Imports of supercars into China halted by stricter environmental rules

McLaren 720S

Deliveries of the first 720S models in China are being delayed by “about two months”

Deliveries of models such as the McLaren 720S are being affected by rules that enforce emissions endurance tests

Imports of supercars and bespoke vehicles are being slowed into China following the enforcement of strict new environmental legislation.

A change in law means low volume cars such as supercars produced by McLaren and bespoke models made by Morgan will now have to be retested, to see if they conform to emissions limits after 160,000km (99,419 miles).

According to the Financial Times, low volume vehicles had been exempt due to the fact they only cover an average of 5000km per year. But China’s government has added these car types to the legislation as part of its Clean Air Act, which aims to cut pollution.

A McLaren spokesman told Autocar that the retesting process it has caused was pushing back the delivery times of the first customer 720S models, which were due in the country by the end of summer, by “about two months”. They said apart from the delay, no issues were expected and that the 710bhp supercar conformed to all legislation. The same was said for the upcoming 570S Spider, which will also be affected.

The Financial Times also states that Morgan has three customer cars that have had deliveries halted as the company moves through retesting, and quotes another, unnamed brand spokesman explaining that the backlog means the company has “missed getting cars into the market for second and third quarter sales”. It adds that Lamborghini is also affected, but Autocar found no evidence of the Italian brand’s involvement, suggesting the number of vehicles affected is very slim.

To prevent issues like the one created by the new Chinese legislation, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which represents brands in Britain, has requested that China’s regulators create laws that align more closely with those in regions such as Europe and the US. In these areas, low volume models are continually allowed to bypass the strictest emissions limits due to the small number of these cars and limited mileage they cover.

Source: Autocar Online

Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV on course to rival Bentayga in 2018

2018 Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV on course to rival Bentayga in 2018

New sightings suggest Rolls-Royce’s first SUV is entering its latter stages of development; it will get an all-wheel drive system and rival the Bentley Bentayga

A Rolls Royce Cullinan SUV has been spotted parked outside of a crash test site, suggesting that the model is entering the latter stages of pre-production development.

This supports information that the brand’s first all-wheel drive model will make it to market in early 2018, when it will rival the Bentley Bentayga in the highest ranks of the luxury SUV segment.

The car, which is yet to be officially named but is referred to internally as Project Cullinan, will likely use a developed version of the Phantom’s 6.8-litre V12 engine. A plug-in hybrid powertrain could also be offered at a later stage, using technology from parent company the BMW Group. Rolls-Royce has dismissed the idea of a diesel option, due to the comparative lack of refinement offered by such units.

Rolls-Royce describes its future model as an ‘all-terrain, high-sided vehicle’. It will lend its aluminium architecture to all other Rolls-Royce models from 2018.

Rolls-Royce Phantom – bidding farewell to a luxury legend

The Cullinan’s boxy design takes after Rolls-Royce’s flagship Phantom, as opposed to the smoother-looking Ghost. Recent spy shots also show that the rear doors of the Cullinan are rear-hinged, as seen on the Ghost and Phantom.

We put two of the Cullinan’s rivals head-to-head:

Source: Autocar Online

2018 Renault Sport Mégane patents show hot hatch features

2018 Renault Sport Mégane patents show conservative design

Renault’s upcoming hot hatch will be available in Sport or Cup form and with four-wheel steering; new images show it undisguised

Patent images of the next Renault Sport Mégane have surfaced online, showing it without disguise for the first time.

The pictures confirm that the upcoming hot hatch will only look slightly more aggressive than the regular Mégane range, which comes as no suprise, following comments made to Autocar by brand design boss Stéphane Janin earlier this year.

“Our brand is not about aggressivity,” he said. “We try to have a powerful product but rather simple with sensual shapes. That’s what we tried to make with the next RS, which is actually harder than going aggressive I think. To find the right balance is harder but I think we have done it.”

When it launches later this year, the next Mégane RS will come with a choice of two chassis settings and four-wheel steering. The standard car will use a Sport chassis, which will be a softer, more road biased setup. But buyers will be able to opt for a harder Cup chassis, which will be catered towards track use.

Four-wheel steering will be fitted as standard, boosting agility and stability. The so-called 4Control system will be controlled by an electromagnetic actuator mounted on the rear axle.

Renault will also offer the car with a six-speed EDC double clutch transmission or manual gearbox. While European markets are expected to prefer the manual, markets in Asia will likely have more demand for EDCs.

The car will be the most potent Mégane produced yet, using a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, shared with the upcoming Alpine A110, but ramped up to produce more than 300bhp.

The hottest version of the outgoing Mégane RS, the 275 Cup S, reaches 62mph from rest in 5.8sec. Expect the next Mégane to trim several tenths off that sprint time, making it quicker than the Honda Civic Type R which takes 5.7sec and close to the four-wheel-drive Audi S3 which needs 5.2sec.

Due to the lower and longer five-door only platform of the new Mégane, which sits 25mm lower and is 28mm longer than the old car, plus the use of wider tracks, the next Mégane RS is expected to have significantly more mechanical grip. It’s therefore predicted to be a top contender to steal the Nürburgring front-wheel-drive lap record from current champion, the new Honda Civic Type R.

Renault has remained tight-lipped about its next hot Mégane, but the brand has at least hinted that the car will arrive on roads some time in 2018. It’s expected to make its public debut at the Frankfurt motor show in September.

As with the facelifted Clio, expect a small increase in price over that of the current Mégane RS, so a starting price of around £27,000 is likely. This significantly undercuts the Civic Type R which starts at £30,000 and ranks the Mégane RS well above the less hardcore Ford Focus ST which starts at £22,750.

Read more: 

Renault Sport Clio (2000-2004): used buying guide

Hot Renault Zoe e-sport gets 460bhp

Source: Autocar Online

Toyota Yaris GRMN prototype review: can it rival the Ford Fiesta ST?

Toyota has produced a sporty Yaris to link its road cars to its world rally assault. Dan Prosser finds out if the 210bhp warm hatch is on the right track

For the past 20 years, car manufacturers competing in the World Rally Championship haven’t really known how to draw a tangible link between their road cars and their mud-splattered competition machines.

Not since the late 1990s have they been required by the rules to build road-going versions of their special stage weapons, which has meant that, for the most part, rally cars and road cars have shared scarcely any DNA.

The Yaris GRMN is Toyota’s attempt to make the bewinged beasts that fly over Finnish crests at 100mph seem more closely related to the showroom models. Unlike its rallying sibling, however, the Yaris GRMN isn’t four-wheel drive, it doesn’t have bundles of power and it isn’t particularly fast.

To you and me, GRMN is as unfamiliar as it is clumsy to say aloud. It has actually been around in Japan for several years already, but now Toyota is launching the performance brand in Europe. The badge will be reserved for its sportiest, range-topping models. Toyota won’t confirm anything for the time being, but GRMN versions of the GT86 and forthcoming Supra might well be on their way to Europe.

Those four letters stand for Gazoo Racing Meister of Nürburgring, which probably sounds more poetic to a native Japanese speaker than it does to the rest of us. Gazoo Racing is the in-house division that runs Toyota’s LMP1 programme, while ‘Meister of Nürburgring’ refers to the Nordschleife wizards who will test and develop the cars, working partly out of the company’s permanent facility near to the ’Ring.

The Yaris GRMN will be limited to just 400 units in Europe, with no more than 100 coming to the UK. It will cost €29,900 (£26,340) and uses a 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder that will develop about 210bhp. Toyota’s stated objective for the Yaris GRMN is bold: for it to be the lightest, fastest and most powerful car in its class. It remains front-wheel drive, although the body structure has been stiffened and the springs and dampers are bespoke. There is even a Torsen limited-slip differential.

“Every single day people told us this project was too challenging,” says project leader Stijn Peeters. “They told us to stop, but we always had the support of the management.”

Nonetheless, a company the size of Toyota is simply not structured to develop, build and sell a very limited-edition car that’s so different to the base model. Inflexible long-term product strategies and factories that are run with millimetric precision don’t leave much room for short-run projects like this one. In fact, for Peeters and chief engineer Yoshinori Sasaki, the entire project has been a battle from start to finish. You get the feeling that had they pitched four-wheel drive and 300bhp to the board, the idea of a Yaris GRMN wouldn’t have survived the first meeting.

Production won’t begin until the end of autumn, which means the car isn’t quite finished yet. Even at this prototype stage, though, it is a huge amount of fun to drive. The Sachs dampers are fixed rate and there are no complicated driving modes or adjustable parameters. The exhaust barks out a snorty, tinny tune, rather than the contrived parping and popping score that accompanies so many small hot hatches. The Yaris GRMN is brilliantly simple.

The specially developed sports seats offer lots of support, although they’re set a little high and the GT86-sourced steering wheel doesn’t extend quite far enough. The pedals are also spaced a little awkwardly for heel and toe downshifts. Those things are all determined by Toyota’s unbendable global standards, which means the engineers’ hands were tied. In some ways, an independent garage would be better placed to build this sort of car.

The chassis is just about as focused as they come in this sector. It feels firm, with lots of support at each corner, but there’s enough quality in the damping to deal with most road surfaces. It’s properly taut, this Yaris; it feels just a set of knobbly tyres and some bucket seats away from being a junior rally car.

The Bridgestone tyres don’t generate huge grip, which means the car’s limits are well within reach on the road. That makes it a real blast to drive but, before too long, those modest grip levels might well become a frustration. It might not deliver the strong, boosty acceleration of a turbo unit, but the supercharged engine feels potent enough and very sweet. It also offers instantaneous throttle response, which no turbo engine does, while the LSD works subtly but effectively to give good traction away from corners. The manual gearbox is reasonably snicky, the steering is decent enough and the four-pot brakes feel strong.

No matter the price, driving doesn’t get a whole lot more amusing than this. The Yaris GRMN isn’t the lightly detuned WRC monster some will have been hoping for, but it’s a very promising hot hatch. 

New Toyota Yaris on sale now priced from £12,495


Source: Autocar Online

Living with a Renault Zoe – will we lease another one?

Life with a Renault Zoe

With less than six months of our lease to go, it’s time to weigh up our options

You will have noticed that the updates on life owning a Renault Zoe slowed somewhat abruptly quite some time ago. It is not, I’m delighted to report, because of a sudden change of heart, but more down to a busy life into which the Zoe has slotted almost seamlessly.

The result was that after a year of writing about it, there’s been quite a gap where I’ve struggled for anything to report. And, while I’m sure Renault would have been pleased for me to trot out the same superlatives, I’m not sure that would have provided much insight.

Now, though, with six months to run on the lease, perhaps it is time for a recap of just how easily an electric car – now an old generation one at that – has slipped into our lives. Day-to-day, we have never encountered a problem with range, as its prime purpose is school runs and short skips between swimming pools, where my wife teaches. A long day’s travel is 25 miles, and so electric power suits us just fine, as it would many motorists.

Charging has proved easy, but because we have a driveway and have never attempted a long journey, courtesy of a second, engined car, we have never tried a public charging point. Sometimes we top it up, sometimes we brim it – both are easy to do, and the former can be surprisingly effective even in 20-minute bursts.

Financially, it has worked out well, largely because we entered the lease when the incentives were strong. For a deposit of £75 and a further £155 a month for the car and battery rental, plus electricity, we have enjoyed motoring for around the same price as it was costing to run the ageing Ford C-Max that we chopped in, despite the fact we owned it outright. Insurance for the brand new Zoe was around 50% more than for the ten-year-old C-Max, but the Zoe won via tax benefits, fuel costs and servicing costs.

The latter is worth dwelling on for a moment, both because it cost only £80 (in truth, there’s not much to service on an electric car, and beyond a squirt of something to keep the motor happy, nor is there much in the way of consumables to replace) and because our experience at the Renault dealership – SMC in Weybridge – was excellent. That matched an extremely positive experience with Bristol Street Motors in Derby, which supplied the car. Modern ownership surveys suggest Renault’s dealers generally do a very good job – and our experiences back that up.

And so, with just a few months of the lease left to run, the question now is what to do next? In the normal run of things, I suspect we’d do the same again. When you’re so happy with your car, why not?

But the issue is clouded because the new, much improved Zoe also brings with it a considerably higher price tag – one that will likely add £100 a month to the lease cost. At that point, there’s everything from a Mini Clubman to a Mercedes A-Class to perhaps even a Kia Sportage in the crosshairs of the £250 a month being asked – and the consideration that my famously tightly clasped wallet doesn’t want to open much beyond the £155 a month we currently pay.

For now, we will live on in the hope that, when the call finally comes asking us to consider renewing our lease on a newer car, the step up will not be as significant as feared. If it is, though, it will be interesting to find out how we react. Turning away from electric cars as they get better feels counter-intuitive, but the numbers still need to stack up.

Other Renault Zoe blogs:

Buying a Renault Zoe: introducing the electric car convert

Buying a Renault Zoe: My name is Jim Holder and I’ve bought an electric car

Buying a Renault Zoe: the joys of doing something different

Owning a Renault Zoe: brief disaster and then double delight

Buying a Renault Zoe: four months in

Learning from other Renault Zoe owners

Source: Autocar Online

BMW 6 Series | Used Car Buying Guide

BMW 6 Series | Used Car Buying Guide

Just £3000 can put a BMW 6 Series on your drive – but it might leave the odd oil stain on it. John Evans gives a warts-and-all guide to this consummate GT

Have you got shale oil welling up through your lawn? You might need it if you’re considering a BMW 6 Series (E63/64 generation) of 2003 to 2011. It loves the stuff, necking it when you least expect it and blowing it out through the exhaust, past rocker cover gaskets, through breather hoses, down cylinder bores…

Best to get that little problem on the table from the start. We wouldn’t want you thinking this was just another dewy-eyed tribute to a snazzy BMW GT powered by a choice of thumping V8s (a 4.4 and later a 4.8), a sweet straight six 3.0-litre and a sensible-as-brown-shoes 3.0-litre diesel with twin turbos.

Who can forget its predecessor, the CSi of the 1980s? A car like that plays with your mind and wants you to see echoes of it in the one that follows. There were gasps of astonishment when the E63 did eventually turn up, 14 long years later. Folk couldn’t get enough of it. There was only the 328bhp 645Ci Coupé to begin, with a choice of manual (almost non-existent), sequential (rare) or automatic (plentiful) gearboxes. A convertible body style followed later.

The 6 Series’ four-seat cabin was even better made than the contemporary E60 5 Series’. It was not as roomy (no one older than five will thank you for sticking them in the back) but fit and finish were excellent, and remain so. The boot can take a couple of large suitcases. 

The less juicy straight six 3.0-litre, producing 254bhp, arrived towards the end of 2004. A healthy 630Ci auto coupé will crack 0-62mph in 6.5sec compared with the V8’s 5.4sec, but will slurp much less fuel – one gallon every 30 miles, 10 more miles than the V8. Sweeter-handling (it’s 130kg lighter) and potentially less troublesome, it’s the one to buy.

Towards the end of 2005, BMW replaced the 4.2 with a more powerful 4.8, producing 362bhp and capable of 0-62mph in 5.1sec. Amazingly, economy was around 2mpg better. Economy? It was becoming a hot topic to the extent that BMW took the opportunity in 2007 to slip its Efficient Dynamics package of economy and CO2-boosting measures into the model’s mid-life facelift. The major beneficiary was the 630i (the ‘C’ was dropped from the model name), now capable of 35mpg. Extra power, LED lights, and subtly tweaked front and rear ends topped the update.

The 635d was introduced at this time, too. A diesel-powered GT was pretty novel then, but BMW didn’t muck about: the 635d’s 3.0-litre straight six produced 282bhp for 0-62mph in 6.0sec, just 0.1sec shy of the now uprated 264bhp 630i. Economy was 40.9mpg.

It’s a strong engine but the good economy and low CO2 emissions that once attracted company car buyers are not uppermost in the minds of used car enthusiasts. For them, the straight six petrol is the model of choice. Just remember to dip the oil every few minutes.

An expert’s view…


“They can leak oil — lots of it: hoses cracking or getting blocked, gaskets failing, gearboxes running dry… these are the problems we see all the time. Would I buy one? ‘Buyer beware’ is all I can say. Go in with your eyes wide open and don’t buy the first you see, or the second. I’m bound to say it, since we can offer this service, but pay for a pre-purchase inspection by a professional. We charge £102. It takes a couple of hours and we go through the whole car. That flushes out the problems.”

BMW 6 Series problems


A ‘check engine’ light could indicate that the camshaft position sensor needs changing. Vanos solenoids and actuators can fail, leading to poor running. Oil leaks from the rocker cover gaskets, the oil filter housing and the oil lines to valve timing units. V8 engines can suffer high oil consumption, which could be valve stem seals, bore wear or perished breather hoses. Idle for 30sec and then blip the throttle, watching for smoke. The 630i suffers oil separator breather pipe issues. V8s run at high pressure, and older hoses and thermostats can fail. The expansion bottle can explode.


Check the turbos’ pressure converters and vacuum pipes. The crank dampener can separate. Inlet manifolds and swirl flaps leak. Checka faulty exhaust gas recirculation thermostat isn’t letting the diesel particulate filter soot up.


Plastic sump cover can leak fluid, requiring replacement since the filter is part of it. It’s sealed for life but not unknown for 100k-milers to have just two litres of oil left (it takes six). Check the shifts for a thump changing down, snatchy and lethargic going up. It could be pressure sensor oil starvation.


Road humps destroy the front control struts (feel for a shudder through the brake pedal) and front shocks, which leak. Lower rear hub bushes wear and springs break.


A new battery must be coded to fit.


Should be rust-free. Fabric roof sensors can fail. Check the bulkhead drain holes are clear.

Also worth knowing…

The 6 Series hood can be troublesome but don’t despair: folding roof specialist Cayman Auto Services (01306 885566) should be able to fix it.

BMW 6 Series prices


Early 645Cis with more than 100k and some with full service history.


More 645Cis, including cabrios, but also tidy 2005-2006 630Cis appearing now, plus the first 650Cis, with sub-100k cars of all types closer to £7495.


More 2006-2008 630is surfacing with around 90k miles, plus low-mileage early 645Cis and 650is.


Many more 2007-2009 635ds with around 100k miles plus usual spread of petrol cars.


Many more tidy 2008-2010 mid-mileage 635ds.

John Evans

Source: Autocar Online

Skoda Octavia vRS estate vs. Seat Leon ST Cupra vs. Volvo V60 AWD Polestar – fast estate triple test

Skoda Octavia vRS estate vs. Seat Leon ST Cupra vs. Volvo V60 AWD Polestar - fast estate triple test

Want performance and a big boot? Take your pick from these three fast estates, then. But where’s the sweet spot: £26k, £35k or £50k?

It was 1974 when Alfons Löwenberg, a far-sighted Volkswagen engineer, levered a fuel-injected engine into his ‘Sport Golf’ side project and changed the world.

Nearly 45 years on, the benefits of marrying power and better handling to the practicality and inexpensiveness of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s timeless folded-paper design seem as obvious as combining deep-fried chips with battered fish. Yet Volkswagen took some convincing. What eventually turned the car from cottage industry to industry changer was not just its snowballing popularity, but also the fact that the value-added desirability, spun into the car’s structure like thread in the tartan upholstery, could be used to liberally fatten the family hatchback’s slim profit margin. Cracking that formula was the GTI’s lasting lesson – one that the market has applied ruthlessly and rigorously everywhere ever since. 

Which lands us somewhat messily at the idea of the modern fast wagon, the illegitimate offspring of the hot hatch, the super-saloon and the humble estate car – and, in many ways, the logical end point of Löwenberg’s pragmatic thought process. The two-box estate car in its cooking format ought to be about as compelling as a van with windows, but apply a svelte, swooping rear three-quarter and sprinkle the same half-century-old pixie dust on the chassis and engine bay, and it becomes something else entirely.

Alas, there is no Golf GTI wagon to fill the thematic gap. It doesn’t exist because (a) VW is precious about where it puts arguably its most famous nameplate and (b) there are a number of similar products available elsewhere in the VW Group. Possibly the most similar (or at least the car that shares the same engine as the base Golf GTI), is the new Skoda Octavia vRS. Its defining characteristics? A just-updated 227bhp, a wheelbase longer than a Brexit negotiator’s to-do list and a £26,385 starting price – £1500 cheaper than VW will sell you a three-door GTI.

Of course, with a bigger budget, you could have a Golf R Estate for £35,300 – the 306bhp all-wheeldrive range-topper that needs no further introduction. But for around £1k cheaper and only 10bhp less, Seat will now do you the Golf R’s drivetrain in a Leon Cupra ST. The kicker here is that the Spanish tourer is sleeker than its sibling and comes equipped as standard with the 19in wheels and Dynamic Chassis Control you’d end up paying almost £2k more for in the Golf R. 

Rounding out the four-pot variety box is the black sheep of the flock: the latest Volvo V60 Polestar. Again, the car requires an additional leap in budget: £45k would have been about right for our sliding scale and the model’s premium-end market position but sadly someone at Volvo has taken leave of their senses and slapped a £49,665 price tag on the 362bhp Polestar, so even with a turbocharger, a supercharger and trick chassis strapped on, it has it all to do in this company.

At near enough half the cost, the Octavia’s stall is set out impressively. Ostensibly, it is new for 2017. Or its headlights are, at any rate. And the infotainment. Both qualify as very mild facelift blusher although neither should be completely dismissed; the headlights because they make the car marginally uglier, the infotainment because it makes the car marginally better. Elsewhere, it is as sensible as a librarian’s brogues, and quite possibly as exciting. Of the three, it’s the frumpiest to look at. But otherwise, it practically dares you to find fault with its vast internal acreage or uncannily accurate ergonomics or 610 litres of boot space.

In many ways, switching into the Leon serves only to underline the Skoda’s strengths. You’d hardly think the three fingers of extra wheelbase length on the same MQB platform would make a difference, yet unquestionably the Cupra feels like a smaller sibling – one endowed with much the same underlying bone structure, but fractionally deficient in the nuts and bolts functionality that makes the Octavia seem so practical. That said, because the Seat’s kit list is so comprehensive, there’s no mistaking its high-grade ambience: the Alcantara trim is standard, as is the variable boot floor, which provides a level seats-down space. You’ll pay extra for both Alcantara and the variable floor in the Skoda. 

It’s indicative of the Leon’s overall quality, though, that the step up into the V60’s price range is about as negligible as a dropped kerb. By and large, that’s because the Volvo’s interior is now six years old, and feels it. The infotainment screen, sunk so far back into the dashboard that it appears to be scurrying backwards from your aversion, is too small and too awkward to navigate via the tiny controls on the dash. Only the exceptionally comfortable seats now reflect the Volvo’s nominally superior status – that and the way the trim quality extends harmoniously into the boot. If only you could get more in it: alas, the V60’s practicality is famously handicapped by a lack of depth and a modest opening. Even the noticeably smaller Leon eclipses its 430-litre seats-up capacity. 

Nevertheless, it doesn’t want for presence. In black, with huge 20in wheels, it looks forebodingly squat and purposeful and not a little Q-carish. Foreknowledge of the adjustable Ohlins and Haldex all-wheel drive system doesn’t hurt, nor does the idea that there’s a forced-induction tag team working to spirit all that output from a measly 2.0 litres. Its heavy-set charisma is replicated in the control weights. The Polestar’s steering is electrically powered now, but the map is very much the tuner’s own, and at low speeds, it’s reluctant to reduce the burden placed on the wrists by those 245-section tyres. Combine that with the slightly onerous size of the wheel and gearing that makes it a quarter of a turn slower than its rivals, and the V60 can seem cumbersome in places where the Octavia and Leon waltz about with the submissiveness of shopping trolleys. The advantages of its overtly brawny footprint become apparent only when properly under way, those costly dampers delivering a low-riding yet staunchly compliant compromise that puts the V60 at the other end of a scale that starts with the Octavia. 

Skoda, it seems, has barely wasted any time tying the vRS down. Compared with the Polestar, on standard-fit passive suspension and 18in rims, it appears to possess reams of spring travel. Only a lingering vertical stiffness signifies that enhanced handling has played a part in the car’s chassis tuning. Were the Octavia a proper hot hatch, its amiable bounding up hill and down dale might prove wearisome – but with the estate body on its back, the sympathetic settings rarely seem inappropriate. It helps that its control weights are pilfered from what must be a shared VW Group laptop – meaning that the light, lubricated feel of the pedals, gearstick and steering makes them feel like an extension of the same good sense that decided their location – and that the Octavia is physically light. Very light, in fact. 

If Skoda is to be believed, the vRS enjoys the best part of a 400kg weight advantage over the V60. Even allowing for the barnacles that must now cling to the Ford-sourced decade-old EUCD platform of the V60, the difference probably isn’t that vast – but it’s plain enough in the real world to help explain why the newer Octavia can be made to lunge and heave without significant detriment, while the Volvo labours. The Leon, meanwhile, splits the difference. Or it does when ‘Comfort’ is selected from its adjustable driving modes, at any rate. The extra latitude afforded by the adaptive dampers is at the core of the Cupra’s agreeableness. Without them, the model would surely succumb to long-wave, head-nodding intransigence on the motorway or else crumble like peanut brittle every time those 19in wheels encountered a drain cover. Instead its refined brand of firm is entirely compatible with prolonged daily use. 

Yet it still doesn’t quite coax the same ease-of-use vibe from its driver as the Octavia. Officially, the Seat, too, is heavier, although it’s not the feeling of extra mass that gently curbs its usability but rather the duller sense of control emanating from the two-pedal drivetrain, which has none of the mechanical gloss of the manual nor any subtlety in the brake pedal. As with the estate version of the Golf R, there’s no possibility of swapping out the DSG ’box. Moreover, Leon buyers must make do with the older six-speed variant. (R buyers get an additional ratio, which makes for a leisurely attitude on motorways). 

That said, in between the missing cog and a slightly over-baked stepoff, the dual-clutch transmission makes a fine foil for the EA888 engine’s higher state of tune. The unit’s throaty appeal is based on the bounty of a deeply generous midrange; custom-built for a gearbox only too happy to be left to its own devices. Middling throttle inputs tap instantly into a prominent stratum of torque, one that powers the Leon distantly away from the notion that it might be anything other than hugely brisk. Upshifts, as imperceptible as falling snowflakes, melt away convincingly in the rush – yet it is the adroitness of the downshifts that differentiate the powertrain from the V60’s conventional automatic.

Where the Seat arguably suffers from one too few ratios, the Polestar’s eight-speed ’box has too many to choose from, and when not dallying at its preference, the kickdown seems sluggardly compared with the DSG, even in its more aggressive modes. Consequently, where the Leon’s transmission tends to complement its engine’s temperament, the Polestar’s too often seems like it’s obstructing its four-pot with a proclivity for either holding onto a gear too long or else tardily attempting to match revs for one or two cogs below. That said, with peak torque not available until 3100rpm and the best part of two tonnes to shift, blame for the V60’s lack of low-rev impetus is probably spread more evenly than it seems. 

The answer to all this, of course, is to drive faster and take care of the gearshifts yourself. There’s no razor sharpness to be attained, but the manual upshifts now come in half the time, with boisterous mule-kicks as accompaniment. Unlike the Seat, which won’t let you hit the limiter even if you fluff a pull on its child-sized paddles, the V60 will strand itself at the redline without intervention. Once into its stride, the T8-derived motor – thanks to the higher-grade internal components dropped into it by Polestar – delivers a whizzy final throe, one not overburdened by the energy drag of feeding and cooling its dual air compressors. 

A 135bhp deficit and none of Volvo’s whistles and bells ought to mean an early bath for the Octavia. But the vRS, possibly aided by lower expectation, rarely disappoints. Its reason for being – cultivated specifically by that mild-mannered chassis – is the ability to flick from buttoned-down worker bee to angry wasp in the time it takes to consecutively flatten the clutch and accelerator. Doing so takes about an aeon longer than pulling the paddle in either of its rivals – but properly participating in the moment, on a gearstick that’s not too long or too short or too heavy or too light, flings out the usual full-bodied reward. The wagon’s lower kerb weight and the artificial (but not unlikeable) piped-in engine gargle do the rest. 

Flat out, the Octavia feels quicker than its 6.8sec 0-62mph time suggests, and in conjunction with standard wheels and Bridgestone Potenza tyres, our test car seemed admirably resistant to the axle tramp that tends to afflict fast front-drive MQB models. It proved predictably less immune, though, to the strain of being driven very quickly over undulating B-roads on Brecon, an inevitable facet of its chassis’ in-built pliancy. Lateral grip, bolstered by warm, dry tarmac, is not wanting, and neither is the sense of stability doled out by the longer wheelbase – but the body lean is pronounced compared with its rivals here and the speed carried commensurately lower. 

At its most engaging, and in the fast corners that flatter it, the Polestar’s heaviness is made to feel like a satisfying component of immovable heft; kept flat by the suspension’s work rate and dependable by the 50/50 split of torque fore and aft. But lithe, adjustable, agile or inspiring are all adjectives that remain just over the horizon for the punchy V60. 

Truthfully, the Leon can’t lay credible claim to all these attributes, either. It is more precise than it is rousing, faster than it is feelsome. Yet its allure is easily discernible, too. The 4Drive system makes easy work of the engine’s output, just as the output makes light work of the kerb weight. And although it obliges you dynamically only on its own terms, it does indulge the impression that you’re successfully wringing its neck.

Could it be had with a manual gearbox and a trifle more pricing daylight between it and the Golf R Estate, the Cupra would likely walk this contest – and it remains a compelling choice even as it stands. Nevertheless, its mix of power and practicality doesn’t feel as irresistible as the slower, less comely and comparatively unsophisticated Skoda. That’s because, much like Löwenberg’s Sport Golf, the vRS doesn’t feel like a concept needlessly powered-up or overpriced or extreme, but instead gently ushered from contented mediocrity to enlivening modesty. 

It doesn’t do fast nonchalantly or brazenly. It does it as accessible, unpretentious fun and in a way that doesn’t limit the utility or value for money at its core. People, pets and possessions, in prodigious quantities, are still shifted without fuss by the vRS: the difference is that your enjoyment and its anticipation are packaged right alongside. 

Seat Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive DSG

Rating: 4/5, Price: £34,485, Engine: 4cyls, 1984cc, turbo, petrol, Power: 296bhp at 5500-6200rpm, Torque: 208lb ft at 1800-5500rpm, Gearbox: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, Kerb weight: 1470kg, 0-62mph: 4.9sec, Top speed: 155mph (limited), Fuel economy: 39.2mpg (combined), CO2/tax band: 164g/km, 31%

Skoda Octavia vRS Estate

Rating: 4.5/5, Price: £26,385, Engine: 4cyls, 1984cc, turbo, petrol, Power: 296bhp at 4700-6200rpm, Torque: 208lb ft at 1500-4500rpm, Gearbox: 6-speed manual, Kerb weight: 1367kg, 0-62mph: 6.8sec, Top speed: 153mph, Fuel economy: 43.5mpg (combined), CO2/tax band: 149g/km, 28%

Volvo V60 AWD Polestar

Rating: 3.5/5, Price: £49,665, Engine: 4cyls, 1969cc, turbo, supercharged, petrol, Power: 362bhpat 6000rpm, Torque: 347lb ft at 3100-5000rpm, Gearbox: 8-speed automatic, Kerb weight: 1772kg, 0-62mph: 4.8sec, Top speed: 155mph (limited), Fuel economy: 34.9mpg (combined), CO2/tax band: 186g/km, 34%

Source: Autocar Online

Past masters: BMW 8 Series review

BMW 8 Series E31

With a new 8 Series just around the corner, the model name will stir some mixed emotions at BMW

The arrival of the new 8 Series might just rekindle some uncomfortable memories for the higher-ups at BMW. Not for nothing has the name been absent from the company’s portfolio for almost 20 years; indeed, the company has stayed away entirely from the super-luxury coupé segment and watched on while Mercedes-Benz and Bentley made it their own.

No more, though, because BMW has summoned up the courage to have another crack. There will be a new 8 Series – and BMW will be taking care to avoid repeating the mistakes it made last time out.

The biggest problem with the original 8 Series was that nobody really knew what it was meant to be. Some saw it as a superlative replacement for the shark-nosed 6 Series; others thought it a spiritual successor to the M1 supercar.

With a 296bhp V12 under the bonnet and a six-speed manual gearbox, you’d be forgiven for thinking the latter. But in fact, BMW intended the E31 8 Series to be a luxurious grand tourer. More than that, though, it was a technological showcase and an attempt to show the world that anything Mercedes could do, BMW could do better.

This, of course, brought fearsome complexity and, together with BMW’s requirement for ultimate luxury, extra weight. The 850i tipped the scales at around 1800kg – 300kg or so more than the old 635CSi. That the 8 Series was never much cop in the handling department should, therefore, come as no surprise. Those expecting the crispness of the 6 Series or a supercar successor to the M1 instead found a sluggish electronic throttle, a lolloping automatic option and soft suspension that did little to control the car’s flab.

What was more, as the 8 Series was launched in 1989, the world went into recession, and the idea of a 5.0-litre GT that weighed almost as much as HMS Ark Royal rather lost its appeal. Sales withered on the vine and BMW realised it had the makings of a failure on its hands. 

Fortunately, it acted quickly. Plans for a range-topping M8 were promptly shelved; instead, M division was tasked with fettling the 850i to enhance the driving experience. The sharper 850CSi was the result, and it was joined in the range by a more frugal, 4.0-litre V8-powered 840Ci – no longer a technological tour de force, but instead a burbling, squarejawed grand tourer. The 8 Series had, belatedly, found its place in the world. In 1995 the range was revised.

The V12 was expanded to 5.4 litres and 322bhp, while the V8 was switched out for a new 4.4-litre unit with the same 282bhp as its predecessor, but more torque and better fuel economy. And an 840Ci Sport version was added, taking the 850CSi’s bodykit and stiffer suspension and applying it to the less powerful model.

The 840Ci Sport is arguably the best-resolved 8 Series of all. Driving it today, it’s easy to see how BMW fought valiantly to solve the 8 Series’ problems. The wider tyres and stiffer suspension all but eliminate body roll, giving enormous amounts of grip and allowing the 8 Series to gather and maintain speed well through flowing bends. On such roads, it really is good fun.

But in tighter stuff, the 840Ci still comes unstuck, grinding its nose wide as the momentum of all that weight takes effect. To get it to handle competently, the ride is stiff, so much so that potholes and ruts send crashes through the structure in a manner most unbecoming of a big GT. Even in this form, then, the 8 Series is still a car of compromises.

Flawed as it is, the 8 Series is still an easy car to love. Nothing detracts from its pin-sharp looks, nor the sweeping, enveloping interior, nor the way the V8 in this 840Ci gurgles to itself even on a light throttle, nor the pillarless doors and vast sunroof, which all but turn it into a convertible when the weather is kind.

BMW is unlikely to take as many chances with its range-topper this time around, so while both cars will share a name and a bodystyle, don’t expect many more similarities. Rather than being a ground-breaker, the new 8 Series will slot into a class that already exists. That should make it ultimately more competent, even if it is also less ambitious.

Is the E31 a car BMW would rather forget? Perhaps. Yet for all its failings, the technological advances should not be forgotten. Nor, indeed, the high-end image its suave looks and moneyed status imparted by association on the rest of the BMW range. It was, and remained throughout its life, a desirable car that doubtless helped seal the deal in terms of BMW’s prestige status.

What’s more, there is an argument to say the 8 Series was a car that showed BMW’s mettle: that 10-year lifespan was remarkable given the challenges it faced. This was a model with the potential to turn into an unmitigated failure. Instead, thanks to some impressive corporate agility, the 8 Series became a qualified success – if not quite a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Read more: 

BMW 8 Series Concept: an in-depth look with designer John Buckingham

BMW 8 Series to return in 2018

BMW 8 Series takes to the Nurburgring – on video

Will the BMW 8 Series succeed?

BMW M8 confirmed for 2018 twinned with M8 GTE-class racer

600bhp-plus BMW M8 guns for Bentley Continental GT Speed

Source: Autocar Online

BMW 8 Series Concept: an in-depth look with designer John Buckingham

BMW 8 Series Concept

As the original 8 Series coupé belatedly enjoys the reverence that BMW always hoped would be bestowed upon it, we talk to the man responsible for creating its successor

It’s taken 27 years for the original BMW 8 Series to become a brand icon. It was conceived in the second half of the 1980s as a technical flagship for the company and introduced a number of engineering innovations, including the rear Z-axle, rear steering, and a multiplex electrical architecture, and much of the car’s engineering development work was carried out on computer for the first time.

Despite it all, however, the 8 Series proved to be an ill-fated model. It was launched in the autumn of 1989 just weeks before the Berlin Wall came down and the poverty of East Germany became global knowledge.

The 8 Series’s bombastic, high-tech swagger seemed out of tune with rapidly changing times, and the beginnings of the green movement even had one BMW boss apologising for the 286bhp under the bonnet of the launch model. BMW’s plans for further spin-offs were rapidly dropped. 

A pretty four-seat cabrio was cancelled, as was the super-high tech M8 – which was to feature carbonfibre components. In fact, such was the 8 Series’s fall from favour that these two models were only made public in the past few years. Across a 10-year production run, the 8 Series hardly hit 31,000 units, with US sales particularly hopeless.

And yet the 8 Series, as it approaches its 30th anniversary, has matured into what BMW wanted it to be all along. It hasn’t dated, especially inside, and any reservations about bombastic machinery have long been washed away by the rise of the SUV.

Even so, it’s something of a surprise that BMW has decided to reveal its new design language by reinventing the 8 Series and the idea of a high-end, super-luxury coupé. 

According to Brit John Buckingham, the designer in charge of the 8 Series concept, this new car is an unashamed range-topper. “It is very lush for a BMW,” he says. “It’s an expensive luxury car with a GT feel.”

Buckingham graduated from Coventry University in 2005 and has been with the BMW Group ever since (including a two-year stint at Mini, where he executed the Rocketman concept). He conceived the new 8 Series concept at the BMW Designworks studio north of LA, where he is the creative director for automotive exterior design.

When you see the 8 Series for the first time, it’s clearly a BMW (the narrow nose and super-prominent ‘kidney’ grille ensure that), but the whole structure of the car is different. BMWs have long been highly structured, restrained and even a little boxy – an impression emphasised by the well-marked ‘corners’ on even the latest 7 Series – but Buckingham explains that the most important thing missing from this BMW is the ‘Zicker’ line. 

“There is no Zicker line up the side,” he says. “Normally you have the classic window graphic with the Hofmeister kink at the rear pillar. And below it you have a sharp line, the Zicker line. That’s been removed on this car.”

Once pointed out, the line’s removal is startling. All of a sudden, the defining mark of modern BMWs – a mark you perhaps hadn’t consciously noted – has gone. Also gone are the almost engineered surfaces of recent high-end models.

“This is a preview of the new design language as much as it is a preview of the 8 Series,” continues Buckingham. “It’s about lush, full surfaces. “When I was first drawing it, I wanted a flow. It’s not a word I like, but I wanted a flow to the bodysides. Once you take away the Zicker Line you have to replace it with something.” 

He points down to the substantial scoop that has been subtly worked into the 8 Series’s flanks. “That’s why you have this element, the big intake in the lower nose, the exit behind the wheel arch and the scoop on the side. So you still have a connection running down the side of the car, even though the Zicker line is gone.” Some BMW design trademarks, such as narrow headlights, the kidney grille, the window graphic and the L-shaped tail-lights, have been cranked up in order to maximise them “so you can then allow yourself to do new things”, a process he describes as a “form language discussion”.

The full, luxury surfaces, he says, bring the precision back to make sure it is BMW. “These surfaces exist between the creases, in a kind of controlled sculpture,” explains Buckingham. “I like highlights, and these big surfaces allow me to play with the volumes and control the highlights.

“BMWs always have a lot of structure and there’s a lot of design theory behind it. Lots of time goes into surfaces and radius work. If you look at the rear corner of the 8 Series, we spent a lot of time to make sure it all worked. BMW is obsessive about this stuff.”

The interior is less dramatic, if extremely finely detailed. The sweeping centre stack hints at the interior of the original 8 Series, the iDrive controller is still there and the shift lever is made from a most un-BMW-like faceted glass crystal.

Under the studio lights, there’s no doubt that this concept is as big a shock today as its big coupé concept predecessor, the Z9, was in 1999. But the new 8 Series is far away from the Z9’s rigid and engineered look, which is still – just – visible in the latest version of the 7 Series.

Despite discussions on the internet, the 8 Series concept, which is not too far from the production car, doesn’t look like an Aston Martin. The big, flowing surfaces are covered in pools of reflected light because Buckingham’s favoured styling is more dramatic and more intensely worked than that of even the latest Astons.

It’s a surprising car, although it makes most sense as a top-end GT, and seeing how this design language will feed down into BMW’s mainstream saloons will be very interesting. But BMW has fired the starting gun on a dramatic new direction as it continues its battle with Mercedes to be the world’s number one premium car maker. 

Read more: 

BMW 8 Series to return in 2018

BMW 8 Series takes to the Nurburgring – on video

Will the BMW 8 Series succeed?

BMW M8 confirmed for 2018 twinned with M8 GTE-class racer

600bhp-plus BMW M8 guns for Bentley Continental GT Speed

Source: Autocar Online

Past masters: Jaguar XJ220 review

Jaguar XJ220 review

The storied XJ220 supercar was a crowning achievement for Jaguar, but also a millstone around its neck. 25 years on, we decide if it deserves a place among the greats

“Be very, very careful.” Don Law is unequivocal in his instructions as he takes me through the controls of the Jaguar XJ220 I’m about to drive. I don’t blame him, really. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, piddling down outside.

What’s more, the big Jag has 549bhp, rear-wheel drive, and lacks driver aids. There isn’t even power steering. It is, in other words, a vastly different proposition to Jaguar’s latest skunkworks creation, the XE SV Project 8. And while I’d love to imagine I have the car control of a young Chris Harris, I simply do not. Frankly, I’d be saying exactly the same thing to myself were I in Law’s position.

Law has become the country’s – nay, the world’s – foremost XJ220 guru, ever since Jaguar effectively disowned the project in the mid- 1990s. Law and son Justin were able to pick up the pieces, with Jaguar pointing its customers his way, allowing his business in Staffordshire to become the de facto official XJ220 service centre. On the day of our visit, there are no less than 26 XJ220s in his workshop. 

Also present during our test is Jim Randle, the former engineering boss at Jaguar, to whom the XJ220 owes its existence. Over Christmas at home in 1987 – with Jaguar having just dominated the World Sport-Prototype Championship with the V12-powered XJR-8, built by Tom Walkinshaw Racing – Randle’s thoughts turned to the possibility of Jaguar building its own road-going racing car.

“What was needed was a height adjustable car that could, with the touch of a button, be lowered to the clearances of one of the Walkinshaw downforce racers of the time,” he says. “I spent Christmas doing a bit of ‘CAD’ – cardboard assisted design – and by the end of the break, I had a quarter scale, mid-engined, venturi-floored model.”

Randle knew that there was no way Jaguar would sanction the £2 million or so required to develop such a car, so he set about doing so for free. 

“I called for volunteers to work on it,” he says. “They would not be paid and they were not allowed to work on it in company time. I got 12 volunteers. I also cajoled a number of companies – Park Sheet Metal, FFD, QCR, TWR, Triplex, Dunlop, Girling and a few others – to do the same with no reward other than recognition of their contribution and a promise that, were it to go into production, I would do my best to see that they got work from it.”

Although most of the work was done before and after the working day, the group became known as ‘the Saturday Club’, because the initial meetings were held on Saturday mornings. It was thanks to their dedication that the XJ220 show car came into existence. Keith Helfet, the car’s designer, was one of the few to stay with the project right the way through, and created a body inspired by the stillborn XJ13 racer. 

“The only Jaguar board member who had seen the car was Bob Dover, the manufacturing director,” says Randle. “I was ready to show it to [company chairman] John Egan two weeks before the [British motor] show. He and Roger Putnam, the sales and marketing director, took only 30 minutes to decide to take it to the show. Once John had signed it off, it was job done.”

To say Randle’s work was wellreceived would be a masterpiece of understatement. 40 people put down a deposit on the day the car was revealed, and many more did so in the following weeks. But what followed rather took the shine off the XJ220’s reputation. After a lengthy development period, it emerged not with the four-wheel drive and V12 power that had been promised, but instead with a twin-turbo V6 and rear-wheel drive. 

That this turned it into a better car – as those that know the project insist – made no difference, and nor did the XJ220’s breaking of the record for the fastest production car in the world; many customers weren’t happy, and demanded the return of their deposits. Legal battles followed, cars languished unsold, and the XJ220 became the supercar Jaguar would rather have forgotten.

Today, though, the XJ220 has come in from the cold. Helfet’s glorious lines look as good today as they did when they were fresh off the drawing board; on the road, the Jaguar is still vast, wide, low and fantastically loud. You have to wonder what those buyers who pulled out missed.

Happily, I’m about to find out. And I’m already sweating just a little. “It’s a twin-plate racing clutch,” says Law. “It’ll do 100 race starts, but it’ll overheat if you slip it.” Gulp. Best get this right, then.

I manage not to cock it up, but things get no easier once I’m underway. The gearbox has two synchromeshes, so needs slow, deliberate changes. The steering, as you’d expect, is heavy, but you feel every rut, bump and painted line in the road through it, so clear is the feedback. The ride, though, is remarkable; taut, so you feel all the little ripples, but damping of larger bumps is impressive. This is a car you could cover long distances in.

Oh, but it’s loud. Gloriously so. And not manufactured loud like so many modern performance cars, with farty pops and bangs thrown in for effect. The noise is raw, savage, hard-edged and devoid of any warmth; a noise that warns you to remember that this is a racing car at its core.

And it shows the first time I put my foot down. I actually swear, loudly, as the turbos kick in. The lag is tremendous, but that means the power, when it comes, is delivered all at once. The effect is explosive. I grip the wheel, certain that if I hit too large a puddle, this could end in a very expensive mess. It isn’t until I go for the next gear that I realise I haven’t actually had the throttle down all the way yet. Blimey.

This is a difficult car to get to know during a 20-minute drive in the wet. It is, as you’d expect, hugely intimidating. Yet what’s for sure is that the grip it offers is exceptional, the pace and power delivery rabid. The XJ220 is capable of tremendous speeds and fabulous savagery, yet also surprising comfortable.

Part of me is disappointed by the British Leyland switchgear and £440,000 The original price of the XJ220, which equates to over £835,000 when adjusted for inflation. the mechanical clunkiness of the major controls and the way it isn’t as focused as a Ferrari F40 or as polished as a McLaren F1. But most of me feels besotted and wants to spend a whole (preferably dry) day with the XJ220, learning about it. 

And all of me is incredibly glad that it exists; that Jim Randle, Keith Helfet and the rest of the Saturday Club went above and beyond the call of duty to bring us one of the 20th Century’s most wonderful supercars. Happy birthday, XJ220.

Read more: 

Jaguar C-X75 2013-2015 review

Jaguar XE SV Project 8 takes on Goodwood hill climb – on video

Jaguar F-Type Project 7 2015-2016 review

Source: Autocar Online

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