way on a new Ford Focus RS, about two years before the car is expected to be launched.

The third-generation Focus RS is again set to be front-wheel drive. It will draw its power from a turbocharged 2.3-litre, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, derived from that of the 2015 Mustang

A power output of about 330bhp has been mooted by insiders, while a limited-slip
differential and Ford’s innovative, torque-steer-reducing RevoKnuckle front suspension system will 
again feature among the mechanical specification. 

Over the past year, Ford executives have been increasingly talking up the chances of a new Focus RS making production. Now, insiders have confirmed that it has been officially added to Ford’s future model launch programme after a business case was proven. Early engineering mules have been spotted on public roads as initial testing begins.

There had previously been doubt over the future existence of a third-generation Focus RS as a result of the standard donor Focus being a flagship for the ‘One Ford’ global car policy. This was originally thought to mean the end of regional specials like the Focus RS because of their limited global appeal.

In addition, the arrival of the new Mustang on European shores next year was initially seen as a further setback to a new Focus RS’s chances of production when it was announced, because the Mustang was expected to be billed as the One Ford global performance car.

Ford was also worried about a Focus RS stealing sales from not only the Mustang but also the Focus ST. Furthermore, Ford needed to ensure that an RS could be built alongside more humble five-door Focus hatchbacks without requiring a bespoke engine. 

However, the success and now evolution of the One Ford programme have led to the sign-off for the new model. Ford is happy with how the majority of its models are 
now — or soon will be — established across global markets, and the attention can now in part turn to satisfying market niches with models like the Focus RS. 

Read the full Ford Focus RS review

According to Ford of Europe’s chief operating officer, Barb Samardzich, Ford’s own research has also concluded that the buyers of Focus ST, Focus RS and Mustang models are all very different and the models actually complement one another in a range.

The business case for the Focus RS has also been strengthened by the fact that it can be built on the same production line as the standard model and will share an engine with the Mustang, albeit in a transverse application instead of a longitudinal one. This makes production easier, increases the economies of scale and enables the Focus RS to be sold in new markets, such as North America. 

Overcoming these hurdles has paved the way for the new Focus RS, which was spotted testing for the first time close to Ford’s engineering headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

This is further evidence that the Focus RS is now considered a global performance model because it is in part being engineered at Ford’s global headquarters, rather than being a European-conceived, designed, engineered and built model for European customers, as was the case with the first two  generations of the Focus RS.

Central to the new Focus RS is the Mustang-derived 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine. Sources have indicated that the new Focus RS will have about 10 per cent more power than its 301bhp turbocharged 2.5-litre, five-cylinder predecessor, suggesting about 330bhp. Torque is also set to rise beyond the 324lb ft of the second-gen Focus RS.

Although power is being increased by about 10 per cent thanks to the new engine, fuel economy is set to improve by about 20 per cent, up from the 30.5mpg of the previous Focus RS. This boost to economy comes mainly from the engine being lighter and more efficient. The new Focus RS will also be lighter overall than before, aiding performance and dynamic ability, too. 

Sources revealed to Autocar last year that four-wheel drive had been evaluated for the new Focus RS in early engineering studies but the front-wheel drive formula of its predecessors would remain. A six-speed manual gearbox will be a standard fitment. 

To help the new Focus RS get its hefty power and torque reserves to the road, Ford is equipping it with a mechanical limited-slip differential, according to sources. There’s also a return for the innovative RevoKnuckle front suspension system, which reduces the amount of torque steer.

Among the other changes over a Focus ST, on which the new RS will be based, is a lowered chassis, with a firmer, sportier suspension set-up.

Watch the Ford Focus RS in action

Recently-spied test mules also start to give clues away about the styling of the new RS – in particular, the adoption of twin exhausts at the rear of the car, differing from the large single central exhaust on the ST. Increased cooling at the front of the car, 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres and larger brakes are other features of the test car that indicate the final make-up of the Focus RS.

Expect the styling to follow the blueprint of the previous Focus RS, with a bodykit, rear wing and rear diffuser among the design and aerodynamic features.

The launch of the new Focus RS is now not expected before mid to late 2016, with a reveal at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed one potential option. Indeed, Ford gave the revised Focus ST a global reveal at Goodwood last month.

As with its two predecessors, the Focus RS will be a swansong for the current Focus. It will be on sale for a year or so before the standard model is replaced in 2017-2018. No indication has been given on price, but expect it to come in below £30,000. 

Read more about the rivals the new Ford Focus RS will face off against.

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At Bentley Motors, there’s something in wood shed
At Bentley, there’s something in wood shed One of the most absorbing aspects of a tour of Bentley Motors’ plant in Crewe is its wood shop, where the plush interior panelling is crafted

In Bentley Motor's wood shop, typical car production line sights, smells and sounds – machines, heat, buzzers and perhaps a whiff of oil – are supplanted by the sweet scent of exotic woods such as walnut, cherry and eucalyptus and a hushed ambience akin to a library.

Phil Gent is technical manager in Bentley’s wood shop and an expert in using the material in car production.

“Veneer is one of our key materials. It comes from a tree’s root ball underground,” he explains. “Our veneer supplier will dig it up, and soak it in a vat of chemicals and water for a number of days. It is then put on a circular lathe and the veneer is peeled off the root ball. The veneer comes off in random sizes. When we get it, it is sold in packs of 24 sheets.

“We use the root ball because that’s where the most decorative bit of the veneer is. So the older the tree is, the better for us. With young trees, you don’t get a lot of decoration and obviously you get less pieces of veneer because the root ball is smaller.

“Out of all the veneer produced in the world, we estimate that we’re selecting from the top five or ten per cent. There’s a lot of time, effort and money spend ensuring that the customer gets the best. When our storeroom is full we could have up to £250,000 worth of veneer in there.”

Bentley’s attention to detail means its craftsmen ‘match’ the patterns of veneer within a vehicle, so the driver and passenger will admire the same pattern in the wood in front of them in the car.

“This is really important in our car because if your eye goes to the centre of the car at the front instrument panel, and you work all the way around the car, you’ll see that there is a match all the way around the car,” says Gent.

The veneer is shaped using a laser cutter, and then bonded with laminates and other layers of veneer onto an aluminium substrate. The piece is then pressed at about 150 bar and a temperature of 140 degrees Centigrade for about five minutes.

Even if you specify a gloss black finish to your Bentley's interior, a layer of veneer is embedded underneath to ensure the thickness of the part is correct.

“After pressing we have a sanding operation,” says Gent. “It’s a little bit rough when it comes out of the press and you can feel the grain. We sand for two reasons: one, so you get a smooth finish and two, because it ensures that when we put the top coat of lacquer on, it sticks to the wood.

“It’s a polyester lacquer and we spray five coats on, which is about a two-hour process. We aim to put about 1mm of lacquer on the part.”

Then the part is sanded to remove any imperfections from the lacquer, polished, and is finally ready for assembly.

That painstaking process is used to create the veneer used in the Bentley Continental's sumptuous cabin.

Most of the flagship Mulsanne's panelling is produced from solid blocks of walnut, cherry and oak in places and crafted using different, more traditional processes. Which goes some way towards justifying those six-figure price tags.

Fiat Panda Cross Twinair Turbo first drive review
Fiat Panda Cross Twinair Turbo first drive review New Panda Cross gets a range of off-road upgrades, resulting in an appealing proposition – but it comes at a price The ‘Cross’ version of the current third generation Fiat Panda 4x4 offers additional off-road ability, a more overtly stylised design and a small shot of extra power – all, naturally, for a higher price.We’re fans of the regular car for offering the unusual combination of pint pot supermini with field-crossing competence: this promises more of the same.

Seven-seat BMW 2-series Active Tourer due in 2015
Seven-seat BMW 2-series Active Tourer spotted New variant of BMW's front-drive Active Tourer spotted undergoing trials; expected to cost upwards of £25,500

The seven-seat version of the new BMW 2-series Active Tourer has been spied testing in preparation for its arrival in car showrooms in 2015.

BMW's new seven-seat model will have the same wheelbase as the five-seat 2-series Active Tourer, which goes on sale in the UK in late September.

However, it will have slightly longer bodywork than the five-seater, which measures 4342mm in length. Occupant accommodation will be arranged in a two-three-two formation, with two small seats in the rear.

It seems the model could feature some clever packaging of the two rear-most seats, which could fold out from the side of the car rather than up from the floor.

It’s not yet clear how much boot space the seven seater will offer compared with the 468 to 1510 litres (with seats folded flat) of load room in the five-seat version.

BMW UK is eagerly anticipating the model because it currently has only one seven-seat model in its line-up, the BMW X5, which offers the specification of two extra rear seats.

The seven-seat 2-series Active Tourer is expected to command a premium of between £1400-1500 over the five-seat version. This means the range can be expected to start at around £25,500 for the entry-level 218i SE variant.

BMW is expected to make a formal announcement about the seven-seat 2-series Active Tourer towards the end of this year.

The model, which represents a sea change for the Munich manufacturer in that it utilises front-wheel-drive architecture, is expected to open up new target customer groups for BMW.

Audi A4 Ultra first drive review
Audi A4 Ultra first drive review New Audi A4 Ultra combines low fuel consumption and emissions with good drivability 25 years after Audi launched its first TDI diesel engine, the company is still confident that there’s plenty of life left yet in conventional diesel technology.No less than 23 frugal Ultra models will go on sale globally during the next year, fitted with further optimised TDI engines, with several coming to the UK.The new A4 Ultra 2.0 TDI Ultra is powered by a revised and leaner burning version of Audi’s 2.0-litre TDI engine, which produces 161bhp and 295lb ft torque.Consequently it matches the BMW 3-series 320d Efficient Dynamics for power and CO2, but betters it marginally on fuel consumption at 67.3mpg.Audi's new TDI also now meets the stringent EU6 emissions standards and gets ‘clean diesel’ status thanks to the adoption of SCR (selective catalyst reduction)

The potential merits of Volkswagen buying Fiat, Chrysler and Alfa
The potential merits of Volkswagen buying Fiat, Chrysler and Alfa Fiat has denied rumours that it's been in discussions with VW about the sale of Fiat, Chrysler and Alfa, but such a plan could benefit all involved

Interesting news has been emerging, from Germany's Manager Magazin, that the VW Group has been talking to Fiat about buying Fiat, Chrysler and Alfa.

Firstly let's be clear that Fiat has flatly denied it and company boss Sergio Marchionne has mentioned to us many times that 'he talks to other car companies all of the time'.

It does though make some sense to both parties. Volkswagen supremo Ferdinand Piech would finally get his hands on Alfa Romeo (and wouldn't we like to see what VW engineers could do with that).

More importantly, VW would get the scale and dealer network it badly needs to properly conquer America and so achieve its ambition to be world number one by 2018.

Fiat's parent company would be left with Ferrari, Maserati and Jeep - or all of the profitable bits if you like. And would so be transformed into a sort of Italian Jaguar Land Rover.

But there's danger in losing the sort of scale and leverage that being part of a bigger group provides - in all sorts of ways, especially for parts and development costs.

So do we think this will happen? Probably not, especially as VW CEO Martin Winterkorn is also talk about taking cost out of the business and aiming for the sort of profit margins Toyota enjoys.

That doesn't mean it couldn't happen, however.

Best car deals: Citroen DS3, Volvo V40, BMW 1-series, Range Rover Evoque
Best car deals: Citroen DS3, Volvo V40, BMW 1-series, Range Rover Evoque The best new car deals and new car leasing deals for this week, including offers on the Citroen DS3, Volvo V40, BMW 1-series, Range Rover Evoque and Vauxhall Corsa

If you’re in the market for a new car, or after the best new-car leasing deal, you can save thousands of pounds with a little research. Here are the picks of what our deals experts have found this week.

Best new car deals

Alongside the Mini convertible and Fiat 500C, the Citroën DS3 cabriolet offers an enjoyable open-top package for style-conscious motorists. Drive the Deal is currently offering a 1.6 THP DSport Plus model for £19,784, which is a saving of almost £2000 from the list price.

The Volvo V40 offers practical motoring and good value for money, and thanks to its new range of Drive-E engines is an efficient choice, too. Orange Wheels has an offer on a D4 Cross Country SE model for £23,571. That's £3500 under the list price.

Best new car leasing deals

BMW's 1-series has decent interior space and can be a comfortable daily drive. We spotted a good offer from J&R Leasing for a 114i SE model, costing £207 per month on a two-year contract. There's an initial deposit of £1868 to pay, as well as an annual mileage limit of 8000.

The Range Rover Evoque is a stylish SUV which sits alongside rivals including the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. Premium offerings usually carry a premium price, but we spotted a 2.2-litre eD4 Pure model going for £279 per month on Yes Lease. That's on a two-year contract, with a deposit of £2516 and an annual mileage limit of 8000.

Deal of the week

With a new Vauxhall Corsa having just been revealed, it makes sense that prices on the old model are currently tumbling. We found a 1.3-litre CDTi Ecoflex SE model available on Buyacar.co.uk going for just £10,680 – a massive saving of £6320 from the list price, or the equivalent to 37 per cent discount.

Can you find a better deal? Let us know in the comments section below.

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