Is there actually a car designer out there who can pen a decent looking SUV?

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Beautiful cars are few and far between these days. Take BMW. Brilliant vehicles on nearly every level but I’m not sure even the M5 of M6 truly take my breath away. I’m prepared to haggle over the Z4.

The latest Audi TT looks dull, the current Porsche 911 isn’t as mouthwatering as the previous 997 and Ford has cunningly borrowed the nose off an Aston Martin in an attempt to make the Mondeo interesting. Fat chance.

And so we arrive at the Nissan X-Trail. Yes, it does look like a BMW X3 from some angles and the funky rust colour of our test car is better in the metal than it looks in our photos. But will you really get a buzz seeing it parked on your driveway every morning?

Somehow I doubt it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but surely there’s a car designer out there somewhere (please God!) who can make an SUV look appealing? Having seen the new Bentley Bentayga, perhaps not…

What car would Jeremy Corbyn drive to Downing Street?


So if I was picking an SUV for Jeremy Corbyn to drive it would be the Nissan X-Trail. Not too flash, very workmanlike and room for six colleagues from the Shadow Cabinet (OK, four because that third row of seats in tiny).

Nissan also has strong links to Britain with their Sunderland plant, plus he needs to boost his ‘British’ credentials doesn’t he?


I can see Cameron in a Range Rover but Corbyn? No, he definitely an X-Trail man, Except his would be in a gaudy shade of red, rather than the rust colour of our test vehicle this week.

I somehow doubt Corbyn will still be leader the next time Labour is in Downing Street. Maybe Corbyn would turn up on his bike and ditch cars altogether. We’ll have to wait and see..

The Nissan X-Trail is no longer a box on wheels – at last it has some cache

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The original X-Trail was something of a box on wheels. It was utilitarian on the inside and less than exciting to drive. People bought them in vast numbers because the Nissan was cheap and came with plenty of standard equipment.

Our latest version may not boast German standards of trim quality and image cache but it does represent a huge leap forward from the previous generation model.

This is especially true on the inside. The dashboard finally looks like it was designed to please the eye – rather than something made out of leftover parts from another vehicle in the Nissan range.

And while the seats are not clad in leather (even in our top spec n-tec model) they are supremely comfortable. Soft but somehow supportive in all the right places.

The Nissan X-Trail’s third row of seats is really for kids only

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Perhaps England would be better playing rugby sevens? Incredible how our national squad can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against a team riddled with injuries. Well done Wales.

With this in mind and with England’s chances of beating Australia looking less than 50-50 next Saturday, maybe team sponsors Land Rover will pull out – leaving the door open for another four-wheel sponsor to slip in?

The X-Trail has seven seats, it might do our over confident players good to sample the delights of a Nissan, rather than the more upmarket Land Rover brand. I think I’d enjoy watching seven, 15 stone-plus men trying to squeeze inside an X-Trail too.

That third row pair of seats is really only for occasional kids – otherwise consider this SUV best used as a very roomy and comfortable five-seater.


Would you be happy to pay £30,000 to own a Nissan X-Trail?

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The Nissan X-Trail may be styled like a premium brand machine but some of the trim comes from the bargain basement.

The long list of standard kit on this top spec model is impressive. The panoramic sunroof, auto headlights, sophisticated sat nav system – on paper it reads like a £30k car.

But the problem is the X-Trail doesn’t ‘feel’ premium. The seat materials, steering wheel, button and dials just aren’t that pleasant to the touch.

I can’t fault the X-Trail for practicality, It’s spacious, comfortable and I’m averaging 36mpg in the everyday slog.

Somehow though, I can’t imagine ever paying £30k for the privilege of driving it. Opt for the £23,000 entry model and it starts to make sense…

Is that a BMW X3? No is the latest Nissan X-Trail

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You have to look twice with the X-Trail. Unlike the pig ugly Juke, the family-orientated Nissan is starting to look more German than a BMW.

It’s surely no coincidence that the latest X-Trail has gone all curvy and upright like BMW’s X crossovers. Just add in a funky bronze colour like our test car and suddenly it even has an air of premium motor about it.

Underneath it’s a different story. The X-Trail shares the same platform as the Qashqai (a name I still have to look up every time I write it).

And while it’s some 90kg lighter than the old X-Trail, that 1.6 diesel engine means performance is left wanting. A petrol model is coming but really, you won’t be buying this SUV for on-road thrills.

Still, first impressions matter and I find the X-Trail easy on the eye. More from inside the cabin tomorrow…

The styling of the BMW M4 is compromised by the curve of the folding hard-top


I’ve always harboured a dream of owning another soft top. I’m not worried about the security of a fabric roof – I don’t care if the a cabriolet is more noisy.

So the M4 convertible will prove the answer for many people because it has a folding roof. It drops in about 20 seconds, eating into a rather large slice of boot space.

The roof is so good that I’ve almost forgotten I can enjoy open air motoring. Except for one thing, the M4 convertible doesn’t look half as pretty as it’s coupe sibling, seen in the photo.

There’s something about the back of the roof that doesn’t quite work aesthetically. The BMW is all sharp lines and aggressive bumps. The gentle curve of the folding roof spoils the profile of an otherwise terrific car.

I love driving the M4 but I simply wouldn’t but the drop top because a £60,000 open car should also be a beautiful thing, not a compromise.

With summer coming to an end, I’m off to Italy for a week to ride a Harley-Davidson on a grand tour. We’re back September 25 with another weekly car test…


Beauty or the beast? BMW’s M4 looks a bruiser from every angle


Faced with the choice of a BMW M4 or a Maserati Ghibli S – which car would you choose?

A friend of mine is faced with with this rather lovely dilemma. It’s either the beautiful Maserati, or the beast-like M4. Both have been styled to opposite ends of the spectrum – both are ‘super’ cars in their own right.

Wherever I’ve driven the BMW this week it’s attracted the attention of a certain type of car enthusiast. Usually the ones who wear a baseball cap back to front and drive a modified Vauxhall Corsa. All those muscular bumps suggest power and aggression.

When Car Couture had the Ghibli on test last year, heads turned for all the right reasons. It’s a glorious car to look at from the inside out, although few could say it is as much of a driver’s car as the Beemer.

If you’re an aesthete, the Maserati should win every time but after days days in the M4, I could be tempted to buy a baseball cap too…

The sound of the M4 – that’s the BMW version, not the motorway…


There’s been plenty written about how this latest M3/M4 doesn’t have the same aura as the old version. It’s all to do with BMW dumping their 4.4-litre V8 and replacing it with a turbo 3.0-litre for improved efficiency.

Nothing beats the roar of a V8 but don’t be fooled into thinking our M4 doesn’t boast a rumble from those four tailpipes. It’s not quite a V8 gurgle – but it’s also a pure sound that hasn’t been manufactured by a man with  laptop, a la Jaguar F-Type.

So when I fired up the BMW this morning, the soundtrack was inspiring. It’s really just a taster of what is to come when the revs pick up – it lures you onto the open road where you can cut loose and enjoy yourself.

The downside? Well, those meaty tyres produce an awful lot of road noise in the convertible. I can only imagine that it is the same in the coupe. The constant hum changes pitch when you drive over different surfaces but it’s always there, forcing the Harmon Kardon hi-fi even louder…

How many buttons do you need to press to overtake in a BMW M4?


Is it just me or are cars becoming a little too overcomplicated these days? Take my M4. It’s something of a barnstormer – bumps in all the right places and very, very fast.

Twenty years ago that would have been enough for an enthusiastic driver, always  ready to put his foot down at the slightest opportunity.

There was no need to press extra buttons to set the vehicle up in sport mode, heighten the revs or firm up the suspension (let alone make the exhaust sound LOUD).

So when I came to overtake a line of three cars today, it was a damp trouser moment when I suddenly realised the BMW was quite set up right for a straight line dash.

This was, as you might imagine, not good. Surely if a sports car IS a sports car, it should be ready to go at the press of the right foot – and not at the press of a right foot and assorted buttons and oh, bugger, it’s too late.

Pure, unfettled fun is hard to come by these days. Maybe it’s time to buy a new Mazda MX-5 instead…