Motoring News

Why the Range Rover SV Coupe proves that less is more when it comes to luxury cars

The SV Coupe revisits the idea of the original two-door Range Rover from the 1970s

FORGET everything you’ve ever learned about quality over quantity for a moment. When you wade into the world of the fabulously wealthy, less is usually a lot more.

The price you’d pay for a truly palatial pad in Kensington, Liverpool, for instance, would barely get you a one-bed flat in its London namesake. A main course at an upmarket restaurant in Marylebone or Mayfair costs more than I’d normally spend on a couple’s three-course night out in this part of the world. And don’t get me started on £6 pints.

It’s the same with cars too, as anyone who’s ever ordered a Porsche GT3 and traded rear seats for roll cages and stereos for stripped-back carbonfibre will know.

Which is why I have to admire Land Rover for unveiling its new, ultra-luxury spinoff of the Range Rover at the Geneva Motor Show last week. There’s lots of “contemporary design” and “up-to-the-minute technology” breaking up the slabs of wood and acres of leather you’d expect on the inside, and they are only building 999 of them, but what you can’t fail to notice is that for your £240,000 asking price you get two fewer doors. Automotive proof that less really is more in the world of cars, too.

What it does prove, however, is that if the money’s there then it’s not impossible to convert a five-door car into a three-door one; which makes me wonder why three-door cars much further down the pecking order are all being quietly killed off. The RenaultSport Clio – a car you’d expect to arrive sans rear doors, because that way the body’s stiffer – is now only available in five-door form, and it’s the same story with the Ford Focus, and the Honda Civic. Word has it that the three-door version of Audi’s A3 is being pensioned off, too. Which is a real shame, because for all the awkward fumbling you have with sliding seats forward and climbing through narrow gaps there is a youthful sense of fun about three-door hatches, and it’s sad to see it slowly disappearing.

The Peugeot 205 GTI just wouldn’t have had the same frisson of mischief had it been equipped with five doors, and nor would Renault’s Clio Williams or Citroen’s AX GT. They all had five-door cousins, of course, but it was worth eschewing the practicality for a stiffer bodyshell and cleaner looks. Surely if the argument works for the Range Rover all these years later – especially being positioned as a luxury spinoff – it’ll work for the next Ford Focus RS or Honda Civic Type-R, too?

It’s exactly the sort of petrolhead argument I’m hoping to win next time I visit the pub. Anyone got six quid they can lend me?


Fast Fords at bargain prices – hot hatches that don’t cost a fortune

Ford is pulling the plug on its Focus RS after just two years

IF YOU crane your neck a little and listen carefully you might just be able to hear the sobbing from pubs and supermarket car parks across the land. The Focus RS is about to read its last rites.

Anyone who read last week’s Champion might recall me lamenting the lack of new hot hatches but Ford’s now managed to go one better by culling the fastest of its current five-doors. It’ll be making 50 Heritage Edition-badged cars, and in true Max Power tradition they’ll all be finished in a retina-scorching shade of orange. Yours for £39,895, seeing as you’re asking.

It’s also a fair bet that Fast Ford fetishists are going to spend the next 30 years fighting over the good ones, just as they did with the Escort Mexico, the RS Turbo and the RS Cosworth. In fact, I’ve spent so long writing about old cars with Blue Ovals on their bonnets picking up hair-rising prices at auction that I was beginning to wonder if there are any cheap ones left.

So I went window shopping – with a strict budget of just a tenth of what a Focus RS Heritage Edition costs. I’m delighted to report that you can still pick up blue oval-badged performance cars at blue collar prices.

The chief contender for this sort of money is the Focus ST – in fact, for a few quid over the budget I found one that’d been chipped and is knocking out 260bhp, which is a lot of motoring mischief for under four grand. If it were my money I’d go for its smaller Fiesta ST sibling, which might only serve up 150bhp but the cars out there seem to have lower mileages and be in better condition. Both seem to have fallen into that awkward gap in petrolhead-dom where they’re a bit too old hat to register with today’s go-faster motorists, but they’re too youthful and common in number to end up on the radar of classic car fans. Which is exactly the time to snap the good ones up.

It’s also worth giving the Mondeo ST-220 an honourable mention too, because it really is an astonishingly accomplished ground coverer for the money. It was cruelly snubbed by far too many buyers for the BMW 3-Series when it was new, but nowadays you can get 224bhp, room for five adults, bags of boot space and some finely-honed cornering sparkle in the same package for well under our £4k budget. Job done.

Unless of course, you want a proper Fast Ford of the RS-badged variety, that is. In which case I’ll point you in the direction of the Escort RS2000 of the Nineties – they’re few far and between, but keep looking and you can still get them at sensible prices.

You know you want to. Just don’t paint it orange…

The only way is Up – if you’re looking for a small hot hatch

The Up GTI is the smallest hot hatch Volkswagen makes

IT’S THE sort of late landing an Irish budget airline would be proud of. There’s arriving fashionably late – and then there’s the Volkswagen Up GTI.

Connoisseurs of pint-sized and spiced-up hatchbacks might have already read that as of this week the smallest of Wolfsburg GTI-badged wonders has just gone on sale across the UK. You might have also read in the motoring mags about how it copes tremendously with tight turns, and seen James May making excitable squawking noises while driving it on The Grand Tour. But the fact remains that Volkswagen first started promising us a spruced-up version of the teeny-tiny up way back in 2013, at a time when I was actually using a bog-standard Up as a company car.

I can only assume that Volkswagen was being considerate by teasing us with it in concept car form – albeit missing that elusive third letter and badged as just the GT then – so it could give press-on drivers like me the chance to save up for it. Which is a good thing, because even in the poverty spec guise I reckon the Up’s the best car VW currently makes (especially now that the Scirocco has been pensioned off).

But all those years of teasing car nuts with the idea of an Up with added oomph has given the rest of the motoring world time to catch up. For a few hundred pounds less, for instance, you can have the Renault Twingo GT, which follows roughly the same formula but sticks the engine behind the rear seats and spits all the power out through the rear wheels. So basically it’s a Porsche 911 that’s more practical and easier to park. There’s also the Smart ForFour Brabus, which uses the same engine as the Twingo in a much heavier package and slaps on a £20k price tag for the privilege. Erm, and that’s about it.

Sure, there’s a new Suzuki Swift Sport on the way too but it’s astonishing that there’s no Sport spinoff of Ford’s Ka+ and that Vauxhall’s VXR boffins haven’t got their hands on an Adam. There’s no GTI twist on Peugeot’s 108 or a VTS variant of its sister car, the Citroen C1. Even VW hasn’t extended the GTI fun factor to the Up’s extended cousins – why isn’t SEAT doing a Mii Cupra, or Skoda Citigo vRS?

Hot hatches inject a sparkle of excitement into the all-too-often anodyne world of front-wheel-drive supermarket companions, and the smaller and lighter they start off the more fun and immediate they end up being in GTI form.

Come on carmakers, let’s have some more! Until then the only way is Up, even if it is five years late. Or to a Twingo GT, if you’re being awkward.


Lister is back to doing what it does best – OTT Jaguars

The Lister Thunder is essentially a heavily reworked Jaguar F-Type

IF YOU’RE under the age of fifty then chances are that Lister is the protagonist of spacefaring sitcom Red Dwarf. So that means copious amounts of curry, brilliant putdowns and laundry baskets ignored for so long that they’ve developed their own ecosystems.

But if you grew up in the era of Sir Stirling Moss giving Johnny Foreigner a thoroughly good drubbing on the world’s race circuits and grainy mono newsreels, then Lister was a force to be reckoned with in sports car racing. It dominated the Sports Car Club of America’s national championships in 1958 and 1959, for instance, but unless you’ve been to the Goodwood Revival lately I’d understand if you failed to bat an eyelid.

But there is another side to Lister’s history – one which, I’m delighted to say, is about to make a comeback. The one which involves giving Jaguars monstrously powerful engines and wonderfully unsubtle bodykits.

Nearly 20 years ago I was actually lucky to visit Lister’s old factory and was completely won over by  the line of black Jaguar XJSs that’d been kitted out with 7.0-litre V12s and huge spoilers. Its star offering at the time was the faintly ludicrous Storm, a GT racer that battled Ferrari F40s and McLaren F1s for race victory but cost so much in roadgoing form that the company made a whopping four for very rich (and very brave) petrolheads.

You’d think the Storm would’ve put Lister off making flashy new cars – for the last few years it’s been building recreations of its 1950s classics instead – but now it’s giving it another go by cranking the Jaguar F-Type’s performance up to cartoonish levels. Not only has it given the svelte two-seater the much cooler Lister Thunder moniker, but it’s also treated it to plenty of custom-made carbonfibre bits, a cabin retrimmed in leather even more expensive than the stuff Jaguar uses, and the supercharged V8’s been tweaked and fiddled with to the point that it now pumps out 666bhp. So obviously the performance is going to be demonic.

What that means is that for your £139,950 you get an F-Type that’ll keep up with a Ferrari 488 to 60mph and go on to more than 200mph – but what it excites me is that it finally gives the F-type the edge that it’s always lacked, even in R form. The Thunder’s being limited to 99 cars, but the good news is that if your wallet’s hefty enough Lister will fit all of its really aggressive add-ons to your F-type anyway.

The Thunder’s a bit like Red Dwarf  – I’m fully aware that it’s a very acquired taste and that half of my mates hate it, but I’m completely hooked. It must be a Lister thing.


The best way to sort out all those aftermarket Land Rover Defenders? Reintroduce the real one, of course

Land Rover is only making 150 of its Works V8 Defenders

SO FAR Theresa May’s yet to make any announcement banning future episodes of Love Island being broadcast for good. Oasis are yet to get back together, and Britain’s best brewers still haven’t worked out how to create beer that helps you lose weight.

But very occasionally things you keep your fingers crossed for do actually happen. Regular readers might recall that in these very pages about six months ago I openly wished for Land Rover to bring the Defender back, if only so it could give all the aftermarket customisers currently ruining the old ones a well-deserved drubbing.

Amazingly, they’ve only gone and done it.

The Defender Works V8, to give it its official title, is not Britain’s biggest carmaker admitting it got it wrong all along and begrudgingly putting the nation’s most hardcore off-roader back into production. It’s being tackled by Jaguar Land Rover’s classic car division, but nor is it one of their beautifully executed revivals of its greatest hits, like the Jaguar E-types or the two-door Range Rovers it’s put together in recent years. This is Land Rover playing the aftermarket boys at their own game, by taking old ones, and imagining how much cooler they’d be with big alloys, a noisy V8 and leather-lining trimmings. And then making it happen.

As a result it’s rather more expensive than the regular Defenders ever were – £150,000, since you’re asking – but it does churn out 400bhp, so it can hit sixty in 5.6 seconds AND go mountain climbing afterwards. Admittedly, you’d be a bit cheesed off if you bought one of the last-of-the-line Defenders two years ago, but Land Rover says that it’s only because it’s celebrating its 70th birthday this year. Honest. They won’t make any more Defenders after that. Promise!

As someone who spent most of their childhood in Land Rover’s V8 offerings I’m more than happy for them to have another crack at it – and while I reckon it’s a lovely birthday gesture it achieves what I suspect was Land Rover’s aim all along, because it looks so much better thought-out than all the dreadful Pimp My Defender offerings doing the rounds at the moment. For all its blacked out alloys and chromed door handles the Works V8 looks like it could still fit in at a farmers’ market in deepest Shropshire.

Obviously my next wish is for roughly £150,000 to appear in my bank account. Fingers crossed, and all that…


Toyota reckons the future of driving is a box on wheels – and that’s a good thing

The Toyota e-Pallette is quite literally a box on wheels - and a possible vision of our motoring future

TOYOTA seems to have forgotten that it’s a carmaker. Or at least that’s the impression you’d be entirely right for getting if its latest offering is anything to go by.

Just when I was readying myself to find out what it’ll be unveiling at this week’s Detroit Motor Show – a successor to the Supra, perhaps, or a long overdue rework of the C-HR’s rear end – it turns out that it’s gone to the Consumer Electronics Show instead, which is a sort of American tech-fest where everyone excitedly looks at laptops and smartphones.

Obviously it couldn’t unveil a car because that’s old hat, 20th century tech – a box on wheels, if you like. So the world’s biggest automotive giant decided to unveil just that. A box on wheels. And Toyota will thank me for calling it that.

The e-Pallette might look like something you’d attack with an Allan key after a weekend visit to IKEA but that’s exactly the point; it’s meant to be empty, and already there are various big names who are touting this autonomous cube as ideal tools for their business. Amazon likes it because it can be used as an autonomous delivery drone, and Pizza Hut reckon you could fill it up with chefs and ovens and dispatch it to wherever there’s a party packed with peckish students. Uber reckon it’ll take off because you can pack it with people (and not have to pay a driver to take them anywhere), and if you stretch the wheelbase it can even perform the sort of work long-distance lorry drivers are paid to do.

But whether I sign up as a fan depends entirely on whether it can fitted with a towbar, should it ever make production. Toyota has touted the idea of the e-Pallette being used as a hotel room on wheels too, but I’d be much more interested in sticking my MGB GT on a trailer, hitching it to the back and then using it as a sort of autonomous motorhome that transports me and my wheels on petrolhead holidays.

I’d love the idea of taking my pride and joy to, say, the Scottish Highlands without having to spend the first day of my holiday resting because driving up there in a 45-year-old sports car is so tiring. Or opening the door of my autonomously-driven luxury suite to discover I’m in the Alps or some sun-drenched bit of Spain or Italy. I love driving, but I’m sure even the most ardent petrolhead would happily let a machine take care of the M6 on a congested Friday night.

Toyota might actually be onto something with a car that’s a glorified box on wheels. The challenge now is to make sure we’re still allowed to drive all those wonderful cars that aren’t.


RoboRace needs one thing – some human competition

Roborace is a new series for autonomous racing cars - no drivers required!

UNLESS you were fed oversteer with your alphabetti spaghetti from an early age it’s very hard to make it as a professional racing driver.

There are exceptions to the rule but generally to make the grade in top flight motor sport you need to have a sizeable amount of raw talent, a proven track record of working your way up through increasingly scary single-seaters, total fearlessness about losing it on a slippery right-hander and a considerable amount of cash – and even then you might get a politely worded letter of rejection from Sauber.

But it’s going to be even harder with the latest racing series that’s being launched, because it’s so tech-savvy that it dispenses with those pesky human drivers entirely.

I suppose RoboRace was inevitable in an age where you can do your shopping by drone and Donald Trump is forever contemplating ordering a nuclear launch from one of his golf courses. The series has a very cool name and vehicles that can crack 200mph but there won’t be any split-second decisions on whether to take the racing line through chicanes.  It’s not even a remote control affair; all the racing will be done on engineers’ laptops beforehand, programming the cars to strut their stuff autonomously.

The tech itself is a smart move. Back in the 1950s Jaguar made a big deal about its Le Mans-proven disc brakes filtering down to its XK150s and Mk2s and it’s the same story here; if the future of driving really is autonomous, then surely having it honed in the white heat of motor sport is a good idea? I know the Government’s very keen on self-driving cars, but there are still all sorts of logistical headaches to clear up, and sorting it on a race track is safer (and more fun) than doing it on the M57.

But what I’d like to see isn’t a load of autonomous cars racing each other; it’s man versus machine, which is surely what all motor sport is about in the first place. Who wants to see a load of glorified laptops dancing around one another when they can watch one robo-racer set a time around a circuit or up a hillclimb, and then see if any of their human-operated counterparts can beat it?

I bet most kids in a Honda Type-R reckon they could kick a robot’s arse at a track day – and in doing so, they’ll be helping to improve the future of driving for the rest of us. Bring it on.


The new London black cab has an unlikely rival for your cash this Christmas

The new TX black cab uses hybrid technology to cut down on emissions

IT NORMALLY happens somewhere between Wham! and Shakin’ Stevens at the office Christmas do. It’s way past your bedtime, you’ve visited the free bar once too many, and you’re about to regale your boss with that story about how you snuck into the stationary cupboard and did something that’d land you with a police caution anywhere else. In other words, it’s time to fall into a taxi for the ride home.

But it’s almost certain – unless you’ve got an employer generous enough to whisk you down to the capital for your night out – that it won’t be the new TX black cab. It’s a lot smoother and quieter than the old TX4 taxi it’s replacing, and there’s fancy Volvo-sourced switchgear to enjoy, but it’s unlikely to make it anywhere north of the M25 for at least another six months. It’s also unlikely to win many taxi-driving friends up here for the same reason most of us think a three-bed house in London is a stupid idea; it costs an eyewatering amount of money.

£55,000, to be exact. To be fair the new taxi does come with some sophisticated electric motors and a Volvo engine as a range extender, none of which comes cheap, but it’s hard to imagine the fine taxi-faring folk of the North West forking out the price of a Range Rover Velar for something to replace their 08-reg Ford Focus Estate.

Happily, there is an alternative. If you really do want to do the falling into the back of a taxi while slightly hammered after a Christmas party thing properly – and there’ll be opportunities aplenty over the next few weeks – why not persuade a mate to buy the outgoing London Taxi for a laugh?

They are, as it turns out, ridiculously cheap if you know where to look. Go hunting for one – and it doesn’t really matter if it’s the original TX1 or the much later TX4, because if you’re a festive and mildly sloshed partygoer they’ll feel exactly the same – and prices start from just £800 for something a bit battered, and from nearer £1500 for one with some life left in it. And – as Top Gear viewers might remember from an episode earlier this year – these things can hack just about anything.

If you need a roomy diesel chariot and you can’t bear the though of buying a Renault Scenic or Ford C-Max then an old black cab is a much quirkier alternative. You’ll be the envy of your mates too; drive into town to pick them up from their Christmas party on a Friday night and they’ll love you forever.

You could even charge ‘em a few quid for the privilege. That might catch on…


Why the new TVR Griffith is better than it looks

Photos are struggling to do the new TVR Griffith justice

THE CAMERA – contrary to what you might have learned from the late Bob Holness on Catchphrase – almost always lies.

In an age when just about every computer has access to Photoshop there’s a modicum of miracles you can perform when it comes to cropping, colouring and cloning just about every aesthetic evil out. It’s easy to eradicate the power station from the shot of that cute cottage you’re thinking of buying or to banish the blemishes from Kendall Jenner’s face. It happens with cars too; that’s why press shots of anonymous new superminis appear to have been shot on the set of a Doctor Who episode.

But it always baffles me how a set of professional shots can sometimes make a new car look worse. Remember the Alfa GT? In every press shot and road test it always looked a bit bland somehow, but approach one in the metal and it’s a wonderfully sinewy, curvy looker of a car. It’s not something that happens often, but it was only the other day I realised it’s happened with the new TVR too.

Regular readers might recall that I was already getting excited about the new Griffith, but while the engineering (courtesy of McLaren F1 guru Gordon Murray) and the vaguely unpronounceable name of TVR’s new home (courtesy of Wales) ticked all the right boxes plenty of my fellow petrolheads reckoned the looks were nothing to write about.

But having now seen the car for real I can confirm that the car’s biggest problem right now is the utterly rubbish set of press shots being used to publicise it. When I caught sight of the new car TVR had given it the challenge of being parked next to a load of classic Chimaeras, Tasmins and Tuscans, but it passed with flying colours.

The new Griffith might not have any otherworldly angles or strange slashes masquerading as air intakes, but it has proper, Vinnie-Jones-does-nightclub-bouncer presence. It even appears to be slightly peeved that you’re staring at it. Which will you be, because it’s aggressive and hugs the ground in a way that just doesn’t come out in the photos.

It also sounds a bit scary too, if the video of a Cerbera test car fitted with the new car’s engine is anything to go by. But the real question will be what it feels like, because the Griffiths and Chimaeras I’ve driven always have a slightly incendiary demeanour, and there’s only one way to find out if the new one stacks up.

Dear Father Christmas…


SEAT’s safety-conscious Leon – Guardian Angel or gadget overkill?

SEAT is now displaying its new Leon safety car at motor shows

A SEAT Toledo, a sun-kissed dual carriageway and a few generous dollops of over-confidence are all you need. Forget track days; if you want to experience some on-the-edge motoring just hop into a taxi at Barcelona Airport.

Every time I’ve ever taken the journey it’s been exciting and terrifying in equal measure, because the chap behind the wheel drives like a stunt double from one of the Bourne movies. There’s tailgating, brave overtakes, questionable undertakes and last minute manouveres that’d make an F1 driver wince. I’m never sure whether to give the taxi firm’s number to the police or to Red Bull’s talent spotters.

Yet it’s obvious that someone at SEAT’s headquarters – based just up the road from Barcelona, of course – has partaken in a few of these pulse-raising outings too. Because it’s just come up with a car that on the face of it aspires to make all of us safer, but is surely engineered entirely with Mediterranean taxi drivers in mind.

On the outset its new experimental car is ostensibly a Leon hatchback but it has no fewer than 19 safety systems on-hand to make sure you don’t bin it into the central reservation, which when used in conjunction become what SEAT calls its Guardian Angel mode.

Deep breath. It includes a built-in breathalyser that won’t let you start the car if it detects any hints of John Smiths or hears you bigging up some bloke you met two hours earlier as your new best mate; an eye sensor that tracks your peepers to make sure you aren’t about to nod off; a voice assistant that gives you a patronising pep talk if you’re doing more than thirty, and a system that lets your mum set the speed limit remotely when you’re popping to the shops in it. At least that way you can’t be grounded for misbehaving in it. Oh, and of course there are black boxes monitoring your every move.

Obviously if all 19 of these high-tech helping hands do make into every taxi in the whole of Catalunya then I’ll be able to depart the airport a bit more confident that I’ll make it into Barcelona intact, but I worry if SEAT genuinely thinks this is the future of driving. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for safer driving, but festoon a car with this much mumsy gadgetry and I worry the impression it’ll give is that you needn’t bother with sharpening up your own skills. Why bother when your Guardian Angel has got things covered?

Let’s have gadgets later and proper, in-depth driving tuition first. Starting with my taxi-driving chum, naturally…