Apparently there’s a North/South divide – I wouldn’t know. Being brought up in the south, but born in the north, I can tolerate both flat cap-wearing, whippet-fancying northerners and shandy-drinking southerners in equal measure. As if to illustrate my aversion to geographical stereotyping, I live in neutral territory – Birmingham, the Switzerland of Britain if you will. Only without the captivating Alpine vistas. Or cheese.
But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) sees fit to split up the geographically opposed factions of motoring journalists – holding two regional ‘test’ days when car journos gather to drive important new machinery from an array of manufacturers. The SMMT South event happened on a very wet day in October, and I popped along to sample some un-tried metal. I’ve distilled my thoughts below.
2012 Bentley Continental GTC V8 Review
If a certain Tory MP were to choose his ideal car, I reckon he’d opt for this banana yellow Bentley, because it’s just the ticket for intimidating plebs* in lesser vehicles. On copping an eyeful of the boldly-hued behemoth in the rear-view, the great unwashed smartly move aside, allowing the big-deal-at-the-wheel to waft imperiously past. At least that was my experience as I guided the high-vis Bentley down the fast lane of the M3 – it simply parted the sea of Mondeos and Civics in biblical fashion.
Of course, being a Bentley, it has other attributes as well as that colour (Aztec Sun, since you asked). Chiefly the twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 motor, which aside from sporting an ample 500bhp, is an aural extravaganza – hushed and muted but with latent menace when cruising on part throttle. Open the taps and it snarls like a Rottweiler which has just been punched in the nose.
The pleasure vs. pain equation that comes with big power and weight has been skewed too – clever cylinder shutdown technology means the engine is actually a V4 most of the time, so it’s not as if driving it is akin to holding two fingers up at Greenpeace. Which is nice.
The fact it monsters the 0-62mph dash in 4.7 seconds, despite weighing 2.5 tonnes is incomprehensible – but it feels every bit as capable as those figures suggest.
Then there’s the lashings of cow, chrome, aluminium and contrasting yellow stitching lining the beautifully finished cockpit. That combo may sound as tastefully restrained as a traveller’s wedding dress – but somehow it works. There’s also a sublime Naim sound system to make audiophiles dribble. I couldn’t resist the massive yellow Bentley’s anglo-german cocktail of garish opulence.
The verdict? As that bloke off The Fast Show would say – ‘brilliant’.
- Need to know – 2012 Bentley Continental GTC V8:
- Engine: 4.0-litre V8, twin-turbo, 500bhp
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
- Price: £136,250 (£171,000 as tested)
- Performance: 0-60mph – 4.7 seconds, max speed – 187mph
2012 Vauxhall Astra VXR Review
Hot hatches have ceased to float my boat of late. Climbing the car ladder, I’ve left behind my Golf GTI and R32 owning days - with AMGs and Ms usurping souped-up hatches as the objects of my car lust. The advent of the super-hatch has once again piqued my interest – and hatches don’t come much more super than Vauxhall’s latest effort – the Astra VXR.
Yet I still hopped into Vauxhall’s electric blue example full of preconceptions. Chief amongst which was the unfounded suspicion that spending time with this 276bhp front-wheel drive Vauxhall in monsoon conditions would be as relaxing as sitting next to a Buckfast-swigging Glaswegian on a train. I was wrong.
Turns out the VXR is surprisingly grown-up and sophisticated. Despite that healthy power output, the HiPerStrut suspension and trick front differential keep torque steer nicely in check. Given asbo-levels of throttle in wet conditions I could make it squirm – but for a car with 276bhp pulsing through the front wheels it does a damn good job of being both civilised and sodding quick – 5.9 seconds to 60mph is pretty impressive stuff from an Astra. The slightly synthetic wooshing sound when the turbo is on boost was less so – but given its other talents, forgivable.
The interior too, is surprisingly tactile and made the Focus ST’s dash feel a bit Tesco Value. Pushing the VXR button – which sharpens throttle response and makes the dampers a bit spikier – turns the dials a sinister red which is a bit naff, if I’m being honest. Which I am.
But those winged bucket seats deserve special mention - hugging and gripping in all the right places, they make this hairy Vauxhall feel like a special place to sit. Ok – £27k isn’t cheap for an Astra, but it is bloody capable – and a real looker. Impressive stuff, thanks Vauxhall.
- Need to know – 2012 Vauxhall Astra VXR:
- Engine: 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo, 276bhp
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- Price: £26,995
- Performance: 0-60mph – 5.9 seconds, max speed – 155mph (limited)
2012 BMW M135i Review
And so, then I moved on to the BMW M135i. This Fisher Price my-first-M-Car sure is ugly, but it goes like the clappers.
Actually, the bonkers-fast 1-Series deserves more than two sentences – it was my drive of the day. Ambling up to it I couldn’t help thinking my initial summation of the baby Beemer’s looks remains spot on – it does look like a sloth from the front. But get inside and you just don’t care.
BMW’s test car was fitted with the optional eight-speed paddle-shift auto. Teamed with the Twinpower 316bhp 3.0-litre straight-six, this is one grin-inducing ugly duckling. The powertrain has a captivating combination of rifle bolt gearchanges and seemingly endless lag-free grunt on tap. It’s furiously quick for a humble 1er – smashing through the 60mph barrier in 4.9 seconds and all the while feeling like an utterly engaging and exploitable rear-drive companion. Partially disengage the DSC and it’s also willing to wag its tail quite nicely – as I found on the exit of a rain-soaked roundabout.
The M135i is a joy machine, so much so that I seriously considered running off with the keys. It’s also something of a bargain at under £30k. I don’t care about the looks, I’m having a whip round to see if I can buy one.
- Need to know – 2012 BMW M135i:
- Engine: 3.0-litre six cylinder turbo, 316bhp
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic (optional), rear-wheel drive
- Price: £29,995
- Performance: 0-60mph – 4.9 seconds (auto), 5.1 seconds (man), max speed – 155mph (limited)
*said Tory MP may never have actually used the word pleb.