SMMT Test Day

Short Review | 2016 BMW M240i Convertible

The M235i might be gone, but the replacement has even more performance. We took a short, topless, drive, to see if the M240i stacks up as a cut-price M2 alternative.2016 BMW M240i Convertible

Full disclosure. The M240i does not have a 4.0-litre engine. BMW nomenclature has paid little attention to engine capacity for years, so don’t be fooled. No, under the bonnet is a 3.0-litre straight-six TwinPower turbo engine, that has gained more horsepower and torque. Peak power has increased to 335hp – a rise of 14hp – whilst twist is up to 369lb-ft. That last figure is significant for two reasons: it’s the same torque as found in the E39 M5 but, more importantly, it’s the exact same amount as the M2 Coupé.

2016 BMW M240i Convertible

Performance is improved over the M235i, with 0-62mph taking just 4.7 seconds in the M240i when fitted with the optional eight-speed Sport Automatic gearbox. The six-speed manual car needs 4.9 seconds to do the same sprint, with both topping out at an electronically limited 155mph top speed. We didn’t experience the three pedal car, so can’t comment on how it compares, but the automatic ‘box is supremely efficient and effective at banging through the ratios. Eight gears are probably overkill, especially with so much torque on offer, but they contribute to respectable sounding CO2 and mpg figures.2016 BMW M240i Convertible

The automatic transmission also suits the slightly more laid-back, cruiser, image of the Convertible version. (more…)

SMMT Test Day 2016 – Part Two

We’re continuing our twelve car odyssey through this year’s SMMT Test Day. Part one can be found here if you need to refresh yourself. Things get a little weird and a little crazy in part two. SMMT Test Day Header 02If our first selection of cars at SMMT were varied, although generally performance themed, the second sextet proved to be incredibly diverse. From the ridiculous to the sublime, and everything in between.

7. MG3 1.5 SportMG3 SportRemember the world before everything became turbocharged and you had to rev the nuts off a naturally-aspirated engine to make progress? Drive the MG3 and the 1.5-litre VTI petrol motor will take you back to those heady days. Let’s not kid ourselves here – the MG3 is undoubtedly a cheap car – but any real potential it has is hamstrung by an outdated engine. In a world of EcoBoosts and Boosterjets, having to pin the throttle to the floor constantly just to keep up with traffic becomes a chore.

A chore that damages fuel economy and C02 figures compared to rivals. It also makes for unrefined progress, matched by the slightly bouncy ride quality. Handling is, however, pretty neat and although the interior is built to a price it’s relatively well-equipped. There’s the potential for an acceptable bargain supermini in the MG3; it just desperately needs a modern small-capacity turbo engine.

ESM Rating: 5.5/10
Stats: £9,899, 1.5-litre I4, 105hp/101lb-ft, 0-60mph 10.4 seconds, 108mph top speed.

8. Subaru Forester 2.0i XT LineartronicSubaru Forester XTThe Subaru Forester is a product which appeals to a certain niche population in the car market. Typically farming folk who want something reliable and usable. This particular car, being the performance turbo petrol XT version, manages to be even more specialist in its appeal. Rural people who want to get to the market in a hurry. It’s the quickest horse in the Forester stable, although we only tried it off-road, so can’t really comment if 238hp turns this into a high-riding performance SUV like the RS Q3. The boxer engine was noticeably quiet – no iconic flat-four burbling here – and overall refinement was strong for something many might label as mildly agricultural.

Hitting the dirt tracks of Millbrook’s ‘brown route’ showed off the genuine ability the Forester has in the rough. It was more than capable with steep inclines, juggling torque to the wheel with most grip quickly and efficiently. The hill-descent control system was brilliantly easy to use, with a simple tap of the brakes to set the speed you want, and the Forester handling the rest on the way down. It’s intuitive, doesn’t require messing about with extra buttons, and is very effective. Overall the Forester has a lot of charm and, whilst it might make more sense in diesel specification, you can’t doubt the capabilities of this XT version.

ESM Rating: 8/10 (off-road only)
Stats: £30,995, 2.0-litre flat-four turbo, 0-62mph 7.5 seconds, 137mph top speed

9. 1988 Nissan Micra 1.0 Automatic ‘K10’

Nissan Micra K10

Bluebird was off-limits, sadly.

Nissan was keen to celebrate three decades of production at the NMMUK Sunderland factory, so wheeled out three heritage models. Which includes this original Mk1 Micra – resplendent with three-speed automatic gearbox and unassisted steering. If anything, it serves as a reminder to just how far automotive technology has come in the past 30 years, and how we should be grateful for that progress! (more…)

SMMT Test Day 2016 – Part One

Returning to the SMMT Test Day after the extravagant ‘twelve cars in one day‘ affair of last year, ESM promised to try to be more selective over driving choices this year. The result was certainly a varied motoring experience, to say the least.

SMMT Test Day 2016It’s the potentially the biggest day of the year for anyone who writes about cars, bringing manufacturers and media together in one place. The problem comes from being faced with well over 100 cars from almost 40 different manufacturers – there’s almost too much choice of what to drive. But there’s also the challenge of getting to drive the most popular stuff. The Ford Focus RS, Ford Mustang, Audi R8 and BMW M2 were big attractions, so ESM decided to take a slightly more left field approach this year.

Despite the promise to avoid the ‘drive everything that moves’ scenario, we still finished the day having tried a dozen of cars. Perhaps that is just our default setting at SMMT? Either way, here’s the lowdown on what we got behind the wheel of. Due to the sheer number of cars driven, we’ve split our day into two parts.

1. SEAT Ibiza Cupra2016 SEAT Ibiza CupraWhen is a VW Polo GTI not a Polo GTI? When it’s draped in the Spanish body of a SEAT Ibiza, that’s when. Having just literally climbed out of our Polo GTI, getting back in to the Ibiza Cupra felt instantly familiar. Everything fell into place rather quickly, which meant no delay in getting up to speed in testing it out. Interestingly, the doors rattle the same as the GTI where the body meets the seal. 2016 SEAT Ibiza CupraThere are some differences, however. The exhaust note warbles a bit more than the Polo, the gearshift throw is minutely shorter, and the suspension didn’t feel quite so rock-hard in sport mode. Quite possibly we’d need to spend more than just a few short minutes with the Ibiza Cupra to draw out the individual nuances. But it’s good, and if you pick this over a Polo GTI you’re not making a bad decision. Also, tip of the hat to SEAT’s press office for emailing details of the car being driven immediately. That’s impressive service.

ESM Rating: 8.5/10
Stats: £18,900, 1.8-litre I4 turbo, 189hp/236lb-ft, 0-62mph 6.7 seconds, 146mph top speed

2. Audi RS Q3 Performance2016 Audi RS Q3 PerformanceA quattro all-wheel-drive system connected to a five-cylinder turbocharged engine sounds like a recipe for a retro rally car, rather than a fast crossover. But that’s exactly what the RS Q3 packs underneath, and it makes for a fairly entertaining creation which lets you live out your Group B rally fantasies with the whole family. (more…)

EngageSportMode Awards 2015 – Part One

You know the drill. At the end of each year EngageSportMode likes to dish out hypothetical trophies made from macaroni and glitter. This year is no exception, other than 2015 featured a lot more new metal to be driven. 

2015 Awards p1

Does it matter that we’re already into 2016? No, of course not. Sticking with our tried and tested formula, part one picks out which cars were most deserving of an ESM award over the last twelve months.

Best overall car driven in 2015 – SEAT Leon Cupra ST
2015 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280 001

This was tough. Seriously mind-bendingly tough. Having sampled so many great cars during 2015, trying to narrow it down to one was incredibly difficult. So why does the Leon Cupra ST win? For the simple reason that out of everything driven in the past year, it was the one which could fill the “all the car you’ll ever need” cliché with ease. That was our verdict after experiencing it at the SMMT Test Day earlier in the year.

For starters, it’s an estate with a huge boot capable of holding some 587 litres with the seats up, swelling to 1,470 litres with them down. That’s a lot of room for all the lifestyle paraphernalia you might need to carry around with you. But, in the same breath, it’ll also hit 62 mph from a standing start in 6.1 seconds and power all the way to a 155 mph top speed. That’s kind of a big deal.

There are a host of options to fiddle around with through the Driver Profile settings – include a sport mode, of course – and the 276 bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine makes a great noise when fully wound up. When you add 258 lb-ft of torque available from low down the rev range, sharp brakes, and accurate steering into the mix the Cupra ST becomes a convincing all-round package. Not to mention the fact it’s the fastest production estate car around the Nurburgring-Nordschleife, and can come in an ESM-pleasing black/orange colour combination.

That you get all the above for under £30k just cements the Cupra ST as the best thing we drove all year. Well done SEAT for proving that 2015 wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Volkswagen Group.

Honourable mentions – Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Megané Renaultsport 275 Trophy

Best concept – Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo
2015 Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo

Concept cars are meant to be crazy. They’re meant to give glimpses of the future, whilst also letting the minds of designers run wild. It’s safe to say Bugatti easily fulfilled that brief with this creation at the Frankfurt Motor Show. With influences from a variety of the French marque’s greatest hits, and a substantial amount of carbon fibre and wings, the Vision Gran Turismo looked rather amazing. (more…)

SMMT Test Day 2015 – One day, Twelve cars [Part 3/3]

We’ve made it to the final part of our epic journey through the dozen cars we experienced at the SMMT Test Day. Don’t forget to read part one and part two first! SMMT-2015-header 003Eight cars down, we were now into the home stretch of the 2015 SMMT Test Day. Two of the final quartet were rather familiar, and another two were new ones ticked off the list. But which was best?

Volkswagen Polo GTI 1.8 TSISMMT 2015 VW Polo GTI 001If you’ve been following us on social media or checked out our post over on Motoring Research, you’ll know that ESM recently acquired a new VW Polo GTI. So why did we drive a car that we’d already driven several hundred miles the day before just to get to Millbrook? For comparison, of course! Also, we weren’t allowed to take the ESM Polo on the test-track. Plus the VW Press car was white, compared to red one which lives on the ESM driveway, and it had manual air-conditioning instead of full climate control. It also rattled less from the door cards, but the less said about that the better, for now. For the record, sport mode was engaged all the times!

Having driven the Corsa VXR and MINI Cooper JCW earlier in the day, the Polo GTI was an interesting contrast. Although it lacked the outright aggressiveness of the Corsa, the Polo bettered it on refinement and interior quality. It also trumped the MINI for not having a frustrating automatic gearbox, but just a simple six-speed manual instead. Oh, and tartan seats win every time.

ESM Rating: Well, we took it home didn’t we? Take that as an endorsement!
Stats: £18,900, 1.8-litre I4 turbo, 189bhp/236lb-ft torque, 0-62mph 6.7 secs, 146mph top speed. (more…)

SMMT Test Day 2015 – One day, Twelve cars [Part 2/3]

Round two of our SMMT 2015 mega-test continues, with a further batch of four cars. By mid-morning had we picked any more winners from the 170 on offer? Part one can be found here, if you need to read that first.

SMMT-2015-299

As a way to build up an appetite for lunch, two performance Renaults and a new MINI aren’t a bad workout. A soft-top Audi TT added an alternative slant on things.

Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy
2015 Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy 001
Some cars come with a large amount of hype surrounding them, and a Renaultsport product has to carry the substantial weight of expectation from motoring journalists on those French shoulders. Quite simply, the 275 Trophy cashed in over every single cheque written by it, to the point of ridiculousness.

2015 Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy 002
It probably helped that the guy from Renault made sure to put it ‘into Sport mode’ before we’d even left the steering pad. Even after the WRX STI, it became clear very quickly just how special the 275 Trophy is, with the Millbrook hill route suiting it perfectly.

The handling was as direct and precise as you could wish for in a sub-£30k hot-hatch, with such feel that you could really push the 275 Trophy with confidence. Renaultsport is keen to attract the track-day market, and there was no doubt this car would make an excellent ‘arrive-and-drive’ option.

However, the best bit had to be the Akrapovič titanium exhaust system, with a lovely bass note topped by pops and crackles on the overrun. With 271bhp, acceleration was suitably strong and the six-speed manual gearbox tight and precise.

2015 Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy 003

Carbon fibre exhaust tip!

It’s worth noting that, bucket seats and Alcantara steering wheel aside, the interior is nothing special. But such is the depth of talent in the 275 Trophy that this can be overlooked. In short, we didn’t want to give it back, and are still quietly pining for it right now.

ESM Rating 9.5/10
Stats: £28,930, 2.0-litre I4 turbo, 271bhp/273lb-ft torque, 0-62mph 5.8 secs, 159mph top speed

Renault Mégane Sport Tourer GT 220
2015 Renault Mégane Sport Tourer GT 220 001

Up until a few weeks ago, we didn’t even know this car existed. Yet, weirdly, it’s been on the Renault fleet for a while. Given the rising popularity for fast estates, the Sport Tourer GT 220 could be a real contender. (more…)

SMMT Test Day 2015 – One day, Twelve cars [Part 1/3]

The annual SMMT Test Day is often described as being like Christmas for motoring writers, with a huge range of cars available to drive on the demanding Millbrook test track. So, is it really the automotive journalism nirvana it’s meant to be? You bet. SMMT-2015-108 With this being our first time at the SMMT Test Day, ESM didn’t quite know what to expect. Driving onto the famed mile straight at Millbrook – including some banked corner action – certainly got the adrenaline racing, ever so slightly. That was raised more, as the minibus pulled into the steering pad, covered with over 170 cars from almost 40 manufacturers. The deal at the SMMT Test Day is quite simple; which makes it even more special. Approach a friendly PR/media representative from a marque, ask if a car is available, and then be handed the keys after a quick check of your name badge. Be it 1.0-litre Suzuki Celerio or Rolls-Royce Phantom, the process is the same. That is what makes it an amazing experience.

As such, ESM made sure to try as many cars as we reasonably could in the time we were there. We managed twelve in the course of the day, with the option to drive direct rivals back-to-back hugely valuable. Time with each car is, relatively, limited if you want to make the most of what’s on offer, so the below are more initial impressions, rather than a full detailed road test. With the number of cars driven, we’ve broken this down into three parts:

Lexus RC F 2015 Lexus RC F Coupe 001What car to learn the formidable Millbrook Hill Route in? A 5.0-litre V8 coupe, with 470 bhp and rear-wheel drive of course. Fortunately, despite the power on offer, the RC F wasn’t too intimidating on the tight twists and turns. (C) SMMT 2015 Lexus RC F 006It’s certainly quick, has an excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox, and sounds superb. However, you’re also reminded of the 1,800kg kerb weight under braking, and there’s a little bit of confusion as to whether it’s more muscle car than pure sports car.

Inside there are obvious hints of the revered Lexus LFA in the shape of the centre console, and it’s as high-quality as you would expect. We’d question the choice of red-leather seats in a blue car, and Solar Flare orange would be our obvious pick of paintwork colour. The RC F is a curious car, and one we would love to spend more time in to figure out fully. There’s obvious talent beneath that coupé body, and one that seems to offer an interesting alternative to the BMW M4.

ESM Rating 8.5/10
Stats: £59,995, 5.0-litre V8, 470bhp/390lb-ft torque, 0-62mph 4.5 secs, 168mph top speed (more…)