This Week’s Test Car

Aston Martin DB11 Volante

The Volante is a convertible that leaves you both shaken and stirred. It owns the road like no other and offers 007 kudos wherever you drive it. Bond usually crashes his cars but this DB11 is so beautiful I just wanted to wrap it up in cotton wool. Top up, or top down, it looks gorgeous from every angle. The 2018 version costs £144,900 and is powered by a 3982cc V8. Smashing. 0-60mph is dispatched in four glorious seconds and for what it’s worth, you could actually achieve 28.5mpg (combined). It’s May and summer is almost here. Come for a spin in the coolest British car on the road…

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The Aston Martin DB11 Volante – for your eyes only…

The latest Aston sports car may be large but underneath that eight-layer fabric roof is a tiny cabin. A pint-sized Mini convertible actually offers more space.

This successor to the DB9 uses dashboard equipment borrowed from Mercedes, although it’s well camouflaged behind the leather and lightweight composites that line the cockpit. Designers have kept a traditional feel but this is still the most futuristic Aston Martin ever built.

Raising the roof to beat a rain shower takes 15 seconds, driving at speeds of up to 30mph. It’s quite a performance to watch and unusually for a convertible, the DB11 still looks good roof up.

A summer’s drive across country becomes an occasion in the DB11. Enthusiasts will tell you this latest version is the best driver’s car to date – and how right they are.

Steering an older Aston wasn’t for the weak limbed. Just operating the clutch required the calf muscles of a rugby player. Now even the suspension has a range of settings to suit the road surface.

GT is the softest, perfect for high speed cruising. Sport+ unleashes the DB11’s wild side and transforms the car into something of a beast. A massive 503bhp requires nerve – you have been warned.

Under that sleek bonnet is a turbocharged engine that emits a constant burble. If you need extra power there is a faster V12 version too. However, in the upper echelons of the performance car market, this V8 will be more than enough for most people.

It is a fun and rewarding car to drive across country. Unlike the coupe version, the Volante has the added bonus of a folding hood too. There’s an excellent sound system onboard but the music from the huge exhaust pipes was more than enough for me.

There are few vehicles that will give you same experience as the DB11. The new Bentley Continental GT is one, or you might consider a Ferrari 488 Spider But if you want to feel like James Bond on your days off, this is the car.

Nissan Leaf 2018 – a sparky little number

Some manufacturers are racing to bring out their first all-electric car. This is already the second generation Leaf and it’s officially the world’s best-selling EV with 300,000 sales. Our Tekna costs £28,390 and has a plug-in 40 kWh motor that sparks up 147hp. Drive it sensibly and you might achieve the max range of 168 miles – try to reach 60mph in 7.9 seconds and you won’t. A May Bank Holiday in the lovely Leaf…

The Leaf has all the range most people will need for their daily commute. It is relatively affordable to buy and comes absolutely loaded with standard equipment.

However, not everybody will like the styling and regular motorway drivers covering hundreds of miles should look elsewhere. I also found the seats strangely uncomfortable, whatever way I adjusted them.

Cabin quality is top notch but nowhere near Golf standard. And at this price, it comes in right against the e-Golf.

The Leaf’s party piece is the e-Pedal, which can reduce brake application by 90 per cent. It allows the Nissan to be driven with just one pedal by pressing down or lifting off the accelerator to go or slow.

All that battery equipment means the Leaf should struggle with weight but it’s quite agile. The Nissan isn’t a driver’s car but you won’t feel like you are steering a lemon either.

I found it hard not to like the Leaf because it has been designed for first-time EV owners. Everything from the bonnet flap plug-in ports to the chic interior should appeal.

The Leaf is the world’s leading electric car because Nissan has sold more than any other manufacturer. But with other mainstream manufacturers joining the charging fray, it’s going to face much stiffer competition in years to come.

Rolls-Royce Ghost – handcrafted British luxury

The baby of the Rolls-Royce range is an expensive blend of old world charm and outrageous luxury. The interior combines a rash of retro buttons and switches with futuristic stuff, like a 10-inch dashboard screen and a crystal, rotary controller. If you can afford the car then urban fuel consumption of 13mpg won’t be an issue – and that’s posh, premium unleaded too. Prices start at £231,180 but you’ll want some options with that for sure. 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds with 563bhp on tap – just what you’d expect from a 6592cc V12 engine….

The Ghost may be the smallest model in the Rolls garage but it is a whopper to park around town. Unlike the larger Phantom model, the Ghost has less room in the back and usually requires the owner to actually drive it, rather than rely on a chauffeur.

This may be the entry-level Roller but buyer beware. My model came with monogrammed headrests, lambs wool floor mats and Starlight Headliner, turning the roof lining into a twinkling light display. The final bill for this and other options came to £302,000!

Rolls-Royce is owned by BMW but their cars are built at Goodwood. I soon discovered the Ghost is the ultimate blend of German engineering and British prowess – is there a finer way to drive to the office?

There’s a Black Badge ‘sporty edition of the Ghost, although why anybody would want to travel faster in their luxury saloon is a mystery to me. Effortless power was never served up in such a sublime and luxurious package.

You might imagine a car like this works best on a straight stretch of autobahn in Germany with no speed restrictions. Not so. Tipping the scales at a hefty 2.3 tons, the Ghost might wallow on a fast corner but it can still tackle a cross-country journey with pace and style.

That said, it should be an offence to push a Rolls-Royce along at such an undignified speed. Instead, I enjoyed my magic carpet ride across the Cotswolds, soaking up an aria on Classic FM with optional ventilated seats and a purple leather steering wheel.

The view down that long, sculpted bonnet is one of the finest from any motor car. The famous Spirit of Ecstasy mascot stands proud above the grille, although these days it can be lowered automatically to prevent vandals and thieves.

There is plenty of room in the back for family outings and you can bamboozle passengers by leaving them to find rear door handles. The back pair are rear hinged and work beautifully. A pair of umbrellas are hidden discreetly in the front door frames.

Driving a Ghost is a wonderful experience. Once you get over the price tag and engage with it like a ‘normal’ car, there’s nothing to fear. And the good news is modern Rolls-Royces hold their value well – another good reason to buy one.

 

Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design – lathered in lagom

The new mid-size SUV from Sweden is racking up a raft of awards, as Volvo’s resurgence in the family car market continues. The D5 R-Design costs £43,505 and returns an impressive 54.1mpg (combined) from its 235bhp 2.o-litre diesel engine – more importantly than that, it’s an exceptionally good car with a classy interior and more safety features than you can shake a reindeer antler at…

In recent years Volvo has left its antique dealer/two Labrador image behind and become the epitome of Scandinavian chic. No, it doesn’t sell a sports car but as a multi-tool of motors, the Swedes now put together SUVs better than an Ikea flat pack.

The transformation started with the XC90 in 2002, a full-fat luxury crossover that left many conventional MPV owners with a sour taste in their mouth. The latest XC90 is already regarded as a legendary all-rounder, super safe and very desirable.

The pint-sized XC40 has just launched Volvo into the compact SUV market too. It has snatched the European Car of the Year Award and is going to give the BMW X1 and Audi Q3 a bloody nose, make no mistake.

Now I’m discovering my inner Sven driving the XC60. The semi-skimmed, mid-range model is smaller than the XC90 and minus a third row of seats but otherwise a doppelganger. Last month it was named World Car of the Year. Yep, and it’s a Volvo.

The XC60 is lathered in lagom – that’s trendy Scandi-speak for ‘just right’. I’ve already discovered it boasts the world’s most relaxing and well-organised cabin, feng shui’d to the hilt and all the more brilliant for it.

So if you currently drive a sports utility vehicle with a busy dashboard, marvel at what Volvo’s interior designers have done to theirs. My dog could count the number of buttons in our XC60 on two paws.

They’ve been swept away and replaced with a mini iPad screen. It’s not as big as the one in a Tesla but intuitive and simple. That also leaves a larger space in the air-conditioned glovebox where the manual used to be. You see everything needed to learn about this car is accessed via the touchscreen manual.

I wouldn’t say I’m your typical Volvo driver – one hound, no kids – but almost begrudgingly, after just seven days, I have to admit the XC60 is something I never expected it to be. Cool.

Range Rover Velar – gorgeous from any angle

If the pretty Range Rover Evoque is the Gucci handbag of SUVs then the company’s new Velar is the Louis Vuitton suitcase. Big, bold and even more stylish, the Velar is set to be THE travel accessory of 2018. With both Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini launching super SUVs over the next 12 months, all-wheel drive, luxury cars like the Velar are set to remain first choice for any well-heeled motorist. Our D240 costs £64,160 and is powered by an eight-speed 1999cc diesel engine. It produces 240bhp and can average an impressive 49.7mpg (combined).

Velar slots in to the Range Rover line-up between the entry-level, compact Evoque and the rather bling Sport (no jokes about footballer’s wives – it’s a serious driving machine). The ‘full-fat’, original Range Rover is still the big daddy.

Expensive, smooth and simply gorgeous from any angle, Velar is a beauty queen in the everyday car park of BMW, Mercedes and Audi rivals. The steeply raked windscreen, low roofline and pert derriere are pure car couture.

I found visibility a little restricted around town through that narrow, rear screen but otherwise the interior is a revelation. Expect minimalist cool – with not one but two control screens that sweep away an ugly rash of dials.

Just like the futuristic Tesla, Velar takes interior design to a whole new level. The steering wheel buttons are touch sensitive, the graphics oh so sophisticated and the Meridian sound system is an ear tingling joy.

Land Rover appears to have thought of everything with the multi-purpose Velar. Even vegetarians are catered for with optional, textured cloth upholstery that pretends to be leather. Mouthwatering indeed.

Velar was the code name given to the concept Range Rover back in the 1960s – so this new model has pedigree. Not that anybody would want to go mud flinging in a machine that costs upwards of £44,000.

That’s the entry-level price. My mid-range 240D HSE costs in excess of £70,000 with a few ‘must-have’ extras, like head-up instrument display flashed onto the windscreen and rear seat entertainment.

Of all the Range Rover models, this one is primarily designed for the road, with a range of eco-friendly petrol and diesel engines. No doubt a hybrid will be along soon, too. Priced to fill the £30,000 gap between the Evoque and the Sport, Velar may be cute but it is still super capable on the rough stuff.

Most versions feature air suspension, which allows the driver to adapt the Velar to suit the terrain – or it can manage the whole lot automatically.

High off the ground and rather chunky, I found the Velar didn’t handle with the pinpoint accuracy of a sportier BMW X5. A Porsche Macan is the best driver’s car.

It’s difficult not to fall for the Velar, perhaps because it has the advantage of being the newest, most sought after SUV available and looks like nothing else.

German rivals do certain things better but as a beautiful package, the Land Rover is something of a head-turning tease. And you can’t really say that about any Audi, Mercedes or a BMW equivalent, can you?

Tesla’s Model X is still in an electric class of its own…

Apart from make the tea, a Tesla Model X does the lot. Elon Musk’s family-mover boasts more luggage space than a Range Rover, will outpace a Porsche – and features a thoroughly entertaining party piece.

The list of standard features also includes four-wheel drive, seven seats for the school run, and a cool interior to make your children the talk of the playground. After all, what other manufacturer has a car travelling through space?

Model X is at the cutting edge of electric car design – and it’s not cheap at £75,000 upwards. Musk, the man behind PayPal and SpaceX, poured billions into his futuristic car programme and this is the electrifying result.

The Tesla is plug-in electric only, with no combustion engine back up or re-charging on the move. Expect some ‘range anxiety’ but even I became used to topping up at night on the driveway, or rapid-charging at a service station.

Inside, the centrepiece is a giant, iPad-shaped nerve-centre that operates everything via a touchscreen. Apart from the obvious, that includes a facility to search out charging stations en route or within range, an e-user manual, plus a top-notch music system.

Above, the front windscreen extends over the top of your head and into the roof, creating a light and airy cabin. The front doors open automatically as you approach, while the rear pair are gull-wing design for added kudos.

The party piece? Tap into ‘Celebration Mode’ and the Model X puts on a display of light flashing, door opening madness to music. You have to admire a man who can build a car with a sense of humour…

Porsche Targa 4 GTS – the car for all seasons

Don’t want a convertible but love to let the sunshine in? The Porsche 911 Targa offers the best of both worlds. A folding, glass roof for the British summer – added security for the rest of the year. The GTS 4 model is tweaked for extra performance, using Porsche’s 3.0-litre engine to produce 450bhp and 0-60mph in 3.7 seconds. It features permanent all-wheel drive too for improved handling. Yours for £109,622, join us for a February drive in the 911 Targa….

The British buy more convertibles than Spain, Italy and France combined. We have a penchant for braving the breeze – choosing style over practicality despite an uncertain climate.

In the past that required a roof made from wafer-thin plastic that proved a minimal deterrent for thieves. Then the folding hard-top came along and suddenly we had year-round protection.

Porsche would argue they invented the genre with the original 911 Targa in 1967. American safety legislation threatened to ban full convertibles, so the answer was an open-car with a fixed rollover hoop and removable hard-top panel.

Equipped with a folding glass roof, the latest Targa is neither a coupe nor a cabriolet. A shade over £109,000, for me it’s the ultimate, everyday version of an iconic sports car.

The folding roof is sensational – an elaborate, tour de force that brought pedestrians to a standstill when I lowered the lid in Knightsbridge. Unlike a true convertible, the Targa gives a taste of open-top motoring without the hassles of a fabric roof.

The only downside is the roof is so complicated it can’t be operated on the move, like some folding hard-top rivals. Still, there’s no shame in pulling over to perform this automatic tour de force that takes a full 20 seconds to complete.

Equipped with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, it’s simplicity itself to drive around town, although rear visibility is compromised slightly when parking.

All 911 models are quick but this top-of-the-range Targa GTS churns out breath-taking performance. It features permanent four-wheel drive for incredible grip and can top 190mph on a racetrack.

Guide it down a twisty country lane and like it’s coupe siblings, Targa has few rivals. A neat electronic system called Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus sends power to the wheels where it is needed most, keeping you glued to the Tarmac.

While that automatic gearbox is great for lazy motoring around town, operating the steering wheel paddle changers on fast roads up the driving pleasure. With the roof open, the roar from the 3.0-litre turbo engine just adds to the thrills.

The downside? With a six-figure price tag the Targa is very expensive indeed – especially when you consider a ‘standard’ 911 convertible can be yours for more than £20,000 less.

However, there are few open cars on the market that offer such a complete, all-round package. Drive it to the office every day, tour across the Alps with the roof open, admire it on your driveway.

Porsche aficionados aren’t so keen on the Targa because the extra weight of the roof mechanism impacts performance. However, the rest of us shouldn’t worry.

And because it’s based on a standard 911, the Targa is moderately practical too. It is equipped with ‘modest’ rear seats and offers heaps of luggage space under the front bonnet for weekends away.

I love the Targa so much I even own one – not a bad recommendation when you consider I’ve tested more than 2,500 cars in the last 30 years. Sadly, I’m more follically-challenged for the those wind-in-the-hair drives these days…