Morocco road trip: Mazda CX-60 rises to the challenge

Mazda CX-60, Morocco

Gareth Herincx puts this big family SUV through a gruelling 800-mile test of some on the best driving roads in the world…

Not a lot of people know that at its shortest point, Morocco is just 8.9 miles off the coast of Spain. In fact, on a clear day you can see Spain from Tangier.

About 1.8 times bigger than the UK, it’s a land of dizzying diversity, complex layers of history, epic landscapes and ancient cities.

I was among a group of just eight journalists selected to take part in the ‘Mazda Epic Drive’ to Morocco. Past #EpicDrive destinations have included Iceland, Turkey, the Arctic Circle and Kazakhstan.

Souk, Marrakesh

Our journey began in Marrakesh, which is about three-and-a-half hours from London Heathrow. Also known as the ‘Red City’ (many of its buildings and ramparts use clay infused with a natural red ochre pigment), at its heart is the Jemaa el Fna, a huge open space playing host to food stalls abd entertainers.

Souks selling everything from leather goods to spices branch out from the square, mostly in a labyrinth of narrow alleyways.

Gareth Herincx driving a Mazda CX-60 in Marrakesh

Day one of our journey took us out of the city and up through the High Atlas Mountains, down to the Sahara plain, before turning north-west towards Ouarzazate and a remote ecolodge for the night.

The challenging nine-hour drive carved through the dramatic landscape on the R203, taking in the renowned Tizi n’Test – a high mountain pass about 2,100 metres above sea level.

Morocco after the earthquake

We passed ample evidence of the devastation caused by last year’s 6.8 magnitude earthquake which levelled whole villages throughout Morocco. Families still living in tents and other temporary accommodation, collapsed buildings, rockfalls and ruined roads littered with rubble punctuated our drive.

Not for the faint-hearted, the Tizi n’Test revealed just how capable the Mazda CX-60 is when the going gets tough. Praise indeed in a region where the Toyota Landcruiser seemed to be the go-to 4×4.

Mazda CX-60, Morocco

For miles the road surface was just loose rocks. In some places there was barely enough space for two vehicles to pass, with a sheer drop on one side.

Our CX-60 was shod with road tyres, yet still provided plenty of traction on the poor surfaces. Thankfully, it was also equipped with Mazda’s newly-developed i-ACTIV all-wheel drive system, which prioritises rear-wheel drive for handling and stability, yet can transfer up to 50% of its power to the front wheels when required in slippery conditions.

Gareth Herincx -Mazda CX-60 in Morocco

What’s more, it works in tandem with the CX-60’s Mi-DRIVE Intelligent Drive Select system which offers drive modes covering a wide range of driving scenarios.

In addition to the everyday Normal mode and the increased responsiveness of Sport, there are also Off-road and Towing options.

Gareth Herincx -Mazda CX-60 in Morocco

We stopped off for a coffee at the Restaurant La Belle Vue, which is located high up on a Tizi n’Test hairpin bend and boasts stunning mountain views.

The route then heads down towards the Sahara desert where the terrain gradually becomes more arid and vast plains open up before you. For much of this section of the trip, it was just miles and miles of straight road, sandwiched between nothing but sand and rocks.

Further along, we drove through towns and villages, and passed the occasional oasis, switching to the N10 (National route 10) just beyond Tajgalt and Tafingoult.

Morocco after the earthquake

We then turned off the N10 on to the P1743 before following the N12 near Tissint, headed towards Ouarzazate – also known as the ‘door of the desert’.

After a night in a Berber tent at the Ecolodge Ouednoujoum, which is hidden away in a remote canyon about 12 miles south of the city, we set off for another route highlight – the Dadès Gorge.

A series of separate gorges carved out by the passage of the Dades River, it’s reached via a road known locally as the Road of a Thousand Kasbahs. Along the way, we spotted camels, sheep, goats and a massive stork’s nest, high above us in a chimney.

Dades Gorge, Morocco

We stopped off at the Panorama Dades Hotel for a coffee and to take in its breathtaking views of the Dadès Valley.

Then it was on the Dadès Gorge itself – an amazing road culminating in the famous switchbacks, best viewed from the café-restaurant Timzzillite Chez Mohamed.

Dades Gorge, Morocco

We’d also recommended stopping off at a rock formation known as Monkey Fingers, found along the road at Tamlalt. As the name suggests, the rocks look like the digits of a monkey’s hand.

We then headed back to Ouarzazate, which has become the centre of Morocco’s film industry. Taking the N9 back to Marrakesh you pass the studios where movies including Gladiator , Prince of Persia and The Mummy, plus scenes from Game of Thrones, were filmed.

Camel, Morocco

The N9 is the main highway crossing the High Atlas between the two cities, topping out about halfway at the 2,260-metre Tizi n Tichka pass.

Another rollercoaster of a road, it gave the CX-60 a chance to stretch its legs. Fitted with Mazda’s smooth new e-SKYACTIV D diesel engine, it offers lower emissions, improved fuel efficiency and high levels of torque.

Mazda CX-60, Morocco

Its big 3.3-litre straight-six is paired with a 48V mild-hybrid system, which allows the engine to switch off and coast to improve efficiency. Pushing out a decent 251bhp, it’s potent and refined for the most part. For the record, it’s capable of 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds, fuel economy as high as 54.3mpg, while CO2 emissions are a decent 137g/km.

Again, the CX-60 was well up to the job. Coming up behind slow trucks is not an uncommon experience, so swift overtaking manoeuvres are a necessity. Once you get used to the initial hesitancy from the eight-speed automatically gearbox, there’s an impressive kickdown, while smoother sections of the N9 were a refined cruise.

Marrakesh

The road gets busier the closer you get to Marrakesh, becoming nothing short of chaotic in the city centre.

After a second nine-hour day of shared driving, there’s no doubt that our Morocco Epic Drive was an unforgettable experience.

Now, I’d like to do it all again, but spread out over a week so there’s more time to stop off, see the sights and immerse myself in this multi-faceted gateway to Africa.

Mazda CX-60, Morocco

Mazda 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

Toyota C-HR Plug-in Hybrid review

Toyota CH-R PHEV

We put the PHEV version of Toyota’s funky family car through its paces…

Cards on table time. We’re already fans of the latest Toyota C-HR family crossover. If a car could be judged purely on its styling, it would be best-in-class.

When we first tested the second-generation C-HR in 2023, it was the full hybrid (‘self-charging hybrid’ in Toyota-speak) version.

Now the new C-HR’s appeal has been widened further with the addition of a plug-in hybrid to the line-up.

Toyota CH-R PHEV

Before we assess the PHEV, let’s time travel back to 2017 when the first generation ‘Coupe-High Rider’ was launched in the UK.

With its radical looks, it was something of a departure for Toyota which was still selling the conservative Auris and Avensis at the time.

The funky C-HR was a aerodynamic crossover with a low-slung roofline like a coupe. Distinctively styled with a big roof spoiler and sloping rear window, it sold very well but it wasn’t without issues.

The new Toyota C-HR is a looker. A more grown-up version of the outgoing model, it boasts a wider stance and the original’s curves have been replaced by sharper lines and solid surfacing.

Toyota CH-R PHEV

Once again there’s a heavily raked tailgate, though this time it features a dual-element rear spoiler and a full-width LED light bar below with an illuminated ‘C-HR’.

At the front, it features the new ‘hammerhead’ face of Toyota SUVs, while the ‘hidden’ raised rear door handles have been replaced by retractable ones, front and rear. Overall build quality, interior materials and technology have also been upgraded.

The plug-in hybrid C-HR is priced from £39,145, which is a jump from the entry-level full hybrid model (£31,290). Additionally, there are three PHEV trim levels – Design, Excel and GR Sport.

It uses the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine as the most powerful hybrid model. However, it’s paired with a bigger electric motor (161bhp) and larger battery pack (13.6kWh compared to 11.1kWh), boosting total output from 194bhp to 220bhp.

Toyota CH-R PHEV

This extra power translates into a swift 0–62mph time of 7.4 seconds, compared to 8.1 seconds for the 2.0-litre hybrid model and 10.2 seconds for the 1.8-litre hybrid model. It’s also worth noting that the C-HR PHEV is front-wheel drive – there is no AWD option.

In theory, the plug-in hybrid is capable of 353.1mpg, while CO2 emissions are a low 19g/km, putting it in the 8% benefit-in-kind company car tax band.

But, of course, it’s the fact that the PHEV has an all-electric driving range of up to 41 miles (more than most rivals) that matters most. If you can charge at home and your commute is short (or you just use your car for short journeys) your trips to the garage could be few and far between.

As with all plug-in hybrids, it’s most economical when it’s not used for long journeys and is kept charged up.

Toyota CH-R PHEV

Significantly, Toyota says the C-HR PHEV uses less fuel when running in hybrid mode compared to most competitor plug-ins because the clutch-less dual motor system eliminates friction and wear. We’d need a week or so with the car to be able to comment, but we certainly noticed the EV light regularly popping up on the dash while driving.

First impressions count, and the second-gen Toyota C-HR certainly oozes kerb appeal, especially if you opt for a two-tone paint-job.

In terms of size, its dimensions are almost identical to the Suzuki S-Cross, which makes it a tad smaller than its main competitors (including the Nissan Qashqai), but bigger than cars in the class below (eg Nissan Juke).

The driving position will be on the high side for some, but you soon get used to it because it’s comfortable with a decent amount of support.

Toyota CH-R PHEV

There are roomier cabins, not just because the C-HR isn’t as wide as some rivals, but the driver focused set-up with high centre console makes it snug, especially on the passenger side.

The good news is that the 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen combined with the driver’s digital display looks the part and works well enough. And mercifully, the C-HR has some physical controls for essentials such as air-conditioning.

There’s reasonable space for passengers at the back, while the cabin as a whole has a classier feel, with more soft-touch surfaces.

Toyota’s also ticked the sustainability box because the seat fabrics are made from recycled plastic bottles and there’s animal-free ‘leather’ on the steering wheel.

Toyota CH-R PHEV

Load capacity is a modest 310 litres (down from 388 litres in the 1.8 Hybrid), while the 60:40 split rear seats flip to increase cargo volume to 1,076 litres.

Visibility is good ahead, but slightly more challenging behind thanks to those chunky rear pillars and small rear windows. Thankfully, all versions have a reversing camera.

On the road, the C-HR is refined for the most part. Every time you start a journey, it defaults to fully-electric mode and it will continue that way until it’s run out of battery charge.

However, if you’re heavy with your right foot, or your battery is out of charge, the petrol engine will kick in.

Drive smoothly and it’s fine, but if you hustle it the CVT automatic gearbox causes the revs to rise and stay high until you’ve reached your desired speed. The din in the cabin soon settles down, but it puts you off driving anything but sensibly.

Toyota CH-R PHEV

That said, it has a supple suspension with only the worst lumps and bumps upsetting the calm progress. So, it’s one of the more comfortable SUVs on the market.

Light steering suits its natural urban habitat well, but the C-HR is at its best cruising along. It would be an exaggeration to call it dynamic on entertaining B-roads, but it’s agile and there are good levels of body control, while grip is decent.

The C-HR flips between electric and engine drive seamlessly, and it’s as close as you can get to driving a 100% electric car when it’s running in EV mode.

The other three modes available are auto EV/HV, HV and charging.

In EV/HV mode the engine will engage when extra power is needed, returning to EV running afterwards.

Toyota CH-R PHEV

HV mode helps maintain the battery’s state of charge and is engaged automatically when battery charge runs low, while charging mode can be used when the driver wants to charge the EV battery when driving, using power generated by the engine.

Additionally, there are three drive modes – Normal, Eco and Sport – plus Custom, which allows the driver to select their preferred powertrain, steering and air conditioning settings.

Finally, it’s always worth remembering that the C-HR comes with a three-year warranty that extends up to 10 years/100,000 miles so long as your car is serviced annually at an authorised Toyota workshop.

Verdict: The eye-catching Toyota C-HR Plug-in Hybrid is easy to drive, comfortable and well equipped, with the potential to be super economical. It may not be the cheapest or most spacious family PHEV, but it’s definitely got that wow factor.

Toyota UK

Kia EV9 crowned ‘UK Car of the Year 2024’

Gareth Herincx

1 hour ago
Auto News

Kia EV9 review

Kia’s flagship EV9 SUV has triumphed at the UK Car of the Year Awards, winning the overall title and the ‘Large Crossover’ category.

Celebrating the best new vehicles available to UK customers today across eight categories, the UK Car of the Year jury is made up of 30 journalists working across the UK on automotive, business and tech publications. Eligible cars for the awards must have been launched within the past 12 months.

Judges praised the EV9 for several factors, including its innate practicality, modern design, and long electric driving range.

“The uberpractical Kia EV9 could be the vehicle that gets more drivers out of their petrol or diesel car than any other model,” said John Challen, co-chairman of the UK Car of the Year Awards.

“Seven seats, loaded with technology, premium quality and enough miles from the battery to cure almost every case of range anxiety – plus it’s fantastic to drive, too.

“The fact that nearly half of our judging panel chose the Kia as the UK Car of the Year 2024 is a massive vote of confidence in what is a seriously impressive and hugely appealing car.”

The streamlined Hyundai Ioniq 6 took the runner-up spot, while the final podium place went to Volvo’s EX30.

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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