"Cue a drive in the new Porsche Macan. It was our first time behind the wheel of Porsche’s ‘baby’ 4x4. This one, however, gave far from a ‘baby’ performance, churning out a mighty 440bhp, with the 0-62mph sprint in just 4.2 seconds, and a top speed of 169mph."
It feels a bit like a car lottery win for the day. Each year the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders invites some of us motoring scribblers to a big new car sampling event at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, where we get the opportunity to drive all the latest cars. This year, just about every mainstream manufacturer was there, so we decided to drive a choice cross sample of the most exciting cars on offer.
We are of course writing after the event, and can tell you with confidence that every car driven here is good, which is one reason why they were chosen. Put another way, if you should choose to buy any of them, you’d get our thumbs up. We were most interested, however, in how they felt behind the wheel, and what makes each of them special, and – ultimately – which out of all of them would we choose to take home.
The Supermini: Mini Challenge Edition
What would life be without a supermini? The term generically refers to adrenaline pumped small cars, unless it’s this Mini Challenge Edition which is on something even stronger. 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 153mph is enough to be going on with, but pales into insignificance against the go-kart style handling. It’s a race car wrapped in an office suit.
At £32,000 it’s pretty pricey too, but its enthusiast buyer may disagree when judged against pound-per-pound performance.
You can drive it slowly if you want, but we doubt self-discipline will rule here, so best to build in quite a few track days to keep yourself out of trouble. You’ve saved yourself about 15 grand anyway as there is no longer a need to buy a fun car for the track. Thankfully, you can go down the hierarchy of price and spec for Minis to suit, yet all are fun to drive, thus broadening their appeal to a wide span of personal budgets. This rather special Challenge version is as much a challenge to your own driving skills as it is to any hot rod that dares to take you on.
The Hot Hatch: Volkswagen Golf GTI
Getting a chance to sample the new Golf GTI is an opportunity not to be missed. As it happens, if you own the previous model you’ll find that there’s not all that much that is new in the latest car. This new Mark VIII Golf GTI is more of a facelift to the Mark VII, with only minor tweaks to chassis and engine. A 2 litre turbo charged four cylinder engine hits 62mph in 6.5 seconds and reaches 152mph. You can buy it either with a six speed manual or the usual paddle shift auto dual clutch. It is by no means the fastest hot hatch on Earth, but somehow you know that the new owners will be quietly nodding their heads to the subtle improvements, the excellent driveability, refinement, build quality and unique capacity to do just about everything well.
It’s brilliant of course which is why it sells every time, yet interestingly it was the only car out of all we drove, with exactly the same driving style (me), that was inclined to lift a rear wheel on hard cadence braking on a tight bend. An observation rather than a criticism; we’ll explore that point more when we give the car a thorough test, but suffice to say, once again, it is a matter of the best gets better once again.
The Supercar: Aston Martin DB11
Here’s the new Aston Martin DB11, a true lottery win choice. Its new 5.2 litre twin-turbo V12 is Aston’s first turbo charged unit and the most powerful production DB model to date – 600bhp to be precise and 516lb of torque through a much needed new ZF 8-speed transmission. The engine features cylinder deactivation which helps keep down fuel consumption when you’re not demanding high loads from the engine. It hits the supercar performance stats easily with 60mph coming up in 3.9 seconds and a 200mph top speed. The DB11 weighs a reasonable 1770kg and, at an entry-level price of £167,000, it is not exceptionally overpriced for an icon supercar.
We tested all the cars we drove on Millbrook’s Hill Route, which is pretty much a road handling circuit with challenging twists, turns and cambers all designed to explore vehicle handling characteristics to the full. The Aston felt surprisingly light and agile for such a big car, and needless to say 600bhp has a way of making itself known. What impressed us most was the car’s agility, being surprisingly chuckable for its girth and size. The DB11 easily combines daily use with a capacity to gobble up high-speed intercontinental travel in a heartbeat. What’s more, you do it in style, luxury and comfort. Yet Astons still tend to have their niggles, and ours was an annoying bleeper indicating the bonnet was open when it wasn’t. At six figure money these things are proper irritating.
The SUV: Porsche Macan Turbo
On a high from driving the Aston Martin, the Porsche stand proved an obvious next port of call. Cue a drive in the new Porsche Macan. It was our first time behind the wheel of Porsche’s ‘baby’ 4x4. This one, however, gave far from a ‘baby’ performance, churning out a mighty 440bhp, with the 0-62mph sprint in just 4.2 seconds, and a top speed of 169mph.
Yet behind the wheel it feels anything but the highly practical utility vehicle it is; its sportiness and Porsche DNA not in the least bit compromised by the Macan’s ‘family credentials’. In driving dynamics alone, it is a bit of genius really; masses of grip and composure, yet brutally fast. It’s sporting identifications and solid Porsche DNA are enhanced by the natural advantage of its smaller dimensions to the big brother Cayenne, throwing into question the critical relevance of the latter – unless volume is a do-or-die decision. And of course no matter how many Porsches you drive, the build integrity of the car is second to none, and a useful reminder that quality, strength and safety matter too.
Having worked this car hard on the Hill Route for a good few laps, I had to take a look back after leaving the driving seat just to make sure that it was actually an SUV we were driving! More accurately described, this is a Porsche that just happens to be a utility vehicle too.
All great cars, but OX would take home…
The Sports Saloon: Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
The new Alfa Romeo Quadrifoglio is the car that everyone is raving about at the moment. So popular it is that Alfa Romeo rang me up the week before to actually book my test drive, for the car was proving so popular that otherwise we wouldn’t have got the chance to drive it.
So why so popular? Well, many moons ago Alfas were magical driver’s cars in that unique Italian way that no other manufacturer quite matched in the ‘affordable’ categories. Alfas have an illustrious racing pedigree too and have produced some stonking road cars, but these icons (many of them poorly built) go back to some 30 years. Since then contemporary cars have been short on the Alfa magic…until this Giulia Q. At £61,300, with a Ferrari developed twin turbo 2891 cc V6, 503bhp, 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds, and a claimed 191mph top speed, it is by no means the mainstream seller of the marque. The volume seller is the 2.2 litre diesel in your showrooms now and selling like hot cakes.
The Quadrifoglio is for the petrol heads amongst us initially, but I bet you that anyone who drives one will be converted to the big performer in an instant. This one gobbled up the Hill Route at Millbrook like no other. Everything that made Alfa Romeo a legendary brand blooms in contemporary fashion in this car. It looks drop-dead gorgeous, sounds intoxicating and raucous, and sticks to the road like glue.
What makes it extra special is the emotion it carries along with it. Whilst we don’t have the space to explain the technology, the Q drives like it has a brain reading the road ahead, working intuitively with your own thinking to master its capability on the road. It is really something, and the fact that you can share the pleasure with at least three other people and their luggage makes £61K feel like a bargain. Give us £61K today and we’d buy one tomorrow. Alfa Romeo is back.
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