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The Genesis G80 is a great value newcomer to the premium car market

Over the past few decades, the premium segment has proved almost impossible for newcomers to break into, such is the stranglehold Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have on it. Volvo has made a great case for itself, while Lexus has long been a solid left-field alternative. Tesla, too, with its electric vehicles.

But many others have tried and failed, which makes Genesis’ attempt interesting. It’s new to Europe, but the spin-off from Hyundai actually launched in 2015 in its home market of South Korea. It has been selling cars in various markets, shifting 130,000 units last year, and hopes to increase that in Europe with very competitive pricing.

Today we’re testing the G80, which is a large saloon – think Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series rival. The highlights are that this is the first model to feature the brand’s new design language, it has undergone extensive development on European roads (including the Nurburgring circuit), and has extensive safety kit, achieving the full five stars in Euro NCAP safety testing.

Photos: PA Media

Away from the car, the sales model is pretty interesting too. Genesis doesn’t have traditional dealerships, instead having ‘studios’ in retail spaces where buyers can see cars, test drive them and place orders. There are three in Europe, including one in London, though this will expand in the coming years. There’s no bartering nor deals to be had, so whether you buy online or through the store, the price is the price, with a few options and packs available as upgrades.

Finally – and this is marketing speak but sounds like an interesting concept in theory – Genesis says it’s focusing on the customer experience rather than just sales numbers. So you get a five-year care package included in the price with your own assistant who can arrange services and repairs among countless other things, collecting your car and dropping off a courtesy model.

There are two engines available, a 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol and a 2.2-litre turbo diesel. Both are four cylinder units and mated to eight-speed automatic transmissions, while the former is paired with all-wheel-drive and the latter being rear-driven.

We tested the petrol, which is a smooth and refined unit. It has 300bhp, which is just enough to feel spritely when you put your foot down, while the power delivery is impressively linear, making it perfectly suited to the luxury driving experience. Thanks to clever noise cancellation technology it’s quiet, too.

While the German trio are keen to include some handling prowess to varying degrees, it’s immediately obvious that the G80 has absolutely no aspirations of being hustled down a winding country road. This thing is all about comfort.

It’s supremely comfortable thanks to soft suspension and clever tech that uses cameras to prepare the car for bumps and potholes – this car honestly smoothes out potholes better than anything I can remember. The trade off is that it leans a lot in corners, demanding smooth inputs, something made trickier by surprisingly direct steering.

Once you’re tuned into its more leisurely approach to things it quickly becomes one of the best motorway cruisers out there. And it relaxes you in the process. It’s aggressively safety-conscious, though, so you might find you’re switching off some of the more intrusive driver aids pretty quickly…

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but the Genesis design language isn’t something most will immediately gel with. Its overall silhouette is actually very aesthetically pleasing, with sleek lines and a well-proportioned glasshouse. But the details on the nose are incredibly fussy, with the twin-headlights and massive grille taking some getting used to.

The rear is slightly more conventional, but the drooping bootlid and wide proportions bring back memories of the previous-generation Audi A7. That has become a classic design, so perhaps the same will be said of this. Finally we have the alloy wheel designs, which are mostly pretty nice but include some incredibly fussy designs and maybe too much shininess… British buyers tend to lean towards subtlety.

If the exterior design is a bit of a challenge, the interior isn’t. Often the downfall of the premium/luxury newcomer is the cabin, especially those spun off from mainstream manufacturers. Fortunately, there’s none of that in the G80. The materials all feel high quality, the seats are fantastically comfortable, and the displays are clear, well-designed and easy to use with a good mix of touchscreens and physical buttons. Perhaps the only complaint? The drive gear selector knob feels a little cheap, though the scroll wheel above that controls the infotainment display is a bit different but works well.

So the big question is this: Can Genesis break the big German three’s stranglehold on the premium car market? It’s impossible to know if buyers will gel with the brand to make this possible, but the South Korean firm has found itself an interesting niche.

The cars are great inside and supremely comfortable to drive. And they’re also fantastic value, undercutting similarly specced German rivals considerably. And if the ownership experience lives up to expectation, it’s exactly what buyers want in this market without having to break the bank to get it.

If Genesis really is going to make a success of itself in Europe, it has given itself a fantastic base to do so.

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The Audi e-tron S is an electric SUV with more motors and more power

In the world of electric vehicles, the premium SUV has quickly become king. It makes sense – EVs can be expensive, which is easier to justify in a premium car, while everyone in this market wants an SUV.

The Audi e-tron was one of the first electric SUVs to market, and now we have this, the e-tron S. It follows a similar recipe to other Audi S models, in that it takes the regular car’s practicality and adds a little more performance, sportier looks and some dynamic tweaks and changes that make it more fun to drive.

While traditionally an S badge might denote more cylinders, displacement and bigger turbos – or a combination of all three – in the world of electric S cars it means we get an extra electric motor. That means there’s a trio, with two on the rear axle and one on the front.

The new motor setup means a new drive system, which is more rear-biased than the regular e-tron. Meanwhile, only the rear motors are engaged in normal driving to improve efficiency. The air suspension has an S-specific tune to improve handling, there are big brakes to improve stopping power, and optimised aerodynamics with wider wheel arches.

Photos: PA Media

That triple-motor system is actually the first of its kind in a production vehicle. It uses the rear motor from the standard e-tron 55 on the front axle, and two modified examples of that car’s front motor on the rear.

The result is 489bhp and 973Nm of torque, which are impressive numbers, EV or not, and the result is a 0-60mph time of just 4.5 seconds. The battery, meanwhile, is an 86kWh unit that can return up to 221 miles between charges.

On first impressions, this feels like any other electric SUV – quiet, refined and responsive. The e-tron is one of the best in the business, having a really solid feel to it, with perfectly judged control weights for the steering and pedal inputs that make it genuinely satisfying to drive even at normal speeds.

However, where the S stands out from the crowd is its surging performance. This is a big, heavy car, so despite the impressive torque figure it’s not neck-snappingly quick off the line, but plant your foot as the lights go green and there’s a punchy surge of acceleration.

It’s surprisingly good fun in corners, too, thanks largely to the combination of a low centre of gravity (the batteries are buried deep in the floor) and the suspension upgrades. And thanks to the wonders of air suspension that extra talent in corners doesn’t come at the sacrifice of a comfortable driving experience.

We’ve gone past the age of electric vehicles with wild styling designed to shout about their eco credentials, and the Audi e-tron is the perfect example of this. It’s about as subdued as an SUV can be, opting for subtle class, yet with a suitably imposing front end.

For the S model, Audi has given the bodywork a pumped up, sporty look. The whole body is 23mm wider to give it a more muscular appearance, while the front and rear bumpers have sharper lines and a rear diffuser has been put in place.

If you’re familiar with the latest Audi interiors you’ll recognise the setup we have here, further proof that the e-tron isn’t some special outlier, it’s just another SUV that happens to be electric. As such, it gets the same tech-heavy, screen-filled cabin we’ve come to love.

It has a dark theme that can be brightened somewhat by brown seats, while there are two central screens and a third ahead of the driver. The lower central screen controls functions such as the climate control, while the upper is the infotainment display. The third is a digital instrument display, with all being clear, high-resolution and easy to use. The surfaces that aren’t screens are all of the highest quality, too, really nailing that premium feel.

The ‘standard’ e-tron S has a healthy equipment list, including 21-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, S-specific exterior bodywork, heated ‘super sports seats’, leather upholstery, the triple-screen interior and a 10-speaker sound system.

Upgrading to Vorsprung adds a considerable amount to the price. Options include 22-inch alloy wheels, digital matrix headlights, panoramic roof, Bang & Olufsen sound system and extra driver assistance tech.

The Audi e-tron is already a very accomplished electric SUV, so giving it a bit more power and slightly more aggressive looks always seemed like a successful recipe on paper. It more than delivers, with the air suspension meaning you don’t need to sacrifice ride quality for improved handling.

It might not feel as crazy fast as you might expect an electric car with such big power figures, but it’s got more than enough performance under your right foot to be fun. And when you want to relax, it’s quiet, refined and relaxing to cruise around. It really is a great all-rounder.

The Audi e-tron was one of the first electric SUVs to market, and now we have this, the e-tron S. It follows a similar recipe to other Audi S models, in that it takes the regular car’s practicality and adds a little more performance, sportier looks and some dynamic tweaks and changes that make it more fun to drive.

While traditionally an S badge might denote more cylinders, displacement and bigger turbos – or a combination of all three – in the world of electric S cars it means we get an extra electric motor. That means there’s a trio, with two on the rear axle and one on the front.

The new motor setup means a new drive system, which is more rear-biased than the regular e-tron. Meanwhile, only the rear motors are engaged in normal driving to improve efficiency. The air suspension has an S-specific tune to improve handling, there are big brakes to improve stopping power, and optimised aerodynamics with wider wheel arches.

That triple-motor system is actually the first of its kind in a production vehicle. It uses the rear motor from the standard e-tron 55 on the front axle, and two modified examples of that car’s front motor on the rear.

The result is 489bhp and 973Nm of torque, which are impressive numbers, EV or not, and the result is a 0-60mph time of just 4.5 seconds. The battery, meanwhile, is an 86kWh unit that can return up to 221 miles between charges.

On first impressions, this feels like any other electric SUV – quiet, refined and responsive. The e-tron is one of the best in the business, having a really solid feel to it, with perfectly judged control weights for the steering and pedal inputs that make it genuinely satisfying to drive even at normal speeds.

However, where the S stands out from the crowd is its surging performance. This is a big, heavy car, so despite the impressive torque figure it’s not neck-snappingly quick off the line, but plant your foot as the lights go green and there’s a punchy surge of acceleration.

It’s surprisingly good fun in corners, too, thanks largely to the combination of a low centre of gravity (the batteries are buried deep in the floor) and the suspension upgrades. And thanks to the wonders of air suspension that extra talent in corners doesn’t come at the sacrifice of a comfortable driving experience.

We’ve gone past the age of electric vehicles with wild styling designed to shout about their eco credentials, and the Audi e-tron is the perfect example of this. It’s about as subdued as an SUV can be, opting for subtle class, yet with a suitably imposing front end.

For the S model, Audi has given the bodywork a pumped up, sporty look. The whole body is 23mm wider to give it a more muscular appearance, while the front and rear bumpers have sharper lines and a rear diffuser has been put in place.

If you’re familiar with the latest Audi interiors you’ll recognise the setup we have here, further proof that the e-tron isn’t some special outlier, it’s just another SUV that happens to be electric. As such, it gets the same tech-heavy, screen-filled cabin we’ve come to love.

It has a dark theme that can be brightened somewhat by brown seats, while there are two central screens and a third ahead of the driver. The lower central screen controls functions such as the climate control, while the upper is the infotainment display. The third is a digital instrument display, with all being clear, high-resolution and easy to use. The surfaces that aren’t screens are all of the highest quality, too, really nailing that premium feel.

The ‘standard’ e-tron S has a healthy equipment list, including 21-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, S-specific exterior bodywork, heated ‘super sports seats’, leather upholstery, the triple-screen interior and a 10-speaker sound system.

Upgrading to Vorsprung adds a considerable amount to the price. Options include 22-inch alloy wheels, digital matrix headlights, panoramic roof, Bang & Olufsen sound system and extra driver assistance tech.

The Audi e-tron is already a very accomplished electric SUV, so giving it a bit more power and slightly more aggressive looks always seemed like a successful recipe on paper. It more than delivers, with the air suspension meaning you don’t need to sacrifice ride quality for improved handling.

It might not feel as crazy fast as you might expect an electric car with such big power figures, but it’s got more than enough performance under your right foot to be fun. And when you want to relax, it’s quiet, refined and relaxing to cruise around. It really is a great all-rounder.

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The Peugeot 508 SW PSE is a taste of performance cars of the future

Having a ‘halo’ performance brand can have huge repercussions for a mainstream car firm – just look at Peugeot, which is still reaping the benefits of its legendary 205 GTI hot hatch nearly three decades after production ended.

But as we switch to an electrified future, how to continue offering a sporty nameplate can prove challenging – what with these models typically appealing to petrolheads, rather than those focused on economy. But Peugeot has decided to get ahead of the curve, launching its new ‘Peugeot Sport Engineered’ (PSE) brand. The key difference here is that every model to come from PSE will either be a hybrid or electric, which is quite a shock to the system.

The nameplate debuts on the brand’s sleek 508, but is this a future that we can be excited about?

Photos: PA Media

On first impression, you might think the 508 PSE – which is available as both a Fastback or the SW (estate) we’re testing here – is just the standard 508 with a slightly beefier engine and a fancy frock. That is true, in part, with this model being Peugeot’s most powerful road car to date, and getting a seriously aggressive design which we’ll explore later.

But there’s a lot more to it than just outright speed and visuals, what with Peugeot Sport fettling the suspension, chassis and giving it a wider track than the standard car.

There’s quite a lot going on with the 508 PSE underneath the surface, with Peugeot combining a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine (which itself produces 200bhp), with twin electric motors. With one of these being on the front and another on the rear, it also means it’s four-wheel-drive.

There are some pretty impressive figures, too, with the combined petrol-electric output delivering 355bhp and 520Nm of torque, enabling a 0-60mph time of five seconds and a top speed of 155mph.

Yet, charge the model’s 11.5kWh battery up – which takes an hour and three-quarters with a 7kW wallbox – and Peugeot claims a 26-mile electric range. Though you’re unlikely to ever hit the 138.9mpg fuel economy figure, low CO2 emissions of 46g/km give it a benefit-in-kind of just 13 per cent for company car drivers, which would bring welcome savings over the Audi S4 Avant and BMW M340d Touring, which make-do with conventional engines.

Our week of testing was predominantly in the wet (typical Britain, we know) and it truly showcased just how capable the PSE is. When you’re pushing on, you can really feel the traction at the rear axle helping to drive you around the corner. The well-weighted steering has clearly had plenty of recalibration to make it feel more involving than the standard car, while the agility for a 1.9-tonne hybrid estate car is nothing short of remarkable.

You also sit delightfully low in the superb leather and Alcantara sports seats that help to elevate that sporty feel, while should you want to tame things down a bit, a ‘Comfort’ setting makes the 508 PSE a decent cruiser. It’s still pretty firm, though, thanks to Peugeot stiffening up the suspension by 50 per cent and large 20-inch wheels wrapped in low-tyre wall Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber.

Even in non-sporty guise, we reckon the 508 SW is one of the most striking estate cars on the market. But in PSE trim things are certainly taken up a notch. It attracts glances on the road like few hybrid wagons ever could, with the darkened chrome Peugeot badges not immediately noticeable and inviting the inquisitive to take a closer look.

The PSE can be spotted by its bold grille with larger air intakes, as well as the lashings of Kryptonite (the greeny-yellow bits, if you’re wondering what we’re on about) on the front-end, badging and brake callipers. You’ll also notice the fancy aero pieces that stick out on the lower bumpers, along with a fancy rear diffuser. It is – to our eyes at least – one of the best-looking cars you can buy today.

The 508’s interior is bold and imaginative, that’s for sure, with a large upfront digital instrument cluster up ahead, a prominent touchscreen with aircraft-like toggle switches and Peugeot’s now-infamous small steering wheel. Though it all looks the part, the ergonomics won’t suit all, with the seating and steering wheel position requiring plenty of adjustment so you can see the dials properly. The touchscreen is also quite laggy, and not anywhere as good as those found in Audis and BMW at a similar price.

More positively, the PSE offers the same large 529-litre boot space as the standard 508SW, while rear-seat space is plentiful for adults, even with the model’s sleeker styling than what’s typically found with an estate car.

But the 508SW PSE is a truly exciting car that showcases that the electrified future is something to really look forward to. It brings innovation, performance and indicates just how far Peugeot has transformed itself in recent years. Though Peugeot Sport Engineered’s first car might not make the most rational sense, it’s a brilliant halo model and one that gets this firm’s new electrified sporty line off to a fantastic start.

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The Land Rover Defender 90 D250 feels more refined than ever

Land Rover’s Defender has made quite the splash. There was some degree of trepidation surrounding the arrival of the iconic original’s replacement given the amount of expectation it had to deal with. Needless to say, it’s done remarkably well to live up to its predecessor’s reputation and is seeing plenty of success already as a result.

We’ve already looked at the latest short-wheelbase 90 version powered by a 3.0-litre straight-six petrol, but today we’re checking it out with a torquey 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel under the bonnet.

The transition from old to new Defender has been well managed, with many of the older car’s styling traits carried over but revamped to ensure that everything feels fresh and modern. The 90 wheelbase is traditionally the choice of those who want a more off-road focused Defender, whereas the larger 110 majors on practicality and space instead.

Photos: PA Media

As previously mentioned, this particular Defender uses a 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine. It’s fitted with mild-hybrid assistance to help with efficiency, but still develops a healthy 245bhp and – most importantly for towing and going off-road – 570Nm of torque. Driven through all four wheels, it gives the 90 a surprising turn of pace, with 0-60mph taking just 7.6 seconds. Though that might be the type of acceleration figure you’d expect from a mid-range hatchback, it feels quite brisk in the Defender.

Efficiency-wise, we’re looking at up to 32.8mpg combined with emissions as high as 244 or low as 226g/km CO2, depending on which wheel size you opt for. Interestingly, there’s also a less powerful D200 available – which uses the same 3.0-litre engine – but despite a drop in power provides no better efficiency nor economy figures.

The impressive part of the Defender’s driving experience is just how adept it is over all manner of surfaces. This shorter 90 does deal with lumps and bumps in the road a little less convincingly than the larger 110, however, with the shorter track meaning that imperfections have more of a tendency to unsettle it. However, it’s still very comfortable and, surprisingly for such a capable car, perfectly happy at a cruise.

The off-road tyres fitted to this car did provide a small amount of noise that entered into the otherwise quiet cabin, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off considering the additional traction you get. That 3.0-litre diesel engine also feels right at home in the Defender. It’s quiet and torquey, with great response ensuring that you’re able to take advantage of gaps without being left without enough shove.

If you’re after a car with presence, then the Defender should be at the top of your list. To our eyes at least, the 90 looks the absolute business with great proportions and plenty of styling features to help keep things interesting. Despite having a premium price tag it’s not a car that shouts about it. Against many other brash and over-the-top SUVs, the Defender still carves out a very classy air for itself.

Particularly with the off-road tyres and raised-up suspension, you can’t ignore the Defender’s go-anywhere appearance. Indeed, this looks like a car that is ready and waiting to get on with an adventure.

There’s a great mix of high-quality yet robust materials used throughout the Defender’s interior. It’s all chunky, easy-to-hold dials and buttons – the kind that wouldn’t be hard to use with gloves on during the harshest of winters. But then you’ve got high-end touches like the large central screen (which, in fairness, would be tricky to operate with gloves on) and a high-resolution display ahead of the driver.

The only area where the 90 falters is outright practicality. Our car came with an optional front ‘jump’ seat which adds an extra chair up front so you can seat three. In truth, you’ll want to add this option if you want the most space possible, as you need to drop the rear seats flat in order to get a decent boot. At 397 litres, the seats-up space in the 90 is less than you’ll find in a regular hatchback, so lowering the rear seats is your only option when taking larger items. That said, it’s easy to access via the side-hinged door, which mimics that on the original 90.

You’d hope that for a car with this price tag, you get plenty of standard equipment and, thankfully, that’s the case for the Defender 90. Key features include the 10-inch Pivi Pro system in the centre of the dash – it’s clear, easy to operate and one of the best JLR systems we’ve seen in a long time. The large dials for the heating and ventilation below double up as the off-road Terrain Response controller too, which is a neat feature.

Elsewhere, you’ve got a 3D surround-view parking camera, eight-way adjustable heated seats and a 180-watt six-speaker sound system. Our car, in S specification, brought 19-inch alloy wheels and leather and textile seat upholstery. A key optional extra above and beyond the ones mentioned included a towing pack, which added an electrically deployable tow bar and a host of towing-centric assistance systems.

The Defender feels like a fitting extension of the older car’s philosophy. It’s robust, great off-road and brimmed with clever features, yet adds a decent slug of refinement which helps to transform it into a car you can use day in, day out – and not be afraid of long-distance motorway slogs, as you might’ve been with the older Defender.

This 3.0-litre diesel variant feels like it offers the best combination of performance and economy, while its silky-smooth power delivery gives the Defender a really premium driving style. Though we’d plump for the 110 if we were after outright practicality, the 90 delivers on all other fronts.

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The Tiguan R brings added performance to Volkswagen’s most popular SUV

Volkswagen has hit on a pretty successful recipe: build cars for every segment, then slap an R badge on the boot, give it a sporty look and rapid engine, and you’ve got yourself yet another performance car as a halo for the line-up.

That might sound like a cynical intro, but it’s a recipe that works. We’ve got the Golf R hatchback, T-Roc R crossover, Touareg R SUV and now this, the Tiguan R. It’s a mid-sized SUV that takes the usual VW R combination and applies it to the firm’s best-selling model. It should sell like hot cakes, then…

The regular Tiguan range received a big update late in 2020, which means it gets a new-look front end, upgraded assistance systems and a new infotainment system.

Photos: PA Media

Volkswagen considers the Tiguan R a separate model from the Tiguan as it’s been given a big makeover from its R department. It gets a reconfigured all-wheel-drive system, R-specific petrol engine, lowered ride height, sports exhaust system, new ‘progressive steering’ and drive mode selection.

If you’re at all familiar with your Volkswagen performance models, you’ll recognise the engine used here. It’s the latest generation of the EA888 2.0-litre, turbocharged petrol unit, here with 316bhp and 420Nm of torque.

We’ve become used to its old-school, boosty nature, with the sports exhaust giving off a great sound. It doesn’t feel quite so urgent here as elsewhere on account of being in a heavy SUV, but it’s got more than enough punch to make swift progress.

When you’re really pressing on, the Tiguan does a great job of hiding its size. You never feel like you’re in a hot hatch, but covering country lanes at a rapid pace is less intimidating than you’d expect. And if you put it in sport mode and use the paddles to shift manually, the gearbox is almost seamless between shifts.

However, it’s let down slightly by its everyday driveability. The gearbox is sluggish and unresponsive, being too reluctant to drop down a gear, The ride isn’t quite as settled thanks to its sportier setup, but that’s only a small issue.

The Tiguan is already a handsome SUV, but in R trim this is only amplified. Up front there’s a sleek headlight design that blends into the prominent front grille, while the lower bumper has swoops, blades and large intakes that hint at the performance on offer.

At the back there are some elaborate LED lights that look great at night, while the lower bumper has an aggressive diffuser design that incorporates a quad-exit exhaust system. Meanwhile, the 21-inch alloy wheels fill the arches nicely and, coupled with the lowered ride height, give it a purposeful stance.

The cabin is large and spacious, with an imperious driving position that gives you a fantastic view of the road. The large glasshouse surrounding you lets lots of light in, helping the car to feel airyl despite the dark interior upholstery.

The seats are comfortable and the touchscreen is clear and easy to use. However, VW has an obsession with touch buttons elsewhere, and they’re quite unpleasant to use. The heating controls are fiddly, while the steering wheel’s touch buttons are genuinely unpleasant to operate. Minor irritants, but irritants you’ll use all the time…

The Volkswagen Tiguan R might be a new model, but it’s an already familiar package. That 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine has long won plaudits for its boosty nature, while the handling is genuinely impressive for an SUV.

It’s not perfect, though. There are some concessions to comfort and running costs compared with less racey models, while the touch-sensitive buttons common to the range continue to annoy. However, as an overall package, the Tiguan R is a compelling, stylish and pacey SUV.

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The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a classy, frugal executive saloon

In the world of Mercedes-Benz saloons, you tend to think of the C-Class, which has been one of the big players in the executive car class for decades now, while the S-Class sits at the top of the premium car world, with a high-class interior and innovative technology. But in between the two sits the E-Class.

The good thing about that, though, is that it’s given some of the technology from its bigger brother but with a slightly more down-to-earth style inside and out, taking on the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF. The result? With over 14 million saloons and estates sold since 1946, it’s the best-selling model in the firm’s history.

The E-Class underwent a comprehensive update last year, getting a new exterior with sleeker lights and all-terrain versions more closely linked to Mercedes’ SUVs. It also received some high-tech driver assistance systems including advanced cruise control updates and braking assistance.

Photos: PA Media

Inside it’s more comfortable than before and has a more modern ambience thanks to twin screens (or an optional widescreen upgrade) and voice control. Meanwhile, the engine range includes a variety of petrol, diesel and hybrid options.

Whatever you need the E-Class for, there’s a powertrain that will fit. Lower in the price range you’ll find petrol models that are useful for people who do mixed driving, while the diesels are well-suited to this segment as they’re appropriate for longer-distance motoring.

There’s also a choice of petrol or diesel plug-in hybrid options – the latter being a rare combination – ideal for company car use and those who do a lot of inner-city driving with access to a charger.

Our test car was an E 220 d, which is the entry-level diesel making 191bhp. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission and recorded 53.3mpg on the combined cycle with CO2 emissions of 139g/km.

Despite being an entry-level engine, it’s brilliantly refined and incredibly frugal – to the point where a long motorway run saw us exceed official numbers. Unless you really need the extra power of the bigger diesels we’d recommend saving your money and going for the E 220 d. It’ll be cheaper to buy and running costs should be lower, too.

If you spend hours every day traversing the nation’s motorways and you’re looking for something to be a comfortable companion, the E-Class should be one of the first on the list. It genuinely rivals cars twice the price for its abilities here, with the engine and ride quality seeming to settle into their comfort zone at a 70mph cruise.

However, while some rivals sacrifice a little comfort to be fun in the corners, the E-Class falls behind in this regard. This is far from a car you’ll seek out the twisty long route home for, but the flip side is that when you’ve spent hours behind the wheel on a cross country schlep there are few cars that would leave you feeling fresher.

If you look around the automotive industry right now, we appear to be in quite a bold era of design, where eye-catching, standout features that grab your attention in a social media feed have become the norm. So while at first the E-Class’s more subtle design can seem underwhelming, it quickly becomes a welcome breath of fresh air.

The Mercedes has a large front grille, but its soft edges and short height mean it looks subdued in other company, while the headlights have a soft, circular shape. There are also few sharp creases in the sides, giving it an almost cutesy feel as the roof curves smoothly into the rear end. There are more rounded edges at the back, completing the car’s subtly elegant appearance.

If you’re familiar with modern Mercedes you’ll immediately recognise the E-Class’s interior, which is slightly fussier than, say, its BMW rival. That does mean it’s more interesting to look at, though, and it’s great that Mercedes still tries to keep a blend of touchscreens and physical buttons.

The touchscreens are some of the best in the business too, with the large units giving the interior a modern feel, while the actual interface is slick and easy to use. The only downside in the cabin were the seats of our Sport trim, which weren’t particularly cosseting, while the leather wasn’t quite as premium-feeling as you might hope in the segment.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a fantastically executed premium saloon. Its understated looks exude an elegance its rivals can’t muster, and the cabin is as modern and upmarket as anyone could hope for.

It has carved itself a niche in this regard. If you want a little character and driving spirit from your executive car then the BMW 5 Series is for you, but if you’re after something with a simpler, more rational appeal, the E-Class is up there at the top of the class.

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A functioning economy

TONIO DARMANIN drives the new Sandero and Sandero Stepway.

Dacia is a leader when it comes to promoting a sensible form of car consumption and is now more than ever aligned with the real expectations of its customers. It offers simple, spacious, reliable and robust vehicles with no unnecessary frills, at the best price on the market.

Although a shift in mindset had already been under way for a few years, the unprecedented backdrop of the last few months has more than ever before encouraged drivers to consider more sustainable consumption and to turn their focus back to what is really essential, while still expressing their needs for mobility and freedom. More and more customers are returning to a more pragmatic approach when buying cars.

For more than 15 years, Dacia has met that need by offering drivers cars at a fair price. The new Sandero and the Sandero Stepway embody Dacia’s DNA. An iconic and a very popular model, the Sandero has been the best-selling car in Europe in the retail customer market since 2017 and the best-selling Dacia model with almost 2.1 million cars sold, representing 32 per cent of the carmaker’s sales since 2004. The Sandero Stepway, the more adventurous version, represents 65 per cent of all Sandero sales, with more than 1.3 million cars sold.

Dacia has revamped its offer in the city and versatile compact car segment with the Sandero and Sandero Stepway to meet all the needs of retail customers. While the carmaker has kept the same external dimensions, both models now offer more modernity, roominess and versatility with the fundamental simplicity and reliability that drivers have come to expect from Dacia.

With a new platform, they offer more features, increased active and passive safety, new engines and a new automatic transmission and an all-new six-speed manual transmission. With its shoulders and marked wheel arches, the Sandero exudes a strong personality and sturdiness. Nevertheless, the overall lines are smoother, with a more sloping windscreen, a lower roof and flowing roofline with the radio aerial at the end.

Ground clearance is unchanged, and yet the Sandero feels lower and more grounded with wider tracks and flush-mounted wheels. The front and rear lights unveil Dacia’s new Y-shaped LED light signature, giving the Sandero a strong identity. A horizontal line joins the two lights both at the front and rear and extends into their respective LED lines, giving the car a greater visual presence. The LED headlights, offered as a standard automatic feature at all trim levels.

The design of the door handles reveals a focus on quality and more ergonomic shape. Most versions now have electric boot release on the lower tailgate section, improving looks and practicality. The new shape of the doors and wing mirrors improves the car’s aerodynamics while reducing air noise for passengers. Inside, the dashboard features an insert wrapped in fabric while the air vents boast an all-new shape.

The Sandero Stepway is immediately recognisable at the front with its unique ribbed and

more domed bonnet, the chrome Stepway logo under the front grille and the curved fenders above the fog lights. The front and rear bumpers include a body-coloured metal skid plate designed to protect the original colour from everyday scratches.

The Stepway features the design codes of the crossovers with a 174mm raised ground clearance, roof bars featuring the logo, large fender flares and specifically textured reinforced door bottoms.

The Sandero Stepway’s roof bars may look as if they are quite simply an attractive visual feature, but they are also adjustable. Using a key located in the glove compartment, they can be easily dismantled in just a few seconds and turned into a roof rack with a load capacity of 80 kilos, which is the same as standard roof bars.

The interior upholstery is customised with the Stepway logo, while the door panels and dashboard have orange fabric inserts and edging.

The Sandero and the Stepway offer three back seats which can each accommodate three adults, a 1/3-2/3 split-fold rear bench seat (depending on the versions) and a family-sized boot. The boot of the Sandero has a 410-litre capacity and features a flat floor with adjustable height floor two positions depending on the versions. It meets the roominess standards of the upper segment of the market, especially as it offers best-in-class rear passenger legroom, with an additional 42mm for the Sandero.

At Dacia, they have always believed that modern cars should not be filled with non-essential features. Dacia has designed the new features of the Sandero and the Stepway in line with the development of customers’ main expectations. Standard features include a smartphone holder (removable depending on the version), an on-board computer screen, an automatic headlight activation, a steering wheel featuring speed limiter and cruise control on all trim levels.

New automatic air-conditioning with digital display, heated front seats, a handsfree card featuring remote boot release, electric parking brake, reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors and automatic windscreen wipers are all available as a standard feature or options depending on the market. In a first for Dacia, an electric glass sunroof will be available on the Sandero.

The new CMF modular platform used on the Sandero and Stepway combines greater resistance and rigidity with less weight. The recommended engine is the TCe 90 turbocharged one-litre three-cylinder unit paired with a six-speed manual transmission or CVT automatic transmission.

The new modular CMF platform of the new Sandero and Stepway enables three major improvements. The first is acoustic: with a lighter and stiffer cradle, front block and body structure, vibrations are reduced. The second concerns the ground connections: the widening of the tracks by 41 millimeters on the Sandero and 29 millimeters on the Sandero Stepway respectively improves handling and road behaviour. The last concerns passive and active safety, with the integration of the latest generation of driving driver-assistance systems.

The primary reason Dacia have been so successful is that they recognised that there exists a substantial segment of customers who require attractive, reliable efficient and safe cars with no extra frills – they are happy with what is essential to ensure a pleasant and comfortable driving experience but without breaking the bank. And that is exactly what the new Sandero and Stepway offer customers.

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The Volkswagen ID.4 is the practical future of EVs

It could be argued that the dramatic shift towards electric vehicles in recent years was driven by Volkswagen. Its dirty diesel scandal brought car emissions into the public eye, and being the massive car manufacturer it is, was well-placed to lead the subsequent electric vehicle offensive.

Its new ID sub-brand is the result, and the ID.4 SUV is the second vehicle to be released, following the ID.3 hatchback. It’s expected to be a big-seller for ID, with the German firm hoping it becomes the go-to mainstream electric vehicle provider.

With this being only the second model built so far on Volkswagen’s dedicated electric vehicle platform, known as MEB, it’s pretty much brand new from the ground up. The platform allows the batteries to be positioned low in the car, maximising cabin space and optimising weight balance.

Photos: PA Media

It’s not just its zero tailpipe emissions that are environmentally friendly, either. VW wants to be CO2 neutral by 2050, and part of achieving that is using renewable energy at the Zwickau plant where the ID.3 and ID.4 are built, while the firm says pilot programs are working on recycling the car’s batteries at the end of its life, or reusing them in other applications.

Our test car is a First Edition model, which comes with the larger 77kWh battery and a 201bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels. The result is a range in excess of 300 miles, though based on our few days with the car, mid- to high-200s seems more realistic in mixed driving.

This is a fairly big, heavy vehicle, so 201bhp isn’t a huge amount. Sure, you get that initial kick of acceleration that’s typical of EVs, but it’s not as punchy as many of its rivals. That’s almost certainly deliberate, though, with the ID.4 designed to be just your everyday family commuter. With that in mind, its performance is more than adequate.

So we have to forget about the punchy EV thrills, but that doesn’t mean the ID.4 is disappointing. Where it excels is the silky smooth power application, which makes bumbling about town a breeze – the accelerator pedal is brilliantly judged so you pull away without a jolt and simply surge up to your cruising speed.

Once you’re up to motorway speeds it’s quiet and refined, too, with minimal road and wind noise, while bumps in the road are dealt with with minimal fuss. But despite being comfort-focused, when the corners come, the ID.4 isn’t flustered. It’s hardly fun, but the low centre of gravity and excellent balance means it holds its own in the bends.

If the driving experience didn’t make it clear this is meant to blend into the mundanity of everyday life, the styling certainly does. The ID.4 is smart but unexciting, with the rear in particular lacking the sparkle we’ve become used to from brands trying to make their EVs exciting and appealing.

The ID.4 also lacks some of the elegance of the ID.3 hatchback. The front is its best angle, with the chunky lower bumper and thick headlights at odds with the more recent trend for sleek, smooth styling – but it works.

The interior is smart, with its minimalist design ethos working well in the modern era. However, it all feels a little cheap, erring on the side of ‘basic’ rather than modern, while getting used to the lack of switches takes some time.

Then there’s the capacitive buttons on the steering wheel that control functions such as the infotainment volume. They feel bizarre to use, like they’re sticky, and using them is irritating. How they made it to production is anyone’s guess.

All that being said, it’s generally a nice place to be, with the large windows making it light and airy and the simple design making it feel big and spacious.

We’ve become a little spoilt by electric vehicles. They tend to be well-specced with punchy motors that provide a thrilling driving experience, so it’s easy to be a little disappointed by the ID.4. But that’s the point of this car. It’s not supposed to wow and excite and shout about its eco credentials, it’s just supposed to be a good family car.

And with that in mind it’s great. The driving experience is smooth and calming, the cabin is spacious, and running costs should be incredibly low. Sure, the cabin isn’t the best piece of design out there, but if you just want an EV that’ll slot into everyday life without issue, the ID.4 will do so with zero fuss.

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Is the Mercedes-AMG GLB35 the ideal performance seven-seater?

Carmakers absolutely love a niche at the moment. If there’s a gap in a line-up it’ll be plugged, filled with crossover and mid-size SUVs catering for all manner of buyers. So it was little surprise when Mercedes introduced the GLB, a compact seven-seater designed to slot neatly between the GLA and GLC in the firm’s range of slightly smaller SUVs.

And, following suit from the rest of the range, we’ve now got an AMG version. Badged as the Mercedes-AMG GLB35, it packs the same punchy engine as you’d find in the A35 hatchback, but brings a more practical bodystyle which should make it a better option for families. But is this a niche too far? We’ve been finding out.

When it comes to the exterior this new AMG model packs the same boxy, upright stance as the regular GLB, affording the interior with a good degree of headroom as a result. Of course, it’s got the muscular add-ons that we’ve come to expect from go-faster Mercedes models, beefing up its presence even further.

Photos: PA Media

Underneath the skin we have, of course, that punchy engine while a range of changes to the suspension should ensure that the GLB is up to the task of handling corners too.

The GLB makes use of the hugely potent turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine used in a variety of other AMG models. Here it kicks out a healthy 302bhp and 400Nm of torque, which is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s enough power to push the GLB from 0-60mph in just five seconds and onwards to a top speed of 155mph. Not bad for a practical little SUV.

Mercedes claims that you should see up to 32.1mpg combined, while CO2 emissions stand at 200g/km. The GLB’s four-wheel-drive system – badged 4Matic by Mercedes – has been designed to offer the best possible traction without losing out on any driver involvement, which is why torque can be divided between front-wheel-drive only and 50:50 between the front and rear axles.

Sit behind the wheel of the GLB and you’re met by a predictably high seating position, giving you a somewhat commanding view of the road ahead. Your legs do feel slightly stretched out ahead of you, but it’s comfortable and easy to get along with. The seats are a touch hard, mind you.

The 2.0-litre engine affords the GLB with a surprising turn of pace, rocketing off in a straight line without the merest hint of protest from the wheels. There’s grip whenever you want it and even heavy bouts of acceleration do little to extract even the tiniest bit of wheelspin.

Most surprising is the way it corners. You’d take one look at the GLB’s upright, blocky structure and expect it to fall to pieces when shown a bend, but it’s the opposite – it remains composed and sure-footed even through twistier sections. It might not be the most rewarding of driving experiences, but it’s one that allows you to make confident progress.

Initially at least the GLB35 looks a little awkward. The rear three-quarter section is bulbous, whereas the rest of the car is quite blocky and square. However, live with it a little longer and this car’s appearance soon makes sense. It’s somewhat imposing without being outlandish, while its upright design has been used to make sure there’s plenty of space inside – so it’s practical, too.

The doors open nice and wide while access to the boot is good too. It’s also got roof rails to which you could attach a top box or bike rack, so you can see how it could easily slot into family life.

It’s inside where the GLB pushes ahead of competitors. That’s because it, unlike so many of its rivals, offers seven seats. Sure, that rearmost row is quite compact and small, but it’s roomy enough for children or shorter adults. It also gives you the added flexibility to carry more passengers should you need it.

That said, with that third row in place there’s very little boot space offering up barely enough room for a small weekend bag. Fold them down and there’s a very decent 570 litres of space, however, rising to 1,805 litres with the middle row put down. It does mean that for five people there’s enough boot space, but if you’re planning on taking seven people frequently, it’s unlikely that the GLB will have enough load area.

Mercedes often lavishes its AMG models with plenty of standard equipment and the GLB35 is no different. You get a panoramic sunroof – which really helps to brighten up the cabin – a reversing camera with 180-degree view and two-zone climate control.

In the middle of the dash sits Mercedes’ latest MBUX infotainment system which is arguably one of the best in the business. Accessed via a touch-sensitive pad, it’s packed with features and has clear, easy to read menus. Our only complaint is that it gives perhaps too much choice; there’s an almost dizzying number of options available for the screen ahead of the driver, allowing you to change displays, view different types of information and even display a G-meter. Once you’ve settled on one it’s fine, but getting there can prove to be a time-consuming process.

AMG’s effect has provided some much-appreciated theatre to the otherwise rather sensible GLB. Sure, the regular car might prove adequate enough, but the way that this 35 variant manages to slingshot itself down the road will undoubtedly put a smile on the face of whoever is behind the wheel.

Running costs will be higher than those accompanying a regular petrol or diesel-powered GLB, but for those who want a practical SUV that’s capable of carrying seven yet able to deliver a hot hatch-style experience, the GLB35 represents a truly interesting prospect.

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