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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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The Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 remains one of the motoring greats

Porsche’s Cayman line is famed for poise and accuracy. How does the GT4 take things further?

How do you follow on from an all-time great? That’s the challenge faced by the Cayman 718 GT4, which arrived in the shadow of its predecessor, the Cayman GT4. Now powered by a 4.0-litre six-cylinder engine – rather than the old car’s 3.8 – the 718 GT4 aims to be just as involving, engaging and downright brilliant to drive as the car it replaces.

We drove the 718 GT4 some years ago, so wanted to give it a thorough going-over to see if it still stands up today. Let’s check it out.

Technically not the top dog in the 718 Cayman range anymore – that title falls to the more hardcore Cayman GT4 RS – the GT4 is still packed with go-faster measures and all manner of aerodynamic touches. There’s also a sports exhaust to give this Porsche an even more menacing growl.

Photos: PA Media

Plus, it’s even got adaptive cylinder control that can switch the engine into three-cylinder mode in order to improve efficiency when travelling on the motorway.

As mentioned, the 718 GT4 uses a 4.0-litre naturally-aspirated flat-six engine, which actually has its base on the 3.0-litre turbocharged units found in many 911 models. Here, you get 414bhp and 420Nm of torque, equating to a 0-60mph time of 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 188mph. It’s certainly more than enough performance for a car of this size.

All cars come with a six-speed manual as standard, with power being sent to the rear wheels alone. There’s even a shorter gear level for a more tactile, engaging shift. And, with that cylinder deactivation tech, Porsche says you should see 25.9mpg combined – though we far exceeded that – while CO2 emissions stand at 249g/km.

All doubts about whether this car could live up to its predecessor’s reputation are quickly put aside once you get behind the wheel. The 718 GT4 is a truly engrossing experience, with all of the main controls put right where you need them.

The gear stick is there to hand, while the fixed-back bucket seats hold you in place well. The steering, as we’ve come to expect from Porsche cars, is utterly superb and though this new engine can’t quite match the old one for outright noise, it’s still wonderfully responsive.

As we’ve found in other Cayman models, the 718 GT4’s gearing is almost hilariously long, with second alone allowing you to reach motorway speed limits. It does mean that, at times, you’re not as encouraged to shift through the gears as you might expect.

With its huge wing and large front air intakes, there’s no disguising the GT4 as something ordinary. Our test car came in a particularly eye-catching pink shade – known as Frozen Berry Metallic – which only added to the theatre. This colour is continued inside through a variety of trim pieces finished in the same shade.

Unlike the 911 GT3 models, you can’t get the 718 Cayman GT4 with the Touring package. This lops the rear wing off and gives the car a far more understated appearance. However, few can fault how much drama the GT4 brings to the table.

The GT4’s cabin is centred around the driver, which means that there are actually very few distractions or add-ons to speak of. The Cayman hasn’t been graced with the touch-sensitive buttons that you’ll find in the latest 911 and Panamera models, and instead uses the somewhat old-school-looking controls positioned around the gearstick. That said, they’re easy to use and give you quick access to settings for the traction control and auto-blip gearbox mode.

Luggage space? There’s actually a little more than you might expect, with 130 litres in the ‘frunk’ and an extra 275 litres at the rear. Combined, you’ve actually got a decent amount of storage space and more than enough for a weekend away.

The Cayman 718 GT4 remains one of the tip-top options if you’re after involvement from your sports car. Yes, it may have lost a tiny bit of outright aural drama, but in all other areas, it’s still hard to beat. In an age of electrification, the GT4 seems like a fitting reminder of just what is possible with an engine, a well-executed chassis and a six-speed manual gearbox.

Given the industry’s fondness for turbocharging, it feels as though this GT4 might be something of a last hurrah. So it’s best to make the most of it.

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The Ford Mustang Mach-E GT brings big performance in a practical package

The Ford Mustang Mach-E GT is the performance version of the firm’s electric family SUV. DARREN CASSEY has been behind the wheel.

When the Ford Mustang Mach-E was first revealed, it aimed to bring some pony car flair to the electric vehicle market, albeit wrapped up in a stylish SUV package. However, while it offered exciting acceleration, it was always the GT model that was to bring truly eye-opening performance.

Mainstream electric performance cars are few and far between, so the GT could carve itself a little niche. The question is, does it have what it takes to be a new fast EV icon, or does it offer little over the regular model?

There’s already a twin-motor version of the Mach-E, but in GT form the numbers have been given a boost. There’s more to it than that, though, with upgrades designed to make it handle and stop better.

Photos: PA Media

On top of this, there’s a new Untamed Plus mode that unleashes full performance, though it’s aimed more at track driving than on the road. There’s also a new body kit and grippy new tyres to further its sporting credentials.

There’s a motor on the front axle and rear axle that provide all-wheel drive. Combined they make 480bhp and 860Nm of torque, with that latter figure contributing to the violent acceleration off the line. Going from 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds – in an SUV – feels as gloriously silly as it sounds.

In fact, accelerating from a standstill there’s so much power that the wheels slip a little, delivering a chirrup before catapulting you forward. It’s actually better to accelerate from a slow roll, accumulating speed so quickly it’ll make your cheeks go numb and your passengers feel queasy. Some of these fast EVs are almost too fast…

Despite all this performance, the official range is an impressive 310 miles as the GT is only offered with the Mach-E’s larger battery. For context, in the regular model this 88kWh unit sees 336 miles with all-wheel drive and 379 miles with rear-wheel drive.

Once you get over the excitement of ballistic acceleration, there’s a generally excellent EV to be found. The regular Mach-E feels annoyingly stiff, but the GT has more control in everyday driving thanks to its upgraded suspension. And despite its prodigious performance, in its normal modes it’s easy to potter about and enjoy the easy refinement of electric motoring.

There are a few frustrations that remain from the regular car, though, with the key issue being the driver assistance systems. While you can push them to the background they never really fully turn off, with the lane keep assist struggling with narrow country lanes. Sometimes, when large vehicles are approaching, it can resist your attempts to put a wheel on the inside lane, which can be rather unnerving.

While the Mach-E is definitely an SUV based on its proportions, few others in this class manage to provide such sleek and sporty looks. There are a couple of awkward angles, but particularly from the front, the sharply angled headlights and muscular body panels make it a real head turner.

The GT model is distinct from regular Mach-Es thanks to a 3D-effect polycarbonate front grille, unique front bumper with air intakes, body-coloured wheel arches and a chin spoiler. There’s also a couple of new paint options to make it really stand out, called Grabber Blue and Cyber Orange.

One of the Mustang Mach-E’s key selling points is its interior, which is a comfortable, spacious and ultra-modern place to be. There’s decent forward visibility so you don’t need to sit too high to get a great view of the road ahead, and the seats are snug and comfortable on shorter trips, though the GT-specific Ford Performance seats aren’t quite so well-suited to longer journeys.

The large portrait-orientated screen continues to be one of the best in the business, though it does take some getting used to. It’s also surprisingly unobtrusive at night once you’re accustomed to it dominating your peripheral vision.

The GT does a great job of elevating the Mustang Mach-E experience through stomach churning acceleration and a more upmarket appearance, inside and out.

However, it does feel like a bit of a one-trick pony car. It’s all straight line speed with limited improvements to handling, because it still feels like the big, heavy electric car it is.

For those who want supercar performance in a practical SUV package, however, the GT makes great sense. With the price jump over the regular car, it’s arguably more of a ‘heart over head’ purchase.

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The BMW iX M60 brings fierce performance to this electric SUV

BMW’s flagship EV has received an ‘M’ makeover. TED WELFORD puts it to the test.

Few car firms have caused as much controversy in recent years as BMW, with its divisive-looking models dividing opinion. None more so than the iX, with this flagship electric SUV certainly turning heads, if not always for the right reasons.

But it hasn’t stopped its success, with BMW struggling to keep up with demand, even with first deliveries only commencing at the back end of last year. Things aren’t stopping there, though, with BMW’s performance ‘M’ division now getting its hands on the iX – the result being this new M60 version. Only the second performance EV from the German marque, and its most powerful electrified car yet, does it impress?

In a slightly unusual fashion for an ‘M’ model, not a huge amount has changed for the M60’s design, though given the iX is more than able to stand out on its own, it’s not hard to see why.

Photos: PA Media

Things are pretty much the same as the regular iX inside, too – with the exceptions of some M-specific dials – so it’s really just beneath the surface where things change, as the iX gains revised electric motors that see power and torque jump quite significantly.

The iX launched last year in two forms – xDrive40 and xDrive50, and the latter version is certainly not lacking in pace, producing 516bhp and 765Nm of torque. But this new M60 version gets a significant performance boost, with its redesigned motors producing a huge 611bhp and 1,100Nm of torque. To give that number some context, no BMW has ever had more torque.

The result is a 0-60mph time of just 3.6 seconds, while the top speed increases to 155mph – up from 112mph in other iX models. The same large 105kWh battery from the standard car is used, which enables an electric range of up to 348 miles – impressive, but slightly down on the ‘50’ version’s claimed 380-mile range. It can also charge at up to 200kW, meaning a 10-80 per cent charge can take as little as 35 minutes.

The sheer pace on offer from the M60 is what immediately shocks. Put your foot down and the way this 2.6-tonnne SUV can get up to speed is nothing short of mindblowing.

We got to try the iX on Germany’s derestricted autobahn motorways, and even at higher speeds the pace still keeps coming, rather than dropping off like other EVs have a tendency to. It’s also accompanied by a futuristic sports sound, developed by German composer Hans Zimmer, which really adds to the performance feel. You can choose to turn this off if you don’t like it, though.

When you’re wanting to settle things down, the iX becomes a sedate cruiser that offers exceptional comfort and refinement. For longer motorway trips, it would be an exceptional choice. Around town – and in our case through the centre of Berlin – the near-silent running, impressive camera systems and safety assists make driving something even the size of an iX an absolute doddle.

BMW intended to make a statement with the iX, and it did just that. Though a car’s looks will always divide opinion, its blanked-off grille is certainly not our cup of tea. But it’s a talking point, and turns heads wherever you go – something that’s likely important when you’re spending this kind of money.

The rest of the car is actually quite smart, though, with its flush door handles, thin LED lighting and two-tone body really looking the part. As we’ve mentioned, styling changes on this M60 version are quite limited, but look closer and you’ll notice the blue brake callipers, bronze detailing and 22-inch alloy wheels.

The iX also continues to make a statement when you head inside, with the interior being dominated by the brand’s latest ‘Curved Display’ – which features a digital dial display running into a large touchscreen. Both are super slick to use, while the brand’s iDrive operating system remains the best around. A particular highlight is the augmented reality sat nav, which relays arrows onto the road, making it almost impossible for you to miss your turn.

The material quality is top notch throughout, with a range of materials combining to create a seriously upmarket cabin. For a performance model – even an electric SUV – the seats are very flat, with next to no support. More positively, the iX offers a roomy cabin with loads of rear seat space and a big boot.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a ‘statement’ EV, BMW has thrown all the toys at the iX. Name a feature and this SUV will likely come with it, and it’s packed with high-end touches, from its superb Bowers & Wilkins sound system to a full-length glass sunroof and massaging and ventilated front seats.

Other bits of technology fitted include power-closing doors, the brand’s renowned Laserlight headlights and all the latest driver assistance technology – the advanced adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring being particular highlights.

Objectively, does an electric family SUV really need more than 600bhp? It doesn’t, but seeing is truly believing as to just how rapid this EV is, which will appeal to some buyers.

Though we reckon the standard iX ‘50’ version – or even the substantially cheaper ‘40’ – will be a better fit for many, if you crave the best-of-the-best, this M60’s combination of quality, technology and sheer performance is truly unmatched.

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The Alfa Romeo Tonale arrives with big ambitions

The Tonale has been a long time in the making, but what’s it like now that it is finally here? JACK EVANS finds out.

Does the Alfa Romeo Tonale look a little familiar to you? Well, there’s a good reason for that, as it was first revealed at the Geneva Motor Show way back in 2019 where it arrived as a new addition to Alfa’s SUV range, slotting underneath the Stelvio. However, it has taken up until now for it to reach the public road.

With hybrid powertrains and a variety of new technologies and features, Alfa is really throwing a lot of weight behind the Tonale. But with so many competitors to go up against, this family SUV definitely has its work cut out. We’ve been out to Italy to see what it’s like.

Photos: PA Media

This is an important car for Alfa Romeo and one which falls into a segment with many established, well-regarded competitors. So on top of the usual Alfa Romeo styling – which looks even better in the metal than it does in pictures, in our opinion – there aims to be even greater driver involvement through tuned dynamics, as well as good levels of practicality and standard equipment.

It’s capable of receiving over-the-air updates, too, while Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant has been fully integrated to allow you to communicate with other compatible devices in your home. For instance, you could ask your home smart speaker to tell you the fuel level in your car – all via Alexa.

The 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine with a compact electric motor and battery for improved efficiency and the ability to run on EV-only power at very slow speeds, such as when parking or in traffic. Soon, Alfa Romeo will add a full plug-in hybrid setup to the Tonale range, which will be capable of returning around 37 miles of electric-only range.

This 1.5-litre is still a frugal option, mind you, with Alfa claiming up to 49.6mpg on certain models alongside CO2 emissions of as low as 130g/km. All cars are front-wheel-drive too, driving power through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, with 0-60mph being achieved in 8.8 seconds and a top speed of 130mph possible thanks to 158bhp and 240Nm of torque.

Moving off, the Tonale does well to maintain that silent electric-only propulsion that you get from larger-battery hybrids and this makes town driving very pleasant, as well as quiet. Of course, the engine soon cuts in, but the transition is reasonably smooth, with the 1.5-litre unit itself producing a surprisingly pleasant engine note when given the request to provide more power.

It actually feels reasonably brisk, too, and it’s backed by pleasant steering which feels accurate. On twisty roads, the Tonale feels really composed and impressively level, in fact. However, the seven-speed gearbox lets the package down, as it’s dim-witted and feels at times a little lost in its own ratios. Our Veloce-spec car was also fitted with adjustable dampers as standard, which offered a good amount of comfort in their standard setting, but were far too firm in sportier modes. The 20-inch wheels on our car probably compounded the issue further, mind you, so it could be worth fitting for a smaller alloy if you want a more comfortable ride.

One thing that nobody would have argued with when that concept came out in 2019 was the way that the Tonale looked, so it’s good to see that the original design has been largely carried over to this production version. It’s a great looking thing – in our eyes, at least – with a really purposeful front end and an equally distinctive rear section.

Our car was finished in a superb shade of green too, which only helped it to stand out. It might’ve been the native Italian crowd, but wherever the Tonale went it definitely turned heads and drew glances.

Space isn’t an issue inside the cabin of the Tonale, with great levels of room for those sitting up front and in the rear, too. It’s the latter that is particularly impressive, with loads of headroom and good knee room making this into a practical carrier for passengers of all sizes. The 500-litre boot has a variable floor and is square and really easy to access.

More of a disappointment is some of the material choices. Though we can’t fault the leather-type surface applied to the top of the dash, further down there are vast swathes of cheap-feeling plastic, particularly around the switchgear area. It’s the same story in the back, too. It’s a shame as the general appearance of the cabin is good, but it’s let down by these poor materials. Bearing in mind that this car will start from around £35,000 and it’s definitely not in keeping with the kind of finish that rivals are offering.

It’s a case of peaks and troughs with the Tonale. The engine is accomplished for its efficiency and decent EV-running ability, but it’s let down by the gearbox. The cabin, meanwhile, looks good and is spacious, but can’t hack it when it comes to material quality. It adds up to a car that feels a little muddled, in truth.

Then there’s the question of rivals. Just going off this indicative starting price, the Tonale falls slap bang in the middle of other options that just do things a little better and feel a little more rounded. It just feels as though the Tonale is hamstrung by a series of issues that stop some key attributes from shining to the fore. It’s by no means a bad car, but with premium aspirations come premium requirements and that’s something the Tonale doesn’t quite nail.

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Is the Cupra Born a sporty EV worth considering?

Cupra is expanding its line-up with the new electric Born. JACK EVANS finds out what it’s like.

Cupra is a company really finding its feet. It may have only established itself as a separate entity from parent company Seat a few years ago, but it has already expanded its range to become a real presence here. Now, it is turning its attention to the flourishing EV segment with its first electric car – the Born.

Sitting atop the same platform as cars like the Volkswagen ID.3 and Audi Q4 e-tron, the Born aims to bring a slightly sportier character compared with its Volkswagen Group stablemates, as well as the more distinctive design that Cupra has become known for. We’ve been testing it out.

As we mentioned, the Born uses the Volkswagen Group MEB platform which has been designed specifically for electric vehicles, rather than adapted from an existing petrol or diesel setup. That means it goes hard on making the most of the space it has to offer, while the battery is placed low to improve weight distribution and ensure that roominess isn’t impacted.

Photos: PA Media

The Born is also offered with a series of battery and power options, giving buyers a variety of entry points into the line-up.

Though there are a few powertrain setups available for the Born, we’re testing out the anticipated best-seller, which combines a 201bhp electric motor with a 58kWh battery. It’s pretty punchy, too, bringing a 0-60mph of just 7.1 seconds and a top speed of 99mph. There’s a good deal of torque, too, at 310Nm.

With that 58kWh battery, Cupra claims a range of up to 261 miles. The Born can also charge at speeds of up to 125kW, meaning a five to 80 per cent charge could be completed in as little as 35 minutes. If you’ve got a three-phase 11kW home charger then a full top up could take six hours, or around eight with a conventional 7kW unit.

Cupra really has pushed to make the Born feel sportier than other cars on the same platform, which is why it sits on a lower suspension setup and can even be fitted with wider tyres for improved grip and higher cornering speeds. These changes are really noticeable too, as the Born corners keenly and remains well planted through the bends. The only negative by-product of this is a really firm ride, which does tend to get pretty unsettled over poor surfaces – something exasperated when travelling at slow speeds.

That said, it is easy to pilot with relatively light controls. The instant availability of the torque also means that the Born feels quite quick and far speedier than its on-paper figures would suggest. Visibility wise it’s largely acceptable, though the chunky A-pillars do mean you have to take a little more care when entering a roundabout or exiting a junction.

We think Cupra has done really well when it comes to the Born’s styling. It’s definitely the most eye-catching out of the Volkswagen Group’s range of EVs, with its slim headlights, full-width rear light bar and range of copper accents really ensuring that it stands out from the crowd. We particularly liked the contrast diffuser fitted at the rear of the car, which helps to give it even more stance on the road.

There is a good variety of exterior colours too choose from as well, though to our eyes at least it’s the darker shades that suit it the best.

With the majority of controls centred in the Born’s infotainment, there aren’t too many buttons left to clutter up the car’s cabin. It does mean it all feels quite stripped back, though a good level of fit and finish means that this doesn’t come at the detriment of quality. The front seats are comfortable and easy to adjust, too.

But it’s in the back where things are really impressive. There’s loads of legroom for those sitting in the rear, while headroom is also very good. In terms of boot space there are 385 litres on offer and you can extend this by lowering the rear seats. Our only issue is with the charging cable storage; it’s underneath the boot floor which means that if you’re out and about and need to top-up, you’ll need to take everything out of the load area in order to access the cables.

Our car came in V3 specification and, for its £38,390 price tag brought a good deal of standard equipment such as as 12-inch infotainment system and 5.3 digital cockpit, as well as wireless smartphone integration and adaptive cruise control. You also get 12-way electrically adjustable front seats with pneumatic lumbar support and a massage function. The infotainment system is jam-packed with features, but because it holds access to all major functions it feels a little cluttered and makes a process as simple as increasing the cabin temperature more tricky than it should be. There are slim shortcut buttons for this below the screen, but they’re very compact and aren’t lit up either.

Our test car did come with a single optional extra – silver paint for £565 – but, in truth, there’s very little need to go troubling the options list with the Born.

Cupra has done well to bring some real attitude to the EV segment with the Born. It’s definitely got that dynamic flavour, with the kind of body control and eagerness for corners that we’d be expecting more from a hot hatch than a battery-powered model.

That low-speed ride sure is firm, mind you, which might put off some people who are looking for comfort from their EV. That said, with its good value for money and high levels of standard equipment, this could be something people are happy to contend with.

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Ford’s Ranger Wolftrak showcases the best this pick-up truck has to offer

The Wolftrak is packed with equipment and features a rugged, go-anywhere design. JACK EVANS finds out what it’s like.

The pick-up segment is pretty compact these days. Volkswagen’s Amarok is due a replacement, while the Mercedes X-Class bit the dust a little while back too. The Ford Ranger – which we’re looking at today – is also set to be replaced shortly too, but while it’s still here, is it still a good rival to the likes of the Toyota Hilux and Isuzu D-Max?

Well, to find out we’ve tested it in beefed-up Wolftrak form, which brings a meaner look compared to the standard Ranger.

The Wolftrak has been designed to offer the kind of robust, rough-and-tumble design that people expect from a pick-up truck. So it comes with a standard-fit load bed protector, which means that you’re able to transport all manner of items back there without worrying that you’re going to damage the paintwork.

Photos: PA media

Plus, it’s got a range of standout features including a variety of matt black parts in areas such as the grille, skid plates and wheel lip mouldings. It also comes with 17-inch alloy wheels shod in chunky, off-road-ready tyres. Inside, there’s plenty of high-end equipment fitted as standard – but more on that later.

You might think that the Wolftrak would be kitted out with the 2.0-litre biturbo engine from the range-topping Raptor, but we’ve got a slightly less powerful – but no less robust – motor fitted here instead. It’s a 2.0-litre single turbo diesel, with 168bhp and 420Nm of torque, which on our test car was managed by a six-speed manual gearbox – though an automatic is also available.

Acceleration is adequate enough at 11.1 seconds from 0-60mph, while a top speed of 112mph is more than enough for a truck like this. There’s also selectable four-wheel-drive, while Ford says the Wolftrak is capable of carrying a 1,000kg payload and also has a 3,500kg towing capacity.

The Wolftrak is remarkably pleasant to drive, considering its upright positioning and reasonable rudimentary chassis. Of course, like most pick-up trucks it feels a little jittery when without a load in the bed, but on a cruise it’s reasonably quiet and refined. There’s a good deal of wind noise generated when travelling on the motorway, but this is to be expected by a vehicle of this type.

The engine might not look all that powerful on paper, either, but it’s got a decent enough amount of shove while those deep torque reserves mean that there’s always power on hand should you require it. The engine noise piped into the cabin even has a good sound to it.

Though the six-speed manual is a little vague in its operation, it’s quite light and simple to use. The only real issue is the Ranger’s size, which does come into play when trying to navigate a busy parking area – though you’ll be aware of this when you sign up for a pick-up truck.

The Wolftrak takes the Ranger’s already commanding looks and takes them one step further. With its variety of matte black elements, it definitely has an undercover, almost menacing appeal while the large wheels and tyres give some indication of the kind of terrain it can tackle.

You do get some Wolftrak badging but it’s reasonably subtle and doesn’t scream quite as hard as the Raptor, which is emblazoned with badges and logos across its entire body. If you’re after a truck with plenty of presence but without too many extras, then the Wolftrak will no doubt prove appealing.

This isn’t some agricultural pick-up truck. With its variety of leather-wrapped elements and eight-inch touchscreen, the cabin of the Wildtrak feels decidedly upmarket. You can only specify it as a double cab, too, which does mean that it’s the best option if you’re looking to take passengers with you. Our truck didn’t come with a cover over the top of the load bay, so this meant that we had to transport belongings and items in the back of the truck, which doesn’t feel the most secure. A cover for the load bed would easily remedy this, mind you.

You get a nice elevated view of the road ahead too, of course, while the seats themselves have four-way adjustment so you can get into a pretty good position. They’re comfortable and well-padded, too.

As we’ve already highlighted, there’s an eight-inch infotainment system included as standard on the Wolftrak and it’s running Ford’s Sync 2.5 system which, though not the very latest that the firm offers, is decent enough in its operation and includes Apple CarPlay, so it’s easy to integrate your phone via a USB cable.

Elsewhere, we’ve got a six-speaker sound system and Ford’s clever Pass Connect technology, which allows you to remotely connect to the Ranger via a smartphone app. Through this, you can check to see if it’s locked and even be alerted if an intruder tries to gain access to the vehicle.

The Wolftrak feels like a fittingly rounded version to celebrate the ending of this generation of Ranger. With its extensive standard equipment and robust build quality, it feels like a showcase of why this truck has proved so immensely popular – and leaves us with a high level of expectation of the new one.

Should you consider it anyway? Absolutely. If you’re after a pick-up that tows, carries and goes off-road without any real fuss, then the Ranger Wolftrak is still a great choice.

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The Aston Martin DBX707 takes SUV agility to a new level

Aston has thoroughly reworked its DBX to create the DBX707. Jack Evans heads to Sardinia to see what it’s like.

The age of the super-SUV is well and truly upon us. These big-power behemoths are not only being produced by a variety of manufacturers but they’re being snapped up by plenty of buyers who appreciate the combination of earth-shattering performance and high-end touches that these cars bring.

Enter the Aston Martin DBX707. It’s a sharper, angrier and more powerful version of the regular SUV designed to offer a more involving driving experience than the standard – and already quite involving – DBX. We’ve been out to Sardinia to see what it’s like.

This isn’t a case of just throwing more power at something and leaving it at that. Oh no, Aston Martin has comprehensively tweaked and fettled the DBX707, adding a new nine-speed ‘wet clutch’ gearbox for faster shifts and larger carbon-ceramic brakes for improved stopping power and reduced weight.

There’s also a new electronic limited-slip differential at the rear, while the entire suspension setup has been reworked to allow the DBX707 to offer better body control without forsaking ride comfort. That latter feature is something Aston Martin has worked incredibly hard to retain, the brand said.

That said, there have been some big changes under the bonnet. The 707 keeps the 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 as the regular DBX, but power has been increased by 155bhp and 200Nm to an impressive 697bhp and a huge 900Nm of torque. That 707 figure, by the way, refers to the engine’s output in PS, or metric horsepower.

All that power equates to a 3.1-second 0-60mph time and a top speed of 193mph. Efficiency-wise it’s not quite as bad as you might expect, with Aston claiming 19.3mpg combined. You also get an 87-litre fuel tank on the DBX707, giving it a decent touring range. ‘

It’s usually the case that a lot of small changes add up to a big difference and that’s definitely what has happened with the DBX707. All of those tweaks and edits have combined to create a car that handles like a model half its size and weight, working to ‘shrink’ around you as you pilot it. The engine, of course, is stratospheric in its performance and rockets you forward with the merest hint of throttle, but there’s far more working subtly behind the scenes, too.

The ride is one of the shining factors here. Even in its firmest, hardest setting, it’s still pliable and comfortable – which is remarkable given our test car rode on huge 23-inch wheels. In fact, we feel that Aston had space to go a little firmer. There’s grip, poise and agility aplenty, all accompanied by one of the very best exhaust noises too. And though there’s a small amount of piped-in sound, the DBX707’s noise feels genuine and pleasingly mechanical, with that titanium exhaust really paying dividends in this department.

“A big change here is the revised lower centre console area which gives quick and easy access to driver modes. Far more accessible than on the standard DBX, it makes tuning aspects such as the suspension and drivetrain to your liking a whole lot easier but does leave the area looking a little cluttered”

Aston Martin definitely upped the ante with the styling on the DBX707. It appears enormously wide thanks to its tweaked design, while the larger front grille and revised front intakes help to aid cooling to the engine, gearbox and brakes – so it’s all fitted for a very practical reason.

But it’s around the back where things get the most dramatic. There’s a huge rear diffuser that sits around the new exhaust system, while up top there’s a stubby spoiler to complete the look. Of course, looks are down to the individual, but we’d argue that the DBX707’s design is a great blend of aero-based practicality and flair. It’s also available in a good range of exterior colours, with certain blues and greens looking particularly good.

The basic formula of the DBX707’s cabin is similar to that in the standard car, but there have been noticeable tweaks made here. All cars come with sports seats as standard and they’re both supportive and comfortable – though, for those after a plusher seat, comfort versions can be included at no extra cost. As always, if you’re after customisation then Aston Martin’s ‘Q’ department will be able to create any combination of colours, trims and finishes you’re able to dream up.

A big change here is the revised lower centre console area which gives quick and easy access to driver modes. Far more accessible than on the standard DBX, it makes tuning aspects such as the suspension and drivetrain to your liking a whole lot easier but does leave the area looking a little cluttered. In terms of practicality, the 707 offers a decent 687 litres of boot space, with an extra 81 litres of underfloor storage.

You get a whole lot of standard equipment included on the DBX707. When it comes to in-car entertainment, things are centred around a 10.25-inch infotainment system. It’s controlled by a rotary dial and does feel a little behind the times, but Apple CarPlay connectivity does mean that integrating your smartphone is simple enough.

There’s also a 10.25-inch display integrated into the dials ahead of the driver and this is both clear and easy to read. The general material quality is tip-top, as well, with high-end finishers used across the board. Ergonomics-wise the seating position is great too, though it can still be a bit of a stretch to reach the gear selector buttons mounted atop the dashboard.

It can be a tough challenge to try and inject something weighing well over two tonnes with dynamism, but Aston Martin has more than achieved this feat with the DBX707. In terms of engagement and outright theatre, it’s the top of its class, with body control and balance that would even shame many sports cars.

But more than anything it’s the retention of outright refinement that shines through here. This is just as cushioned as the standard car but brings a whole lot more to the table in all other areas. Want to have your cake and eat it? It would seem that the DBX707 is the car to do it.

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The Jeep Renegade e-Hybrid adds further electrification to the brand’s range

If you were asked to think of a big gas-guzzling SUV, it would likely be a model from Jeep that came to mind first. It’s true, this American brand purely sells crossovers and 4x4s, and for years has been kitting out its cars with large six- and eight-cylinder engines.

But as the climate crisis worsens and legislation forces manufacturers to take action, Jeep is changing. It launched a plug-in hybrid version of its Renegade in 2020, while last year saw the same powertrain installed in its Compass. Now, though, Jeep is going a step further and is introducing mild-hybrid versions to expand its electrification range, with these launching on the Renegade and Compass. But are they worth considering?

This e-Hybrid model is set to – in time – replace the existing petrol Renegade, but for the time being sits alongside it. Rather than electrify an existing engine, the setup here is all-new for Jeep, including both the unit itself and gearbox.

Photos: PA Media

While we’ll explain full details later, this e-Hybrid also sees the introduction of a new special-edition. Called the ‘Upland’, it aims to major on sustainability with a range of recycled materials to promote Jeep’s ‘eco’ credentials.

This new e-Hybrid setup uses a turbocharged four-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine, combined with an electric motor housed within the new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. There’s a belt-starter-generator electric motor too, which has the job of trying to make the switch between electricity and petrol seamless.

Combined, the two power sources produce 128bhp and 240Nm of torque, enabling a 0-60mph time of 9.5 seconds and a top speed of 118mph. Jeep won’t yet quote a fuel consumption figure, but you can expect around 45mpg, with CO2 emissions of 135g/km. All e-Hybrid models are front-wheel-drive too – you’ll need the 4xe PHEV if you want four-wheel-drive.

First things first, this e-Hybrid powertrain is not as pleasant as you would hope. Though Jeep claims the transition between electric and petrol is ‘silent’, it’s really not, with the powertrain feeling at times clunky and indecisive. The engine itself is held back by the hesitancy of the gearbox too, and leads to a whole load of engine noise when you put your foot down.

Though this new e-Hybrid promises to be 15 per cent cleaner than the standard petrol, it’ll only actually run on EV for a small amount of the time, such as in slow moving traffic or when decelerating. Even a gentle stab at the throttle brings the engine quite literally roaring into life.

That said, the light controls of the Renegade make it easy to drive and park around town, while the large windows mean visibility is pretty good.

Though the Renegade has been around since 2015, albeit with a significant update in 2018, it remains a smart and fun bit of design. In a day and age where people are trying to make their cars look like ‘coupes’, there’s something refreshing about its boxy and chunky styling, which makes it look a lot more rugged than many of its rivals.

It’s packed with cool details too, such as Jeep’s iconic seven-slot grille and big round headlights. This Upland launch edition certainly stands out as well, as it’s available in the bright Matter Azur paint colour, while also getting bronze accents and a contrasting black roof and wheels.

Not a lot has changed about the Renegade’s interior, and it’s the part that is just starting to show its age. Though still looking and feeling sturdy, it’s not as plush inside as many rivals are, while the 8.4-inch touchscreen and analogue dials just feel a bit old fashioned now. It hasn’t really benefited from any major changes as part of this move to hybrid either, bar an ‘e’ button near the gear stick and some slightly different energy diagrams on the trip computer screen.

On the plus side, it’s quite a practical choice, with its boxy shape meaning rear passengers don’t have to worry about hunching their head over. The boot, while not as large in size as some rivals, is still a boxy and useful shape. Clever packaging of the mild-hybrid system means it’s no less roomy than the regular Renegade too.

Oddly for a special-edition trim, the Upland is the entry-level option, though you still get a wide range of equipment, including 17-inch alloys, the aforementioned touchscreen, heated front seats and adaptive cruise control. This model also gets a range of ‘eco-friendly’ elements, such as stylish ‘Seaqual’ seats that are made of plastics extracted from oceans. We’re not a fan of the ‘there is only one Earth’ messaging though – it’s a bit rich for a Jeep that spends 90 per cent of the time running on petrol.

Upgrade to the S, and you do without the fancy recycled seats, as well as the eco-friendly branding, though you do get some nice leather upholstery instead, along with additional safety kit.

Jeep should be applauded for increasingly looking to electrify its range, and by the end of the year it aims to have rooted out pretty much all its non-electrified cars in Europe.

This e-Hybrid doesn’t show the Renegade at its best though, as the powertrain lacks refinement and finesse, and it’s not hugely efficient either, based on our first drive. If you want an electrified Jeep, it could be worth stretching your budget to fund the much better plug-in hybrid, or looking at more conventional, and noticeably cheaper rivals like the Ford Puma and Volkswagen Taigo, even if neither of them have the same character as this Jeep.

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