Retro roadster with bags of appeal – Fiat 124 Spider

The 124 Spider’s fabric roof lowers faster than a Porsche Boxster – or even a Bentley Continental. How come? Well, the Fiat costs considerably less but isn’t lumbered with the response time of an electric hood mechanism.

Pop a clip above the windscreen, push the hood backwards and the whole roof disappears in a flash. It’s just as easy to pull up again and the wind insulation at speed is exceptional.

The Spider is just the sort of car for a winter’s drive across the Cotswolds, heater on full blast, hot seats and your favourite tunes filtering into the cabin from the Bose sound system.

There’s a lot of Mazda-ness about the Spider’s interior but it does feel a touch classier than the MX-5. The seats are superb – Fiat has placed speakers in the headrests so you can even take a phone call sans roof.

The cabin is an absolute delight. Everything is well-placed, there are cubbyholes for bits and pieces, while the general appearance is rather charming – just what you want from a machine that takes its design cues from a different era.

And while the performance figures reveal it takes over seven seconds to reach 60mph, passengers sit so close to the road it actually feels much faster. There’s a more expensive Abarth edition that offers extra thrills.

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Nissan X-Trail. Big softie, like your cuddly Scottish unc

Like your favourite Scottish uncle who ate too many pies, the X-Trail suspension is set up for softies. The mundane ride tells you everything about the Nissan – it’s for everyday family stuff and not slepping up a mountain pass.

So you’re going to be comfortable on the Tarmac, just a bit bored once the school run ends. At least the new X-Trail has plenty of kit to keep the driver involved. Apart from the optional drone (£500), next year buyers can choose ProPilot to control the acceleration, braking and steering on some roads.

And if you are bored with driving in general, autonomous emergency braking will prevent a rear end shunt as you doze off (or you could just call an Uber – other taxi services available).

What the 2017 facelight can’t hide is that new X-Trail is pretty much the same as the old one underneath. The drivetrain hasn’t changed – the angular nose job, rear end tweaks and some LED lighting are the headline news.

That means the 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesel units are still the same, rather dated units as before that lack the refinement of key rivals. The 2.0 is the pick of the pair but for once I’d say choose the CVT auto, as our manual six-speeder isn’t a smoothy.

Sensible car. But is that really you?

New Nissan X-Trail – fancy facelift shows up

Nissan lovers will tell you the third generation X-Trail has been keeping legions of families happy since 2013. So a face-light was long overdue and here it is – in 2.0-litre diesel form.

Now, you will find the same engine in the sister Renault Koleos and its best say both vehicles work best with the CVT automatic gearbox than the manual. I found the six-speed in our test car clunky and feeling rather dated.

The infotainment screen is on the small side and low speed ride quality around town ain’t up to scratch. On a long distance cruise it’s considerably better.

At least this 2017 model looks considerably better, with a more angular face, LED rear lights and a smarter interior.

The big Nissan is massively popular because of its flexibility and practicality but don’t expect VW Group standards of finish. You get what you pay for and the X-Trail lacks that quality feel…

Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE Luxury 2.0 TD4

Back in the days when Land Rover didn’t have such an exceptional model range, this would have been called a Freelander.

The first generation of that 4×4 was a dog – the second much better. This one is better still and borrows some kudos from the Discovery moniker.

Baby brother to the new, full-fat Disco, this full seven-seater sits on the Evoque chassis and is equipped with the brilliant 2.0-litre TD4 unit. It’s just about best-in-class, with 0-60mph in 8.4 seconds and up to 60mpg (combined).

Our specced up model is £58,183 with a load of extras fitted – it’s still pricey at £43,400 standard…

Land Rover Discovery Sport – good but not the best

So here’s the thing. The Discovery Sport slots into the Land Rover range about mid-ways. It’s important to remember that because apart from the pointless Evoque convertible, there isn’t a bad car in the line-up.

The Sport wouldn’t be my first choice, even though it does have an excellent engine and is super versatile. That’s because I think there are better, less expensive SUVs to be had from the likes of Hyundai and Audi.

You are paying a handsome premium for the legendary Land Rover badge but that doesn’t seem to stop people opting for a Disco Sport. The new, full-size Discovery is very similar in looks too – just bigger and even more expensive.

Many drivers will like the lightweight steering of the Sport, which makes it very easy to manoeuvre around town. Maybe I’m a Land Rover diehard but I think it should feel like a more substantial machine, rather than a rather luxurious shopping trolley.

Land Rover Discovery Sport – let’s stay out of the mud, shall we?

I’ve just spent the weekend bouncing around the new Land Rover Experience at Eastnor Castle, in Herefordshire. It’s rather unusual that they use Defender’s for the exercise – a vehicle Land Rover doesn’t make any more.

Perhaps part of the reason is that currently, there isn’t a ‘proper’ Land Rover that could handle the Eastnore course – used for decades to test Defenders to the limit.

I doubt the Discovery Sport would get that far either, even though it is more than capable in the dirt. Who would have to scuff those 20-inch Aeroviper alloys, or risk a mud bath around the leather cabin?

Until the new Defender arrives, the Landie fleet is rather lacking a rufty-tufty model. The Disco Sport is very much an urban mobile – but its for parking on the pavement rather than a full-on off-road experience…

Ssangyong Tivoli

If we covered the badge on the boot you would have no idea this is a £20,000 bargain SUV.

The 1.6-litre diesel Tivoli is a five-seater with bags of room and go-anywhere ability. Our top spec ELX is £20,000 – and that includes leather seats heated front and rear, reclining rear seats, privacy glass, keyless entry, rain sensing wipers, sat nav, seven airbags, the list goes on and on.

The 1.6 diesel chruns out 115ps and can manage a modest 44.8mpg (combined). There are cheaper models too. Worth your cash? Read on…