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Is the BMW X1 the new compact SUV to beat?

BMW’s new third-generation arrives with some major enhancements. Ted Welford tries it out in Munich.

SUVs absolutely dominate BMW’s line-up these days, with the numerically numbered ‘X’ models ranging from one to seven taking a vast proportion of this German firm’s sales.

Now BMW is turning its attention to its junior SUV – the X1. First arriving in 2009 as pretty much the first premium compact SUV, it now faces more competition than ever, with every rival marque now offering a model in this segment. even Alfa Romeo. BMW has thrown everything it’s got at this new third-generation car, but does it impress?

Photos: PA Media

There’s very little that’s not new with this latest X1. Starting with the design, which gets a far bolder and more upright stance than its predecessor. It’s grown in size too, meaning it offers more in the way of space inside, while the rest of the cabin has been overhauled with the addition of BMW’s latest in-car technology, known as the Curved Display and running its latest operating system. More on this later.

Though the previous X1 came with a plug-in hybrid later in life, there are two new PHEV models being introduced, offering a longer range, more power and quicker charging. There’s also an all-electric iX1 too. These models don’t arrive for a good few months yet, however, so our focus here is on the regular petrol and diesel options.

Despite the addition of the new plug-in X1s, more than half of buyers will stick with a petrol or diesel model in the X1. Go for a diesel and there’s the choice of the 148bhp sDrive18d (the only front-wheel-drive X1) or the 211bhp xDrive23d.

Our test car is the xDrive23i. It’s a new unit for BMW – a mild-hybrid 2.0-litre turbocharged unit developing 215bhp and 360Nm of torque. As with all X1s, it uses a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and can dispatch 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds and hit a top speed of 145mph. Thanks to its light hybrid element, it’s not bad on fuel either, with BMW claiming up to 43.5mpg and CO2 emissions between 146 and 162g/km.

The X1 has always been one of the better-driving cars in its segment, and this latest model only builds on that. Our test car, in M Sport trim and getting adaptive M suspension and sports steering as a result, was excellent behind the wheel.

The steering has a smooth, linear feel to it and really inspires you to drive it more enthusiastically than you would many of its rivals. It clings on through the bends with minimal body roll too, and is a superb effort for a compact SUV.

This mild-hybrid petrol is a great option, too, delivering plenty of punch, and enhanced further with a cool ‘boost’ paddle on the side of the steering wheel, enhancing the responsiveness. A mild gruffness to the engine on full chat and noticeable wind noise from the large door mirrors are our only small complaints.

While the previous X1 was a pretty bland, if inoffensive, option, BMW has certainly given this latest model a much bolder design. Quite different to its predecessor, it gets a more upright stance, with BMW raising the front end to give it a chunkier look. The front nose, which appears to almost be leant over the bumper of the car, can look a bit odd in pictures, but is much more pleasant in person.

The increased dimensions and ‘raised’ look in general also make it look far more like a proper SUV, rather than a crossover like its predecessor, with the LED headlights (featuring a unique signature on higher-spec versions) means the X1 stands out a lot more than before.

Dominating the X1’s interior is the new BMW Curved Display. Coming with a 10.25-inch digital dial screen and 10.7-inch touchscreen, it’s helped to significantly modernise the cabin. Though some will be disappointed that the old iDrive rotary controller has been abandoned, the screen’s slick and isn’t distracting to use when on the move. The quality is generally superb too, with a raft of soft-touch materials and metal detailing coming together to create a cabin that feels more expensive than BMW’s junior SUV. Cheap-feeling indicator stalks and steering wheel buttons marginally let the side down.

Where the X1 can’t be faulted, however, is when it comes to interior space. The 540-litre boot is 50 litres larger than its predecessor, while there’s a generous amount of rear seat space even for adults, and with a panoramic sunroof fitted.

Three main trim levels are available on the X1 – Sport, xLine and M Sport.

All get plenty of equipment, with the Sport featuring LED headlights, climate control, an electric boot and the impressive Curved Display we’ve already touched on. The xLine offers a more rugged look thanks to its aluminium exterior detailing and underbody protection, while also sitting on 18-inch alloy wheels. The M Sport then adopts a sportier look, getting a more aggressive bodykit, larger 19-inch alloy wheels and adaptive suspension.

BMW has given the X1 a drastic overhaul and the result is impressive. It offers one of the best driving experiences of any car in its class, while also superb in-car technology and plenty of interior space to go with it.

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The Lexus RX 500h aims to inject some extra performance into this large SUV

Does a sportier-focused powertrain make sense in the Lexus RX? Ted Welford tries it out in California to find out.

These days – in Europe at least – it’s hybrids that dominate the proceedings at Lexus. With the exception of a couple of niche sports cars (the RC F and LC) and a new electric crossover, all of its cars are powered by a hybrid system.

These have largely been designed with efficiency and refinement in mind, and most certainly not sportiness. But Lexus is now aiming to change that with the introduction of the new RX 500h – the most powerful version of this SUV to date. But is this sporty focus at odds with an SUV that’s largely been all about comfort for as long as it’s existed? Let’s get behind the wheel to find out.

Photos: PA Media

This new fifth-generation SUV represents quite a step up compared to the outgoing RX, as it debuts the firm’s latest design both inside and out, while also sitting on a new Lexus and Toyota platform known as GA-K. Despite being no different in dimensions from its predecessor, it manages to offer more interior space, both in the rear and in the boot too.

But it’s under the bonnet where things have really had a shake-up. There’s a new plug-in hybrid powertrain that’s set to account for the bulk of sales, a regular hybrid setup and the oddity we’re trying here – the RX 500h, which gets a raft of performance alterations to enhance the way it behaves behind the wheel. So much so, that Lexus calls it ‘game-changing’.

Rather than alter an existing hybrid powertrain, Lexus has effectively started from scratch with developing the 500h’s setup. Using a 2.4-litre petrol engine, it’s the firm’s first turbocharged hybrid.

Combined with twin electric motors, it develops 366bhp and 550Nm of torque, allowing for a 0-60mph time of six seconds and a top speed of 130mph.

Rather than use an (often compromised) CVT gearbox, it also adopts a six-speed automatic transmission, as well as a new electrically-controlled four-wheel-drive system called Direct4, This brings the key advantage of being able to shift drive between the front and back much quicker than any mechanical system could. The trade-off with this performance hybrid is that it is quite a lot less efficient – its claimed 35mpg fuel economy figure is 10mpg lower than the regular RX 350h, while CO2 emissions of 182g/km are 40g/km higher too.

Lexus has clearly put a lot of time and effort into this RX, and first impressions are positive. Despite the stats on paper suggesting it’s not much quicker than the plug-in hybrid, it feels noticeably brisker. The conventional automatic gearbox is quite a lot more responsive too, while there’s a sporty sound pumped in through the speakers. Gimmicky, perhaps, but it does sound relatively authentic.

Other changes on the 500h include rear-wheel-steering, while adaptive suspension and larger brakes are included as standard too. Though the overall result is an RX that feels more engaging to drive, and quite a lot more planted out on the road, make no mistake, this is not a performance SUV in the same way a Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid is.

By choosing this powerful RX500h, it grants you immediate access to the ‘F Sport Performance’ trim level – unique to this hybrid model. For that, you get a number of racier styling cues that build on an already eye-catching design, most prominently including large matte black 21-inch alloy wheels and a specific pattern for the huge gloss black Spindle grille – a trademark Lexus feature that we personally love.

There are some truly lovely details on this latest RX too, such as the ‘floating roof’ and swooping body lines that wrap around the design. In true Lexus style, it manages to be different without being too in your face. The almost-pink Sonic Copper colour (pictured) perhaps isn’t the best choice if you’re buying with subtlety in mind, though.

The inside of this RX also gets a slightly sportier feel too, including perforated leather for the steering wheel and gear shift lever, along with ultrasuede inserts for the seats. There are no carbon-fibre bucket seats here, but rather a typical high-quality, pleasant RX interior with a few extra goodies. There are some cheaper-looking plastics to be found, though, if we’re being picky, such as those for the dashboard.

But the area where this RX feels like a real forward step is the in-car technology. The previous Lexus infotainment system was mildly irritating to use at best and a downright pain at worst, but in place is a stunning new 14-inch touchscreen display. It’s seamless to use and really helps to modernise the RX’s cabin. As to be expected from a large SUV, there’s no shortage of space here, with acres of room for passengers in the rear, though the 461-litre boot (measured up to the tonneau cover) feels a touch small next to rivals like the BMW X5.

As we’ve mentioned, the RX 500h comes in a single guise called F Sport Performance trim. It sits pretty near the top of the trim ladder and comes exceptionally well-equipped as a result. There are ventilated, heated and electric seats up front, along with self-parking ability, a head-up display and gesture-controlled electric boot to name just a few highlights.

You can option a ‘Takumi Pack’ if you really want to push the boat out, bringing the same level of seat functionality to rear passengers, along with a panoramic roof and outstanding 21-speaker Mark Levinson sound system that is one of the best we’ve ever tried.

It’s quite a strange car to come to a conclusion with this sportier Lexus RX. Giving a ‘performance’ billing to a car so well known for its comfort and refinement was always going to have mixed results.

Treat it as a regular RX, with just a bit of extra poke and dynamism, and it about makes sense, though we suspect most buyers will be better off sticking with the excellent regular version, or have a look at a Porsche or BMW hybrid SUV if you’re wanting a sportier feel.

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Is the Flying Spur Hybrid a glimpse of Bentley’s future?

Luxury saloon uses a combination of petrol and electric power. What’s it like? Jack Evans has been finding out.

Bentley and big engines have a history that goes back decades. Even today, Bentley’s V8 and W12 engines form a key part of its engine range, delivering that luxurious performance that many buyers are after. But even Bentley has to acknowledge that the future of motoring has electrification within it, which is why the Crewe outfit is continuing to explore alternatives.

Following in the wake of the Bentayga Hybrid comes this – the Flying Spur Hybrid. It’s a version of Bentley’s luxury saloon outfitted with a fuel-sipping petrol-electric setup. But can it deliver the kind of sumptuous experience that Flying Spur customers are traditionally after? Let’s take a look.

Photos: PA Media

From the outside at least, this Flying Spur gives away very little about its hybrid underpinnings. Sure, there are some small ‘Hybrid’ badges on the flanks, but it’s a car that doesn’t shout loudly about its electrical assistance. Inside, you’ve got the same ultra-luxurious cabin as you’d find on the regular Spur, albeit with a few hybrid-specific driving mode buttons.

The Flying Spur, despite its switch in powertrain, still has a firm focus on comfort and refinement. This new Hybrid version, it should be mentioned, doesn’t replace existing petrol-powered versions but acts as an addition to the range for now.

With its promise of being the ‘most environmentally friendly Bentley to date’, the Flying Spur comes complete with a 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine which is then linked to 100kW electric motor. Combined, you get 536bhp and 750Nm of torque, with zero to 60mph taking 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 177mph possible if you have the space and ability to do so.

But thanks to an 18kWh battery, the Flying Spur Hybrid will also manage over 25 miles on electric power alone – and after a full charge (which takes two and a half hours to fill on a rapid charger), we saw around 30 miles in the electric tank. Bentley also claims up to 85.6mpg combined and impressively low CO2 emissions of 75g/km.

The ability to drive on electric power alone only elevates the quiet experience that you get from the Flying Spur. It can be used at motorway speeds, too, but we found that the EV power was best saved for around town, where it makes the Flying Spur even more relaxing to drive.

But this hybrid engine definitely isn’t lacking in performance. In fact, with that battery fully topped up there’s some real zip away from the line, with the petrol engine chiming in when more performance is required. But it’s all extremely well calibrated together – there’s very little to showcase the transition from electric to petrol power – while once the electric energy is fully depleted, you’re still left with a very refined V6 engine.

As we’ve already mentioned, there’s not an awful lot to distinguish the Hybrid from the rest of the Flying Spur range. You’ve got an extra filler cap to cover the charging point, of course, while oval exhaust pipes are another tell-tale feature of these battery-assisted versions. But, in truth, this approach works well for the Flying Spur. The only real flag came from pedestrians who look at this more than five-metre-long saloon and wonder why it’s moving without making any noise.

‘Our’ test car came in a particularly striking green shade with contrast orange sections though, as with any Bentley, there are thousands of exterior colours and trim pieces to choose from.

The cabin of the Bentley remains as exquisitely fashioned as you’d expect a car from this brand to be. There are some clear aspects that come from Bentley’s Volkswagen Group owners – the steering wheel buttons being the most noticeable – but everything is well fitted together and easy to access. Those sitting in the rear can enjoy loads of legroom, too, alongside independent seat adjustment controls and motorised fold-out tables.

In terms of boot space, the Flying Spur Hybrid offers 351 litres. That’s considerably down on the 420 litres you’d get in the petrol-powered Spur and much of the Hybrid’s boot is taken up by the charging cables. Having said that, you’re most likely to leave the large three-pin connector at home rather than carting it around with you, so this does free up more luggage space.

The Flying Spur Hybrid is a really compelling example of why the future doesn’t have to be bleak for big-engined Bentleys. It’s got the kind of performance that you’d expect from a car of this type, while its ability to travel on electric-only power means that the refinement levels are taken up a notch over the petrol version.

It’s a shame that this transition in powertrain has dented boot space considerably, but in all other areas this is one impressive plug-in hybrid.

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Can the revamped Ford Focus ST deliver hot hatch perfection?

Ford has given its Focus ST an update for 2022. But does it still drive as impressively as before? Jack Evans finds out.

The Focus ST has been an ever-present sight in Ford’s line-up for some time now. And though the popularity for crossovers has grown in recent years – we’re looking at you, Puma – there’s definitely still a place for the hot hatch. The Focus ST is just such a car, combining a very practical cabin and boot with a healthy dose of performance.

Recently updated with a new look and a fresh interior, this new ST could be the strongest offering yet. Let’s take a look.

As we’ve already touched upon, the bulk of the changes here resides around the way the ST looks and how it feels inside. Exterior-wise we’ve got some subtle edits to the location of the Ford badge, while the interior now gets Ford’s latest technology. The previous Focus ST’s cabin was starting to look its age, that’s for sure, so this comes as a welcome update.

Photos: PA Media

Interestingly, this new Focus ST won’t be available in estate layout as its predecessor was. So for now, it’s just this hatchback version.

As before, the Focus ST uses a punchy 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine. With 276bhp and 420Nm of torque, it’s got more than enough performance to hand, with Ford claiming 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. With these figures, it’s definitely on the money against rivals like the Hyundai i30 N and Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Where economy is concerned, the ST does reasonably well. Fuel consumption figures of 36.2mpg combined are about where you’d expect, and the same goes for CO2 figures of between 180 and 189g/km. For slightly better efficiency, you could opt for the seven-speed automatic version as opposed to the six-speed manual that we’re testing here – though the economical advantage is slim.

The Focus ST has always been about a characterful drive and this has been retained for the latest version. The engine has loads of punch and though the steering can feel a little rubbery at times, it’s super accurate. On occasions, the torque of the ST can foul the steering – pulling it one way or the other – but this does draw back to hot hatches of old.

Around town, it is firm, but this ebbs away into the background once you’ve gained a bit of speed. In fact, one of the most surprising areas that the ST shone through was on the motorway, where it’s pleasantly refined and quiet, too. It adds an extra dimension to this sporty Focus and means that longer journeys aren’t going to be accompanied by backache.

It’s been the mildest of design updates for the ST, but the areas that have been changed are quite noticeable. In line with the ‘regular’ Focus, the Ford badge on the nose of the ST has been moved to the centre of the grille. To our eyes, it looks a little lost – but then appearances are always down to the individual.

One key aspect of this go-faster Focus is how close it resembles the ST-Line cars. Now, of course, that specification has been designed to mimic the look and feel of the full-fat ST, but could it be that this waters down the appeal of this range-topping model? Perhaps. But it does help to downplay the Focus ST’s performance somewhat.

The cabin of the Focus ST is much the same as the one you’ll find in the standard car, with its variety of pockets and bins a real plus point in terms of practicality. The buttons on the multifunction steering wheel are pleasantly robust in their action, while the overall lack of dashboard buttons gives it all a clean, uncluttered appearance.

When it comes to boot space, the ST offers up 358 litres of load area, which is about the same as you’ll find in the Golf GTI but a little short of the 395-litre boot you’ll find in the Hyundai i30 N. You can, of course, lower the rear seats to increase the boot volume should you need to.

The revamped Focus ST feels the same but improved. It’s got that bristling-with-excitement driving style which characterised the ST when it first arrived, but it’s still got a grown-up side that can handle longer motorway journeys without protest. The tweaks that have been made only help to sweeten the deal, with the sharper design ensuring that the ST remains looking the part.

That big new screen is a really striking edit to the ST appeal and gives it a far more tech-focused feel. As a result, the ST feels more compelling than ever.

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Is the BMW M440i the ultimate everyday performance car?

BMW has revised its popular 3 Series. Ted Welford tries it out in flagship M440i guise.

Though you might only consider models like the M3 and M5 to be ‘true M cars’, BMW offers a number of ‘M Performance’ models across pretty much all of its range too.

Bringing a greater focus on sportiness and more performance than ‘regular’ models, they sit between the standard car and full-fat M Models.

Take the 3 Series, which is one of BMW’s biggest sellers, and of which up to 15 per cent of versions sold are these ‘M Performance’ versions. BMW has now tweaked them in line with the rest of the 3 Series line-up. Let’s find out what they’re like.

Photos: PA Media

BMW has left the beating heart of the M340i and M340d the same as before, and we’ll explore more about its straight-six engines later.

But the majority of the changes on the latest 3 Series affect the interior, with the same Curved Display that’s been doing the rounds on BMW’s latest models, including the iX and 2 Series Active Tourer, now introduced here. The last interior was hardly disappointing, but there’s now a more minimalist and more modern look thanks to the addition of large screens for the digital instrument cluster and main touchscreen.

On the 3 Series, you can have your ‘M Performance’ model in two guises – the petrol M340i or diesel M340d. The latter might seem a strange choice, but its combination of 335bhp and a claimed 48mpg makes it quite desirable.

But it’s the petrol M340i we’re trying here, which uses a 3.0-litre straight-six unit developing 369bhp and 500Nm of torque. For a bit of context, the current M3 puts out 503bhp and 650Nm of torque.

It comes as standard with all-wheel-drive too, along with an eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic transmission. Getting to 60mph from a standstill takes 4.2 seconds, with the M340i’s top speed capped at 155mph. Yet it’s still surprisingly good on fuel, with BMW claiming up to 36.4mpg, with CO2 emissions between 177-193g/km. Not bad for a powerful six-cylinder petrol that does without any electrification.

Given how well the regular 3 Series drives, the M340i has some pretty solid foundations. This isn’t just a regular model with a bigger engine, either, as BMW has given it an ‘M’ differential, specific suspension, bigger brakes and a sports exhaust.

The result is excellent too, with the M340i certainly feeling far closer to an ‘M’ model. The real-world pace is particularly impressive, while in ‘Sports’ mode the exhaust makes a cracking sound. It doesn’t feel as special or as rewarding as an M3, but then again if you’re buying a sporty 3 Series for daily duties, we suspect this M340i will be the much better choice. Stick it in the ‘Comfort’ setting and the ride is brilliantly compliant, and also very refined and quiet too.

BMW has worked to sharpen up the design of the latest 3 Series, with slimmer LED headlights included along with remoulded bumpers and a redesigned grille. Unlike the M3, though, the M340i’s grille remains quite small and relatively subtle.

And it’s this subtlety that is the key draw to the M340i, as unless you were in the know, it doesn’t look too different from a regular diesel 3 Series. Sure, there are slightly larger air intakes, a specific mesh design for the grille and exclusive 19-inch alloy wheels, but it doesn’t shout too much about its performance credentials.

As we’ve mentioned, the main change on the updated 3 Series’ interior is the new Curved Display, and rather than having two separate displays these screens are merged together into one stunning curved piece of glass. It has transformed the interior, and the iDrive infotainment software remains the best around, with crystal clear displays and seamless connectivity.

The rest of the 3 Series’ cabin is also filled with high-quality materials, and even though this might be BMW’s ‘cheapest’ saloon, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. As for spaciousness, the Saloon doesn’t fare too badly, though there are the impracticalities of having a saloon boot opening and slightly compromised rear space. The Touring is the better option in this respect.

With the M340i sitting at the top of the 3 Series line-up, the level of equipment on offer is impressive. Highlights include the fantastic Curved Display, fancy adaptive LED headlights and 19-inch alloy wheels. Heated sports seats are also included, along with a sportier suspension setup and front and rear parking sensors.

Few cars can claim to have such a wide sweep of talents as the BMW M340i. With its strong performance, everyday practicality and refinement and comfort, it could be the ultimate all-rounder – even more so in Touring guise.

Some might perhaps not find it quite engaging enough behind the wheel, but we reckon few will be left unsatisfied, unless driven back-to-back with an M3. With a much-improved interior, the M340i has never seemed so appealing.

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Is Volkswagen’s ID Buzz a fitting successor to the original bus?

The new ID Buzz aims to capture some of the original VW ‘Bus’ sparkle. Jon Reay has been out to Copenhagen to see if it achieves this.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call this Volkswagen’s most important new car – even if it is technically a van.

It’s taken over two decades to materialise, but finally, fans of the original ‘VW Bus’ can go out and buy a reimagined, 21st-century version.

And very 21st century it is too. This is no rehashed T5 Transporter van with a two-tone paint job, but a new, fully-electric model based on Volkswagen’s MEB architecture – the very same platform that sits beneath the ID 3, Audi Q4, Skoda Enyaq and so on.

Photos: PA Media

In short, everything. This is Volkswagen’s first proper stab at an electric van (after a brief flirtation with the disappointing ABT e-Transporter) and it’s not messing around.

In fact, part of the long gestation period for the ID Buzz has been spent waiting for the right technology to come along. To properly recreate the blunt nose of the original 1950s bus, VW says it wasn’t feasible to use petrol or diesel power – putting a big combustion engine at the back wouldn’t be practical for a van these days.

Literally speaking, just the washer bottle in under the bonnet – like other electric VWs, you’ll need to go digging around under the boot floor to find what’s powering the ID Buzz.

It’s rear-wheel-drive only, for now, borrowing a 201bhp electric motor from the ID 4 Pro Performance, though we wouldn’t be surprised if an all-wheel-drive version is in the pipeline.

The 77kWh battery is, too, borrowed from the ID 4 – meaning a quoted range of around 258 miles, and the ability to rapid recharge at up to 170kW.

Naturally, you don’t get quite the same turn of pace as you do in VW’s smaller EVs – 0-60 takes around 10 seconds against the ID 4’s 8.5 seconds, for example – but really, who cares? Far more importantly, the motor’s instantly-available 310Nm of torque means things feel much quicker than they ought to, even when fully loaded with people and luggage.

Volkswagen’s van range often gets described as feeling quite car-like compared to rivals, but the ID Buzz takes this to a whole other level.

Compared to things like the (recently discontinued) Caravelle, driving the ID Buzz feels like you’ve jumped forward not by a generation, but a whole century.

Firstly, there’s the refinement. The ID Buzz gets a helping hand from not having noisy petrol or diesel engines under the bonnet, of course, but things go much further than that. Road noise is well suppressed, and while there’s the inevitable bit of wind noise that comes from being shaped like a two-meter-wide wholemeal loaf, all things considered, it’s not that intrusive.

What’s most surprising is the Buzz’s inherent feeling of solidity. There’s none of the unsettling flex, rattles or shaking that you’d find in most van-based cars like the Mercedes V-Class. It feels – unsurprisingly – like a heavier, taller version of an ID 4 or Skoda Enyaq.

It even handles much better than it has any right to. Our route around the exceedingly straight roads of Copenhagen didn’t reveal much about the Buzz’s sporting pretensions, but thanks to a typically-EV low centre of gravity, it can change direction far more vigorously than you’re ever likely to ask it to.

The overriding feeling from driving the ID Buzz is one of absolute ease; relaxation even. Dimensions aside, it’s an effortless thing to cruise around in, with pleasantly light steering, well-judged controls, and a surprisingly compact turning circle of 11 metres (the same as a Golf).

This is a car that could sell on looks alone. To our eyes, VW has done a great job of reimagining its iconic people mover for the 21st century and has skilfully sidestepped spitting out a retro-looking pastiche.

There’s obviously a bit of the original van’s DNA in there somewhere, but you won’t find any 1950s throwbacks like cutesy circular headlights or lashings of chrome here. VW has given in and added a few two-tone paint options which, we have to admit, suit it very well.

Opt for the ‘seat styling package’ and you’ll get a lively interior to match the Buzz’s exterior. In addition to white interior plastics and fabric, there’s the choice of yellow, green, orange or navy blue accents to jazz up the seats, dash and doors.

The one thing the Buzz majors on is interior space. Front and back seat occupants get acres of head and leg room to play with – even if everyone on board is of basketball player proportions.

Boot space is also excellent, with a typical van-like square opening, and clever under-floor storage to help make use of the cavernous space. However, there are no individual captains chairs as in the old Caravelle or Multivan, and of the three rear seats, only two have ISOFIX mountings – a strange omission on a family-focussed car like this.

There’s no seven seat option yet either – VW says this will arrive only when a longer wheelbase version materialises.

There are only two trim levels – Life and Style – and even the cheapest option isn’t exactly spartan. As standard, there’s VW’s ubiquitous 10-inch infotainment screen, another ‘digital cockpit’ display in front of the driver, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging, along with heated seats, steering wheel and windscreen.

Style models get, as the name suggests, a few choice design upgrades: namely the multi-coloured interior pack, some more sophisticated headlights, and of course bigger alloys.

For many, the ID Buzz is the car they’ve been waiting decades for VW to produce. A fun-yet-practical reinterpretation of what is perhaps the firm’s best loved model. In our view, they won’t be disappointed either: it’s great to drive, perhaps even better to be a passenger in, and injects some real fun into what could otherwise have been a square, uninspiring MPV.

It’s not cheap though, with a hefty price premium over other electric VWs. We’d also like to have seen a bit more interior wizardry, as in the Multivan: a simple rear bench seat feels like a missed opportunity, frankly.

Those blemishes aside though, the ID Buzz is a likeable, well-thought-out bit of design that’s not only a worthy successor to the original VW Bus, but a great electric van and people carrier in its own right.

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Porsche’s Macan T aims to sharpen the SUV experience

The Macan T is a more focused version of the firm’s smallest SUV, says JACK EVANS.

Think of Porsche and what springs to mind? The 911, we’d imagine. But these days, that rear-engined sports car isn’t the breadwinner for Porsche. No, that goes to its SUV line-up in the Cayenne and Macan.

Though the Cayenne takes the lion’s share of Porsche’s sales, the smaller Macan has still proven to be a remarkable hit with buyers. In fact, just over 38,000 examples went out to buyers during the first half of 2022. The new Macan T – which sits between the standard car and the sportier S – could take that popularity one stage further.

From the outside at least, you’d have a hard time distinguishing this Macan T from the more regular versions. Sure, there’s a small ‘T’ badge on the boot, but apart from this it’s one very subtly changed model. But there are some tweaks and changes lurking underneath instead.

Photos: PA Media

The Macan T is the only Porsche to get steel suspension with Active Suspension as standard, while the whole car has been lowered by 15mm over the regular car. In fact, the whole car has been stiffened, with the front roll bars made more rigid to ensure responsive, accurate handling.

The Macan T uses a pretty regular setup, with a turbocharged 2.0-litre under the bonnet producing 262bhp and 400Nm of torque, driven through Porche’s seven-speed PDK automatic gearbox to all four wheels. You should see 0-60mph in six seconds dead, while flat-out the Macan T will manage a very respectable 144mph. It’s only marginally quicker than the regular Macan, in truth, which uses the same engine and produces the same amount of horsepower.

When it comes to efficiency, Porsche claims up to 28mpg – which isn’t all that great for an engine of this capacity – while CO2 emissions stand between 229 and 242g/km, depending on wheel size.

It’s the way that the Macan steers which sets it apart from other similarly-sized SUVs and that’s still the case with this new T. There’s a real sense that Porsche has transplanted the steering setup from its sports cars into this high-riding model and that means you get a sense of dynamic ability from the off. This is backed up by excellent body control through the bends and a keenness to turn in that you just don’t get elsewhere.

The engine isn’t what you’d call beautiful to listen to, but it’s surprisingly flexible and gives plenty of shove from low-down. The ability to change the car’s ride does help to soften off the bumps, too, which were apparent in our 20-inch-wheel-wearing model – we’d expect cars on even larger alloys to ride with a little too much sharpness.

We’ve always thought the Macan to be a good-looking model, with some of those classic Porsche features successfully transferred to a larger canvas. It’s a design which is definitely ageing gracefully and one which still looks premium and refined even in the latest company.

The subtle changes on the T do help to breathe a little more life into the Macan’s look, but this was already a fine looking car. It is, however, very spec dependent, while smaller alloy wheels can easily look ‘lost’ within the arches. That said, if you want the best possible ride quality you’ll want to fit a smaller alloy, so it really is a trade-off between looks and comfort.

As we’ve come to expect from Porsche, the cabin of the Macan is brilliantly made. The build quality is solid and reassuringly premium, even if the overall architecture of the car’s interior is starting to show its age at least. It’s not that it can’t stand up to modern competition – far from it – but it just feels a bit behind the times, particularly when you consider how good the cabin on the latest 911 is.

Practicality-wise the Macan T still ticks all of the boxes. There’s a good degree of space for those in the back, while the 488 litre boot is square and easy to access. You can increase it up to 1,503 litres by folding down the rear seats, too.

The Macan T is definitely an attractive proposition in the SUV segment. It’s easily one of the sweetest-handling SUVs on sale today, but a spacious and well-made cabin means that it’s going to be more than up to the challenge of day-to-day drives where outright dynamic ability isn’t required, too.

It definitely offers a more involving driving experience than the base-level car, but being so close in price to the more powerful S might mean that a number of people trump for that model instead. As a sharper, more precise version of the standard Macan, the T nail its intended brief, though.

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Is the new Kia Niro a fitting replacement for the popular original?

JACK EVANS finds out what the new plug-in hybrid and EV Niro is like.

Kia’s Niro has proven to be a hugely popular car for the Korean firm. Originally offered with a three-pronged approach to engines with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric setups, it’s been a consistent sight in the monthly list of best-selling models. Replacing a car like that is never easy, but Kia appears up to the challenge with the new Niro.

Sitting on a new platform and with a range of new technologies, this is no mild facelift. With its predecessor acting as one of the core models in Kia’s range, the new Niro has returned with a host of revisions to ensure that it can be just as successful as the car it replaces.

As we’ve mentioned, this isn’t a case of some revised lights and a new coat of paint. Much as before, the new Niro remains available with a trio of powertrains, ensuring that there’s a setup for all buyers – though it’s the plug-in hybrid that we’re focusing on here. Overall, the Niro is longer, wider and taller than before, bringing improved spaciousness and practicality as a result.

The older Niro’s rather underplayed styling has been massively overhauled here, too, with a new, more exciting exterior look brought into play. Not only does it give the Niro added presence, but brings it closer in terms of design to the rest of Kia’s range.

As stated earlier, we’re looking at the plug-in hybrid Niro. Now whether you opt for the regular ‘self-charging’ hybrid or this PHEV, you’re getting a setup that is focused around a 1.6-litre petrol engine. The difference lies in the electric motor – which becomes more powerful in the latter – and the battery, which swells in capacity.

Combined, you get 180bhp and 265Nm of torque, driven to the wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. You should get up to 40 miles of electric range, too, while CO2 emissions of just 22g/km put this in the business car-friendly category. Kia says that you could achieve up to 353.1mpg, though this will rely on the batteries being kept topped up at all times.

Getting acquainted with the Niro is a pretty straightforward process. There are no gimmicks or strange dials to get used to, while the steering wheel is much the same as the ones we’ve seen in other recent Kia models. It’s that ‘ease of use’ theme that continues through the driving experience of the car, with the PHEV setup switching between electric and petrol power without any fuss.

It’s quiet, too, with good levels of refinement. The steering is quite lifeless, mind you, while the brake pedal has an odd sponginess to it. That said, you do rely more on the regenerative braking to slow the car down, with the paddles behind the steering wheel there to adjust how harsh this regen is. It’s a little counterintuitive, however, that after pulling the paddle several times to get the most amount of regen possible, it requires an additional ‘long hold’ of the paddle to achieve maximum braking.

There was little to shout about when it came to how the old Niro looked. You could argue that it catered to all tastes in doing so, but it certainly wasn’t exciting. Things have changed for the new car, which has a really bold front end incorporating Kia’s latest interpretation of its famous ‘Tiger Face’.

We particularly like the sharp daytime running lights. Around the back and the upright almost boomerang-shaped rear lights continue the theme, though the large slab of panel underneath them on the sides does look a little ugly in our eyes.

The Kia Niro has grown considerably for this second-generation car. In fact, it’s now 65mm longer and 20mm wider and this growth spurt can definitely be noticed in the cabin. In the rear seats, there’s loads of space both in terms of head- and legroom. We particularly like the USB-C charging sockets that have been integrated into the seatbacks of the front chairs, which gives the back of the car a clean look.

Interestingly, this plug-in hybrid is the worst off in terms of boot space. At 346 litres, it falls some way behind the regular hybrid’s 451 litres and – most impressive of all – the full EV’s 475 litres. Lower the seats and this does increase to 1,342 litres, but you really are better served with one of the other variants if maximum boot space is what you’re after.

In keeping with Kia’s value-orientated approach, the Niro is absolutely packed with standard equipment. All cars get 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.

Our test car was finished to ‘4’ specification which, though commanding quite a premium, did bring a host of extra touches such as a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen, heated rear seats and an electric sunroof. However, the range of equipment fitted to ‘2’ models means it’s arguably the strongest proposition.

As one of Kia’s best-selling models the importance of the Niro can’t be underestimated. But by making it even more practical than before while giving it a stronger identity through more eye-catching styling, Kia has really strengthened the Niro’s appeal.

It’s also backed up by the same level of standard equipment that made the original Niro such a hit, while its trio of powertrain options means that, as before, the Niro should continue to appeal to all manner of buyers.

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Is Toyota’s GR86 the perfect everyday sports car?

The first GT86 has gone down as one of the all-time greats. JACK EVANS has been to find out if the GR86 replacement is just as good.

The original GT86 proved to be somewhat of a hit for Toyota. Its lightweight ethos, relatively low-powered engine and more slippery, eco-focused tyres meant that it was beloved by enthusiasts who could appreciate the GT86’s driver-centric approach.

So how do you deliver the tricky second album? Well, for the newly-named GR86 – enabling it to fall under Toyota’s Gazoo Racing range of vehicles – that means more power, more grip and much broader use of lightweight materials to make it a little more focused than its predecessor. Does that make it any more fun? We’ve been out to Seville to find out.

Toyota has done a great deal with this car over the one it replaces. The engine is more powerful – but more on that later – while grippier Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres replace the Primacy rubber fitted to the GT86, which famously were the same ones you’d get on the hybrid Prius.

Photos: PA Media

Inside, there’s a little more technology than before, while the steering, suspension and braking have been revised to make the GR86 even more capable than the car it follows. Even the car’s rigidity has been boosted, up 50 per cent on the GT86.

It’s under the bonnet where things have been given a real push. The naturally-aspirated engine uses the same basic block, but capacity has been increased from 2.0-litres up to 2.4, with power increasing to 231bhp from 197bhp as a result. Torque has gone up too, rising from 205Nm to 250Nm, and it’s delivered earlier too in order to give a more linear, progressive acceleration. Drive is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, though an automatic version is available too.

When it comes to performance times, the GR86 returns a respectable 0-60mph time of 6.1 seconds and it’ll carry on to a top speed of 140mph, too. It’s not too bad in the efficiency stakes, either, with Toyota claiming up to 32.5mpg combined and CO2 emissions of between 198 and 200g/km.

It’s from behind the wheel where the old GT86 really shone, so it’s pleasing to note that the same can be said for the GR86. That boost in power only worked to emphasise the car’s balance, with its nimble steering and well-managed body control working in tandem to make it very good fun to drive. We drove it on a circuit, too, and found it to be just as capable there too.

The engine note is a little muted – it’s piped in on the GR86 rather than being sent through a plumbed-in ‘tube’ directly from the engine as was the case on the older car – but it doesn’t stop you from stretching the engine out whenever the opportunity strikes. The six-speed manual is accurate and easy to use too, but it’s the GR86’s balance that really makes its presence known in the whole experience. The grippier tyres don’t diminish the GR86’s involvement, either.

Toyota hasn’t gone to town with the redesign for the GR86, but the tweaks that have been made definitely work to make this car even better to look at on the road. The front headlights appear sharper, while new air intakes by the front wheels are fully operational and aren’t just there for show.

It’s much the same around the back, too, where there are thinner rear lights connected by a full-width trim section. The GR86 is also 10mm lower than its predecessor, while also having an extra 5mm on its wheelbase. This helps to give this new version a more aggressive, sporty stance on the road. There’s also a new colour – called Ignition Red – which looked particularly good underneath the Spanish sun we were testing it in.

Toyota hasn’t messed around with the driver-centric approach that you got in the GT86 and that’s no bad thing. The seating position is good, though we do wish that the steering wheel could come slightly closer – that is quite a personal requirement, mind you. The material quality is still quite low-rent, with cheaper feeling plastics used across the lower sections of the dashboard.

Rear-seat space will be tight even for children, so it’s best to regard the GT86 as a 2+2, rather than a fully-fledged four-seater. There are 226 litres of boot space, too, while the rear seats can be folded down to expand this further. Plus, as with the old GT86, the GR86 has enough luggage space to carry four of its own wheels and tyres, should you need to take replacements to the track with you.

The big upgrade to the GR86 is its infotainment. It’s based around a new eight-inch screen and has been made quicker and more responsive. In truth, the native menu is quite plain and can be a little tricky to navigate, but fortunately, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, so you can use this to easily mirror your smartphone on the screen. It works well, too, and expands right to the edges of the display.

There’s also a small driver display ahead of the steering wheel which relays some key information and changes to a racier design when Track mode is selected. Again, it’s not as intricate as the displays on other current sports cars, but it’s clear and easy to read – so it’s hard to complain about.

The GR86 feels like an extension of the original. This is no complete rewrite, more a cleverly revised second edition. The extra power hasn’t made the GR86 feel too ‘grown up’, but instead allows you to fully exploit the balance and poise that the chassis has to offer. It was a bit of a concern to learn that the GR86 would be wearing more performance-orientated tyres, too, as there was the potential to take away some of the ‘fun’ of the original GT86, but these worries have been put to bed with this test.

It’s just a shame that the GR86 will only be on sale for a short time. This is the kind of car that needs to be enjoyed while it’s still here.

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