Wild family adventures with TV’s Steve Backshall and Toyota

Gareth Herincx

1 day ago
Auto Blog

Steve Backshall, Toyota RAV4 and kids

Keeping kids occupied during the summer holidays is no easy task. Exploring the great outdoors, whatever the weather, is one way to enjoy time together as a family.

Toyota has teamed up with TV naturalist, adventurer and father-of-three Steve Backshall to provide ideas for adventures in nature.

Steve and his wife – two-time Olympic champion rower Helen Glover – spent their respective childhoods exploring the Surrey heathland and Cornish beaches.

“For many parents, bug-hunting and pond-dipping are reminiscent of their own childhoods, while for others, new ideas for outdoor experiences will help increase knowledge and appreciation of the natural world and will entertain kids of any age during the long school holidays,” says Steve.

Steve’s trusted countryside companion is the new Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid SUV, which is ideal for a family expeditions.

Steve Backshall, Toyota RAV4 and kids

It offers low emissions and can drive for up to 46 miles in pure electric mode. All-wheel drive is standard and there’s a Trail Mode, so it’s perfect for tackling tricky terrain, plus there’s boot space for naturalist kit, picnics and spare clothes.

Steve and Helen’s new book, Wildlings: How to raise your family in nature (published by Two Roads) contains the following outdoor ideas for all the family…

  • Building an A-frame den in the woods: dens can be used as hideouts, birdwatching hides, or simply as somewhere to shelter when it rains, and building them is a fun family activity.  Find two trees close together with lowish forks and put a long straight branch between them.  Use material you find on the ground to build up each side of the den, propping sticks in a row against the long branch.  Use smaller, bendy sticks to weave in and out of the upright sticks – the den should look a bit like a tent shaped basket.  Finish by packing leaves, grass, or moss on top to fill in the gaps.
  • Treasure hunt in the woods: a common parenting challenge is how to get children to walk further. A treasure hunt is a great way to do this.  On family walks, scoring arrows into the mud or sand, or making arrows with sticks or stones, can help engage children and will distract from cries of ‘are we nearly there yet?’
  • Go blackberry picking: blackberry picking is a great way to introduce children to foraging. Blackberries are easy to pick as they tend to grow at a child’s height, often beside paths or hedgerows, and it’s easy for a child to identify a ripe from an unripe blackberry simply by looking at the colour. The whole family will enjoy eating the harvested berries, or you could get the kids involved in making and eating a blackberry crumble.
  • Butterfly hunts: a butterfly net, or sweep net, is a fun way to find out what is living in a park, field, or meadow.  Over the summer holidays, you’re likely to catch bush crickets, moths and butterflies.  Sweep the net through the upper sections of grasses in the colourful bits of a meadow, but be careful not to damage wildflowers.  You can put the collected insects in a ‘pooter’.  This is a little pot with two straws attached, where you suck on one straw and the insects are gently whisked into the pot for examination (there’s a valve on the human straw so there is no danger of getting a mouthful of ants!). Use a hand lens with x10 magnification to identify insects and examine them in detail. Remember to release them afterwards.
  • Bird spotting: according to the British Ornithologists Union, 574 different bird species have been spotted in the British Isles, and kids can learn to identify them by sight using a guide to British birds, or sticker book, or by sound, using free mobile apps such as BirdNET.  You only need to record a few seconds of birdsong and the app will identify the bird.
  • Wildlife photography challenge: Steve says: “Everyone has a camera and learning to capture a moment in time through a lens, how to frame a picture and when to take a photo, are lessons that require a child to slow down and connect with nature. Smartphones are fine for taking pictures of mini-beasts, or sunsets, or capturing the dew on a spider’s web.  Encourage youngsters to identify a subject, and place it in the centre of the shot, making sure the light falls on it.   Then set a photography project, such as taking photos of 10 things beginning with the letter ‘P,’ or five things you think an animal would want to eat.” No smartphone will rival what you can capture with an SLR (single lens reflex) camera, so you might want to invest in one.  Big lenses let you photograph birds and deer from a distance and take wildlife photography to a whole new level.
  • Setting a wildlife camera trap: camera traps have transformed naturalist pursuits, and easy-to-use, compact HD video camera traps are reasonably priced. Classic subjects are badgers, which are shy, nocturnal creatures.  If you set a camera trap near a badger sett, the results can be spectacular.  Choose a sett entrance that is used frequently – it will have the fewest cobwebs across it and may have the most teddy-bear-like footprints at the front.  Think of the height of a badger when setting the camera; don’t aim it too high, and make sure the shot is wide enough to see more than the animal running in and out of frame. Also, don’t position it where it could be damaged or stolen, or in the way of people or wildlife.
  • Woodland treasure hunt: Steve suggests that every ramble can turn into an animal detective novel: “Tracking has drama, secrets, the potential to experience an animal you may never see, to feel you are walking in their footsteps.”  Challenge the kids to look for things like a discarded nutshell, a feather, an acorn, an animal print, evidence of animal feeding areas, or animal trails.
  • Learn to use an Ordnance Survey (OS) map: with a GPS in everyone’s pocket, map-reading is a dying art, but learning to see the relief of the land from the contours is a skill that saves time and could save a life in the future. Micro-nav is fine for navigating short distances, following a compass bearing. Give your kids a six-figure grid reference for a point of interest, such as a tower, or a footbridge over a small stream, to plot on the OS map.  Give them a compass bearing, or another grid reference which they need to find, then follow the bearing to the next grid point.  This can be challenging, even in a city park, as if you are a degree out on your bearing, you could end up off-track.
  • Pond dipping: Steve recommends swimming pool nets for pond-dipping, as they are sturdier than seaside fishing nets.  At a pond or river, get the kids to sweep the net through the water in a figure of eight movement to catch as much life as possible, then empty the contents into a tray or jam jar.  You’ll find vertebrates such as newts, frogs, and small fish, by sweeping around reeds.  For invertebrates it is better to sweep the river or pond bed. Remember to tip everything back into the water when you’ve finished.

Steve Backshall, Toyota RAV4 and kids

Steve’s recommended wildings kit

Naturalist kit:

  • Hand lens x 10 magnification
  • Binoculars
  • Wildlife camera trap
  • SLR camera (single lens reflex camera)
  • Butterfly nets
  • Pond-dipping nets and jam jars
  • Buckets and spades
  • OS maps
  • Wildlife guidebooks

Practical essentials:

  • Change of clothes
  • Towels
  • Wetsuits (if planning to kayak, canoe or surf)
  • Snacks, water in reusable bottles, flask of tea
  • Sun cream
  • Spare battery pack for mobile phone
  • Umbrella

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Toyota bZ4X review

Toyota bZ4X review

It’s fair to say that Toyota is a little late to the EV party. Despite the fact that it was a hybrid technology pioneer 25 years ago with the Prius, it’s taken until 2022 for the Japanese giant to launch its first pure electric car in Europe.

So, I guess the big question is – has it been worth the wait? Before I attempt to answer that, let’s deal with the baby elephant in the room – how did it end up with a name like the bZ4X?

Well, to put it simply, it’s the first model in Toyota’s “Beyond Zero” family of zero emission battery electric vehicles, while the ‘4’ references the size of the car (mid-sized) and ‘X’ denotes it’s a 4×4 crossover/SUV.

Toyota bZ4X review

Slightly longer, lower and wider than a RAV4, the bZ4X has been co-developed with Subaru (its version is called the Solterra) and it’s available with front or four-wheel drive.

Your choice of drive will have an impact on your car’s performance and range. The FWD version (201bhp) offers up to 317 miles of range and a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds, while the 4×4 option (215bhp) has a lower range of about 286 miles, but is quicker off the mark (6.9 seconds).

Priced from £41,000, Toyota’s is going big on peace of mind, also offering the bZ4X via an intriguing new, all-inclusive monthly leasing scheme that covers the vehicle, maintenance, wall box charger and access to connected services.

Toyota bZ4X review

Meanwhile, the battery is supported by an optional extended care programme for owners, guaranteeing battery capacity of 70% after 10 years or 1,000,000km (620,000 miles) driven.

The bZ4X also benefits from Toyota’s standard Relax warranty which covers your vehicle for 10 years (up to 100,000 miles), provided your car is serviced by a Toyota dealer.

Talking of the battery, the bZ4X’s 71.4kWh pack can be charged from 0-80% in around 30 minutes using a rapid 150kWh charger.

Toyota bZ4X review

Four trims are offered, including entry-level ‘Pure’, which comes with goodies such as 18-inch alloy wheels, a reversing camera and smart entry.

‘Motion’ models look sportier thanks to big 20-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows and roof spoiler, while kit includes heated seats, wireless phone charging and a panoramic glass roof.

‘Vision’ is next up with standard equipment that includes heated and cooled front seats, a digital key that means you can open and start the car with your phone and synthetic leather upholstery.

Toyota bZ4X review

We tested the top-of-the range Premier Edition model which comes with four-wheel drive as standard, plus a nine-speaker JBL sound system, and is priced from £51,550.

At first glance, the bZ4X looks like a sleeker, more futuristic RAV4. Get up closer and the design is more complex with an accent on aerodynamics in order to reduce drag and maximise range.

Inside, there’s a real feeling of space, light and visibility. Up front there’s a new driver-focused set-up with a low steering wheel and a 7.0-inch digital display which sits directly in the driver’s forward eyeline. Not quite as radical as Peugeot’s i-Cockpit, but still a change which works surprisingly well once you get used to it.

Toyota bZ4X review

Praise too for the 12.3-inch touchscreen in the centre console. Slick with crisp graphics, thankfully Toyota hasn’t completely forsaken traditional buttons, so there’s less need to take your eyes off the road while you swipe through menus to access key functions.

It’s just a shame that there were some hard plastics used high up in the cabin, while the driver’s instrument binnacle structure is a fairly flimsy affair.

On the plus side, there’s stacks of space in the back for passengers, while the boot has a useful 452-litre luggage capacity, though sadly there’s no space for a frunk in the “engine bay” to store your cables.

The first thing you notice on the road is the smooth ride and the refinement inside the cabin.

Toyota bZ4X review

Just like all EVs, there’s plenty of instant torque available. However, the acceleration is perfectly pitched if you floor it, rather than gut-wrenching like some rivals.

There’s a little body roll on more challenging corners, but then the bZ4X is more comfortable cruiser than performance SUV. No complaints about grip and traction either.

It’s easy to drive and Toyota has tried to make it as simple as possible with its automatic brake regeneration (a system that recharges the battery by harvesting power otherwise wasted during deceleration).

Toyota bZ4X review

Maybe I’m the odd one out, but I prefer the ability to adjust regen settings manually (as is more often the case). Weirdly, the Subaru Solterra includes just such a feature.

Our test car came equipped with the X-Mode four-wheel drive system which has settings for snow/mud; deep snow and mud and Grip Control for tougher off-road driving (below 6mph), so it should be able to cope on those few days of the year when extreme weather makes the headlines.

We went through various exercises to test its off-road capability and it passed with flying colours. Few bZ4X owners will ever stretch it to its limits, but there’s a hill-descent control, low-speed crawl control and it can wade through a depth of 500mm.

Toyota bZ4X review

Any more gripes? Well yes, just a couple. There’s no glovebox and far more annoyingly, no rear wiper (it’s been sacrificed on the altar of aerodynamic efficiency).

Oh, and in answer to the question I posed way back at the beginning of this article. Yes, the bZ4X has been worth the wait.

Rivals include everything from the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, Skoda Enyaq iV and Audi Q4 e-tron to the Volkswagen ID.4,Tesla Model Y and Ford Mustang Mach-E.

Verdict: The all-new Toyota bZ4X is a welcome addition to the long-range electric SUV scene – smooth, spacious and surprisingly capable, it’s the peace of mind choice.

Toyota UK

Countdown begins to the launch of Polestar 3

Gareth Herincx

2 days ago
Auto News

Polestar has announced that the world premiere of its next car, the Polestar 3 electric performance SUV, will be in October 2022.

The vehicle will be the Swedish electric performance car company’s first SUV and will join the existing Polestar 2 five-door fastback in the line-up.

Polestar 3 will feature a dual-motor drivetrain and a large battery, with a range target of around 373 miles.

The confirmation of the world premiere comes with the first undisguised image of the car.

Production is expected to begin in early 2023, and Polestar 3 will be manufactured in the United States and China.

“Polestar 3 is the SUV for the electric age. Our design identity evolves with this high-end large luxury EV, with a strong, individual brand character,” says Thomas Ingenlath, Polestar CEO.

“With this car, we bring the ‘sport’ back to the SUV, staying true to our performance roots.”

“This is a major milestone for our company, one that boosts our growth trajectory and takes us into our next phase.”

Polestar plans to launch a new car every year for the next three years, starting with Polestar 3, and aims to increase its presence to at least 30 global markets by the end of 2023.

It also plans to grow its global sales ten-fold from approximately 29,000 in 2021 to some 290,000 by the end of 2025.

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Jeep Compass 4xe review

Jeep Compass 4xe review

We drive the impressive new plug-in hybrid version of Jeep’s mid-sized SUV…

When I first drove the Jeep Compass soon after its launch in 2018, I really wanted to like it. It was practical and looked good, but for me it was let down by an unsophisticated diesel engine, disappointing fuel economy and an underwhelming interior.

Fast forward to 2022 and Jeep has added a new plug-in hybrid version to the revamped Compass range, which will battle it out with other PHEV SUVs including the Ford Kuga, Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4, Vauxhall Grandland and Volkswagen Tiguan.

Using much the same plug-in hybrid system as the smaller Renegade 4xe (which is no bad thing), the new Compass 4xe has also been facelifted inside and out, and gets a technology update.

Jeep Compass 4xe review

Like all PHEVs, the Compass 4xe offers the best of both worlds, delivering some of the experience of an EV without any of the associated range anxiety.

My test car was fitted with the most powerful version of the hybrid system used in the Renegade, producing a combined total of 237bhp from the 1.3-litre turbo petrol unit. There are two electric motors and there’s assistance from a 11.4kWh battery.

On the road, the Compass works out when it’s best to operate on electric, petrol, or a combination of both, to give the ideal performance in any given situation.

Jeep Compass 4xe review

The EV mode lasts for up to 30 miles at speeds of up to 80mph, which means visits to the garage will become rare occasions for low mileage users. As with all PHEVs, it works most efficiently if you can charge the battery overnight or at work (less than two hours using a 7.4kW chargeppoint).

There are potentially huge fuel savings to be made, but even on long journeys where most of the time is spent on motorways using the petrol engine with hybrid assistance, it can return around 40mpg.

First impressions are good. The mild makeover, which includes new full LED headlights and a revamped seven-slot grille, gives the Compass a fresh new look and more road presence.

Jeep Compass 4xe review

The biggest changes are reserved for the cabin which seems to have been given a complete overhaul, with better build quality, more of an upmarket feel and bang up to date technology.

Standard features include a 10.25-inch driver’s digital instrument cluster and the latest 10.1-inch Uconnect 5 centre console infotainment system which features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

There’s also a “Hey Jeep” voice assistant for hands-free adjustment of the air conditioning and media, or setting the TomTom sat nav. Slick and crisp, the new infotainment set-up is a huge improvement.

Jeep Compass 4xe review

The new Compass is a surprisingly refined cruiser, and you’d never know the engine is so dinky, given the overall amount torque on tap.

Obviously the engine becomes more vocal if you floor it and it’s no hot hatch on kickdown, but for the record, the petrol hybrid combo can deliver a 0-60mph time of just 7.3 seconds and a top speed of 124mph.

More importantly for many, CO2 emissions are as low as 45g/km, meaning business users can access significant tax benefits.

Jeep Compass 4xe review

There’s the occasional hesitancy when switching between electric and hybrid – and vice versa – but the system works well generally. And compared to some PHEVs fitted with CVT gearboxes, the traditional six-speed automatic transmission is a breath of fresh air.

Basic drive modes available include Hybrid, Electric and E-save, which stores up the battery energy for use at a later stage while maintaining range or can convert the engine into a generator to charge up battery.

There are also Auto, Sport, Snow, Sand, and Mud modes. And as you’d expect from a serious off-roader, there’s also 4WD low ratio, 4WD lock and hill descent.

Jeep Compass 4xe review

I tried a little green-laning and it coped admirably on road tyres. Compared to the opposition, it’s one of the most capable 4×4 off-roaders with plenty of traction and healthy ground clearance.

Even if you only use a tiny percentage of that ability, it’s good to know that it can in theory cope with rough terrain or extreme weather conditions, such a flooding.

A commanding driving position, compact exterior proportions, supportive leather seats and driving assistance tech (including a reversing camera as standard and an optional 360-degree camera), mean that progress in the Compass 4xe is comfortable and classy.

Jeep Compass 4xe review

The Compass handles well, feels composed and is easy to manoeuvre in town. For a relatively heavy car, it’s even quite entertaining to drive, especially in Sport mode, with body lean under control and decent grip.

Overall cabin space is not class leading, but there’s room for two adult-sized passengers in the rear, while luggage capacity is slightly down on a regular Compass, offering a modest 420 litres (1,239 litres with the rear seats flipped down).

The update means the Compass 4xe is now packed with the latest safety kit too, ranging from autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and Traffic Sign Recognition to Drowsy Driver Alert and LaneSense Departure Warning.

Jeep Compass 4xe review

It’s also the first Jeep vehicle in Europe to offer level 2 autonomous driving. Highway Assist combines adaptive cruise control and lane centring, enabling the car to automatically adjust its speed and trajectory.

Priced from £39,895, there are two trim levels – the ‘S’ or the more off-road orientated ‘Trailhawk’.

Verdict: With the introduction of plug-in hybrid technology, the Jeep Compass is now the car it always should have been. Comfortable, refined, well built, economical, easy to drive and packed with the latest tech, the 4xe is one of the best and most capable 4×4 PHEVs on the market.

Jeep UK

Jeep Compass 4xe review

Mazda CX-5 review

Mazda CX-5 review

We’ve been driving the new, improved Mazda CX-5 – still one of the best mid-sized SUVs on the market

Originally launched in 2017 and treated to a refresh for 2022, Mazda has done just enough to keep the CX-5 competitive against fierce new opposition from the likes of the latest Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and Toyota RAV4.

At first glance the “new” CX-5 is almost identical to the 2021 model, for this is the most subtle of facelifts.

Mazda CX-5 review

There are new headlight and taillight clusters, while the front and rear bumpers have been tweaked, along with the front grille.

Elsewhere, there’s a new drive mode selector on selected models and an expanded range of safety features, while Mazda claims there’s reduced road noise and enhanced driving dynamics.

There are five trim levels: SE-L, Newground, Sport, Sport Black and GT Sport. Newground is new for 2022, featuring a slightly more rugged look with front and rear silver underguard trims matched to silver lower body side skirts, black door mirrors and 19-inch black diamond cut alloy wheels, plus subtle lime green accents in the grille, which are replicated inside.

Mazda CX-5 review

Priced from £28,145, the CX-5 range is certainly not at the bargain end of the sector. In fact, the top-of-the-range GT Sport, complete with a 2.5-litre petrol engine and all-wheel drive, is the wrong side of £38,000 all in with optional extras.

That said, it’s hard to fault the build quality, while the overall feel is nudging premium rivals such as the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40.

Inside, the spacious interior is attractive and intuitively laid out. However, it is traditional and light years away from the dual-screen infotainment set-up on the new Sportage, for instance.

Mazda CX-5 review

The seats are comfortable and supportive, there’s a commanding driving position and there’s space for five adults with plenty of rear leg and headroom. The boot is a useful 510 litres, expanding to 1,626 litres with the rear seats folded.

As I say, the technology isn’t class-leading, but easy to use and it’s good to see that Mazda has stuck with a rotary controller (next to the gear-shifter) for accessing frequently used infotainment functions – no need for all that distracting swiping, pinching and finger-dabbing on the 10.25-inch screen.

Mind you, it’s a while since I’ve used a daisy wheel for letter/number selection on a sat nav.

Mazda CX-5 review

I tested three versions of the new CX-5 – the flagship 2.5-litre (191bhp) petrol model with 6-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive, plus the entry-level 2.0-litre (163bhp) petrol and 2.2-litre (148bhp) diesel – both front-wheel drive and blessed with Mazda’s slick six-speed manual box.

The CX-5 is at its dynamic best on challenging country roads, where it’s also surprisingly agile for a substantial crossover. And of course, it will also cruise comfortably on the motorway.

But here’s the thing, there’s no need to pay extra for the big 2.5-litre engine. When pushed, it’s a tad vocal, and there isn’t as much pulling power as you’d expect. Economy is also disappointing, while the auto box is a little hesitant at times and tends to hold onto lower gears under acceleration.

Mazda CX-5 review

If you’re not put off by diesels, then opt for that engine option because it delivers the best combination of performance and economy. That said, the basic petrol works well too, and the sporty six-speed manual is a gem.

It’s worth mentioning that I tested out the big petrol variant’s all-wheel drive. Simply select the Off-Road setting on the new Mazda Intelligent Drive Select (Mi Drive) beside the gear lever and off it goes.

With standard road tyres, it can cope with a muddy field and the raised ride keeps the car clear of trouble, but we’re not talking serious all-terrain capability.

Verdict: The new Mazda CX-5 is starting to show its age when it comes to technology and the lack of hybrid powertrain options, but it’s still one of the best handing SUVs on the market. Distinctive, stylish, comfortable, practical and well built, it’s a class act.

Mazda CX-5 review