Archive for the ‘DriveL’ Category

A week with a Peugeot 308 GTi

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Monday, January 16th, 2017

It’s a new-ish Peugeot hot hatchback. Don’t mention the you-know-what.

Day one: For a while Peugeot was a peddler of lumpen turdery like the old 3008. Then they came up with the 208 GTi, which was excellent. And the current 308, which is actually quite good too. Now there’s this which seems to combine those two things and is therefore a promising idea. You can have it with a mad, two tone paint scheme where most of the car is red, except for a diagonal slice of black that takes up the rear quarter. It’s not even a wrap. They paint a car red, then take it into a special facility at the factory, mask the front, spray the back black and lacquer over the lot. It’s a £625 option which this press demonstrator doesn’t have. Probably for the best. I quite like it in photos but it might be a bit attention seeking in real life. Also, it reminds me of a strawberry dipped in chocolate and I think it’d make me feel hungry. This demo car is a discreet grey and looks fine. On a short drive home, it feels better than fine. Some cars, even on brief acquaintance, give you a sense of goodness deep within, and this is one of them. It’s promising. Very promising.

Day two: Like other 308s, the GTi has a minimalist interior and that strangely small steering wheel which you look over, rather than through, to see the instruments. It means you set the wheel a little lower than you might normally. Personally, I don’t find this a problem. Other people might, especially if they’re very fat. I don’t mind the interior of this car. My wife, on the other hand, says it’s ‘lame’. Further questioning as we drive along this morning unearths the assertion that it’s ‘just too boy-sy’, after which she points at all the red stitching and the red insert on the side of the gearlever and the GTi badge on the steering wheel and I realize that she has a point. It is a bit like being inside a 1980s washbag. You wouldn’t be surprised to find a massive bottle of Blue Stratos in the boot. But, since I’m a boy, I still quite like it. The 308’s interior. And quite possibly the smell of Blue Stratos.

Day three: I have to drive from London to North Yorkshire. I like weirdness and roundabouts and the chance to pass at least one porno warehouse so naturally I take the A1. The 308 has that pleasant sense of pulling, puppyish urgency you get in good hot hatchbacks, as if the engine is trying to burst out of the car, but it’s not overwhelming. This means it can still cruise quietly and comfortably. The seats are good, it sits solidly at speed, even the ride is decent, being firm but not crashy, suggesting time and money well spent on the damping. The engine feels hearty and strong, even though it’s just a 1.6 four. This car is the 266 horsepower version. There was a 247 horsepower model but it turns out 80 percent of buyers wanted the maximum grunt model and the weedier one has been deleted.

After the slog up the A1, I get to turn off and dash across the moors past Fylingdales where there used to be massive balls and now there’s just a scary obelisk that might be cooking our brains. It’s a tremendous road, and the 308 turns out to be a tremendous car in which to drive it. That engine is a fantastic thing, giving proper amounts of pull from low down yet, unusually for a modern turbocharged number, appearing to enjoy revs and giving you good reason to wring it out if you fancy it. Or, more specifically, if you fancy going really rather quickly. You can short shift and drive it on the torque or you can thrash the crap out of it just because that sort of thing is fun. It’s a marvelous thing, and it sits in a marvelous chassis, one of those great hot hatch set-ups that flows with the turbulence of an interesting road, soaking up shitty surfaces and diving into bends in a sprightly manner that can be adjusted by what you do with any or all of the major controls. It has a Torsen limited slip diff which can result in some magical cornering shenanigans as it clings on to an extraordinary degree and fires itself out of the other side, grabbing physics firmly by the neck and telling it to keep its mouth shut. But it can also lead to some lively moments when you mash the throttle in the run up to an easy overtaking move and find yourself darting towards the right hand verge as the tyres accidentally discover to an unfortunate bit of camber. But you learn to look out for this and work around it. On the downside, the steering is a bit dead and electric assistance-y and that tiny wheel sometimes makes it difficult to carry out subtle adjustments during fast, sweeping corners. So not perfect, but then perfect things are rarely very likeable. And on a brisk romp across North Yorkshire, the 308 turns out to be very likeable indeed.

Day four: I have no need of the 308 today so it sits in a car park, almost certainly attracting no attention whatsoever. I like the underplayed outside of this car. There’s a red stripe around the bottom of the air intake, some 19-inch alloys, and a pair of pipes at the back, but it’s all subtle stuff. One of my colleagues has arrived in a Focus RS which sits looking pumped and fighty, like the kind of car that would attract the attention of a friend by shouting GEEZAAAH! across the pub. I am in my 40s so I prefer the Peugeot approach.

Day five: Still working. Still no need to drive the GTi today. Still, can I have a prize for so far writing almost 1000 words about a sporty Peugeot without once mentioning the bloody 205 GTi. Oh. Shit. Sorry.

Day six: Right, Yorkshire back to London. Go, go, go. Another fast, fun drive across the moors, another reminder of all that is good about this car, including the sheer joy of using an old fashioned manual gearbox of decent weight and action. The GTi has a sport button which makes the throttle more sensitive, the exhaust more noisy, and the instruments more red. You can pretty much drive the car in this mode all the time, even cruising back down the A1. Always the mark of a well sorted car, rather than one that just turns things heavy and silly and shouty for the sake of making morons believe they’re in a sports car.

Day seven: Sitting at a junction behind another car this morning I discover something horrifying about this Peugeot. The front indicators do that irritating sequential trace-a-line-then-off thing made fashionable by Audi. It’s a tedious gimmick which further investigation reveals to be something they fit only to sporty 308s for some reason. But really there’s no need for such wankery.

Goodbye: The 308 GTi is going away and this is a shame because I like it a lot. It’s genuinely excellent to drive and handles exciting roads in a fast, flowing and fun way yet manages to avoid being noisy and exhausting when you don’t want to dick around. At the moment, everyone is making a fuss about the Ford Focus RS and that’s fair enough, but it does mean the more subtle 308 could be overlooked. Which is a shame, because it’s actually a bit of a gem.

The car talked about here is a Peugeot 308 GTi 270 by Peugeot Sport. It has a 1.6-litre, four cylinder turbocharged engine making 266 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 6 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. It costs £29,335.

A week with a Renault Megane GT

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

awwmeganegt1Day one: Doesn’t it feel like we only had a new Megane about three years ago? Well we didn’t, it was in 2008, so now there’s a fresh one and here it is, outside my office, trying to look more grown up and expensive than the old model. Unfortunately, these efforts are immediately undone by the key, which is a woeful wedge of cheap plastic that actually creaks when you squeeze the buttons. A car key is a little avatar of the car itself and therefore a vitally important indicator of how you’ll feel about the whole thing before you even see it. So this isn’t a promising beginning. Fortunately, you don’t need to fondle the Megane fob to get inside because it’s all keyless, but first impressions don’t get much better once you’ve jabbed the bulbous  (more…)

A long weekend with an Aston Martin DB11

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, December 23rd, 2016

awwdb11_1Day one: The Aston arrives at my house while I’m out walking the dog. In photos the DB11 can appear a bit flimsy and hollow at the front, as if there’s no engine under the bonnet and the front wheels are connected by a thin metal rod, like a Matchbox car. In real life, this problem doesn’t exist. The front is low, wide, handsome, and a tiny bit sinister. It helps that this demonstrator is white and all the grilles and gills are blacked in, as are the two rails running either side of the roof. This results in a slightly messy cluster of black panels around the C-pillar and back window, but overall it’s a very good looking car. Not as clean and elegant as a DB9 but striking and modern. Also, it immediately makes my son want to paw at it in an excitable way. And if an Aston Martin can’t elicit that sort of reaction from an almost-three-year-old, we’re in trouble. Opening the door for the first time, it does that funny diagonal sweep in the accepted Aston style, but the action seems smoother, the hydraulic stops more inclined to hold it where you want it. The whole thing feels of better quality and the same is true of  (more…)

A few days with a Kia Cadenza

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

Do you want a large Korean saloon car? Well go to America then, that’s where they sell this.

awwcadenza1Day one: I’d known for a while that I was going to the United America of States with my job so I asked my car journo mate Aaron if he could sort me out with a press car, preferably something interesting that isn’t sold in Britain. Unfortunately, the very reason I was going to America – to shoot the opening sequence for The Grand Tour with a flotilla of cars driving across the desert – turned out to be the very reason Aaron struggled to do my evil bidding. All the cool stuff was booked up. By the time he sent me a message saying even Mazda weren’t returning his messages, it seemed all hope was lost. But then he came back asking if I’d like a Cadenza. Fearing he was offering me a type of bush or some kind of spinal problem, I looked this up. Cadenza is not a back problem, it’s a type of large-ish Kia saloon and belongs to a very specific sub-set of car enjoyed only in North America. They’re quite big and roomy and tend to have V6 engines powering the front wheels. They’re generally conservative in design, softly sprung and bought by people of a certain age who can’t stretch to a Cadillac. The Toyota Avalon is a good example, or the Buick LaCrosse. The American press refers to them as ‘near luxury’ cars. I think I understand ‘near luxury’. It’s fancy, but not too fancy. Like the kind of restaurant you’d go to midweek. Or the kind of clothes you’d wear when you want to be well presented but not too formal. That’s what this car is: It’s smart casual. The first (more…)

A week with a Mercedes E-class

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Thursday, December 15th, 2016

aww_merce_1Day one: Has someone ordered a taxi? No, wait, the E-class is here. At least, I think it is. These days you get your intermediate level car spotting badge by identifying if an an oncoming Jag is an XE or XF. But correctly spotting the difference between Mercs C and E is some full on car nerd ninja shit. Even more so from the rear three-quarter where you could even mistake either for an S-class that’s a bit further away. Anyway, on its own the E is quite a nice looking thing. The interior is even more impressive, appearing to be of very high quality and a pleasant design. Only two things let it down. One is the mad stripey wood of this press demonstrator, and the other is the horizontal central section of the dash, which looks a bit like it’s melting, or collapsing into an unseen void behind. Otherwise, a top job. It’s slick, sophisticated and comfortable. And on first impressions, the E-class is like that to drive too.

Day two: My wife says the stripey wood makes her eyes go funny. She’s right. It’s very odd and a £645 option you (more…)

Just over a week with a Jaguar F-Pace

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

You know that new Jag? No, not that one, the other one. Yes. This is a test of that. 

awwf-pace1Day one: The F-Pace has been delivered to my house while I’m out because this is the sort of thing that happens when you’re a spoilt car journalist, or at least a spoilt approximation of one. As I approach my front door, my neighbour Sam appears as if by magic, pointing with excitement at the Jag. Ever since I’ve lived here, Sam has had a Golf R32 and said he can’t find a single car he likes with which to replace it. Until now. He’s just been to test drive an F-Pace and tomorrow he’s going to place his order. Somewhere within Jag, I hope a market research person is hastily updating a spreadsheet. I bet when they were profiling likely customers, they didn’t think of a bloke called Sam who thought his Golf R32 unreplaceable. And what led him to the Jaguar? He saw a poster for it and thought it was the nicest looking car he’d seen for ages. It’s certainly a very handsome thing and manages the trick of looking like a modern Jaguar whilst also seeming totally natural as an SUV or crossover or whatever you’d call it rather than having the appearance of one of those Auto Express renderings where they’ve slapped a Jag grille and wheels onto a Photoshopped Freelander.

Day two: If the outside of the F-Pace is a triumph of neat and attractive design, the inside is less so. It’s not as dismal as the basic XF (more…)

A week with a BMW 740Ld

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, August 5th, 2016

Want an S-class but wish it was a BMW? Well, here you go then.

AWW_BMW740_1Day one: The 7-series is here. At a glance it looks quite a lot like the previous one. On closer inspection, it’s actually quite a handsome thing. I especially enjoy the shiny trim that runs down the sills and the way the bootlid slopes downwards. Not quite like an old Jag, but elegant all the same. The interior is nice too. There are metal buttons and some virtual dials that look like real BMW dials and everything feels very high quality except, weirdly, for the piece of crap black plastic just ahead of the door handles.

On first impressions, the 7-series is as quietly pleasant to drive as it is to look at. The ride is superb and the engine is very quiet and very smooth, especially for a diesel. There’s none of that faint tinkling sound you get from big Merc or Jag diesels, possibly because this is a straight six rather than a vee. Pedants may want to tut about the capacity, which is three litres, despite the 740 name. BMW got a taste for badge-based fibs with the 1980s 525e and has been doing it ever since.

Day two: It’s the weekend. We’re going to a thing in the countryside and bringing a friend. With a car like this the obvious question is, can the back seat comfortably accommodate the CEO of a medium-sized, Düsseldorf-based petrochemical concern? And the answer, I would guess, is yes. This being the long wheelbase 7-series, it’s ruddy massive back there. But I feel a more challenging question might be, can the back seat accommodate two toddlers in child seats and a Scottish lady called Helen? Well, as of today, I can say with confidence that yes, yes it can.

When we get to the countryside we’re required to park in the field. This is of no trouble to the BMW because it has four-wheel-drive. Although I notice it’s of no trouble to any other car either. You can’t have this engine without 4WD system for some reason.

As we’re getting all of the children and ladies called Helen out of the car, my mate Lewis comes over. ‘Is this a 5-seri… no, wait, it’s a 7,’ he says. Lewis used to sell BMWs for a living and even he can’t immediately ID the 7 as the big daddy of BMWs. An S-class or an XJ looks like the biggest car they make, yet somehow the 7-series never does, even when it’s sodding huge. Fact fans might be interested to know this is actually the biggest production car BMW has ever built. So there.

AWW_BMW740_2Day three: Today I parked on the street and walked off only to have a sudden pang that I’d left the sunroof tilted open. Ah, but hang on. The 7-series has a tricksy key with a little screen on it which allows you to swipe through various status menus and options. Except it ends up being quicker to walk back to the car where I discover that it’s closed its own sunroof for me. Thanks car. There’s another, bigger problem with the fancy key. It’s so huge, especially tucked inside its special leather pouch, that it doesn’t sit comfortable in the average trouser pocket and makes it look like you’ve got a stiffy.

Day four: The are-you-pleased-to-see-me? key isn’t the only bit of tech overkill on this 7-series. It also has something called ‘gesture control’ by which you can adjust certain functions simply by making prescribed hand movements with your arm in mid-air. The most obvious one is a twirling motion to turn the stereo volume up or down. It works, but only some of the time. Too often, it doesn’t and you find yourself frantically twirling your hand about like a shit wizard. In half the time you could have adjusted the volume using the dashboard knob and saved yourself looking like a dashboard knob. Gesture control is a £160 option. I wouldn’t bother. The rest of the interior is terrific and doesn’t need such gimmickry.

Trundling about London, there is something extremely calm and exceptionally pleasant about the 7-series. It’s quiet, it’s comfortable, it has plenty of the greatest luxury a car can have, which is torque. This makes it very relaxing. Although I am wearing a T-shirt and this feels wrong. It’s strange, isn’t it, that you could tool about all day in a Range Rover while casually attired and it wouldn’t seem odd. But in this car, you can’t escape the feeling that it looks like you’ve borrowed your dad’s car. Or robbed a chauffeur.

Day five: Today I have cause to give a lift to TV’s James May. “This is quite a nice car,” says TV’s James May after we’ve been in it for a bit. And I agree with TV’s James May.

Day six: You can, if you’re so inclined, chuck the 7-series around a bit and it’s actually quite lively and agile and handles itself rather well. I’m not sure that anyone will bother, but it’s nice to know you could. For a long, long limo of a thing it feels very rigid. This might be down to the centre section of the structure, which is made of carbon fibre and therefore strong and light and the reason there are slightly tacky looking ‘carbon core’ badges on the inside of the door frames.

AWW_BMW740_3Day seven: For an extremely high tech car, this BMW has surprisingly useless rain sensing wipers. Even by the sodding dreadful standards of this awful and irritating feature, the 740’s sensors are cock awful, signally failing to notice great torrents of water slapping into the screen. Given the sophistication and attention to detail of the rest of the car, this is a strange oversight.

On the way home from west London tonight I put on the massaging seats for the first time and quickly come to regret it. Sometimes the cushion feels like it’s full of sand which is falling away beneath you. Sometimes you get the impression that the entire seat is actively trying to hurt you. The overall sensation is not especially nice. I think I might have had it on the wrong setting. Unless you want to feel as if your arse is on an acid trip while a robot attempts to burst your kidneys. In which case, bob on.

Goodbye: The 740Ld xDrive is going away and this is a shame. There are a few bits of technology on it that feel unfinished and pointless but these don’t detract from the fundamental parts of this fast, comfortable, relaxing, handsome and enjoyable car. It’s technically very good at being a massive, soothing barge and nicer to drive than an S-class. But some cars also have a feeling to them that goes beyond the sum of their parts and this is one of them. There’s something very appealing about it, even beyond its obvious strengths. It is, as TV’s James May rightly observed, just a nice car.

The car talked about here is a BMW 740Ld xDrive. It has a 3-litre, twin turbocharged straight six diesel engine which produces 316 horsepower. BMW says it can go from 0-62 in 5.3 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. Without options it costs £76,010.

A week with a Jaguar XF

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, July 1st, 2016

AWWXF_1Day one: The XF arrives. This is the ‘Prestige’ model which is, confusingly, the entry level. On first impressions it feels quite modern, but also quite humdrum. This tone is set by the interior, which is plain to the point of stark. This is a shame. I don’t want to be one of those old farts who demands Jags to be slathered in burr walnut and cream leather but nor do I want them to feel sterile and bleak. Plenty of people can do that. Part of the attraction of a Jag is that you get more than that. Not here. You’d struggle to call this interior welcoming unless you were being chased by a bear. Based on a bit of trundling around London, the driving experience is fairly plain too.

Day two: A drive across the fringes of the city. Wondering if my first impressions of the XF were a bit harsh. It seems okay this morning. But that might be because it’s sunny. The sunlight can’t really do much for the outside because the paintwork is flat white and the wheels are 17-inchers which look too small. A few weeks ago I saw a dark blue XF on bigger alloys and thought it looked sophisticated, elegant and extremely handsome, especially from the rear three-quarter. The front is good too, but a bit too similar to its little brother. Indeed, my new favourite motorway game to play with cars on the opposite carriageway is the fiendishly difficult ‘XE or XF?’ One of my neighbours has an old-shape XF, also in white and also on the small wheels. The thing about the old XF, like all good Jags, is that it seemed to get better and better looking throughout its life to the point that it doesn’t seem dated, even alongside this new one. This version has sharper lines and less bulbous sides but I wonder if it will age as well.

Day three: Another morning run through the outskirts of town. I’d read some road tests of the XF which suggested that it had an exceptionally good ride. Based on this car, I’d say that’s bollocks. The ride in this car is okay, but no more than that. Sometimes it jiggles so much over a shitty bit of tarmac that it awakens a tiny rattle somewhere within the dash. It’s the kind of thing that undermines your belief in how well a car is put together. On that note, there’s also something behind the steering wheel that makes a peculiar thud about 30 seconds after you’ve set off – I presume it’s to do with the air-con system – and the doors don’t come anywhere close to making the dry whump you’d expect from a 35 grand car with an upmarket badge on the front. This car has the optional ‘soft close’ facility. I wonder if that’s why they don’t seem to latch closed in a positive way. It’s a £485 option you can probably do without.

AWWXF_2Day four: Jag has come up with a new widescreen infotainment system which is meant to be very good. This car doesn’t have it. It’s got the older system which is a bit laggy and someway behind the state-of-the-art, like one of those Android tablets that is 80 quid off eBay for a reason. This morning it fails to hook up to the Bluetooth on my phone and, since last night I was streaming music, I find myself driving along for some time without anything playing from the stereo. It turns out that, once warmed up, the engine is quite quiet and the whole car very peaceful. This car has that homegrown 2-litre diesel, Perineum or whatever Jag calls it, and it gets on with the job in that functional way that 2-litre diesels do. According to the trip computer, the XF is doing over 40mpg which isn’t bad considered it’s been stuck in town for three days.

Day five: Another drive across London. Some friends of ours are having their third child baptized. After the water splashing and Jesus business there’s a some lunch in a pub. I end up outside, leaning on the XF and chatting to a mate. ‘Were you boys talking about the Jag?’ my wife asks later. I realize that we weren’t. This seems a bit odd. My friend never noticed it. I never felt the urge to bring it up. Hmph. Much later, the Christening gives me a theory about this car: What if, as I suspect, all the youthful hotshots within Jag worked on the baby XE while all the wisest and most valuable minds developed the vital F-Pace. That left the XF stuck somewhere in between. And maybe that’s why it seems so unexceptional. It’s not as important to the business as the small saloon and the tall crossover. So it’s the attention-starved middle child.

Day six: On the way to get a takeaway this evening I park next to another new XF. This one is grey and it’s in the more aggressive R Sport trim. It has nicer wheels, the chrome is blacked in, it’s a better looking car all round. I’m filled with XF envy. In my white, small-wheeled, non-Sport version I look like someone who really pissed off their fleet manager.

AWWXF_3Day seven: At last, a trip out of London and a chance to give the XF a proper drive. After being a bit down on it for the past few days, I’m expecting all to become clear out in the countryside. This is where the magic will happen. Except, it doesn’t. It might be hoping too much for any medium sized saloon with a four-cylinder diesel engine to sparkle on a fine B-road but you’d hope that Jag of all people, given their recent skills at making nice-driving cars, would serve up something beyond the norm. Actually, the XF is rather flat. That’s not much fun in revving a diesel like this and that in turn makes it feel slightly futile to keep titting about with the paddles behind the wheel. Worse still, because the ride is a bit bumpier than it should be, the car sometimes gets knocked off line by bumps halfway through bends and the whole experience is barely worth the bother. I’d hoped for more.

Goodbye: The XF is going away. The last time I had a Jag on test I considered pretending to be out when the collection man arrived. With this, he’s welcome to it back. I can’t help thinking they’ve got this car exactly the wrong way round. It’s actually an extremely expensive bit of kit underneath, what with its (mostly) aluminium shell and its lavishly engineered suspension. Yet on the surface this entry level model looks and feels much cheaper than it is. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the interior. Good car interiors seem lavish and inviting. It’s only later that, inevitably, you notice a few bits where they’ve saved money. With the XF it’s the opposite. Your initial thought is that it seems stark and joyless. Only later do you spot the little bits of silver filigree around the air-con controls, the shiny fillets on the centre console, the clean minimalism of the central dashboard, and you realise there are glimpses of goodness here. But they aren’t your first impression. Your first impression is of the bare minimum. And this isn’t right. Jag interiors used to have something to them. I don’t want to trot out the well-worn word ‘special’ because it sounds like I’m patronising the car’s performance in a school sports day, but there was always something indefinable that made you want to get into a Jaguar and then stay there. It was a warmth and a cosiness. It was the same unique and sometimes disorganised charm that makes your house feel like a home where a hotel room does not. The XJ has it. The F-type has it. The old XF had it. The new XF, at least in this trim, does not. It’s hollow where it should be stout. Hard where it should be cushy. Calculated where it should be human. It’s a coldly monochrome handshake where it should be warmly coloured embrace. Worse still, it feels penny-pinching. The buttons around the touch screen make a flimsy click, the controls on the steering wheel are wobbly, and significant parts of the interior are covered in a terrible leath-a-like that Kia would reject for being too low rent. You could scuff some of this dirt under the rug if the basic XF was a sensational car to drive but it’s not. It is, at best, okay. The ride isn’t brilliant, the handling is functional, the engine is unexceptional. There’s very little of this XF that doesn’t make you think you’re being punished for not choosing a more expensive version, or perhaps a different car entirely. With a new E-class already here and next generation rivals from BMW and Audi on the way, if the XF doesn’t buck up its ideas it’s going to be become embarrassed. Which is a shame because I’d like it to keep the British end up, I really would. I like Jags. In fact, I used to own one. And I’d like to own one again some day. But not this one. This one commits the worst sin possible from a Jaguar; it’s ordinary.

The car talked about here is the Jaguar XF Prestige 2.0 i4 163PS. It has a 2-litre turbocharged diesel engine making 161 horsepower. Jaguar says it can go from 0-60mph in 8.2 seconds and on to 132mph. Without options, it costs £34,050.



A few days with a Porsche 718 Boxster S

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, June 17th, 2016

It’s generation 3.5 of the entry level Porsche

AWW718Box1Day one: The Boxster arrives early. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d think it was the old model. In fact, every panel except the bonnet, bootlid and windscreen frame is new. But carefully styled to look very similar to what was there before. The bumph says that the changes over the old car include ‘independently styled wheel arches’. I suspect this loses something in translation. The biggest change is underneath where the old flat six has been removed and a new four cylinder, turbocharged engine installed. On start up it sounds a little bit Beetly, but without the ring-a-ding rattle that makes old VWs so wretched. Put some revs on it and it gets very fruity and a little farty, much like an old Impreza. It’s no smoothly whirring flat six, but it’s not an unpleasant sound. This car has the sports exhaust which probably helps with first impressions. Engine aside, it’s business as usual. The ride seems good, the manual gearshift is exceedingly nice, the steering has that usual Porsche sense of weight and a lack of slack in the system. Inside, there’s also the usual Porsche spec and layout madness such as the seats, which have electric backrest adjustment but manual everything else, the clocks, of which there are four, and the little slot behind the gearlever which is too small to be of any use whatsoever. If you want to stash your phone, you have to put it in the doorbin. Unless you don’t want to forget your phone and accidentally leave it in the car every sodding time you get out, in which case keep it in your pocket.

Day two: A day of driving round London. In such circumstances you’d expect to be longing for the double clutch PDK ‘box to do all the left leg work but the gearchange in this car is so light and yet precise it’s a joy to use, even in cacky traffic. Likewise, you’d expect to be cursing the firm suspension of a sports car on the capital’s terrible road surfaces but the 718ster’s ride is so decent that it’s simply not a problem. In fact, there are plenty of saloons that cover bumps with less brilliance which is as much a damning indictment on them as it is a testament to the skills of Porsche’s chassis tuners. Overall then, a very good town car. After a trip to the supermarket I’d even call it practical since at the back there’s a reasonable boot and at the nose there’s what Americans call a ‘frunk’. Or, if you’re in the UK, a froot. After two days with this car I’d dearly like to tell you what it’s like with the roof down but it’s been pissing it down almost constantly. If you’re wondering why the weather is crap at the moment, it’s because I stupidly booked in a convertible test car. Sorry.

AWW718Box2Day three: People keep admiring the Boxstevenoneeight. And rightly so. This press demonstrator is an especially sheeny silver and from most angles it looks excellent. Only the back end doesn’t quite work, what with its nasty black bit below the spoiler and its strange, clear-effect lights, both of which look cheap and after market. The badge on the back of this car simply says ‘718’. This turns out to be an option. As standard, the badging would read ‘718 Boxster S’ which would make the back end look messier. Amazingly, Porsche has missed a chance to charge more for less with this one because the minimalist badge might be an option but it’s not one you have to pay for. Unlike the startling ‘Bordeaux Red’ interior which is an extra £1680 and best avoided unless your fantasy is to become trapped in a massive jar of strawberry jam.

Day four: The weather is dry enough to put the roof down. It’s time to take the Porsche for a proper drive in the countryside. And what a generally delightful experience this turns out to be because this car really does have a tremendous chassis. Naturally, there’s lashings of grip and you’d struggle to find much in the way of under or oversteer unless you’re a total nob but you can sling it into bends and feels it moving about in a perfectly balanced way before firing you out the other side. It helps that the ride is superb, and doesn’t get much worse when you put the dampers in sport mode. Always a sign that the engineering department outranks the marketing people and their typical desire to make things ‘feel sporty’ for the benefit of morons. Then there’s the steering which is electrically assisted and doesn’t allow the wheel to fidget in your palms like Porsches of old but does its best in the waxing and waning of its weight to give some idea of what’s happening down below. The gearchange remains excellent. Also, if you put it into sport mode with the little dial on the steering wheel, it does that auto rev-matching thing on downshifts. It feels a bit like cheating, although it’s depressing to note that the computer is bloody good at faux heel and toeing. This is a fun car to drive with a purposeful sense of urgency. The chassis is great, the gearbox is great, the brakes are great. And that just leaves the engine. Which is not completely great. Being turbocharged, it’s passes a teeny moment of lag very low down and then just grunts away in a torquey manner that was missing from the old model. This makes it feel quite fast because it simply picks up and then keeps pulling. It also masks the usual madly long gearing that Porsche fits to these cars, as if the company is amused at the idea that you could lose your licence in third. At any speed in any gear, you step on it and it goes. It’s a gutsy motor. There are, as I see it, just two problems. Firstly, when you really rev it the Scooby throb becomes a drone. And secondly, it’s just a bit too even. In the old, normally aspirated car, you revved it to release the good stuff, to get it on cam, to really let it rip. With the new car, it’s pulling from low down and there is no burst of power further up the range. Although the new engine is more flexible and more useable, it’s also less interesting just because its delivery is so one-note. Since I’m on a downer about the engine, you should also know that the computer reckoned some motorway, some A- and B-road ragging and then some town work gave an average of 30mpg which is what I got in similar circumstances from the old six cylinder car.

AWW718Box3Day five: It’s a nice evening. I’ve got to go across North London for some podcasting. I take a cab. There are two reasons for this. One, I want to have a boozy drink. And two, because I’m not sure want to pass through some of the grittier parts of the city with the roof down. It’s the fear of being gobbed on. And the fear of this car’s new, larger, more smoothly integrated touch screen readout which allows people to clearly see that I’m listening to the best of Girls Aloud. And also a fear of recreating the scene a mate of mine once saw in which a cyclist pulled alongside a bloke in a top-down Boxster, leaned down into the cabin and shouted, ‘GIRL’S PORSCHE’.

Goodbye: The 7Box18ster is going away. In every technical sense, apart from the measurement for useful dashboard cubby holes, it’s really quite brilliant. The chassis, the brakes, the weight of the controls, they all feel as if they were set-up by people who really care about driving. It’s only the engine that doesn’t quite hit the spot. It’s technically very good but when you get to know its character, it’s also a bit one-dimensional. I wonder how many Boxster owners will really care about this. Most are just thrilled that they’ve finally got the Porsche they’ve always dreamt of and the convertible they always wanted. They like that it feels sporty and that it looks cool and they’ll rarely use it for anything more than trundling around town. In which case, the new engine makes perfect sense. And all the incredible ability of the rest of the car feels like a bit of a waste.

The car talked about here is a Porsche 718 Boxster S. It has a 2.5-litre turbocharged flat four engine making 345bhp. Porsche says it can go from 0-62 in 4.6 seconds and on to 177mph. Without options it costs £50,695.


A week with a Mercedes GLS

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, June 3rd, 2016

It’s a big Mercedes. But not an S-class. 

AWWMercGLS1Day one: The GLS is here. I know this because the sun has been blotted out causing trees to shed their leaves and birds to fall from the skies in confusion. From somewhere nearby, an owl hoots. It’s a big, big car. You might already know it as the GL. Now Merc has decided that its taller cars should mirror the saloon car range so we have the C-class based GLC, the M-class has become the GLE and, along with a facelift, here’s a name-change for this, to suggest that it’s like a high-riding S-class. Unfortunately, the name also makes it sound like an almost top-of-the-range Vauxhall Cavalier. Perhaps there’ll be a Maybach SUV called the CD. They’re majoring on the luxury angle with this car and to underline that point they’ve taken the interior and quilted the shit out of it. It’s actually quite nice. The whole interior has a feeling of being well-made and sensibly arranged in that Merc-ish sort of way. On the move, it feels hefty in a reassuring sort of way. It also seems quiet and relaxing. This gives you plenty of time to enjoy the quilting.

Day two: Given its size you might assume this Mercedes has seating for several hundred people. In fact there’s room for seven. Today I made a trip to the central regions of GLS and discovered that the three seats in the middle row are weirdly small. Or rather, the backrests look too short, which makes them seem undersized, cowering in the vast cavern of the interior. Another strange discovery is that legroom for people in these seats is not as generous as you might think. This seems to have been done to make the legroom in the very back better than expected. The rear and middle rows fold electrically which is quite amusing the first time you try it. I suspect your kids will continue to find it amusing and will play with the switches until they’re all full of crisp residue and snot, at which point something will short circuit and your youngest will become trapped in a terrifying scissor of quilting.

AWWMercGLS2Day three: I have things to do at home. Although I suppose I could try doing them in the car. It’s almost certainly got more bedrooms. I just need to find the switch that unfolds them. Staring at the GLS through the living room window, I’ve decided it’s quite a handsome thing. This facelift has given it some nice touches, in particular a set of bladed alloys a bit like the ones you got on the McMerc SLR. The only bit of the design I can’t understand is the half-hearted way the windowline kinks upwards at the back. It’s like they designed it to be flat all the way along and then at the very last minute decided this was boring and hastily stuck an upward flick at the end without really working out the right angle for it.

Day four: Some journeying to do. The GLS is good at covering distance. It’s got air springs and the ride is, in general, very good. Although it’s sometimes caught out by ruts and cracks and the generally shit state of British roads. Get it onto smoother, German-style tarmac and it finds its form, lolloping along like a Range Rover while you look down on people whose cars aren’t big enough to be categorised as a place of worship. The only thing that spoils the atmos for the driver is an occasional and strange tizz through the steering wheel. Also, if you come to a roundabout on a dual carriageway the brakes aren’t quite as bitey as you’d like and you get a sudden reminder of how hard they’re working to prevent you clattering through the sponsorship sign from Cockflap’s Carpets. AWWMercGLS3It’s much the same with the handling. For its size and weight, all 2455 kilos of it, the GLS does a reasonable job of keeping everything tidy but you’re frequently aware of the clever engineering that’s straining to keep the tyres on the road whilst a body the size and weight of a shopping centre does its best to overwhelm them. But it’s stupid to talk about handling in a car like this because no one’s going to rag the crap out of it now, are they? You just wouldn’t, and if you did it would only make your children ill and then your Google search history would contain the query, ‘how do you get sick out of quilting?’

Day five: Today is the first day I’ve got into the GLS after dark. It’s therefore the first time I’ve noticed that after sundown it has little lights in the door mirrors that project a Mercedes logo onto the ground in a way that is cool and vulgar all at the same time.

Day six: I hate to bang on about how massive the GLS is but today I parked it next to a Range Rover in the supermarket car park and it was noticeably longer. Don’t worry, the supermarket was a Waitrose, they’re used to this sort of thing. I was going to say the Merc is a bit less flash than the British car but there’s not much in it. The smoothness, serenity and quilted calm of the GLS work well in Britain but it does rather feel like one of those cars that would be more at home in Miami or Los Angeles or Dubai. In such places you can’t get this 350 diesel version but they will sell you a petrol one with a twin turbo V6 or a twin turbo V8. I bet those are quite nice. If you insist on petrol power in the UK, you’ll need the GLS63 AMG which has a 5.5-litre, 577 horsepower turbocharged V8 and sounds like it could be moderately frightening.

AWWMercGLS4Goodbye: The GLS is going away. There’s much to like about it. It’s stout and practical and strangely relaxing. It’s also – brace yourselves – £78,000. Or, with the driving assist package and the off road package and the rear seat entertainment package of this test car, £84,270. Ouch. For that money you could have a pretty nice Range Rover. And that’s what I’d do. The GLS is good, but in a dark colour it looks like the kind of car they use to deliver a rock star to a venue. Whereas a Range Rover is what the rock star would drive on their own time.

The car talked about here is a Mercedes-Benz GLS350d 4Matic Designo Line. It has a 3-litre turbocharged V6 diesel engine making 255 horsepower. Mercedes says it can go from 0-62 in 7.8 seconds and on to 138mph. Without options it costs £78,095.