Neural Blog, The ultimate list of everything interesting on the internet

AUTOMOTIVE >> AUTO NEWS >>   






New Ferrari steals the show
Sportec SP370 based on Boxster 3.8 987
Audi R8 v10 Spyder from Iron Man 2
ASC Diamondback Viper McLaren

Featured Articles

Cupra Ibiza prototype shown at launch of new performance brand

Jordan Katsianis

22 Feb 2018

SEAT’s launch of Cupra as a standalone performance brand has not only yielded the production-ready Ateca, but also this pre-production Cupra Ibiza. Word of SEAT’s refusal to build a performance version of its popular supermini came as a surprise to many when the current Ibiza was launched last year; this is obviously the reason.

So far details remain thin on the ground, and Cupra is adamant this is only a show car, but insiders say that the Ibiza should reach showrooms sometime next year, featuring a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with somewhere between 200 and 220bhp on tap. Sharing its MQB-A platform with the VW Polo GTI, which uses a 197bhp version of the familiar 2-litre EA888 engine, we suspect this Ibiza might get a version of the same unit.

> Click here for more on the Cupra Ateca SUV

Along with the rise in power are bigger brakes, 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, and a DSG gearbox. There is no mention at this point of the option of a manual ’box, but the facility is there for it within VAG’s box of tricks. Visually the Cupra Ibiza shares much with its Ateca sibling, featuring more aggressive front and rear styling and copper detailing like that on the limited-run Leon Cupra R (which is still a SEAT, confusingly).

Inside, the show car utilises plenty of Alcantara and features yet more copper elements, while a digital dial pack also makes an appearance for the first time in an Ibiza. It must be taken into account that this is still a show car and if/when it does reach production details are likely to change.

Cupra’s efforts have not just been applied to the Ibiza either, as its SUV spin-off, the Arona, will also adopt similar mechanical and aesthetic upgrades, although it too is yet to be confirmed for production. 

SEAT Leon Cupra R ST revealed - hot estate to rival the VW Golf R Estate

James Disdale

22 Feb 2018

SEAT has revealed a hot Cupra R version of its Leon ST estate car. Following on from the limited run Cupra R hatchback, the newcomer packs 296bhp, four-wheel drive and a host of cosmetic changes, including plenty of the copper coloured accents that will be calling card of models produced under the newly announced Cupra sub brand. No prices have been revealed for the Leon ST Cupra R, but expect it cost well in excess of £30,000 when it hits showrooms later this year. 

Visually, the Leon ST Cupra R follows the template set by the hatchback, meaning you get a copper-coloured finish for the badges, door mirror caps and lower grille inserts, plus the same hue for the 19-inch alloys. There’s also a jutting carbon fibre front splitter mounted to the deeper front bumper. However, unlike the hatch, there won’t be any bespoke panels, which suggests it’ll be built in bigger numbers on the regular production line – the hatch’s special additions meant it was hand-finished at SEAT Sport.

> Click here for our review of the SEAT Leon Cupra R hatch

Further evidence of the ST’s more mainstream approach is found under the skin, where it’s mechanically identical to the standard car. That means it gets the same 296bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre that’s mated to a six-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox and 4 Drive all-wheel drive transmission. As a result, you can expect an identical 0-62mph time of six seconds and a top speed of 155mph. 

However, like the Cupra R hatch there will be a new exhaust system that promises to deliver a sportier and more authentic soundtrack. SEAT has also suggested that the ST will get the same upgraded Brembo four-pot front brake calipers as the hatchback, while pictures of the car suggest that Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres will be an option.

SEAT launches new Cupra performance brand with Cupra Ateca SUV

Stuart Gallagher

22 Feb 2018

SEAT will launch its new standalone Cupra performance brand with a 296bhp Ateca SUV, with all future SEAT models also earmarked to be offered with a more focussed Cupra derivative that will include a range of petrol, plug-in hybrid and even battery-electric powertrains. Cupra also hasn’t ruled out the idea of producing its own standalone model. In total, Cupra will launch seven new models in the next three years.

Cupra’s ambitions include a range of models based on both existing and future models within the SEAT family, from the Cupra Ateca to new Ibiza, Arona and the next Leon, although there are currently no plans for a VW Up GTI-rivalling Cupra Mii. Built in SEAT's Martorell factory outside Barcelona, Cupra models will be developed by the firm’s SEAT Sport division, and while performance will be a key contributor to the Cupra ethos the company says styling and personalisation is also key.

> Click here for our review of the Volkswagen Up GTI

At the brand’s international launch, SEAT’s executives were frustratingly vague as to the specifics of the engineering DNA that will make a Cupra stand out from the existing SEAT Cupra models, which confusingly will still be sold alongside the new Cupra-branded models. Vice president for R&D, Dr Matthias Rabe, would only go as far as to say that we can expect the dynamic improvements that were made to the limited edition SEAT Leon Cupra R – quicker, more direct steering, a sacrifice to ride comfort for improved agility, and a powertrain focussed on performance – to be the benchmark for all future new Cupra models. In terms of powertrains, petrol engines will lead the line-up, with a plug-in hybrid also expected that will most likely feature electric motors on the rear axle tuned for performance over emission savings.

An indication of the direction Cupra will head in can be seen in its first model launched under the new brand: the Cupra Ateca. Its 2-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol engine is taken from the current SEAT Leon Cupra and mapped to suit the required performance characteristics. Mated to a seven-speed DSG gearbox and four-wheel-drive running gear, the Cupra Ateca is also fitted with adaptive dampers and a selection of driving modes, including a more extreme Cupra mode. Nineteen-inch wheels and tyres are standard fit, and a number of carbonfibre aero devices will also be fitted. SEAT badges will be replaced with new bronze-finished Cupra tags. It will reach 62mph in 5.4 seconds and top 152mph, and is expected to cost between £35,000 and £40,000.

So why take an existing trim line and create a standalone brand? The simple answer is that SEAT isn’t performing strongly enough and needs to contribute more to the VW Group’s bottom line, and Luca de Meo, SEAT's president, sees it as the only way of achieving this. 'The SEAT brand still has image problems,' he told evo. 'We have proven we can design, develop and build cars to a standard equal to premium brands, but for many the SEAT badge is a barrier. Cupra will allow us to have a halo brand that will attract new customers to Cupra and also SEAT.'

> Click here for our review of the Golf GTI 

How many new customers? In the last 20 years SEAT sold 60,000 Cupra-badged SEAT models: in 2017 it sold 10,000 alone. Cupra on its own will now have to double that latter figure within two to three years, of which 80 per cent are expected to be conquest sales and therefore totally new to the Spanish brand. The plan also states that 10 per cent of all future SEAT sales should be Cupra models. To reach those customers, over 20 per cent of SEAT's worldwide dealer network (265 dealers) will become Cupra specialist dealers, with SEAT funding 50 per cent of the investment costs dealers will face taking on the new brand. SEAT's head of sales and marketing also hasn’t ruled out individual Cupra dealers.

However, don’t expect a glut of new Cupra models in the immediate future, with Cupra Ibiza and Arona currently in the pipeline, and the first Cupra Leon not expected to appear until after the new Seat Leon is launched in 2019. Although, rather confusingly, a 296bhp, four-wheel drive SEAT Leon Cupra R ST will make its debut on the SEAT stand at next month’s Geneva motor show alongside a Cupra Ibiza concept.

Mazda Skyactiv-X Mazda3 prototype review – new tech may be the future of internal combustion

Antony Ingram

22 Feb 2018

Mazda might be a minnow in global automotive terms, but the independent Japanese car maker could also be the company to save the internal combustion engine long after other mainstream brands have turned to hybrids and full electric vehicles.

And this prototype is the latest step down that particular road. Using a technology called spark controlled compression ignition, or SPCCI, Mazda claims it will offer significant real-world gains in terms of efficiency, cleanliness and performance over the company’s existing Skyactiv petrol and diesel powerplants.

> Click here for our review of the Mazda 3

Mazda isn’t hedging its bets on electric power just yet, believing that until the worldwide electrical grid is predominantly powered by renewable energy, an electric vehicle’s tailpipe emissions are too far offset by the dirtiness and high CO2 values of the fossil-fuelled coal, oil, and gas power plants that supply their electricity.

The logical answer to this is to significantly improve the technology behind existing combustion engines, which rely less on the electrical grid, well-to-wheels, than their plug-in counterparts. If the gains are large enough, says Mazda, you can match or better the average EV in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

SPCCI does this by combining the most advanced and optimised technologies from petrol and diesel engines with the best driving characteristics of both at the same time.

Compression ignition – as used in diesel vehicles – has been tried in petrol cars before at the prototype stage, but controlling the point at which the fuel-efficient lean mixture burns spontaneously under heat and compression has proved difficult. It’s effective in only a narrow window of loads and engine speeds, necessitating spark ignition at other times – and switching between spark and compression ignition has proved complicated and expensive.

Mazda’s SPCCI technology avoids the need to switch quite cleverly. Its spark plugs fire during every ignition phase of the four-stroke combustion cycle, but do so in different conditions depending on the driving requirements.

Most of the time, the Skyactiv-X engine operates under compression ignition. During induction, the injector fires a lean fuel mist into the combustion chamber as a belt-driven supercharger pushes air into the mix. During the compression phase, the injector fires again with a small but slightly richer mixture around the spark plug. As the piston reaches top dead centre the plug ignites this richer mixture, the expansion of which raises pressure in the combustion chamber – enough to simultaneously ignite the lean mixture around it with compression alone.

The use of the spark plug means compression ignition can be timed, and means with simple timing adjustments and by injecting a leaner or richer mixture, the transition between spark and compression ignition cycles can be constantly varied. No switching, very little complication, and the ideal ignition for a given driving scenario. The engine operates in SPCCI mode the majority of the time, can switch into an ultra-lean burn mode during low revs and low load cruising (which, because of controlled, lower combustion temperatures, doesn’t produce high levels of NOx like previous lean burn engines), and graduates to regular spark ignition under high load and high revs.

When driving Mazda’s prototype, which packs the next-generation engine, chassis tweaks and newly-designed seats into the shell of the existing Mazda 3, the only clue that the engine is varying between these modes is the flashing of coloured circles in the roughly attached tablet computer on the dashboard.

It really is imperceptible, even on this early prototype – a production version won’t be ready until 2019. The engine seems to run in SPCCI the majority of the time, giving a very wide window of efficiency in normal driving – Mazda says it’s as fuel-efficient as its current range of Skyactiv-D diesel engines.

On a light throttle, cruising through villages or bobbing along at 50mph, the orb depicting lean burn stays on the screen for extended periods, while harder acceleration sees the lean burn and SPCCI bubbles disappear, with only the spark indicator remaining on screen.

> Click here for our review of the Mazda MX-5 BBR

Most impressively, the Skyactiv-X feels better to use than most equivalent production 2-litre engines. It’s smoother, more linear and more refined throughout its rev range than Mazda’s current Skyactiv-G petrol, pulls cleanly from tickover in high gears if required, and doesn’t have a hint of diesel-style rattle. Nor does it have a diesel-style wait-surge-gearchange driving style – owing to the supercharging method of induction, it’s much more linear than any diesel, feeling more like a naturally aspirated engine – just one with a little more urge than you’d expect.

The engine doesn’t yet feel particularly 'sporty', but that’s not yet a priority for Mazda, which is still refining the technology and eliminating bugs. Its current priorities are reliability, tractability and refinement, and the engine seems good for all those targets, so it’s not hard to imagine more power (the prototype feels brisk, but the average 2-litre hot hatch would outpace it comfortably) and a more rousing soundtrack coming later. There’s some hesitancy in the mid-range, but it’s fair to assume this will be ironed out for production.

But the future of the technology is exciting. One slide of Mazda’s presentation caught our eye in particular: because the engine’s window of efficient running is so much larger than existing engines and because of the engine’s refinement, there’s effectively no penalty for running a shorter final drive ratio in the transmission, for closely-stacked gear ratios and quicker acceleration – the days of yawning diesel-style ratios may be coming to an end.

There are other things to like about Mazda’s prototype too. Refinement even beyond the engine is very good, with Mazda using a very stiff structure with damping nodes to cut down on resonance – even on rough roads, the prototype felt noticeably more solid than the regular Mazda 3 along for comparison. It rode better too thanks to redesigned suspension and Mazda’s choice of running softer sidewall tyres to better absorb high-frequency bumps. Combined with the new seats, designed to keep the pelvis in a more natural, upright position, the prototype felt far more serene and pliant than its production counterpart, but lost nothing in terms of road feel (if anything, the slightly weightier steering was an improvement) or useful interaction.

We’re expecting the next-generation Mazda 3, based on last year’s Mazda Kai concept, to make its debut some time during 2019, and it’ll debut the Skyactiv-X engine when it does. If you’re interested in the future of combustion vehicles, it’ll be one to watch very closely indeed.

All-new Peugeot 508 revealed – a comeback for Peugeot saloons?

Jordan Katsianis

22 Feb 2018

Peugeot has lifted the curtain on its all-new 508, a D-segment family saloon tasked to not only compete with rivals like the Volkswagen Passat, Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia, but also to fight the shrinking popularity of large mainstream saloons in the face of growing competition from trendy SUVs and compact executive 4-doors. 

Despite the pressure on the market sector where it sits, the 508 is still a crucial model for the French marque so the all-new car has undergone a complete overhaul, moving off the current FP3 platform and onto PSA’s modular EMP2 base, which is quickly spreading across the group. As a result of the new platform, the new 508 will not be able to take six-cylinder engine options like before, although the ability to support hybrid drivetrains is a plus.

At launch six engines will be available, spread between petrol and diesel. The most powerful is a 222bhp 1.6-litre turbo petrol, a similar unit to the one in the excellent Peugeot 208 GTI by PS. A plug-in hybrid will arrive in late 2019 too.

> Click here for our review of the Vauxhall Insignia GSi

As with the platform, the exterior design is definitely a revolution rather than an evolution. Following on from the distinctive 3008 and 5008 SUVs, the new 508 matches the elegant details and muscular surfacing of those cars. Other touches like frameless doors and those concept car-like taillights also help it look more distinctive against conservative rivals.

Contrary to the mainstream badge, Peugeot has continued its premium push with the new 508, an objective made clear in the elegant interior. Also like the 3008, the new 508’s cabin is more interesting than those of rivals, taking aim at cars like the Audi A4 and making the straight-laced Volkswagen Passat seem positively dull by comparison. Highlights include Peugeot’s i-Cockpit digital instrument set up, sleek piano key switches that sit below the large infotainment screen and an interesting use of materials on the dash, doors and seats.

The 508 may sit in a relatively uncool market segment, but Peugeot has history here and the new 508 is hoping to re-kindle some of the goodwill generated by its predecessors. Before the current, dull 508 and the prodigiously snouted 407 before that, was the Peugeot 406, a sleek saloon that gave rise to a Pininfarina-designed Coupe and proved perfect proportions and classy detailing were not just the preserve of premium brands. Dig further into the 508’s past and you’ll end up at the unbreakable 504, an iconic saloon that the new Peugeot 508 pays homage to with the 508 badging on the nose. 

Due to go on sale in summer this year, the Peugeot 508 will also have an estate version which Peugeot will reveal later in 2018.

Bentley Bentayga V8 – new twin-turbo V8 results in best Bentayga yet

Stuart Gallagher

21 Feb 2018

How quickly times change. Less than 12 months ago the idea of launching anything but a diesel engine in your two-tonne-plus SUV would have seen you laughed out of the room in the direction of the asylum. Yes, there are enough of the well-healed who think nothing of ticking the box marked ‘petrol engine and don’t spare the cylinders’, but the majority ordered a diesel and hoped no one would notice. This new turbocharged petrol V8 provides a third option.

> Bentley Continental GT review

Following Porsche’s announcement that it is no longer offering a diesel engine option for the Macan or Panamera, Bentley has launched the fourth model in its Bentayga line-up: the V8. A £136,200, 543bhp model that sits above the V8 diesel and below the W12 models.

Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time

Borrowing from within the VW family, Bentley has lifted the 4-litre, twin turbocharged V8 petrol engine that can also be found in the new Cayenne Turbo and reworked it accordingly to ‘deliver the effortless performance characteristics of a Bentley’. It’s connected to an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox and a permanent four-wheel-drive system.

 

Peak power is rated at 543bhp delivered at 6,000rpm, with its 568lb ft of peak torque thumping you in the back at 1960rpm, continuing to do so until 4500rpm. Therefore, despite weighing 2388kg it will still reach 60mph from a standstill in 4.4 seconds (4.5 seconds if you prefer 100kph benchmarks) and crack 180mph; that’s just four-tenths and 7mph slower than the W12 Bentayga. The eight-cylinder engine weighs 25kg less than the W12.

> Porsche Cayenne Turbo review

With such performance comes great responsibility… for the brakes, which is why this is the first Bentayga to be offered with the company’s gargantuan 440mm (front) and 370mm (rear) carbon-ceramic discs with 10-piston callipers for the front axle, distinguishable by their Tornado red finish.

As with other Bentayga models the company’s 48-volt electrical system is also installed, allowing for the fitment of Bentley’s active-roll-control anti-roll bar hardware. There are also four driving modes available: Comfort, Sport, Bentley (the engineer’s choice) and Custom. If you go for the optional All Terrain Specification you also have the choice of Snow + Grass, Dirt + Gravel, Mud + Trail and Sand Dune settings for the powertrain.

 

It may have the same number of cylinders as the V8 diesel, but the twin-turbo V8 petrol can’t match the former’s economy. Bentley claims a combined 24.8mpg, equating to a theoretical 460-mile range from the 85-litre fuel tank against the diesel’s 35.3mpg and 660-mile range.

> Best SUVs

Technical highlights

Away from the above technical oily bits the Bentayga’s electronic tech isn’t left wanting. There are 12 ultrasonic sensors and five cameras, and both short and long-range radars to run the show; the show consisting of the following: park assist, adaptive cruise control, an infra-red night vision camera, a head-up display, trailer assist parking aids, and an Optional City Specification that includes five further assistance systems, including a top-down view on the infotainment screen allowing you to monitor every conceivable angle as you drive in a town.

There is also a touch-screen infotainment system, with the standard stereo featuring 10 speakers and six channels, or should you demand to be able to hear the shipping forecast with the clearest clarity there is a 12-speaker, 12-channel system complete with a 700w amplifier. Or you can go all Puff Daddy with the 18-speaker, 18-channel, 1,900w Naim system.

What’s it like to drive?

Where the W12-engined Bentayga feels aloof and the V8 diesel sacrifices some of the expected Bentley refinement for a 600+mile range, the V8 petrol brings the very best out of Bentley’s first SUV.

>  BMW X6 review

On light loads the twin-turbocharged V8 has the low-end responses that has you questioning the need for the diesel, while through the mid-range and top end it thumps along on a surge of power and torque that would run the W12 so close you’d need a stopwatch to separate the two. Extend the throttle fully and it feels no more than 15 per cent off the pace of the more than 100kg lighter Cayenne Turbo, with which it shares so much of its hardware. The eight-speed ZF is seamless and more than responsive enough and all but renders the column-mounted paddles redundant.

Dynamically it’s further behind the Porsche, not that Bentley claims otherwise, with overly light steering that doesn’t pretend to be telling you anything meaningful. The result is a car that can be hard to place on the road when delving into its performance. However, the air suspension and active roll bars put in a remarkable shift at managing body control. And when you feel the need to hustle more than 2300kg of SUV along a B-road it feels controlled and flows with a reassuring cohesiveness.

 

Our test car was equipped with the new carbon-ceramic brakes (an option we’d seriously consider) and winter tyres rather than the standard summer Pirellis. The latter resulted in a busier than expected ride on all surfaces and a feeling the car was never really settled. An opportunity to drive it on summer tyres away from the broken surfaces of the Austrian ski resort launch venue should result in an improved ride.

> Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio revew 

However, one benefit of launching a car in a ski resort is that it provides an opportunity to play around like a kid in a soft play area. So we did. And 2388kg of Bentley SUV can be made to swing between indecently extreme angles with a footful of throttle and much arm twirling. Great fun for us, irrelevant for you. Sorry.

Price and rivals

List price for the Bentley Bentayga V8 is £136,200 and deliveries will start in quarter two of 2018. Be careful with the options though: our test car retailed at £212,985, with the ceramic brakes accounting for £11,480 of that eye-watering price, although we’d suggest you take the plunge on them if you intend to explore the V8’s performance.

If you’re looking for a rival, look to Range Rover’s 518bhp SV V8 Autobiography. It costs £109,530, feels equally imperial from the behind the wheel and drives as well on the road as the Crewe-assembled machine.

If it was our money we’d go for the Range Rover, but the new petrol-engined Bentley Bentayga V8 is the best Bentley SUV to date.

"Car technology is turning the colourful tapestry of European driving styles into a miserable morass of badly driven metal"

Richard Meaden

21 Feb 2018

From the moment I passed my test I felt that my driving licence would be a passport to adventure. Admittedly for the first handful of years these ‘adventures’ were really just exploring local roads, but as life changed and I started working as a motoring journalist, that long-held belief very much came to be. 

Since that day of days in the summer of 1988 I’ve driven all kinds of cars in all kinds of places. Of course this includes regularly exploring the UK and charging through most of Europe, but I’ve also driven Scandinavia and hooned around frozen lakes in the Arctic Circle and rallied a Porsche Cayenne from Moscow to Mongolia. I’ve taken a Ferrari along remote sections of the Silk Road in north-western China, pinned the throttle of a Holden Monaro from the heart of the Australian Outback to Darwin on the tropical north coast, and explored Abu Dhabi in a McLaren P1. No two journeys the same, no two countries sharing the same motoring vibe.

Driving overseas is a real education, for the roads are a reflection of the people who use them. Driving in France used to be a delight, because the smooth autoroutes were so fast and free-flowing, and took the burden from the glorious N roads, which offered a different kind of delight. Italy was always a more highly strung experience. Something akin to good-natured racing, without the need for Nomex clothing or a crash helmet. Germany meant order on the minor roads, but opportunities for intense and often sustained runs at very high speed on the Autobahnen. China? Chaotic, random and all a bit scary. Scandinavia? Sensible and heavily speed-limited in the more southerly areas, but a noticeable increase in pace coupled with hugely impressive skill and feel for treacherous conditions as you headed towards the Arctic Circle. Russia? Gruff, aggressive and crashy. The YouTube dashcam footage doesn’t exaggerate!

> Click here to read our Lamborghini road trip

It’s been a while since I’ve driven in far-flung places, but so far as Europe is concerned I’ve noticed a marked dilution of the indigenous driving traits that mark each country as clearly as the border signs. France has been ruined by gendarmes hiding behind every shrub and bridge parapet. The autoroutes are still magnificently empty, but I now find them lethally soporific. Likewise the fight seems to have gone out of many Italians. Yes, they still like to grumpily honk their horns at the drop of a hat when you go door-to-door in traffic, but the autostradas are pale imitations of their former wild and mildly anarchic selves. Gone are the days when driving a Ferrari or Lamborghini along the A1 would have you mobbed by a flotilla of assorted Fiats, Alfas and other regular traffic, speeds rising until finally you’d leave them in your wake – only to be surrounded again by beaming faces and appreciative waves at the merest hint of backing-off the throttle.

Germany remains a stronghold of speed, but opportunities to stick your left-hand indicator on and crank whatever you’re in up as fast as it will go are being eroded by the year, either by the creeping scourge of new speed limits or sheer weight of traffic. Sadly the steadfast lane discipline on which those once-prevalent limit free stretches depended is beginning to wane as speed limits spread and concentration levels drop. As for the UK, there was a time when wherever I’d been travelling, coming home felt like I was returning to a nation of drivers. Now I’d say general driving standards are pretty woeful. Not as bad as Belgium, but not far off. Unfortunately the sad truth is we seem to be descending into an increasingly dystopian driving environment. One in which car makers are hellbent on weaning us off input and engagement via a de-skilling drip-drip-drip of semi-autonomous driving aids. Meanwhile legislators and law makers around the world embrace average speed cameras that further disengage us from the vital task in hand. Is it any wonder many drivers find scanning their phones more compelling than looking through the windscreen?

Fully autonomous technology will doubtless save lives as and when (if?) it’s introduced, just as seat belts, crumple zones, ABS and traction control did in the not-so-distant past. Until then, those of us who still regard driving as a skill and something to enjoy are being left to fend for ourselves. The direct effects of this dumbing-down can be seen whenever you hit the road. What depresses me further is it also appears to be taking the once colourful tapestry of divergent European driving styles and slowly homogenising them into one miserable, moronic morass of badly driven metal. Statistics will doubtless say the roads are getting safer, but it’s sad that we seem to be losing so much of ourselves in the process.

New Volvo V60 estate aims its crosshairs at compact executive rivals

Jordan Katsianis

21 Feb 2018

Volvo’s proliferation of new models are still streaming out of its Gothenburg HQ in an overhaul that has replaced nearly all of the marque’s line-up in under four years. The latest is the new Volvo V60, a compact executive estate aimed directly at the BMW 3-series Touring, Audi A4 Avant and Mercedes C-class estate.

Underpinned by a multi-billion dollar investment from Chinese automotive giant Geely, most of Volvo’s rapidly expanding range have been developed on a modular platform called SPA. This V60 is the smallest model so far to be based on this platform, sharing most of its powertrain and chassis components with other Volvo models.

> Click here for more on the Polestar 1

As a result, the V60 will initially be available with a selection of 2-litre engines seen in other Volvos, starting with two turbocharged petrol versions named T4 and T5, a 335bhp T6 Twin-Engine hybrid and flagship turbo/supercharged 384bhp T8 Twin-Engine seen elsewhere in the Volvo range. For those who still have a disposition towards diesel, Volvo will also offer company car tax-friendly D3 and D4 options. Connected to all models will be an 8-speed automatic gearbox and either front or all-wheel drive depending on the engine. With the separation of Polestar from Volvo, a replacement for the 362bhp V60 Polestar is no guarantee.

The V60 doesn’t stray far from the distinct, sophisticated design language applied across the range, either, closely mirroring the sleek aesthetic seen on the larger V90. The V60 does differ in places, though, with more emphasis on the rear haunches and a shorter, less tapered tail.

The V60’s interior takes its cues from existing Volvos, meaning a clean, minimalist design with excellent material choices, and just enough embellishment to make it feel suitably premium. Space should also be on a par with rivals, although we suspect that, like the larger V90, it will sacrifice a bit of boot space for the sake of its rakish rump.

> Click here for our review of the Volvo XC60

Safety features of both the passive and active variety will feature, too, including Volvo’s semi-autonomous Pilot Assist. Volvo’s unambiguous bias towards comfort for the V60 may not sound very evo, but it does at least have a clear idea of the sort of car it is. Volvo has not made any mention of an S60 saloon variant, nor indeed a jacked-up Cross Country version either.

With the V60 due to make its public debut at the Geneva motor show in a few weeks, Volvo’s sales figures are sure to continue to grow thanks to yet another classless, practical and stylish core model.

Hennessey Performance The Exorcist hits 217mph on top speed run in video

Lee Stern

21 Feb 2018

Hennessey Performance’s self-proclaimed Dodge Demon rival, the Exorcist, recorded 217mph during a top speed test at Continental’s Uvalde proving grounds in Texas.

> Dodge Challenger Demon

Skip forward through the video to 2 minutes 10 seconds and you’ll join the test driver, Brian Smith, at 144mph on a curved section of the 8.5-mile high-speed oval. Smith carefully edges up to 200mph, at which point the tarmac straightens out, allowing him to drive up to 217mph.

To get there, Smith made full use of the Exorcist’s highly-tuned, 6.2-litre supercharged V8 engine, which develops 1000bhp at 6,500rpm and 883lb ft of torque at 4,500rpm. All of a sudden Chevrolet’s flagship Demon looks a little meek compared to the Exorcist, making do with just 828bhp and 770lb ft of torque.

The Exorcist's huge performance comes courtesy of a comprehensive overhaul of the LT4 engine borrowed from the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. A new high-flow supercharger, exhaust manifold and camshaft account for the major upgrades on a long list of uprated parts.

The extra 360bhp and 233lb ft of torque, over the ZL1, cuts the 0-60mph time from 3.5 seconds to less than 3 seconds. Even more impressive though is the quicker quarter-mile drag time, which stands at 10 seconds, some 1.4 seconds quicker than the ZL1. However, the Exorcist’s mind-boggling quarter-mile time would likely have been set on the optional 20-inch Drag Radial tyres.

> Hennessey puts the Dodge Demon through its paces

Available with an optional drag strip delivery – literally, the car is delivered to you at a drag strip – the Exorcist is being built in limited numbers: only 100 units will make production. On top of the Camaro ZL1’s £49,000 purchase price, the Hennessey upgrade will cost a further £44,000 (or £51,000 for the auto), so heavenly salvation won’t come cheap.

 

Morgan Plus 8 50th Anniversary Edition teased ahead of Geneva reveal

Lee Stern

20 Feb 2018

A video teasing the Morgan Plus 8 50th Anniversary Edition has been released in the lead-up to the model’s full reveal in Geneva next month. The British sports car manufacturer hasn’t issued a price for the limited-edition model, which will share its debut with the Morgan Aero GT.

As the name suggests, only 50 examples will be built, and they will constitute the final batch of Plus 8-derived models fitted with the BMW-sourced, 4.8-litre V8. Subsequently, the engine will be decommissioned as Morgan ceases production of naturally aspirated cars.

 

Morgan hasn’t divulged the full engine specifications just yet – we’ll have to wait until Geneva – but instead has offered the impressive benchmark performance figures. The N63 V8 will propel the 50th Anniversary Edition from 0 to 62mph in 4.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph. Morgan is also claiming the landmark model is one of the lightest V8 passengers cars in the world at 1100kg, a direct benefit of the lightweight aluminium chassis.

Invoking the color scheme of the first production Plus 8, the special edition’s hand-built body will be finished in a blue lacquer contrasted by yellow accents on the front grill, engine cover and rear towing eyes as shown in the video above. Furthermore, down the side of the vented bonnet you’ll find wording marking out the model as an anniversary edition.

> Morgan Aero GT

Steve Morris, managing director of Morgan Motor Company, said: ‘This 50th Anniversary Edition is a fitting illustration of the Plus 8’s beauty and finesse, coupled with raw exhilaration and capability. Performance has underpinned every one of the Plus 8s that have driven out of our factory gates for 50 years and we’re excited to reveal the car in full in Geneva.’

Porsche ends all diesel car production after eight years

Stuart Gallagher

20 Feb 2018

In a statement to evo, a Porsche spokesman said: ‘Diesel engines traditionally play a subordinate role at Porsche. Porsche does not develop or build diesel engines itself. Currently, the demand for diesel models is falling, whereas interest in hybrid and petrol models is increasing significantly.

In light of these facts, as well as the ongoing consultation with the authorities in relation to another software update, Porsche has made changes to its production planning and set the end-of-production date for the Macan S Diesel to 15 February 2018. This decision means that all orders for the vehicle type Macan S Diesel have already been taken out of the production program.’

> Porsche Macan GTS review

Porsche introduced its first diesel-engined road car in 2010 with the facelift of its first-generation Cayenne, this after then CEO Wendelin Wiedeking said there would never be a diesel-engined Porsche. With Macan S diesel production having ended, that is the case once more. With the new Panamera or the Cayenne not offered with diesel engines since their respective launches, despite previous generations of the cars enjoying great success with both V6 and V8 turbo-diesel engines, Porsche’s entry in the diesel market is over.

The move is a clear sign from Porsche that it sees it powertrain future to be a petrol and electric one, but it is dropping its popular diesel models before it has a range of hybrid alternatives to offer its customers. Currently the Panamera is the only Porsche hybrid model available, in £81,141 E-Hybrid specification or range-topping £137,140 Turbo S E-Hybrid trim, with details of the forthcoming plug-in hybrid Cayenne yet to be confirmed and the Macan having never been offered with an EV powertrain option.

Porsche’s full range of electrified vehicles, headlined by the Mission E sports-saloon, isn’t scheduled for launch until 2020.

Lotus 3-Eleven 430: ‘the quickest street-legal Lotus yet’

Lee Stern

20 Feb 2018

Lotus has announced yet another Hethel special to celebrate its 70th anniversary, in the shape of the new Lotus 3-Eleven 430. Only 20 examples of Lotus’s ‘quickest street-legal sports car’ will make production, with a price of £102,000.

> Lotus Exige 380 Cup review 

Like the standard 3-Eleven power comes from a 3.5-litre supercharged V6, although it exists in a higher state of tune, producing 430bhp and 325lb ft of torque, driving the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. The minor improvements do offer greater performance: 0-62mph comes down to 3.2 seconds, and the top speed is up, too, to 180mph.

However, true to Lotus tradition, the extra speed also comes courtesy of a (minor) diet. The 5kg drop in weight – to 920kg (dry) – combined with the power boost results in a power-to-weight ratio of 467bhp per tonne, 23bhp per tonne more than the stock 3-Eleven.

Lotus has also made downforce-based gains with a more aggressive aero set-up grafted onto the open-cockpit track car’s carbon-composite body. At top speed the Lotus 3-Eleven 430 now generates 265kg of downforce, 44kg more than the standard car. To achieve this, the rear wing has been placed 50mm higher and gets reshaped end plates, while the front splitter has been lengthened.

High-grade suspension hardware has been bolted to the bonded aluminum chassis, with adjustable, Ohlins dampers and Eibach anti-roll bars all round. Michelin Cup 2 tyres have also been fitted to make good on the aero and power-based gains and help the 3-Eleven 430 clock a record time on Lotus’s own test track, where it edged out the Lotus Exige 430 Cup.

Lotus’s 70th birthday celebrations have already seen the release of the Exige 70th Edition and Lotus Elise Cup 250 GP Edition, both, like the 3-Eleven 430, tributes to the company for reaching the milestone landmark.

 

BMW M4 Convertible Edition 30 Jahre revealed

Jordan Katsianis

20 Feb 2018

BMW is marking 30 years since the release of the original E30 M3 Convertible with the M4 Convertible Edition 30 Jahre, a limited-build run featuring bespoke styling touches and a retro-inspired paint palette. Despite the different nomenclature (you can thank BMW’s recently uprooted naming structure for that), the M4 Convertible is a direct forerunner of that 1988 original.

Changes for the M4 Edition 30 Jahre include the choice of two bespoke colours – Macao Blue and a matte finished Frozen Dark Grey, the latter unique for the UK market. The M4 also features BMW’s high gloss shadowline that replaces the chrome kidney grilles, side wings trim and badging with black units. Star-spoke 20-inch wheels are also standard; here in a bespoke Orbit Grey finish.

> Click here to read our review of the BMW M4 Competition Pack

Inside, buyers will have the choice of two colour option packs of black and blue, or black and silver. Also standard is a full leather package that extends the cow on the centre console and dashboard. Carbonfibre trim is standard, as is 30 Jahre Edition branding on the sills and headrests.

Mechanically, the 30 Jahre is based on the M4 Convertible fitted with the Competition Pack. As such, it is powered by the same 3-litre turbocharged inline-six with 444bhp, driving the rear wheels through the usual combination of an active M rear differential and rear-wheel drive. BMW’s snappy seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is also standard fit.

The M4’s three-piece folding roof is also unchanged, although you pay the price for it with a lardy kerb weight of 1864kg.

Prices will start at £76,675, which is £8650 more than a standard Competition Pack M4 Convertible fitted with DCT. Add in a few of those options listed above and the difference will shrink further, making the special edition surprisingly good value considering its rarity on British roads.

 

Techrules Ren RS set for Geneva reveal with 1287bhp

Lee Stern

19 Feb 2018

Set to be unveiled at the 2018 Geneva motor show in March, the Techrules Ren RS is a lightweight, track-only variant of the Techrules Ren supercar that appeared at the event last year. Techrules has not yet confirmed whether or not the Ren RS will make production.

> Geneva motor show 2018: preview of the key cars

Based on the road-going Ren, the Ren RS employs the same turbine-recharging electric vehicle powertrain technology. As a result you can specify the Ren RS with four or six motors (two on the front axle and two or four on the rear axle). The latter motor combination develops 1287bhp, which yields a 0-62mph time of 3sec and a 205mph V-max.

The powertrain comprises four elements: a turbine, a generator, a battery pack and the electric motors. The turbine burns diesel fuel to drive the generator, which in turn charges up a 28kWh battery pack that supplies power to the electric motors. Brimmed with 80 litres of diesel, the Ren RS has a range of 727 miles.

Fabrizio and Giorgetto Giugiaro have redesigned the Ren’s body with the motosport-biased design brief – and hence aerodynamics – clearly in mind. A new front splitter, aggressive rear diffuser and fixed rear wing now feature on the Ren RS.

> Why your next performance saloon car will be a hybrid

However, the biggest exterior change sees the cockpit canopy slimmed down to a slipperier shape, akin to a fighter-jet-style canopy. As a result, the Ren RS only has room for one occupant, not three like the Ren.

The chassis layout is as per the Ren, which debuted at the 2017 Geneva motor show. So aluminum subframes, which house the electric motors and provide the mounting points for the double-wishbone pushrod suspension, are secured to a carbonfibre tub. Continuing the theme of high-grade race-spec componentry are AP Racing carbon-ceramic brakes and KW dampers.

Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport GSi BiTurbo review – go-faster hatch lacks sparkle

James Disdale

19 Feb 2018

The Vauxhall Insignia GSi Grand Sport isn’t normally the sort of car that gets people like us excited. Sure, it’s actually better to drive than you’d credit, plus it’s spacious, refined and well equipped, but ultimately it's a rep special in the mould of the Ford Mondeo, Skoda Superb and VW Passat. Yet when Vauxhall revealed it was reviving the GSi badge for a fast flagship version of the Insignia (the full name is Insignia Grand Sport, but we’ll stick to Insignia for the sake of simplicity and sanity), we sat up and took notice.

> New Vauxhall Corsa GSi

Initial signs are promising, too. For starters, Vauxhall claims that the car can lap the Nurburgring 12 seconds faster than the old Insignia VXR, while mechanical upgrades include Brembo brakes, a 10mm lower ride height and a GKN torque vectoring four-wheel drive system. There’s also a pair of 2.0-litre four-cylinder units to choose from – a 256bhp turbocharged petrol and a 207bhp twin-turbo diesel. It’s the latter we drive here - Vauxhall doesn’t have any petrols on its fleet because it reckons the BiTurbo will be the big seller. Perhaps the dieselgate scandal hasn’t yet landed in Luton...

Still, at least the GSi looks the part, in a stealthy sort of way. There’s a deeper front bumper complete with larger, chrome trimmed air intakes, some natty side skirts and a rear spoiler, while the huge 20-inch alloys are wrapped in Michelin's grippiest road tyres. Inside there are equally big clues to the car’s sporting intent, including a pair of heavily bolstered and GSi emblazoned high-backed front seats, a flat bottom steering wheel and aluminium-finished pedals. In all other respects it’s standard Insignia, which means the interior is spacious, well built and packed with standard kit.

Technical highlights

Arguably the most intriguing aspect of the Insignia is its four-wheel-drive transmission. Essentially it’s the same basic GKN setup already seen on the Ford Focus RS, and while it’s not as aggressively calibrated in the Vauxhall, it still delivers similar torque vectoring abilities. In practice, the system can shuffle torque across the rear axle, overdriving the outside rear wheel to help point the car’s nose into the apex of a corner and therefore reduce understeer. Vauxhall also makes big play of the ‘yaw damping’, which essentially is torque vectoring in reverse. By monitoring steering angle and throttle position it can control the way the diff locks, creating greater stability (less yaw) in normal (Tour) mode and more agility when the Sport setting is engaged.

> Skoda Superb review

Elsewhere, engineers have tweaked the GSi’s suspension, dropping the ride height by 10mm and adding stiffer spring rates (by between 35 and 40 percent, depending on whether it’s a hatch or an estate model). Also tweaked is the mapping for both the standard FlexRide adaptive dampers and the electronic stability control – there’s now a ‘Competition’ setting that gives you greater leeway before the systems intervene. 

Finally, the standard 20-inch alloys are wrapped in high performance Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres, while upgraded Brembo calipers clamp larger discs (345mm at the front, 315mm at the rear).

Engine, transmission and 0-62mph time

The Insignia GSi BiTurbo gets a tweaked version of the familiar 2.0-litre diesel already used in cooking models. Featuring a pair of sequentially mounted turbochargers, each utlilising variable geometry vanes, the four-cylinder unit delivers a respectable 207bhp and a thumping 354lb ft of torque at just 1500rpm. Driving all four-wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox (there is on manual option) it will crack 0-62mph in just 7.3 seconds and will continue accelerating until it hits 145mph. By contrast, the petrol versions vital statistics run to 6.9 seconds and 155mph for the same benchmarks.

> VW Arteon review

On the move, however, the GSi feels brisk rather than outright fast. With so much twist available at such low revs there’s little point in extending the motor, which is much quieter when warmed through but still fairly agricultural sounding. In combination with the reasonably smooth standard eight-speed auto it allows you to make effortless and unobtrusive progress. 

That said, it’s probably best to avoid the engine’s Sport setting. Yes it sharpens the throttle fractionally, but it also uses the car’s stereo to treat the unit to some electronic augmentation, which results in a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place on the sort of 1980s era racing simulators that were a staple of the ZX Spectrum.

What’s it like to drive?

Ultimately, the Insignia is a car that allows you to make easy progress. It’s simply a slightly shaper version of the standard model, rather than a serious driver’s car. There’s a choice of Tour and Sport modes, and in the former the Insignia driving experience will be familiar to anyone who’s driven lesser versions in the line-up. The adaptive dampers serve-up a soft ride, the transmission smoothly shifts between ratios and the lifeless steering is light and fairly precise. It’s fairly uninspiring, but as a quiet and comfortable outside lane express that feels capably agile when the going gets twisty the Vauxhall does a good job. 

> Vauxhall Astra GTE Mk1

Yet it’s when you hit the Sport button that the Insignia struggles because, well, it doesn’t feel that much different to Tour. There’s some extra firmness added to the dampers, but not much; so while the Insignia’s body movements are well controlled there’s a fair amount of roll. There’s also some extra sharpness added to the throttle and a touch more weight for the steering. That said, the electrically assisted setup is still too light and offers zero feedback. This isn’t such a problem in the dry where you can trust the sticky Michelins will grip, but in greasy or wet conditions the breakdown in communication makes it difficult to commit, sapping confidence.

Still, there are positives. Once turned in the Vauxhall grips hard, while the four-wheel drive system subtly overdrives the outside rear wheel, pivoting the car about its axis and pointing the nose towards the apex. There’s also the very subtlest hint of power oversteer on the exit of a bend. It’s not as wild as a Focus RS, but it provides the Vauxhall with greater agility helping it cover ground more effectively. 

Price and rivals

Prices start at £32,975 for the Insignia Grand Sport GSi BiTurbo tested here, while the 256bhp petrol will set you back £33,375. If you want more space, then a Sports Tourer estate version of each is available for an extra £1500. Now, while that’s a fair chunk of cash for a large Vauxhall, the Insignia does at least come loaded with standard kit, including sat-nav, LED matrix lights (which are car was fitted with, strangely), keyless entry, leather trim, heated seats front and rear, head-up display and a whole host of semi autonomous driver aids. Also included is Vauxhall’s neat OnStar system, which includes 24 hour access to a concierge service and a 4G wi-fi hotspot, if that’s the sort of thing that gets you excited.

> Kia Stinger review

Still, even the generous list of equipment can’t distract from the fact there are some seriously talented rivals out there, including the Skoda Superb 4X4. Available in 276bhp petrol and 187bhp diesel guises the Czech is more engaging to drive and equally well equipped, while prices start at £32,370. The VW Arteon looks sharper than the Vauxhall and is more refined, but in sporty R-Line trim it costs more to buy, with the 276bhp petrol (the same as in the Skoda, but mated to a seven rather than six-speed DSG) costs £39,630, while the 236bhp 2.0-litre BiTDI is a wallet-crippling £40,305. That said, it feels far more upmarket inside and out, plus boasts a chassis that’s more involving than the Insignia’s. As an outside bet, there’s the handsome and capable Kia Stinger, which is priced at £31,995 for the 240bhp GT-Line petrol and £33,895 for the similarly specified 194bhp 2.0-litre CRDi diesel. Both feature four-wheel drive, an eight-speed auto and a capable chassis that rewards a bit of hustling.

Ultimately, while the Grand Sport is a capable, quick, composed and spacious machine, it’s not a very exciting one. Its biggest problem is that it doesn’t feel that much different to lesser versions, which deliver many of the same qualities in much cheaper packages. 

Edo Competition takes the Mercedes-AMG GT R past 650bhp

Lee Stern

19 Feb 2018

With more power and a greater track focus, German performance tuner Edo Competition has turned the wick up on the Mercedes-AMG GT R. Edo hasn't disclosed a price for the upgrade package. 

While the engine modifications aren’t extensive, they’re effective, thanks to the receptiveness of modern turbocharged engines to tuning. Edo has extracted an extra 74bhp and 59lb ft of torque from the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 by increasing boost pressure, the result being new peaks of 651bhp and 575lb ft – both coming on stream slightly later than the peaks of the standard car.

> Mercedes-AMG GT R review

The Edo GT R will sail past the standard car's limited top speed of 198mph, running out of puff at 211mph. Despite the traction-limited, rear-drive layout, Edo claims to have shaved 0.3sec off the stock car’s 3.6sec 0-62mph time.

evo comment - Mercedes-AMG GT R

‘Out on the road the Mercedes-AMG GT R feels hardcore. That’s as you’d hope, but it’s a very firm car, even in Comfort mode. On the plus side that means it’s sharp as a flick knife, cutting a clean line through the corners and revelling in rapid direction changes’

To provide the Edo GT R with a bespoke aesthetic and refocus the chassis setup for more track driving it has been lowered by 25mm at the front and 20mm at the rear. While the drop in ride height won’t guarantee quicker lap times, the squatter stance lends the already aggressive-looking Mercedes-AMG GT R even more purpose.

> Mercedes-AMG launches new twin-turbo hybrid 53 engine

Edo claims the ride comfort hasn’t been totally sacrificed, however, the standard car is firm already so the effect of lowering the car will likely result in an even stiffer ride: ‘The vehicle’s already sporty handling is matched by unbeatable visual impact. As the vehicle hugs the road surface, the driver experiences an exhilarating mix of dynamism, racetrack response and comfort.’

Aston Martin DB11 Volante review - the DB11 at its best?

Steve Sutcliffe

19 Feb 2018
£166,180

Everyone knows that when you remove the roof of a car and replace it with a piece of cloth you take away its torsional strength, and therefore its chassis and suspension become far harder to tune. At the same time you also lose luggage space and add weight, while the styling becomes much more challenging to perfect, especially from the B-pillars backwards. So for the average team of car designers and engineers, the open-top car is a right old nightmare, quite frankly.

Yet the Volante has been a staple for Aston Martin since it was invented in 1965. Which is why Aston’s designers and engineers have pulled out all the stops to make the latest £159,900 V8 Volante as good to drive as it is to look at, and a fair bit roomier, stiffer and more practical than its immediate predecessor, too.

Engine, transmission and 0-62mph time

Aston Martin says it has no plans to fit the Volante with a V12 engine, so you get the 90 degree, 4-litre twin-turbo V8, like it or not. Fortunately we rather like the V8, and so will most owners we’d expect, given how fundamentally good it is as a power-plant, and how well Aston Martin’s engineers have tuned it to make it feel bespoke (even though it’s essentially the same engine as you get in most, if not quite all, Mercedes AMGs).

> Click here for our review of the Aston Martin DB11 V8

Power is 503bhp at 6000rpm, while maximum torque of 498lb ft is developed as a flat peak between 2000-5000rpm. The Volante weighs 110kg more than the DB11 V8 Coupe (making it exactly the same weight as the V12 Coupe) so it’s not just as rapid in a straight line. Aston claims 4.1sec to 62mph, 8.8sec to 100mph and a top speed of 187mph, so it’s still well beyond the right side of brisk.

The gearbox is the same eight-speed ZF automatic with paddle shifters that’s used in the Coupe, with the same shift-by-wire control system and mapping tuned by Aston Martin to deliver different responses, depending on which drive mode is selected.

Technical highlights

Without going into exhaustive detail about how Aston’s engineers have conjured such strong results from the Volante’s chassis, essentially there is extra bracing at both the front and back ends, plus significantly stiffer springs and dampers all round. And as a collective these modifications have made the Volante the sweetest of all three versions of DB11 on the move. Which, given the compromises, is more than a little bit surprising.

As with the Coupe versions, there are three different drive modes to choose from for both the drivetrain and the chassis, so in theory six different modes in all; Normal, Sport and Sport+ for each (chassis and drivetrain).

In Normal the Volante feels calm, sounds reasonably serene and rides a touch more firmly than you might expect, but without any unwanted intrusions from below. In Sport it feels a fraction more alive generally, although you can still keep the chassis in Normal and put the drivetrain in Sport, and vice versa, which is a nice touch. And then in Sport + for both modes it feels – and sounds – much more aggressive, the mapping for the gearbox, throttle, transmission, exhaust and dampers all shifting to another level, making the Volante feel like a much more focused machine.

In a way it’s a shame you can’t have the loud exhaust without also having the more aggressive throttle and transmission maps. It would be nice, after all, to be able to enjoy the extra noise from the V8 without being in a gear too low most of the time in Auto.

> Click here for more on the all-new Aston Martin Vantage

There’s also a trick new electric hood that stores much more neatly than before into the rear bodywork, which has allowed the designers to really go to town with the Volante’s lower-than-normal rear deck. The result is a good-looking car when viewed either in profile or, especially, dead on from the rear.

The new hood – which can be raised or lowered at up to 31mph and takes less than 20 seconds to do its thing – also takes up a fair bit less space than previously thanks to its clever packaging, meaning you get more room in the rear seats and boot. The rear chairs, for instance, are spacious enough to feature ISOFIX attachments for the first time ever in a Volante.

What’s it like to drive

Surprisingly sharp, and very possibly the sweetest DB11 of them all on the move as a result. The Volante’s steering, in particular, is quite lovely, with a sharper response to it on turn-in and a lovely consistent sense of weight mid-corner.

It’s not just the way it steers that distinguishes the Volante, however, because there’s something about the way it goes down the road generally that feels more cohesive, more right, than any other DB11. From the way it rides to the way it sounds, to the way it goes, even to the way it changes gear, the Volante has an extra degree of polish to it dynamically that is thoroughly surprising given that it is the only DB11 without a fixed roof.

And despite weighing that much more than the V8 Coupe, it’s also quick. Quicker than its 0-62mph time would suggest. The torque flow from the twin-turbo V8 is strong even at 2000rpm, and at 4500rpm it feels seriously rapid in any of the first six gears within the decent-enough eight-speed paddleshift auto.

Predictably, the Volante’s wide range of dynamic personalities are best enjoyed with the hood down, when wind noise is impressively well suppressed, at least up to three figures, although you need the wind deflector in place much above 50mph. But even with the hood up the Volante can play the refined, smooth-driving mile-eater perfectly well. Apart from the restricted vision through the small rear window, it essentially feels like a coupe on the move with the hood up. That’s how well the hood has been engineered.

I’m still not absolutely convinced that the cabin feels like £160k worth in one or two aspects: the plastic air vents – sourced from a fairly low-end Mercedes – being the most obvious example. But beyond this the Volante is an absolute belter of a car, one that drives even better than it looks.

Price and rivals

Is the £159,900 Volante a car you’d consider instead of, say, a £156,381 Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet? Maybe, maybe not. But the one very obvious rival for the Volante is the new Ferrari Portofino, which we drove last week and which also has a twin-turbo V8 engine mounted in its nose that drives the rear wheels, and the rear wheels only. It costs a touch more than the Aston at £166,180.

As to which is the better of the two, it’s close enough to warrant a full twin test a little later in the year, back in the UK, once something called the sun has reappeared. Right now, though, if I was really pushed I reckon I’d take the Aston. That’s how good the Volante has become. 

Why your next performance saloon car will be a hybrid

Stuart Gallagher

17 Feb 2018

A part from LaFerrari, P1s and 918s, the idea of any degree of electrified powertrain is one to fill an evo reader’s heart with dread.  It’s a shortcut to anaesthetising the cars we love. The internal combustion engine – especially a meticulously engineered petrol example – is too much an integral part of a performance car’s soul to be supplemented by a boot full of Duracells and AC motors.

> Best hypercars 2018

But the industry now thinks otherwise. But whereas just five years ago electrification was the means mainly to emissions gains, today the message has changed and electrification and performance are being discussed as acceptable garage buddies. And it’s the original performance Q-car – the supersaloon – that’s the likely first candidate to get a shock to its system.

BMW, for example, hasn’t ruled out using hybrid electric power for its next generation of M-cars. Speaking at the end of 2017, outgoing board member for sales and marketing, Dr Ian Robertson, said that he fully expects M to turn to some form of hybrid powertrain for the next generation M-cars, starting with the BMW M5

‘When Frank van Meel [CEO of BMW’s M division] first told me that the new M5 was going to be four-wheel drive I thought, ‘this isn’t going to work, not in an M5’. Then I drove the first prototype and knew it was the only option. Is it still an M5 with four-wheel drive? Absolutely. So when you look to the next generation of M-cars, and the technology we have to consider, yes I think they could have some form of electric powertrain.’

> Mercedes-AMG launches new twin-turbo hybrid 53 engine

Robertson’s comments echo those of a number of other European manufacturers, such as Audi, AMG and Porsche, which have started, or are already working on, electric powertrains to deliver a performance advantage rather than purely an emissions benefit. That such a move would help all the aforementioned to meet ever-tightening emissions targets is a welcome by-product of course, but not as welcome as the instant performance boost such hybrid powertrains can deliver, especially as cars continue to pile on the kilos despite advances in lightweight construction technologies.

The engineers need to tread carefully, though: the continued success of M is vital to BMW. In the UK and US both M and M Sport models account for large slices of the sales pie: the latter takes over 50 per cent of UK sales. So although electrification is under serious consideration, as long as M remains such an integral cog in the BMW machine, the company won’t risk alienating existing loyal customers in order to attract new ones. Any future M division product with hybrid power still needs to be an M-car, stresses Robertson.

It’s a similar story at Audi. Its forthcoming RS7 will be offered with both a conventional internal combustion engine – think twin-turbos, eight cylinders and north of 600bhp – and a 700bhp hybrid system, similar to that used by Porsche in its Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. Porsche, of course, is also working towards a fully electric performance saloon in the shape of Mission E. First unveiled as an electric concept, the Mission E will become a production reality in under two years, offering a range of performance options from 400bhp to over 650bhp via a pair of electric motors and a two-speed all-wheel drive transmission. And all starting from under £70,000. It’s one of the few cars we suspect keeps Elon Musk awake at night. If he actually sleeps, that is.

> Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid review  

Not wishing to be left out of the new- wave arms race, Mercedes is readying a pair of super sports saloons that will both feature an electric powertrain variant. The headliner is the four-door AMG GT, scheduled for a September 2018 launch following its debut at the Geneva motor show. Set to be available with a range of engines including AMG’s current twin- turbocharged 4-litre hot-vee V8s, it will also feature an 800bhp petrol-hybrid powertrain badged under the company’s EQ Power+ brand.

Positioned as a stand-alone model to rival Porsche’s Panamera, this four-door GT will sit above the E63/S in Mercedes’ supersaloon hierarchy. Sitting below the AMG-powered E-models will be the new CLS53, the first model to receive Mercedes’ new petrol-hybrid engine. The combustion engine is a twin-turbo 429bhp 3-litre straight-six and features both a conventional exhaust gas- driven turbo and an electric auxiliary compressor. Added to this is an EQ Boost starter-alternator providing an additional short-term 21bhp electric boost, along with a further 184lb ft of torque, and this also feeds the 48V electric system. The results see the 1980kg CLS53 hit 62mph in 4.5 seconds and top 168mph. AMG has also confirmed there will be no CLS63.

Beyond this, AMG’s CEO Tobia Moers told evo at the CLS53’s global reveal that the future of the performance car and the supersaloon in particular needs to adopt an element of electrification. “By 2020 electrification will be key to performance cars - not just for the performance we are expected to deliver but to meet emissions and efficiency targets it . These will dictate that we have to some form of electric powertrain for our cars” explained Moers.

> BMW M5 review

“EV will provide us with the performance we need an AMG to deliver” continued the AMG boss. “There is room between the 60kw motor we have in the (CLS)53 and the 800kw motor that we have in Project One. This car is providing us with so much important detailed information.

“The V8 is still the heart of an AMG, but it will need some level of electrification for us to be able to continue with it. But there’s some time between now and 2020 when I think we have to introduce such technology.”

 A big-lunged, heavy-hitting petrol engine has been the key component of any supersaloon since BMW installed the straight-six from its M1 supercar into the shark-nosed E28. And as the sector has evolved and new rivals entered the field, so the perceived necessity by manufacturers to launch more and more powerful evolutions has become an all-consuming addiction.

> evo Car of the Year best super saloon

More power – and in the world of turbocharged engines more torque – has required stronger (heavier) suspension, and larger (heavier) brakes and wheels, in order to fit the bigger tyres (you get where this is going) needed to provide the required levels of grip. And when you start adding 500lb ft+ of torque it seems (heavy) four-wheel drive transmissions are also a must have today. Combine this with the addition of electrified powertrains and the weight problem increases and according to AMG it’s not just the battery, but the motors too. Another reason why Project One will help the Affalterbach firm to accelerate its development time when it comes to the next generation of supersaloons.

With all this in mind, it’s little wonder manufacturers are turning to hybrid technology to find their next performance advantage. But we can’t help thinking that a more intelligent, broader thinking approach to lightweight engineering would not only deliver some of the efficiency gains required, but improve the thrill factor, too.

New Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 spied with 4.0 flat-six power

Jordan Katsianis

16 Feb 2018

Porsche’s sequel to the exceptional Cayman GT4 has been caught completing its final shakedown in winter testing. We’re massive fans of the original, even giving it an eCoty gong along the way, but with the latest 718 underwhelming thanks mainly to a humdrum powertrain, the prospect of the 911 GT3's engine sitting under the car's rear deck when it's released later in 2018 is sending expectation levels skyward.

Where the Cayman/Boxster twins are concerned, there was always the feeling that Porsche has held them back for fear of showing up the 911. The old Porsche Cayman GT4 (and its Boxster Spyder counterpart) addressed this, as Porsche’s GT department finally used the sparkling chassis to full effect by instilling it with all the best components from Porsche’s catalogue.

> Click here for our look at the upcoming Porsche 718 Boxster Spyder 

So what can we expect with the 718 Cayman GT4? The signs are good if you were hoping for the wail of a naturally aspirated flat-six of 4-litre capacity and near 500bhp. In terms of numbers, the Cayman will concede overall power and performance figures to the current 911 GT3, but shouldn’t be too far away. Which transmission will be attached remains a more of an open question.

The test car spotted in these images combines new dual exhaust outlets (a first for the Cayman/Boxster pairing) sat within a large diffuser pointing to the change in powertrain compared to the standard 718. The front apron is also more aggressive than before, balanced out by a large stacked wing on the rear deck. The same forged wheels from the previous GT4 also look to be fitted although this might change for the production car.

Thanks to the unobtainable status of Porsche GT products, the 718 Cayman GT4’s price-tag is unlikely to matter for most punters, but thanks to a closer alignment to the now £112k 911 GT3, we expect the price to rise above the £80k of the previous one. We'll be waiting to see, and importantly hear, more about the new GT4 and its Spyder cousin later this year, with a Geneva 2019 reveal likely. 

New Vauxhall Corsa GSi on the way this year

Antony Ingram

16 Feb 2018

The “warm hatch” market will grow further this year with the introduction of a new Vauxhall Corsa GSi.

Details are very slim at the moment, with the car announced in just a single line of a press release celebrating 25 years of the Corsa model line, but Vauxhall confirms the model will arrive in late 2018.

Best small cars to buy now

As with the recently-launched Vauxhall Insignia GSi, the Corsa GSi is effectively a less hardcore, more usable performance model that you'd find in the top echelon of hot hatches. In the past, Vauxhall’s high-performance VXR range would fill the void above the Corsa GSi model but evo understand that VXR cars may well be dropped from the Vauxhall range.

The GSi is unlikely to share the last Corsa VXR’s 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and its 202bhp output. Instead, we’d expect it to use a smaller engine - possibly the company’s 1.4-litre turbocharged four, as found in the smaller Vauxhall Adam S, where it develops 148bhp through a six-speed manual gearbox.

Vauxhall Corsa

Styling too is likely to be toned down in comparison to a VXR Vauxhall, though the Insignia GSi shows that Vauxhall may well look for a balance between drama and subtlety with the new car. Chassis modifications are likely too, with lowered and uprated suspension compared to more conventional Corsas, but without the sometimes punishing ride quality - and without the aggressive limited-slip differential of the old Corsa VXR.

The GSi tweaks should turn the Corsa into an entertaining warm hatchback, closely rivalling the more powerful versions of Ford’s Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost (which make 138bhp) and the upcoming Suzuki Swift Sport, which packs its own turbocharged 1.4-litre engine and an identical 138bhp to the Fiesta - albeit tipping the scales at 970kg, undercutting the 1100kg-plus Corsa and Fiesta by quite a margin.

The future of Vauxhall’s VXR performance division is still unknown, following last year’s takeover by PSA, the company which owns Peugeot and Citroen - but given the next Corsa is likely to sit on PSA’s new CMP platform and both French brands have a strong hot hatchback heritage, we’re hopeful that any performance model for Peugeot or Citroen will result in an equivalent from Vauxhall. Given Peugeot’s recent hot hatch form in particular, a future Corsa VXR could be off to a very good start but it seems this may now be unlikely.

According to our sister title, Auto Express, Vauxhall’s “late 2018” launch date for the Corsa GSi should mean an early-autumn arrival for the new car, while pricing should come in at under £20,000.

Best performance cars 2018 - our top ten fast car heroes of the moment

James Disdale

16 Feb 2018

These days performance cars come in all shapes and sizes – from city cars to SUVs and everything in between, there’s a go faster version to suit every taste and budget. It’s testament to the enduring appeal of cars that prioritise driver thrills ahead of minimising bills that there are more high performance models out there than ever before. 

What’s more, they’re quicker than ever, with many seemingly sensible saloons now delivering the sort of acceleration that’ll leave decade old supercars choking in their smoking tyre tracks, and the odd hot hatch that’ll humble serious sportscars on any given track day. 

So which is best? To make life a little easier we’ve whittled the long list of contenders down to 10 models – each one from a distinct category. While every car delivers different power outputs, drive layouts and bodystyles, they are all instilled with a philosophy that attempts to put the driver front and centre. So, in no particular order, here’s our diverse performance car top 10.

Top 10 best performance cars to buy in 2018

  1. McLaren 720
  2. Bugatti Chiron
  3. Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport
  4. Honda Civic Type R
  5. Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce
  6. Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
  7. Lotus Elise 220
  8. BMW M4 Competition Pack
  9. Porsche Macan GTS
  10. Bentley Continental GT

McLaren 720S

Where do you start with the McLaren 720S? Less than a decade after the brand first got serious about making road cars, it has delivered a car that has redefined what a supercar should be capable of. From its shattering performance to its uncanny ability to deliver both razor sharp handling and a supple ride, the 720S sets new standards seemingly at will.

Crucially it looks the part, its blend of complex surfacing, flowing curves and numerous vents, the McLaren oozes supercar kerb appeal. The aluminium panels look like they’ve been shrink wrapped over the carbon structure, while every aspect of the shape hints at the single-minded pursuit of aerodynamic performance. Of course there are some flamboyant flourishes too, particularly those dihedral doors.

> McLaren 720S review

Performance is mind scrambling, with the blast from 0-62mph all over in 2.8 seconds and a top speed very much the wrong side of 200mph. And while the whooshing and sighing 710bhp twin-turbo 4.0-litre can’t match the aural drama of its Italian rivals, its brutal pace more than makes up for that.

Then there’s the handling, which melds tenacious grip with beautiful balance and engagement. Take it a little easier though, and the McLaren rides with the easy-going gait of an executive saloon. Few other cars fuse so completely such scintillating performance, approachable handling and everyday usability. The 720’s greatness is assured.

Bugatti Chiron

In the already rarefied sphere of the hypercar, the Bugatti Chiron stands head and shoulders above its limited band of rivals. Of course, there’s the performance – the raw data alone will take you breath away. You want details? Well, how about the gargantuan 8.0-litre 16-cylinder engine that utilises four turbochargers to deliver 1479bhp and 1189lb ft of torque, which results in a 0-62mph time of less than 2.5 seconds and a top speed that’s limited, yes limited, to 261mph (it’s the tyre technology rather than the car itself that requires the need for an electronic restraint).  

> Bugatti Chiron review

Yet unlike some of its bespoke, one-off rivals the Chiron combines this attack on Einstein’s theories of time and space with incredible civility. Getting about in one is no more challenging than piloting a VW Golf to the shops. A massive, low-slung 1500bhp Golf, but a Golf nonetheless. So what’s it really like to drive? I’ll let our own Dickie Meaden explain. ‘Pretty much straight away you sense the connection and detail through the steering. Of course there’s tons of grip and unshakable traction - anything less would be extremely negligent given the power and torque on-tap - but it’s the fact you now know how much you’re using and how much is left that marks the Chiron out as something special.

‘The problem, if you can call it such, is the range and accessibility of the performance. A squeeze of the throttle sends you surging down the road with the insistence of an avalanche. Give it a proper push to the carpet and there’s the briefest sense of the W16 filling its lungs and then you simply punch from where you were to where you were looking, waaaaay down the straight. It’s more like matter transfer than conventional acceleration. Nothing in my experience connects the corners quite like this.’

Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport

For the best part of three decades Peugeot has been sitting under a 205 GTi shaped cloud. The flyweight hot hatch wasn’t the first of the breed, but it arguably came to define it, and as a result every subsequent Peugeot pocket rocket – 206, 207 and 208 – has been hobbled by the weight of history.

However, if you’re willing to whip off the rose tinted glasses, then the (it’s a bit of a mouthful) Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport is proof positive that the French firm hasn’t lost its magic touch. Acrobatic and engaging handling, searing performance and compact dimensions make the little Peugeot our favourite hot hatch. Sure, the optional two-tone Coupe Franche paint job won’t be to all tastes and the i-cockpit dashboard is either distinctive or disastrous depending on your viewpoint (literally), but drive the 208 and these controversies will be quickly forgotten.

> GTi by Peugeot Sport review

So, where to start? Well, there’s that fizzing 205bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre engine that seems to get stronger with every rev before reaching its raspy, redline crescendo, plus the tireless Alcon brakes that can trace their roots back to the 206WRC.

Yet it’s the sparkling chassis that marks the Peugeot out for greatness. The steering is quick, direct and meatily weighted and is connected to a front axle with terrific bite on entry and Torsen generated traction on exit. It’s the car’s playful balance that really marks it out, with a tweak of the wheel or lift of the throttle changing your angle of attack in an instant.

It’s not perfect, but then few cars of character ever are. The combination of shallow grooved Michelins and stiff suspension mean the Peugeot is twitchy in the wet, while the driving position and its awkwardly placed pedals will vex some drivers, but overall the 208’s infectious personality is impossible to resist. 205? What 205?

Honda Civic Type R

The Honda Civic Type R has elevated the art of the front-wheel drive hot hatch to new levels. In terms of power, performance and grip, it treads on the toes of four-wheel drive hyper hatches, but it does so without losing sight of what makes less exotic pocket rockets great.

However, look at the Civic and it’d be easy to dismiss the winged wonder as some Saturday night McDonald’s car park head banger. The sizable spoiler, various vents and Super Touring stance give the Honda something of a boy racer image, but understand that it’s all for go rather than show and you’ll be able to make peace with Type R. The first thing that strikes you as you settle into the low set seat is the deliciously precise and consistent weighting of the controls, which feel expensively engineered. Squeeze the throttle harder and the lag-free and muscular response of the 316bhp 2.0-litre turbo will grab your attention. It’s not the most exciting sounding unit, but it delivers startling acceleration and is mated to six-speed manual of rare precision.

> Honda Civic Type R

Perhaps what’s most surprising about the Civic is how it picks apart a twisty stretch of tarmac. Despite its aggressive looks this is a car that breathes with the road, rather than pummeling it into submission. The adaptive dampers have hard-as-nails track setting, but most of the time they serve up a mesmerizing blend of cosseting compliance and cast iron control. Factor in the limpet-like grip and near unbreakable traction and few cars at any price will catch an enthusiastically piloted Civic on most give and take roads. Of course, the icing on the cake is the fact it’s a spacious, cost effective and easy to live with as any Honda. Sum the Honda up in one word? Brilliant.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce

The Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce sits below the lightning quick Quadrifoglio in the line-up, but it certainly doesn’t play second fiddle to pricier and more powerful flagship. Yes it doesn’t have that car’s explosive acceleration, snarling soundtrack or it’s ability to perform track day miracles, but the Veloce’s remit as a sports saloon means it brings a subtler blend of talents.

Like all Giulias, the Veloce gets the same flowing lines and gorgeous curves as the Q-car, but smaller wheels and an unvented bonnet give it a less pugnacious kerbside attitude. Inside you miss out on some of the Alcantara and leather, but the low-slung, straight-legged driving position remains. 

> Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce review

On the move, the Veloce doesn’t sound as serious as its V6-engined cousin, but the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder is torquey low down and revs smoothly and with Latin enthusiasm. More importantly, with 276bhp it’s no slouch either, rattling off the 0-62mph sprint in a claimed 5.7 seconds. It feels quick too, thanks in part to the well-chosen ratios of the quick-enough eight-speed auto.

Yet it it’s the Alfa’s remarkable ride and handling balance that really impresses. When fitted with adaptive dampers it flows down the road with impressive suppleness, yet at the touch of a button the car tenses up and hunkers down, allowing you to attack corners with real relish. You can’t switch of the stability control, but there’s more than enough rear-wheel drive feel and the steering is every bit as quick and sharp as Quad’s. It’s a brilliantly rounded display.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

For so many years Alfa Romeo  has disappointed, so the Giulia Quadrifoglio came as something of a shock - it wasn’t just good for an Alfa Romeo, it was good full stop. In fact, it’s rather better than good – it’s absolutely fabulous. The combination of 503bhp twin-turbo V6, rear-wheel drive and the guiding hand of the team behind the Ferrari 458 Speciale should have given us a clue, but with Alfa Romeo you never really know.

Even before you so much as pull on the door handle, the Giulia looks like a car that means business. The standard car’s voluptuous lines are enhanced by the mesh bonnet vents, the quad exhausts and those lovely enamel four-leafed clover badges on the front wings, which are formed in aluminium along with the door skins. Carbonfibre is used for bonnet, roof and bootlid.

> Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

The lovely shell-backed Sparco seats are set low, while the steering wheel is perfectly placed, McLaren style. Set on the centre console is the DNA rotary controller, which like the menus in all the best restaurants features a short but tasty list of options – All-weather, Normal, Dynamic and Race. Each one ramps up the steering weight and the response of the throttle and gearbox, while the latter disengages the stability control. You can also select from three damper modes, which essentially cover the comfort, normal and sport briefs.

On the road, Dynamic is best as it allows you to access the 2.9-litre V6’s instant and electrifying acceleration, plus it adds some much needed aggression to the otherwise anonymous sounding engine. Front end grip is terrific, while the super quick steering means any waywardness from the tail can be collected with a flick of the wrists.

Almost as remarkable as the Alfa is poised through the corners is its deft and cosseting ride when the Giulia is knocked back into Normal. This really is a supersaloon for all seasons.

Lotus Elise 220

Over twenty years on from its debut, there’s still nothing quite like a Lotus Elise. It’s the delicate, lightweight tonic to the ever-increasing numbers of higher powered but far more portly sportscars.

You can choose from a bewildering array of engine sizes and trim levels, but for our money the 217bhp supercharged Toyota unit (soon to be the entry-level powerplant) makes the most sense. With just 904kg to haul around it’ll allow the Elise to crack 62mph in a seriously quick 4.6 seconds. Yet it’s the elasticity of the performance that impresses; the feeling that there’s a big motor carrying a very light body, which is essentially what is happening.

Yet the real party trick of the gossamer light Lotus is its uncanny ride and handling balance. Few cars connect you so completely to the road, while also filtering out all the stuff you don’t need to know. The steering is alive with feedback and the transition from grip to slip so well telegraphed that you’re rarely caught by surprise. And on the odd occasion you are, the Elise’s dinky dimensions means you’ve got more road, and therefore more options to play with.

> Lotus Elise Sprint 220 review

It’s not just the driving experience that’s great, because the Lotus still looks so good. The Series 2 car’s sharp creases and organic curves give it timeless appeal, while the endless personalization options mean you can really make it your own. Then there’s the knowledge that you’re building something pared back, with no more added to it than necessary – in these efficiency conscious times major manufactures could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of the Lotus playbook.

There are still niggles (cramped cabin, laughable fabric roof and very little refinement), but once your ensconced behind the wheel you won’t give a fig about NVH or how long it takes to raise the hood in the rain, because you’ll be too busy having the time of your life.

BMW M4 Competiton Pack

We’ll not beat around the bush here – the MY18 BMW M4 Competition Pack is the car the M4 always should have been. Sure, when the M4 burst onto the scene in 2014, all rippling muscles and turbocharged aggression, it promised to redefine the fast coupe rulebook. It was certainly quick, its 425bhp turbocharged straight-six saw to that, but the way it went about its business was more thuggish than we’ve come to expect from BMW’s M cars. Wild wheelspin and spiky, sudden oversteer were par for the course, and when conditions were slippery your confidence was sapped almost as quickly as the M4 could snap sideways.

> BMW M4 Competition Package review

Fast forward four years and the BMW has finally graduated from finishing school. Most of the change in character can be traced to the Competition Pack, which adds stiffer springs, recalibrated adaptive dampers and tweaked electronic limited slip differential. There was also more power (444bhp to be precise), but whereas that would have been a recipe for the disaster in the old car, with the latest machine it’s merely an extra tasty garnish.

The effects have to be experienced to be believed, because the M4 is now a beautifully balanced and far more predictable companion than before, allowing you to lean harder on its prodigious grip and make the most of its blistering performance. You still need to be wide awake when the BMW does let go, but it’s better telegraphed and more progressive than before, and the meaty steering and sharp throttle allow quick corrections. On the right road it’s a fast, fun and thoroughly absorbing machine, while on more humdrum routes it slips easily into your daily routine. Welcome back to the multi-talented and magnificent M machine.

Porsche Macan GTS

Put simply, the Porsche Macan turned the SUV rules of engagement on their head when it debuted in 2014. Up to this point all off-roaders were so dynamically compromised, Porsche’s larger Cayenne included, that a drive in one caused your heart to sink faster than the fuel gauge needle in a Mercedes-AMG G63. 

However, that all changed with the Macan. It starts with the driving position, which despite the raised ride height gives the sense you’re hunkered low in the car. Then there’s the steering, which on the move has more than a hint of the weight and response that marks out the set-ups used on the 911, Cayenne and Boxster. There’s plenty of bite on turn-in too, the Macan locking tenaciously onto your chosen line with the zeal of a bloodhound on the scent before clinging on gamely all the way to the exit. Four-wheel drive means that there’s lots of traction to fire you up the next straight, yet the rear-biased set-up delivers surprising adjustability, particularly when the surface is slippery.

> Porsche Macan GTS review

Yet it’s the Macan’s cast iron body control that really has you scratching your head at the physics-defying magic that Porsche has weaved into the springs and standard adaptive dampers. In its sportiest setting, the GTS feels taut and composed, resisting body roll in a way that nothing this tall should be able to. 

The Macan is fast too, it’s turbocharged 355bhp 3.0-litre V6 dusting the 0-60mph sprint in just 5.2 seconds. Granted it’s not the most charismatic sounding unit, but the combination of 369lb ft at just 1,650rpm and the effortlessly quick and smooth eight-speed PDK mean it can cover ground alarmingly quickly.

Drive with a little more restraint and the Porsche is comfortable and refined, while its cabin is spacious and beautifully trimmed. In this context it’s not hard to fathom the current fashion for SUVs. Ultimately, at evo we’d always plump for a fast estate if performance and practicality are what’s required, but if only an SUV will do, then the Macan is head and shoulders above the competition.

Bentley Continental GT

I know what you’re thinking: ‘Bentley Continental GT? Beautifully built, but it’s a bit of a barge’. If we’re talking about the old car, then you’d be right. Tipping the scales at over two tones and brimming with VW Group technology that was about two generations behind that found in the latest Golf, it was a car of presence rather than true substance. It was a lovely thing to be in and the W12 and V8 engines delivered performance that belied the hefty kerbweight, but it always felt more ocean-going liner than Blue Riband racer.

That’s all change with the latest car. It’s new from the ground up and shares all the right bits with the current Porsche Panamera, including its too-clever-by-half four-wheel drive system. And while it looks similar to the old car at a glance, clever design work actually reveals a lower and leaner looking machine. Inside it’s wall-to-wall wood and leather, but the infotainment system is cutting edge rather than dial-up.

> Bentley Continental GT review

Yet it’s on the move that differences can really be appreciated. It’s still heavy (engineers have trimmed 76kg off the old car’s kerbweight), but it feels so much lighter on its feet. The totally new air-springs, adaptive dampers and active anti-roll kit imbue the Bentley with remarkable agility and grip, while the four-wheel drive system does its best to behave like its rear-drive, allowing you to start steering the car on the throttle. You’ll need plenty of space mind, but the fact you can even contemplate such a thing is a remarkable achievement.

Of course, the twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 remains a highlight. With a staggering 626bhp and thumping 664lb ft (at just 1350rpm no less) it’ll punch past 62mph in 3.7 seconds and won’t stop going until its hits 207mph. If those figures look remarkable, then they feel even more incredible – the Bentley accelerates with the relentless urge of a large boulder being dropped off a very tall cliff. Switch the car into Sport (you also have Comfort and Bentley, which is the engineers preferred choice) and the exhaust emits a fusillade of the sort of pops and bangs that are normally reserved for 21 gun salutes. It’s hard not to laugh out loud.

Drive more sedately and the Continental GT is transformed into, well, a GT for swallowing continents. The ride is pillowy soft, the cabin a hushed vault of calm and the engine emits barely a murmur, only making itself known when you need the odd burst of interstellar overtaking muscle. It’s a Bentley Continental GT, but not as we know it.

Top 10 best performance cars to buy in 2018

  1. McLaren 720
  2. Bugatti Chiron
  3. Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport
  4. Honda Civic Type R
  5. Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce
  6. Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
  7. Lotus Elise 220
  8. BMW M4 Competition Pack
  9. Porsche Macan GTS
  10. Bentley Continental GT

Camouflaged Bentley Flying Spur spied in the snow

Lee Stern

15 Feb 2018

Our spy photographers have snapped the next generation of the Bentley Flying Spur as it undergoes winter testing. Despite its black camouflage, you can make out major elements of the big saloon’s design, which is heavily influenced by the new Bentley Continental GT. The British manufacturer is yet to reveal when we can expect its saloon in production-ready form, but it could arrive by the year’s end.

> New Bentley Continental GT review

Obvious design parallels can be drawn between the prototype and the Continental GT, especially when viewing the front end. Most obvious is the grille and quad-headlight combination that mimics the GT, however the bumper section sports a different design with a smaller surface area attributed to air inlet elements.

Another Continental GT-derived design feature is the swage line running down the flank, although it’s less pronounced than on the GT. Starting behind the outer headlights, it extends the full length of the Flying Spur, instead of stopping  at the flared wheelarches.

Unsurprisingly, the wheelbase has been stretched to accommodate the rear set of doors and necessary extra legroom sought by those in the luxury limousine market.

Moving around the back there are a few subtle changes over the outgoing Flying Spur that we can glean from the images. Surprisingly, the rear-lights look similar to the those fitted to the original Flying Spur, taller and squarer in shape, as opposed to the slimmer items found on the second generation model – although it could just be the disguise distorting our view. Elsewhere, the number plate has been repositioned from the boot to the bumper on the prototype but otherwise, the twin-exit exhaust setup has been retained.

> Bentley Bentayga review

The new Flying Spur will sit on the MSB-F platform co-developed by Bentley and Porsche. It already underpins the Panamera and new Continental GT and could inform the engine line-up, too. The outgoing Flying Spur is available with a V8 or W12 engine so the forthcoming model is likely to follow suit, borrowing the Porsche Panamera’s V8 and the GT’s W12. However, Bentley could offer a diesel too, possibly the one which is currently found in the Bentayga.  

 

All-new Kia Ceed aims to gain vital ground in family hatch arms race

Jordan Katsianis

15 Feb 2018

It seems a refreshing event when a manufacturer reveals an all-new car that isn't an SUV these days. So ignoring the new Kia Ceed’s sensible overtones, the fact that it stays true to the traditional low-riding family hatch template could be seen as a plus in itself. That Kia also says the new Ceed has channeled some of the Kia Stinger’s dynamic qualities could make it even more of an interesting proposition.

Initial signs look promising as this Ceed, like its predecessor, has been designed and developed in Europe (Frankfurt, to be precise). Lower, wider and longer than the old car, the new Ceed features a more cab-rear silhouette than before; a design theme typified by shortened front and lengthened rear overhangs. The Ceed has been designed under the watchful eye of Peter Schreyer, Chief Design Officer for Kia and Hyundai and the man responsible for the Korean brand’s increased focus on attractive design in recent years.

> Click here for our review of the Hyundai i30 N

Under the skin, the new Kia Ceed is built on the new K2 platform, with all models benefiting from independent rear suspension. The European development team was tasked with making the Ceed Kia’s most dynamic hatchback yet, laying down some solid foundations for a possible future performance version. Previously, the three-door Kia Ceed (or pro_cee’d as it was called) was offered in a warm GT variant, but with the new models like the Stinger GT, as well as sister company Hyundai’s rather excellent i30 N, having emerged from the stable since, it’s not too big a stretch to imagine a proper hot hatch variant in the model's future.

Initially though, the Ceed will be available with three petrol and two diesel engines with power outputs varying between 99bhp and 138bhp. All engines will be connected to a 6-speed manual gearbox, although the top-level petrol and diesel models will also have a 7-speed dual clutch option. 

As is the trend these days, a high mounted floating infotainment screen largely dominates the interior. The overall design is definitely in the 'OK' rather than interesting basket, but looks solid and well appointed. Space should be bang on average too, although don’t expect a cavernous rear seating area thanks to the space-sapping multi-link rear suspension. 

The Kia Ceed at this point then is hardly an evo-centric car, but then as opposed to the influx of compact SUVs, and with the possibility of a warmer future offering in the pipeline, we’ll take one of these over a dull compact SUV any day. Production will start in May, with UK prices and an on-sale date still to be confirmed. 

 

Coach-built Italdesign Zerouno Roadster to be shown at Geneva motor show

Jordan Katsianis

22 Feb 2018

Italian design house turned coachbuilder Italdesign Automobili Speciali has unveiled a roadster version of the Zerouno, a low-production supercar with extreme styling and a set of underpinnings borrowed from Lamborghini. Like its closed-roof sibling, the Zerouno Roadster is aimed at collectors rather than trackday enthusiasts and thus will likely have a price tag to reflect that.

As in the coupe, the Roadster will utilise a 5.2-litre V10 engine and seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox borrowed from the Lamborghini Huracán and Audi R8. Power will be sent to all four wheels and the car should hit 62mph from a standstill in around 3 seconds.


> Click here for more on the Italdesign Zerouno coupe

The aluminium and carbonfibre chassis is also from the Huracán, although the bodywork hung off it is new, with an aggressive aesthetic loaded with aerodynamic aids and a stacked rear wing. Primarily a design exercise, the shape does hamper top speed compared with the more slippery Lamborghini, although this is unlikely to matter for most owners.

Upon the launch of the coupe, Italdesign announced that it would start producing more ‘coach-built’ vehicles for ultra-wealthy clientele. As a subsidiary of the vast Volkswagen Group, Italdesign has all the tools to continue building these sorts of cars for collectors too, although we’re unlikely to ever see, let alone drive one in the wild.

New Porsche 911 GT3 RS unveiled before Geneva debut

Stuart Gallagher

20 Feb 2018

With the Geneva motor show a matter of weeks away, Porsche has revealed the new 911 GT3 RS ahead of its world debut at the Swiss show. Mixing the naturally aspirated performance of a regular GT3 with the extreme aerodynamic looks of the turbocharged GT2 RS, the new GT3 RS will go on sale later this year costing £141,346. 

Six cylinders, four litres, 513bhp and not a turbocharger in sight, the new GT3 RS follows the same path as its predecessor but builds on those credentials with incremental increases across the board. It’s quicker, albeit only a tenth of a second quicker to 62mph at 3.3 seconds, more powerful by 20bhp, has the slightest torque advantage and we expect it to weigh in the region of 1400kg. It also generates more downforce, its PDK transmission shifts quicker and the chassis has been sharped further still.

> Click here for our review of the 991.2 Porsche 911 GT2 RS

That four-litre motor not only develops 513bhp and 346lb ft of torque, but peak power now arrives 200rpm higher in the rev range at a howling 8450rpm. Amplifying the flat-six’s tone is a new titanium exhaust with 91mm diameter tailpipes. The power and torque increases have been achieved by fitting a new DME engine management system and improvements to the air intake and exhaust systems.

Along with faster shifts for the PDK transmission, the final drive is also eight per cent lower than its predecessor (although the larger wheel and tyre combination eradicates any performance advantage) and there’s a bespoke drive bearing for this RS, too. An electronically controlled limited-slip differential with torque-vectoring is standard, so too rear-wheel steering and dynamic engine mounts. 

The big focus for Andreas Preuninger’s team for the GT3 RS was its aerodynamic performance and suspension. The latter sees the majority of the GT2 RS’s chassis components being transferred over and adapted accordingly, with the spring rates double those of the previous gen car. Rose-jointing is used throughout bar for the rear steering, but have also been further modified to improve agility. The PASM dampers have also been recalibrated, with the new GT3 RS having been further tuned for tactility and precision over the day-to-day comfort and usability of a regular GT3. Ceramic brakes are optional, the 265/35 R20 and 325/30 R21 Cup 2 tyres feature a bespoke compound, and the forged wheels are 100g lighter than those of the old GT3 RS.

A 911 GT3 RS has never been a car that blends in and this latest generation is no different. Even ignoring the Lizard Green paintwork of the launch car, this latest iteration is a riot of splitters, wings, air intakes and aero-slats. Beneath the wild body, which includes the GT2 RS’s rear wing that’s positioned higher than before, is new under-body aero that includes a new rear diffuser.  

A deeper front splitter, larger air intakes and cooling ducts in the front bonnet manage the car’s front aero requirements, with the slats cut into the top of the front wheel arches allowing turbulent air within to escape. Larger openings in the rear bumper are designed to draw turbulent air through rear arches as quickly and efficiently as possible. The GT2 RS’s magnesium roof and thinner side and rear glass are also included.

Inside you’ll find every piece of expected GT3 RS furniture. There is a pair of carbon-shelled bucket seats, storage nets in the doors in place of the traditional bins, and a cord as a door handle. The steering wheel is wrapped in Alcantara, and the Clubsport package includes a half roll-cage, fire extinguisher and six-point harness.

Opt for the optional Weissach package, as 90 per cent of the GT2 RS customers have, and you get a carbonfibre front bonnet and anti-roll bar, a titanium half-cage and a set of magnesium wheels. Although the demand for the Weissach pack on the GT2 RS means those GT3 RS customers who also order it – or just the magnesium wheels – will have to wait longer for their cars after the first deliveries are made later this summer.



blog comments powered by Disqus