The ‘Good’ the ‘Really Quite Good’ and the ‘Bloody Brilliant’
Another year, another SMMT test day. For DrivingTalk readers not au-fait with what an SMMT test day is, its purpose can be summarised quite succinctly thus: it’s a speed dating event between motoring journalists, car companies and their four-wheeled wares. Except there’s no romance – aside from fleeting flirtations betwixt (wo)man and car. Moving on.
Thankfully the sun shone again this year onto a packed Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire. Cars were driven, relationships forged, preconceptions shattered, opinions formed and suncream was smeared onto new upholstery. Not by me, I might add.
A summary of noteworthy drives now follows.
2013 Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TFSi SE – £19,825
There’s more excitement to be had elsewhere in Audi’s range than this, the entry-level A3 Sportback. But even at the lower echelons of the Golf-on-a-better-pay-grade range, there’s much to like about this junior Audi. Restrained, understated style, the slightly oleaginous feel to its slickly-damped controls and an eager, willing gait on the road. The cabin is almost sparse in its simplicity, but predictably Audi and beautifully finished. It’s a high quality fitted kitchen with soft-close drawers, the A3 – satisfying to own but hard to get excited about.
Quick verdict: Audi A3 1.4 TFSI Sportback: Good
2013 SEAT Leon FR 2.0 TDI 150 – £21,385
On the subject of VW Group offerings, I liked the new Leon, a lot. Shorn of the prestige pretentions of its four-ringed sibling, it’s got a genuinely attractive interior which reminded me of a high-end hi-fi. That’s a turn up for the books, because the old one reminded me of a lump of featureless, injection-moulded plastic. Which indeed it was. The driving experience is positive too – this torquey, tight-handling Spaniard is very easy to drive fast. Even the faintly astonishing claimed economy of 68.9mpg is nearly worth getting excited about. Shame it’s lost the distinctive looks of its predecessor, mind.
Quick verdict: SEAT Leon FR TDI 150: Really Quite Good
2013 Mercedes E63 AMG – £73,745
Audi has made the latest RS6 less powerful than its predecessor. Perhaps that’s a subtle white flag from a weary Ingolstadt, its power-crazed engineers having grown tired of the German horsepower war. “Nein! Nicht mehr Pferdestärke, bitte!” they might say if this bizarre vignette of mine had any roots in reality. And onto my point. Which is that Mercedes doesn’t seem to care about calling a truce, a point evidenced by the fact the latest pumped-up E-Class has more power than its amply-powered predecessor. So in standard, off-the-shelf E63 AMG guise, the 5.5-litre V8 Biturbo (say it, it sounds good) engine produces 557 horses. And those horses sound really, really pissed off about being trapped under the big AMG’s nose. I can’t comment on the E63′s prowess through the twisty bits, as driving time was limited to the high-speed bowl only. Suffice to say, this unassuming Merc is quite breathtakingly rapid. How about 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds? There’s an even quicker ‘performance pack’ version available too.*
A full road test of the E63 AMG will follow on DrivingTalk.
*Insert cliché of your choice. Something about sledgehammers & nuts would do nicely.
Quick verdict: Mercedes E63 AMG: Bloody Brilliant
2013 McLaren MP4-12C – £176,000
Topping off the accelerative vigour of the E63 wouldn’t be easy, I mused whilst handing it back to the nice people from Mercedes. Where upon I clapped eyes on this scissor-doored delight, looking a picture in white. Fortune favours the brave apparently, and a foolish motoring journalist hadn’t turned up for their scheduled date with the MP4-12C. So I asked if I could hop in instead. Which I duly did.
Confession time. The MP4-12C is a supercar that’s never leapt off the pages of a car mag and into my affections. It’s not in my lottery win fantasy garage. And the reason why is pretty much the same as what many others have said about this car – it’s lacking emotion. Silly reason really – it’s phenomenally capable and brutally quick – the magic 62mph arriving in just 3.1 seconds. What’s more, the speed with which you can rifle through the gearbox’s seven ratios using the steering wheel paddles is mesmeric, and the explosiveness of the performance without question. Thank 616bhp for that. But the noise is not awfully seductive and there’s just something missing from the experience. Yet perversely, the fact the MP4 isn’t universally loved is a bit of a draw for me – that and the fact it’s not a shouty Ferrari. The thinking man’s supercar just got my vote.
Quick verdict: McLaren MP4-12C: Really Quite Good
2013 Audi RS4 Avant – £55,525
“It’s easy to sell cars when they look this good” comes the swift reply from Audi PR man Jon Zammett when I ask about the appetite for Audi’s latest steroidal small estate. He has a point – the latest generation RS4 looks staggeringly aggressive with its UR Quattro-aping boxed wheel arches and unapologetically squat stance. It’s also a hoot to drive – 444bhp and a quattro drivetrain see to that. The grip is seemingly never-ending and the enthusiasm with which the 4.2-litre V8 spins up to its 8,250 rpm limiter is incredible. So too, the seven-speed S-tronic dual clutch gearbox and its ability to play ball or relax into slush-matic mode. There’s got to be a dog carrier on the lottery win garage list and the RS4 rather superbly fulfills that brief.
Quick verdict: Audi RS4 Avant: Bloody Brilliant
2013 Jaguar F-Type V6 S – £69,500
It would be a bit remiss not to mention the headline act. Like going to a film premiere and then only talking about the trailers, I feel duty bound to opine some pithy wisdom on the new F-Type. However, I do so in a slightly guarded fashion as firstly, you already know the F-Type is good, very good in fact. And secondly, a relatively brief, chaperoned drive in the V6 S wasn’t enough to really get under its skin. The successor to the E-Type? Not really, as the original was just that – an original. Any sequel to that would never quite be the real deal. Thank Jaguar the F-Type is not a retro-facsimile of its forebear then.
Yet the F-Type is its own car, and even after the briefest drive is evidently a very, very special piece of engineering. From the delicacy with which it scythes through turns, to the faintly astonishing compliance and damping finesse, it’s a genuine treat to drive. I tried the 375bhp V6 S, which not only felt plenty rapid enough on the sinuous Millbrook hill route, but sang a deliciously anti-social tune from the twin howitzers poking out of its rear valance. And in Dynamic Drive mode it’s even louder and more focused. I can’t wait for the coupé to arrive, but in the meantime I need a longer date with an F-Type please, Jaguar.