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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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What is Lamborghini’s Urus Performante going up against?

Lamborghini has recently unveiled its Urus Performante as a more focused and powerful version of its popular SUV. With 657bhp and far less weight than the standard Urus, it’s weighing into battle with some serious firepower.

But what is it going up against in its quest for performance SUV supremacy? Let’s take a look.

Photos: PA Media

Aston Martin DBX707

Aston Martin’s DB707 is one of the primary rivals for the Urus, with this performance SUV bringing a whole lot of performance from its 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine.

But Aston Martin hasn’t just thrown an uprated engine into the DBX707. It has also heavily revised its suspension, fitted a new wet-clutch gearbox and even gone for a new exhaust to ensure that this model drives as well as possible.

Bentley Bentayga S

You might think of comfort as the name of the game for Bentley – and usually, this would be true – but performance is definitely the focus for the Bentayga S.

Designed to be the most focused version of Bentley’s popular SUV, the S incorporates electric anti-roll control technology to help it in the bends, while a revised sport mode adds extra weight to the steering while firming up the suspension. A new sports exhaust is also fitted to the S, ensuring it sounds even more noticeable.

Ferrari Purosangue

Though we have yet to see the Purosangue in full, Ferrari’s new SUV is bound to arrive in the segment with a particular focus on dynamics. After all, the Italian firm’s range of vehicles are some of the sharpest around, so it’s expected that this will filter into the Purosangue.

Expected to be revealed in full at the start of September, this will be one for the Urus to watch.

Range Rover Sport V8

The new Range Rover Sport has only recently been unveiled, arriving with a bold new look and an innovative interior. While plug-in hybrid powertrains will no doubt be the go-to choice for more fuel-conscious Sport drivers, it’s the full-fat V8 that’ll attract keener drivers. A racier SVR model will also likely arrive in the future.

With 523bhp, the 4.4-litre supercharged engine will enable the Sport to go from 0-60mph in just 4.3 seconds.

Porsche Turbo GT

Porsche’s Cayenne has often been seen as one of the more focused SUVs on the market today, while the range-topping Turbo GT adds some extra firepower into the mix. With its 4.0-litre turbocharged V8, it has 631bhp and can nail the 0-60mph sprint in just 3.1 seconds.

The Turbo GT is also lower and stiffer than the regular Cayenne, while larger brakes and grippier tyres are both fitted as standard.

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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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How does the Mini John Cooper Works Bulldog Racing feel on the road?

The Nurburgring 24 Hours is often seen as one of motorsport’s greatest challenges. Tackling the famous ‘Green Hell’ over a full day takes a huge amount of commitment, skill and mechanical prowess, which is why the cars that undertake the prestigious event are some of the most focused – yet robust – vehicles that take to a circuit.

So it’s not very often that you see one on the road – and the Mini John Cooper Works by Bulldog Racing is definitely not a car that you’d expect to see sauntering around a West Sussex roundabout.

We’d been offered a chance to ride along in this stripped-out racer to see how it compared with the regular Mini. After all, the retro-inspired hatch is one of the most popular models and has been praised for its sharp, nimble handling. But how would one that had been prepared to spend a full 24 hours lapping the world’s toughest race track feel in comparison?

Photos: PA Media

Quite a bit different, would you believe? Of course, the fundamentals are much the same. Since the Mini was built to compete in the SP3T class – which is a ‘Special’ class that allows up to a 2.0-litre engine with a turbocharger – it needs a ‘regular’ powertrain. So that means a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine under the bonnet feeding power to the front wheels via an automatic gearbox. Of course, a variety of other upgrades have been included to ensure that the Mini can compete; there’s a full rollcage, fire extinguisher system and a whole suite of radios that race cars like these require.

There’s also a huge 100-litre fuel tank which sits right behind you in the rear of the car. It’s filled up via a nozzle in the plexiglass window. The normal fuel filler cap? The covers a pneumatic connector designed to power the air jacks.

In fact, the more you delve the more you realise just what has gone into transforming this car. The brakes are larger AP Racing units, while there’s a whole aerodynamics kit bringing a large front splitter and a flat underfloor. Then there’s the wing, which – as well as being absolutely massive – can be adjusted too.

Inside, the Mini feels like a full-time race car. Interestingly the regular car’s navigation system remains, as does the standard air-conditioning – though this only works at low speeds to help keep drivers cool. The car is barely-there in terms of features, though it is awash with buttons and controls for functions like the main lights and the aforementioned fire extinguisher system. There’s also a switch to illuminate the car’s number board, which is a requirement for N24 cars and allows for the car’s unique racing number to be seen at night.

Then there’s the exhaust, which was made in-house by Bulldog and gives the car an almost ludicrous noise when started up. And that’s just what we hear as we creep out of a quiet lane close to Bognor Regis to head up and experience what this Mini feels like from the passenger seat.

As much as we would’ve liked to have been driving, even being in the passenger seat was a sensory overload. This is a firm car, of course, but even the team at Bulldog would – we’re sure – admit that it hadn’t been tested to cope with the level crossings that rise over sections of railway line in West Sussex.

It still feels inherently ‘Mini’, mind you. There’s a way to the car’s steering and the ease with which it tracks corners which does feel much like the road cars, albeit turned up a fair few clicks. The exhaust blares at higher revs and because there’s very little sound insulation, everything echoes and reverberates around the cabin. It’s an all-engrossing experience, made all the more apparent because we’re on public roads driving past other road users who suddenly have a fully-fledged N24 racer heading towards them.

Our route dips and dives through the countryside, with the Mini carving its only little red-flash-route through the hills. You’re sat remarkably low, but despite this, there’s still a decent enough view over the area ahead, though navigating traffic and parked cars at the side of the road does require some effort by the looks of it.

Though it is remarkably firm, though truck lines on the tarmac do cause the car to pull from side to side on occasions. For all of its upgrades and mechanical changes, though, this is still a car that can, theoretically, take to the road and transform local roads into something very special.

However, you can tell that this is a car designed to be put through hell. Which is just what the Nurburgring provides.

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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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Ford’s Focus ST gains new Track Pack option

Ford has given buyers of its Focus ST the opportunity to sharpen the driving experience even further with a new Track Pack.

Developed by Ford Performance and tested at the famous Nurburgring in Germany, the Track Pack will be available exclusively for five-door, six-speed manual Focus ST variants.

The new Track Pack fine-tunes the Focus ST through the fitment of KW Automotive adjustable suspension that works in conjunction with lighter alloy wheels to help bring even more responsiveness. This setup can be adjusted by the owner in order to tailor the car’s setup to a specific circuit or surface. They offer 12-step adjustment for upward response and 16-step adjustment for rebound.

Photos: PA Media

Ford has also enhanced the ST’s braking with the Track Pack through the fitment of front discs that are 10 per cent larger in diameter than those fitted to the standard ST. These are then combined with four-piston Brembo callipers to help improve braking performance.

Stefan Muenzinger, manager, Ford Performance, Europe, said: “Our new Focus ST Track Pack combines high-end technical components to make the hot-hatch truly track-capable for enthusiasts.

“Adjustable suspension, huge brakes and grippy tyres help optimise performance, body control and track durability for maximum fun – and that’s what this car is all about.”

Cars fitted with the Track Pack also get a tweaked exterior design, with the front upper grille, roof and door mirror caps of these models finished in high gloss black. A similar finish is applied to the alloy wheels, too.

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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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