This Week’s Test Car

Porsche 911 Targa 4 GTS

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….

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Porsche Targa 4 GTS – the car for all seasons

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…

The fastest Land Rover on the planet…

At the more ‘affordable’ £100,000 end of the luxury SUV market is the Range Rover Sport SVR. Powered by an upgraded, supercharged V8 that sounds sensational via four tailpipes.

Now, Range Rovers have long been the embodiment of good taste but I’m not sure the red and black leather interior in my SVR does the cabin any favours. It’s no wonder the Sport has a slightly ‘downmarket’ image in some circles.

Whatever you think of the styling, there’s no denying the SVR is a phenomenal driving machine. Fuel is guzzled at an alarming rate but it is ridiculously fast, either on a motorway or across country.

If the SVR doesn’t get you recognised just hit the sports exhaust button. The grumble from the quad tailpipes is silly loud. Order now for £99,680.

Launching in the spring is the Sport P400e, JLR’s first plug-in hybrid model and said to be good for 101mpg, if you believe the official figures.

For me, the SVR is more than enough…

Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T – does everything, apart from snow

The last time I cocked up this badly organising a test car was the foggy week I borrowed a Bentley. The Mulsanne was mine for the five days when visibility was so poor, speed limits around the country were restricted to 40mph.

So to collect the keys to a GTC4 Lusso T the weekend it decides to snow in England is frustrating. I can see the Ferrari parked outside my window but we haven’t actually been anywhere together for two days.

As the snow came down on Sunday, I managed to crawl home with the transmission in ‘ice’ setting. And I mean crawl – 603bhp rear-wheel drive provides all the traction of a bobsleigh.

What can I tell you? If you want to know about handling and performance, try Top Gear. I can reveal the cabin is a smashing place to reside and the deep rear seats will even take a grown up, possibly wearing a hat.

The Lusso T is an oddly placid place to sit though. It doesn’t ‘feel’ quite as titillating as a Ferrari should, although I’m told there is tons of grip if you want a wild moment of rear-wheel drive pranking.

If you are in the market for a four-seat supercar that will take the kids, or a dog, plus decent-sized boot of shopping, then the GTC4 Lusso T could be the answer. Key alternatives? The beautifully formed Aston Martin Rapide, of course…

 

Mercedes GLE 63 S – the maddest ‘SUC’ out there

A sports utility coupe – who came up with that idea? Perhaps BMW, with the ‘squashed’ X6 are to blame. The styling of that car is takes ugly to new limits, so what chance the GLE then?

Well, despite cursing the shape from every angle, it’s difficult not to find this top spec version crazily entertaining. It isn’t the bodywork but what lies under the bonnet that causes a fit of the giggles every time I press the start button.

Forget AMG’s new 4.0-litre V8, this is the old 5.5 with a tank full of torque (like 760 Nm). It’s quite simple the maddest SUV – or SUC – I’ve ever steered. A high-heeled coupe that overtakes everything with a rip-roaring soundtrack.

Wide 22-inch wheels help boost grip and in Sport+ mode it simply flies from the traffic lights.

Inside, there’s the standard issue Mercedes dash – ruined by the barnacle infotainment screen that won’t fold away – great visibility thanks to the extra height but poor rear vision, due to the tiny, tiny screen.

It’s a bit bling, a bit loud and occasionally a bit wild but is there a better way to annoy Range Rover drivers? I doubt it.

 

A Mini estate with a room on top – neat?

There’s no getting away from the fact the Countryman is an expensive piece of kit, even without the tent in a roofbox.

However, it’s gloriously well equipped inside, with luxurious leather and trim worthy of, well, a car from parent company BMW perhaps.

Hard not to be seduced by such a swish package but just remember what else you can get for this sort of money – a proper-sized family car for example.

And somewhere along the way, Mini has lost the plot over styling. The interior is cool with ‘mood’ lighting but the outside is desperate. The ‘sad’ face front grille says it all. That’s ‘SAD’ in a Donald Trump tweet-type way.

The 181bhp petrol engine should give the Countryman plenty of shove but mated to an automatic gearbox, this particular Mini feels lacklustre. It’s well-behaved at cruising speeds though and feels like a much bigger car.

The roof tent? Well, it works if you enjoy a weekend away and there’s no reason why you can’t transfer it to another car because it rests on standard roof bars.

A neat lifestyle accessory for an expensive, pint-sized SUV.

Bentley Bentagya – can you love the ugly one?

 

I drove the Bentayga in the UAE when Bentley launched the falconry special edition. The trouble with the Middle East is that nothing seems too expensive or vulgar.

But driving one around the countryside of England, I wondered how the great and good of the Cotswolds would react to such a statement of ridiculous wealth.

Well, perhaps because the Bentayga has such ‘dubious’ styling and is a tad understated for some, nobody seemed to bat an eyelid.

I mean, this car is twice the price of a Range Rover!

Perhaps if they sat inside the wonderfully silent cabin, sunk their feet into the sumptuous deep-pile carpet and ogled at the amount of wood and chrome on display, they might see things differently.

The fastest, most powerful SUV money can buy is a remarkable first step into the ‘utility’ market for Bentley.

Both petrol and diesel engines haul 2.4 tons of metal to amazing speeds without the minimum of fuss.

Oddly though, even with a raft of extras that would buy you Porsche Cayenne for the same money, the Bentley leaves me unmoved.

It is a wonderful way to travel in pure luxury but unlike some other Bentleys I could mention, it’s more of a brilliant tool than a soul machine.

Fiat 124 Spider – swinging back to the beat of the 1960s

England won football’s World Cup, The Sound of Music topped the albums charts and Fiat unveiled a new two-seat convertible to rival the best-selling MGB roadster.

London was swinging to a new beat in 1966 and car manufacturers hoped to capitalise from the same feel-good vibe. The 124 Spider wowed audiences when it was unveiled at Turin Motor Show that year, looking every inch as cool as a Ferrari.

Pininfarina styling and a budget price made the soft-top an instant hit –just a little racier than the more ‘traditional’ MG, with a whiff of dolce vita about the tasteful design.

Fifty years on and Fiat has launched a new Spider that captures the same spirit. It shares a platform with the popular Mazda MX-5 – a car that also happens to be it’s main rival.

Both offer a very different driving experience, the Italian powered by a turbocharged engine that requires plenty of gear-shifts to extract the most fun. Like Fiat’s 500 city car, the bodyshell shamelessly harks back to a 1960s original.

To my eye this is no bad thing. The MX-5’s slit-eyed headlights and angular styling lacks the charm of the retro Fiat – although the Mazda’s 2.0-litre engine is more relaxed around city streets and has been the number one convertible for decades.

Spider strips open-top motoring back to the best of basics, although my Lusso Plus model has plenty of standard kit, such as sat nav, Bluetooth and a DAB radio. Heated seats might be just as important for open top winter jaunts around the West End.

The Fiat sports a decent sized boot for shopping, a cheeky rasp from the exhaust and an interior that feels very smart indeed. It’s just a shame the infotainment screen sits flat on the dashboard like a bolt-on afterthought.

I wasn’t old enough to enjoy the swinging sixties but I’d like to think I would have been more of a Fiat Spider man that a MG driver. A car to put a smile on your face – even if we haven’t won the World Cup since.