Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

We take the latest version of Alfa Romeo’s hot saloon for a spin – on track, and on the road…

How time flies. I first got behind the wheel of the Alfa Romeo Giulia way back in 2017.

It was clear then that it was a serious rival to those all-conquering executive expresses from the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Perfectly proportioned, sleek and lightweight, it was the first rear-wheel drive sports saloon in the Alfa Romeo range since 1992, when the Alfa 75 took a bow.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

Aggressive head on, more athletic and feline from the side, and blessed with a pert rear, it boasted impressive driving dynamics.

Originally offered with a selection of diesel and petrol engines, there’s now just a 2.0-litre petrol turbo on offer, along with a potent 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 in the range-topping Quadrifoglio.

Things have moved on in other ways. The range was priced from £29,550 at launch. Now it starts at £40,000.

The big news for 2024 is that Alfa Romeo has updated the flagship Quadrifoglio, addressing some of the car’s few issues.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

For instance, there’s now a mechanical limited-slip differential, while the suspension at both ends has been tweaked.

There’s also active aerodynamics with a carbon fibre front splitter. When activated, it controls the quality of air flow under the vehicle, to increase stability and performance.

An awesome Akrapovič exhaust system is also available as an optional extra, if the basic system isn’t quite loud enough for you.

Styling tweaks include new adaptive triple-element LED matrix headlamps that adjust the light beam to suit different driving conditions and avoid dazzling oncoming drivers, while dark five-hole 19-inch alloy wheels are standard.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

Inside, the car’s previous analogue dials have been replaced by a slick new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. There’s also more carbon fibre and Alcantara.

At the heart of Quadrifoglio (Italian for four-leaf clover) is the same V6 with power upped to 512bhp at 6500rpm. Enough to fire it to 62mph in just 3.9 seconds (stunning for a rear-wheel drive saloon) and on to a top speed of 191mph.

As before, it’s paired with a punchy eight-speed automatic transmission, while torque is the same (600Nm or 443lb ft). However, the price tag has soared. It now costs £78,315 (up from £59,000 in 2017).

These changes for the Quadrifoglio are a last hurrah for this elegant sports saloon. Without even a hint of hybrid assistance, its days are sadly numbered.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

Alfa Romeo UK recently gave us an opportunity to drive the new Quadrifoglio on track – and on the road.

The Quadrifoglio is old-school, in a refreshing way. It’s simple to carry out everyday tasks, such as selecting drive modes on the ‘DNA’ dial down in the centre console.

As ever, Normal is fine for everyday driving, AE is best left for motorway runs, Dynamic is fine for blasts on twisty roads, while Race is best left for track driving.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

You sit low in the cabin, the Sparco sports seats hug your body, the starter button is positioned on the steering wheel and there are two big aluminium paddles.

I started off in Dynamic mode for a few soft laps of a short circuit at Bicester Heritage in Oxfordshire. This mode firms up the dampers, but the car still feels compliant.

Thanks to the new mechanical limited-slip differential, changes to the suspension, plus its already superb weight distribution, the Quadrifoglio is now far more predictable than the original, especially at the rear, giving you confidence to push on.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

There’s also impressive traction in the dry, but it clearly needs to be treated with caution – as with any powerful rear-wheel drive saloon – on slippery surfaces.

It’s always a treat to have the freedom to find the limit of a hot car, and I found the Quadrifoglio is surprisingly forgiving on track, such is its poise, agility and balance.

Switch to Race mode and things get more brutish. The combination of all that power, a raucous V6 soundtrack, angry dials, zero ESP and traction control, plus the suspension in the firmest setting, result in serious thrills.

Apart from a rearward twitch once or twice when planting my right foot too early out of corners, it’s blisteringly fast and entertaining.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

After a couple of cooling-off laps, it was time to take to the roads. And the Quadrifoglio is a joy to drive relatively sedately too, though the firm and noisy Dynamic mode can be a little tiresome on poorer surfaces.

Push it on more challenging roads and there’s little body roll, while the fast steering rack works wonders.

So, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is now more rewarding than ever, but it’s still not perfect. It’s snug in the back for taller passengers, thanks to those sports seats, while the small, dim infotainment screen is still a disappointment.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

However, the Quadrifoglio is one of those cars that can be forgiven for its shortcomings because it’s so special overall.

If ever a car had ‘future classic’ written all over it, this is it. And even though it’s expensive, it’s competitively priced compared to its German rivals, which include the BMW M3, Mercedes-AMG C 63 or Audi RS 4.

Verdict: The updated Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is, quite simply, one of the world’s best sports saloons. With its blend of performance, driving dynamics, elegance and comfort, it’s better than ever.

Alfa Romeo UK

MINI Countryman review

MINI Countryman review

We get to grips with the next-gen MINI Countryman in entry-level and performance guises…

I’ve always found it tricky trying to categorise the MINI Countryman. It looks like it’s a cross between an estate and a crossover, yet it’s actually about the same size as a family-sized Nissan Qashqai SUV.

One thing is for sure, the third generation Countryman is the biggest MINI ever. MAXI even.

Fans will be pleased to know that it’s still recognisable as a Countryman with its boxy styling, though this time round it’s 130mm longer than the outgoing model and 60mm taller.

The even better news is that means there’s more space for occupants and their luggage, and it’s had a significant tech upgrade.

MINI Countryman review

First a quick recap. The MINI Countryman first appeared in 2010, with the second generation following in 2017. Significantly the Mk 2 was also available as a plug-in hybrid.

The all-new Countryman goes one better. There’s now a 100% electric option with a range of up to 287 miles.

The EV wasn’t available at the launch event, so we sampled two of the turbo petrol versions – the entry-level Countryman C, which has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and is likely to be the most popular model – and the high-performance Countryman JCW (John Cooper Works) ALL4 range-topper, complete with 2.0-litre four-cylinder.

The 2024 MINI Countryman follows the clean, minimalist look already seen in the new MINI Cooper Electric.

MINI Countryman review

There’s now an octagonal grille, smoother lines and simplified LED lighting front and back, while its rugged, upright proportions give it more of an SUV style.

Starting at £29,290 the MINI Countryman is offered with three trim levels – Classic, Exclusive or Sport. The JCW tips the scales at a hefty £40,425.

Arguably, the wow factor comes when you step inside the cabin. It’s paired back, like the exterior, and now the centrepiece is the world’s first circular OLED display.

Serving as an instrument cluster and onboard infotainment hub, the stunning touchscreen is 9.4 inches in diameter. The upper half displays vehicle-related information such as speed and battery status, with the lower area is used for navigation, media, phone and climate.

MINI Countryman review

Frankly, it was a little overwhelming at first because there’s an awful lot going on there, but I reckon it would all start to make sense after a week or so of ownership. Thankfully, MINI has kept a few signature toggle switches below the display.

The display’s party trick is a range of different ‘Experience’ modes, which change the look of the infotainment system and the car’s driving characteristics.

The default ‘Experience’ mode is referred to as Core, with others including Go Kart, Green, Vivid, Timeless, Personal, Balance, and Trail. Whenever you change the mode there’s a corresponding animation and jingle that plays. You’ll either find these quirky or irritating.

Elsewhere, the cabin definitely feels roomier and lighter than before (there’s an optional panoramic glass roof).

MINI Countryman review

A sliding rear seat bench with adjustable backrests adds to the car’s flexibility, while up to 460 litres of boot space is offered with the seats up, expanding to 1,450 litres when they’re folded. Plus, there’s an additional under-floor compartment for stowing charging cables, for instance. In short, it’s a genuine family-sized car.

One of the outgoing Countryman’s strengths was the premium quality of the cabin. Except for the soft synthetic leather seats, I’d say the new model isn’t quite as classy, with its blend of rough-textured ‘knitted’ fabric made from recycled materials wrapped round the dashboard and door cards, and scratchy plastic surfaces.

Another example is the small perspex head-up display. Better than nothing, but nowhere near as classy as a HUD that projects directly onto the windscreen.

On the road, the third-gen Countryman has retained the fun-loving character you’d associate with the MINI family.

The front-wheel drive Countryman C’s punchy engine produces 167bhp and 280Nm of torque, and it can dash from 0–62mph in 8.3 seconds.

So, it’s swift, but it’s also no hot hatch – you’ll need to choose the S or JCW versions for more performance.

MINI Countryman

That said, it’s willing, and if you like a three-pot thrum and economy is important to you (it averages up to 46.3mpg, while CO2 emissions start at 138g/km), then this model ticks all the right boxes.

The C gets a standard passive suspension setup, which is on the firm side. It’s only really noticeable over the worst lumps and bumps, though it can feel a little jittery on poorer surfaces too.

For the most part it’s a perfectly pleasant ride with tidy handling and plenty of grip. The steering is direct and responsive, while the seven-speed automatic gearbox is slick with well-judged rations.

There’s decent body control in more challenging corners, but it would be an exaggeration to say that the Countryman C is agile with go-kart handling.

If you want more performance and sporty handling, then try the distinctive John Cooper Works Countryman. Its 2.0-litre produces 296bhp and 400Nm of torque, drive is via all four wheels and it can sprint from 0–62mph in just 5.1 seconds.

On the downside, fuel economy drops to an official 36.2mpg and CO2 emissions rise to an old-school 177-188g/km.

MINI Countryman JCW

The JCW gets an adaptive suspension setup, so it constantly alters its behaviour according to road conditions and driving style in order to maximise the balance between ride and handling.

In reality, it feels more planted on the road, and if anything, it’s just a bit too powerful at times.

The steering is sharp and, for the most part, the ride is better, but it’s still firm and will still crash over the worst UK roads can offer.

The engine is more refined, though some won’t like the fact that it is artificially enhanced.

Stick the JCW into ‘Go-Kart’ mode and it sharpens up, delivering more driving engagement than its conventional SUV rivals.

Verdict: The new MINI Countryman is a real step-up from its predecessor, especially when it comes to practicality and technology. Fun to drive, well equipped and nicely finished, there’s arguably more of a cooler vibe than premium feel this time round.

MINI UK

Honda CR-V e:PHEV review

Honda CR-V e:PHEV review

We road test the first plug-in hybrid from Honda – the all-new CR-V e:PHEV…

 The Honda CR-V started off life as a pioneering family-friendly SUV way back in 1995. The Comfortable Runabout Vehicle’ is now in its sixth generation, and as a sign of the times, it’s now only available as a full hybrid (badged e:HEV) or plug-in hybrid (e:PHEV).

Such is the popularity of crossovers, the list of rivals for the CR-V is enormous these days, and includes the Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Ford Kuga, Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Tucson.

Honda CR-V e:PHEV review

Wider, longer and taller than the previous generation car, we reckon the latest Honda CR-V is the best proportioned model yet with its chiselled lines and sporty stance.

It feels roomy and light as soon as you step into the cabin, while the driving position provides a commanding view of the road.

It’s comfortable too, with standard eight-way electrically adjustable leather seats, plus a useful memory function.

Honda CR-V e:PHEV review

The rear seats slide and recline, and offer excellent legroom, though taller adults may struggle for headroom, and there is no seven-seat option.

There is also a generous boot capacity of 617 litres, expanding to 1,710 litres with the 60/40 rear seats folded down.

The CR-V gets the same clear and responsive 9.0-inch central infotainment touchscreen as the latest Civic, which sits alongside a 10.2-inch digital driver’s display on the dashboard. Physical buttons and dials for items such as climate control are welcome too, and there’s also a head-up display for essential driving information.

Honda CR-V e:PHEV review

Other goodies include a multi-view camera system, Honda Parking Pilot, heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, front cooling seats, premium Bose sound system and My Honda app connectivity.

The CR-V is also the first European model to get Honda’s latest safety and driver assist system which removes blind spots around the vehicle.

Overall, the cabin is well put together and it’s a step-up in terms of quality, but there are still a few too many plastics and hard surfaces.

Honda CR-V e:PHEV review

The Honda CR-V e:PHEV pairs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with a 17.7kWh battery and single electric motor, producing 181bhp.

It can travel in pure electric mode for up to 50 miles on a single charge, plus there’s a tow drive mode, which means it’s capable of pulling a decent 1.5 tonnes.

The 0-62mph sprint in the CR-V e:PHEV takes 9.4 seconds, while top speed is 121mph. In theory, it’s capable of 353mpg. The reality is that fuel economy will dip to a claimed 45.6mpg when the battery charge has been used up and it’s functioning more as a full hybrid.

Honda CR-V e:PHEV review

CO2 emissions are as low as 18g/km, which means lower VED, plus a tax benefit for company car drivers.

As with any plug-in hybrid, it’s most efficient when the battery is kept charged up. On shorter trips, impressive fuel economy is possible because the petrol engine is getting electric assistance from the battery, or its running in pure EV mode. However, on longer motorway journeys we found that it can dip below 40mpg.

That said, the 50-mile EV range is longer than most rivals, and driven sensibly diesel-equivalent economy overall is quite possible.

Honda CR-V e:PHEV review

There’s a choice of five drive modes: Sport, Normal, Econ, Snow and Tow.

Frankly, it’s just fine in Normal mode, but worth flicking into Econ when cruising or on motorways. We didn’t get the opportunity to try it in snow or tow mode, not did we take it off-road.

However, unlike the full hybrid CRV the e:PHEV is only available with front-wheel drive, so it will always have its limitations.

Honda CR-V e:PHEV review

There’s no shortage of power from the hybrid system and it’s smooth for the most part, with the petrol engine only becoming vocal when it kicks in under heavier acceleration.

The switch from electric to engine power (and vice versa) is seamless, and it’s particularly satisfying to see the EV light illuminate on the dashboard so often – sometimes when just cruising along.

With a maximum charging rate of 6.8kW, plugging the CR-V into a 7kW home charger will get you from 0-100% in around 2.5 hours.

The biggest different between this and the outgoing model is the new two-stage automatic gearbox, so no more high revs on acceleration like the old CVT transmission. It’s still not perfect, but a huge improvement.

On the road, the two-tonne CR-V feels substantial, so while it’s quick off the line, composed and refined, it’s not particularly nimble.

Honda CR-V e:PHEV review

Hustle it on more challenging roads and there’s a little body lean, but it’s manageable. Sport mode delivers a little extra performance and a firmer suspension for improved handling, but we’re not great fans of the accompanying fake exhaust note pumped through the cabin.

Oh, and if you’re heavy with your right foot it’s all too easy to spin the front wheels in wet or slippery conditions.

Ultimately, the CR-V Is easy to drive and more about comfort than driving dynamics.

It’s also a doddle to manoeuvre around town too, thanks to the numerous cameras and sensors.

Starting at £53,995, the plug-in hybrid CR-V is more expensive than the full hybrid (from £45,895), and whereas the latter is available in Elegance, Advance and Advance Tech trims, you can currently only order the e:PHEV in the top grade.

Verdict: The Honda CR-V e:PHEV is an impressive plug-in hybrid and a real step-up from the previous generation model. Spacious, safe, comfortable, practical and with a good EV range and hybrid economy, it ticks plenty of SUV boxes for families and business drivers.

Honda UK

Ford Puma Hybrid Car Review

It’s a time of mourning. As of July 2023, the Ford Fiesta is no more. So, what does that mean for the world of small(ish) Fords? Well, you can still have a Ford Focus, but that’s due to be canned in 2025, and there’s also the Puma.

The crossover Puma’s been on the go since 2019 and in its crosshairs are the Skoda Kamiq, Volkswagen T-Cross and Renault Captur. The original 1990s Puma was interesting, and after spending a week with the new one, my thoughts shifted positively.

My first question was: “Why Puma?”, but DNA from the original coupe still exists here — especially in the new car’s face. Scratchy plastics are aplenty in the cabin, but nice touches such as fabric-trimmed door cards and physical heater controls make you quickly forget about that.

On the road, it feels just like a Fiesta and that’s because it is essentially one underneath. In our local town, filled with narrow streets and difficult parking bays, the Puma’s tight turning circle made going to the shops less of a chore, which was important on the run-up to Christmas. The Puma had excellent front and side visibility, but rear visibility could be better.

Hyundai invited me to drive some of its newest cars in Edinburgh — a 57-mile round trip of mostly motorways and a bit of town driving. You may be surprised, but the 125bhp 1.0-litre Ecoboost did remarkably well and at no point was I frustrated with its pickup. On the twisties, the Puma springs to life, and with my test car being the Titanium, it soaked up potholes well.

Peering at the instrument cluster upon arriving at the Hyundai event revealed 51.3mpg — the fuel tank was still full. It’s not like I had everything off and was using a towel to demist the windows every five minutes; I had the thermal nuclear heated seat and the heated steering wheel on, and the cabin temperature set to 21 degrees. The reason I say “thermal nuclear” is because I truly believe Ford has installed two small reactors under both front seats. It’s not just this model, but every new Ford model I’ve driven so far. Setting “one” is couthy, setting “two” could easily defrost a frozen turkey in under five minutes — I’m sure of it, and setting “three”? Ensure you have a bucket of ice on board and life insurance in place.

Overall, the Puma is impressive. The fact that Ford has catered for a large audience shows that it’s taken seriously. If you like a car that handles well but doesn’t attempt to dislodge your spine over some of Britain’s potholes, buy the Titanium. And before you judge its name, get one out for a drive as your perception may just change.

Vauxhall Astra Electric review

Vauxhall Astra Electric review

We get behind the wheel of the much-anticipated 100% electric version of the Vauxhall Astra…

The family favourite that is the Vauxhall Astra was originally launched way back in 1980.

Available as a hatchback or rakish Sports Tourer (estate), the eighth-generation model was introduced in 2022.

Vauxhall Astra Electric review

Initially offered as a petrol or plug-in hybrid (PHEV), it’s arguably the new pure electric version that’s the most intriguing.

One thing is for sure, it has to be good because it’s up against some stiff EV opposition from the likes of the MG4, Volkswagen ID.4, Renault Megane E-Tech Electric, Cupra Born and quirky Ora Funky Cat (GWM Ora 03).

Low-slung and sleek, it features Vauxhall’s modern new ‘Vizor’ front end which houses LED headlights, sensors for the driver aids and safety technologies, plus the bold new Griffin logo.

Vauxhall Astra Electric review

Based on the same platform as its Stellantis cousin (the Peugeot e-308), it’s the best-looking Astra ever.

I particularly approve of the long bonnet complete with crease running down the middle – a nod to classic Vauxhalls.

The Astra Electric has a 54kWh battery paired with a 154bhp electric motor powering the front wheels. It can sprint from 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds and has a claimed range of 258 miles (256 miles for the Sports Tourer).

Vauxhall Astra Electric review

Frankly, it feels quicker off the mark than the official figures suggest. Either way, it’s more than enough performance for everyday driving.

There are three drive modes (Eco, Normal and Sport). Eco dulls the throttle response which helps to maximise range, Sport ramps up the power, while Normal offers the best of both worlds.

Vauxhall says the Astra Electric’s heat pump means the electric motor can operate at maximum efficiency in hot or cold weather, and I got pretty close to the claimed 4.2 miles per kWh during my spell behind the wheel.

Vauxhall Astra Electric review

I’d have to spend a week or so with the car to work out how efficient it really is, but I’d estimate the Astra Electric has a real-world range of around 200 miles – more in city driving.

If you have a home wallbox, the battery will charge to 100% overnight. Hook it up to a 100kW public rapid charger and it will boost the battery from 20-80% in just 26 minutes.

Sadly there are no paddles on the steering wheel to adjust brake regeneration, but you can flick the gear selector to B-mode for more aggressive brake regen.

Vauxhall Astra Electric review

Priced from £37,445, there are three trim levels – Design, GS and Ultimate.

The cabin of the Astra Electric has a more conventional look than many of its EV-only competitors, but it’s attractive, if a little dark.

It’s also well put together, but there are very few soft-touch surfaces and the materials used are by no means plush.

Vauxhall Astra Electric review

That said, it’s comfortable, uncluttered and space is OK, while the slick new infotainment set-up, with its 10-inch driver’s digital instrument cluster and a 10-inch central display, is intuitive and works well.

It’s fairly minimalist, but thankfully there are some short-cut buttons below the centre touchscreen, so accessing the heating, for instance, doesn’t involve tapping the touchscreen.

Additionally, there’s ‘Hey Vauxhall’ voice recognition, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, plus an impressive list of safety and driver assistance features.

Vauxhall Astra Electric review

If I had one quibble, it would be that I’d prefer a lower seating position – a common problem in EVs.

It’s also tighter for space in the back for adult-sized passengers, while boot capacity is an average 352 litres in the hatch (516 litres for the Sports Tourer), expanding to 1,268 litres (1,553 litres) with the rear seats folded.

The Astra Electric is easy to drive and handles well, offering a composed, if slightly firm ride.

Vauxhall Astra Electric review

There’s a little bit of road and wind noise on motorways, but for the most part it’s refined and comfortable on all but the poorest surfaces. Naturally, the Sports Tourer feels more substantial than the hatch, but it’s still agile and nicely balanced – despite weighing nearly 50kg more.

There’s some fun to be had in the Astra Electric, but it would be an exaggeration to call it dynamic and engaging. When pushed in Sport mode on more challenging roads, body roll is kept in check and there’s good grip, partly down to the balanced weight distribution and the positioning of the battery in the vehicle’s underbody.

Additionally, the steering is light, making it a doddle in town, but just like the Corsa Electric, the brakes aren’t very progressive.

Ultimately, the Astra Electric is a sensible family-sized introduction to electric motoring.

Verdict: The Vauxhall Astra Electric is stylish, straightforward, practical and easy to drive. However, some rivals offer a longer range for less money.

Vauxhall UK