Wild family adventures with TV’s Steve Backshall and Toyota

Gareth Herincx

1 day ago
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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 Aygo X review

Toyota Aygo X review

We road test the all-new Toyota Aygo X – a city car transformed into a funky urban crossover…

Toyota is on a roll. Recent acclaimed additions to the range include the GR86 coupe, the Yaris, Yaris Cross, GR Yaris, and the bZ4X – the brand’s first EV.

The all-new Toyota Aygo X continues the winning streak. In one fell swoop Toyota’s designers have re-invented the city car, creating an urban runabout sporting chunky, compact crossover looks.

Arguably its only rival is the quirky Suzuki Ignis, which needs a workout in comparison to the rufty-tufty Aygo X (pronounced “Aygo Cross”).

Toyota Aygo X review

At first glance it looks like Toyota started with a clean sheet, but look closely and you’ll spot design cues from the outgoing Aygo such as the glass hatch and pop-out rear windows.

At only 3.7 metres long and 1.74m wide, it’s a little larger than the old Aygo hatchback, and despite its crossover design, it rides just 11mm higher.

Starting at a very competitive £15,405, the Aygo X range has been kept simple. There’s just one (non-hybrid) petrol engine available (a 71bhp three-cylinder unit), with the option of either a five-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission.

Toyota Aygo X review

And there are only three trims levels (Pure, Edge and Exclusive), plus a special Limited Edition model.

Entry-level X Pure comes as standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, air con, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, plus a leather steering wheel trim.

Edge grade adds 18-inch alloys, automatic air con and wipers, rear privacy glass, front fog lights and an 8.0-inch multimedia display. It also gains extra exterior styling details and a bi-tone/metallic paint finish. Options include a large, power-operated canvas roof and a parking pack with front and rear intelligent clearance sonars and an automatic braking function.

Toyota Aygo X review

The range-topping Exclusive model comes with cloth and synthetic leather upholstery, a wireless phone charger, LED headlights and smart entry.

It also gets the new Toyota Smart Connect multimedia system with 9.0-inch display, giving access to cloud-based navigation, latest road information, connected services and over-the-air updates for updates and fixes.

We tested the Limited Edition version, which is finished in cool new Cardamom Green metallic paint. It features 18-inch matt black alloys, Mandarina orange highlights on the wheels, sills and bumpers, plus other interior design features and the canvas roof. The front seats are heated and have part-leather upholstery.

Toyota Aygo X review

So, the Aygo X is well equipped. It’s also safe because the impressive Toyota Safety Sense package is fitted as standard. It includes pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, emergency steering assist, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and a reversing camera. Higher-spec cars also get front and rear parking sensors.

Despite its pumped up looks and longer wheelbase, it’s still very much a city car inside, even if the seating position has been raised by 5cm.

The interior is cheap and cheerful, but then what would you expect for the price? So, you’ll find hard plastics and exposed painted metal. On the plus side, the infotainment system works well and there are still some physical buttons and dials (for the air con – crucially).

Toyota Aygo X review

There’s plenty of room up front and the driving position is comfortable. However, it’s still cosy in the back and the passenger experience isn’t helped by the small, rear-hinged windows which don’t fully open.

Thankfully, the boot is more practical than before, offering 60 litres extra (231 litres in all), expanding to 829 litres with the rear seats folded.

The thrummy three-pot has been tuned for economy over performance, so more spirited drivers will have to work the five-speed gearbox hard to make swift progress.

Toyota Aygo X review

Officially, the manual version hits 62mph from standstill in 14.9 seconds and goes on to a top speed of 98mph.

CO2 emissions are as low as 109g/km and fuel economy is up to 58.85mpg. In fact, in mixed driving I managed 60mpg, which added to the low insurance group and Toyota’s reputation for reliability, means owning an Aygo X should be an affordable experience.

Despite being low on power, it handles surprisingly well and only feel unsettled if really pushed.

Toyota Aygo X review

In its more natural urban habitat, it’s nippy, agile and easy to drive. Light and quick steering, plus an exceptionally small turning circle of just 4.7m really help.

However, it’s not the quietest cabin – a combination of the thrum from the engine and wind noise, while the full-length canvas roof doesn’t help – even if it is fun in the sun.

So, the Aygo X isn’t perfect, but full marks to Toyota for creating a new niche and a dinky car full of character that stands out from the crowd, puts a smile on your face and represents great value for money.

Toyota Aygo X review

It’s also worth remembering that the Aygo X comes with a standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty, but it’s also eligible for Toyota’s warranty protection for up to 10 years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first), but you do have to service your car at a franchised dealer each year to maintain that cover.

Verdict: The all-new Toyota Aygo X is a breath of fresh air. An affordable city car with cool urban crossover looks that’s fun to drive, safe, economical. cheap to run and well equipped.

Toyota Aygo X review

Toyota UK

Tow and Go – everything you need to know

Toyota Prius - towing a caravan

Staycations are set to become more popular than ever in 2022, so Toyota has created these top tips for anyone planning to tow a caravan or trailer…

Is your vehicle legally permitted to tow? Your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity can be calculated by deducting the gross vehicle weight (found on the data sticker inside the door frame) from the weight of your caravan or trailer weight. As a guideline, if the weight of the caravan is up to 85 per cent of the kerb weight of the car, it can be towed easily. If it is between 85 and 100 per cent of the kerb weight, it’s recommended the driver has good experience of towing.

Are you legally qualified to tow? It is also vital to know whether you are qualified to tow. This depends on when you passed your driving test, the weight of your car and what you are towing. Find the current UK rules and restrictions here.

Is your trailer or caravan roadworthy? You should carry out regular checks on your caravan or trailer’s brakes, tyres and lights, just as you would check your car. This is particularly important as these vehicles often sit unused for long periods of time. It’s a good idea to make regular short journeys with your trailer to check everything is running smoothly, to prevent brakes from seizing and to ensure the weight of the towed vehicle isn’t placed on the same section of the tyres when parked up.

Nose weight The nose weight is the maximum vertical load that can be exerted on the tow bar by the attached trailer or caravan (it also applies to tow bar-mounted cycle carriers). You can use a nose weight gauge to check the figure for your caravan or trailer, available from most caravan dealers or online websites.

Routine It’s good practice to follow a set routine when hitching and unhitching a trailer or caravan, for example: attach tow bar, connect safety cable, connect electric cable, release trailer hand brake. This reduces the chances of you forgetting a step in the process.

Cable checks Before setting off, check the electric cable and ask another person to stand by the trailer to check the brake lights, indicators and hazard lights are all working properly. The breakaway safety cable should also be checked and re-checked, because in the event of the tow bar becoming unhitched, it will prevent the towed vehicle from potentially rolling and causing an accident.

Additional number plate It is a legal requirement to have a registration plate attached to your trailer that matches the one on the vehicle towing it.

Toyota Prius - tow bar

Key documents It is important to know whether your breakdown cover includes any vehicles being towed. Keep the relevant documents to hand when making your journey.

Extended Door mirrors Towing anything behind your vehicle will increase rear-view blind spots. Using extended door mirrors can help improve visibility.

It is not all plain trailing Towing is not a simple driving skill, you need to be able to handle the extra weight and longer length involved, particularly when turning or reversing. If you are new to towing, or want to brush up your skills, seek advice and training from experts.

Just in case Carry spare water, feed and roughage in case of a breakdown or delays. Be careful if you load this in the front of the trailer that you don’t exceed the nose weight.

Keeping your horse safe When on a motorway or a major A road, don’t unload your horse unless the police or agencies have granted permission. If you’re towing trailers with live animals, such as horses, here are few tips from the British Horse Society (BHS).

Loading If you are travelling with one horse, load it on the right-hand side of the trailer; with two horses, the heavier one should be on the right.

How to prepare for the perfect family camping expedition

Gareth Herincx

2 days ago
Auto Blog

TV Adventurer and Toyota Highlander Hybrid driver Steve Backshall's camping tips

It’s a staycation summer, so TV adventurer Steve Backshall has teamed up with Toyota to provide some essential camping tips.

The author and wildlife expert uses his passion for nature to add a sense of adventure to holidays with his family – wife Helen, their three-year-old son, Logan, and 15-month-old twins, Kit and Willow.

““It’s all about Ps – prior planning and preparation prevents poor parenting performance,” reckons Steve.

However, he admits his first attempt at camping with three small children was a disorganised disaster: “It was all over the shop with kit, nappies and general carnage, but the sensation of waking up with my young son snoring next to me, the twins clambering all over my wife and the sound of breaking waves in our ears was unforgettable.

“The most important things you can pack are a sense of humour and a sense of perspective. The certainty is that discomfort is short-lived, but memories last forever.”

TV Adventurer and Toyota Highlander Hybrid driver Steve Backshall's camping tips

Steve’s trusted four-wheeled camping companion is the new seven-seat Highlander, the largest hybrid electric SUV model in the Toyota range.

After two years with a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, the new vehicle is ideal for his growing family with its space for extra seats, luggage and kit.

Steve Backshall’s top tips for what to take on your family camping adventure

  • The tent: as soon as you start camping with babies, the amount of kit you have expands exponentially. It is essential to have a tent that packs small and light, goes up quickly, and has plenty of space. Critically, you want the tent to be big enough for the whole family to sleep together, while being sufficiently wind and weatherproof to avoid any nasty surprises in the middle of the night.
  • Nest is best: travel cots are bulky and heavy, and rarely that comfortable. Alternatives like a travel pod or nest, that can be folded down into a tiny backpack can create a handy crib. Stick it inside your tent or even alongside you at the beach for an instant infant safe sleep zone.
  • Comfortable camping seats: it says something about their relationship that this is the present Steve asked Helen to give him for Christmas – a comfortable and light camping seat that is packable. Steve claims he would sit in it at home in front of the telly if he could.
  • Licence to grill: Steve says before finding the perfect portable grille, cooking over an open fire was a lottery. Attempts using logs or bricks as supports would inevitably end up with burnt food spilling into the ashes. The one he uses is ready in seconds and turns the campfire into a stove. Always observe safety and etiquette when using an open fire in any outdoor setting.
  • “Off-road” buggy: a baby buggy can be the most expensive item you’ll need for a great family camping trip. It’s important to choose one that is good on rough terrain, that you can run with, and which gives the little ones a really good view. An unexpected advantage has been the seat on the back of the buggy, which Steve’s son loves riding on when he’s feeling lazy.
  • Carry packs: while the buggy is great, sometimes you want to cover some serious terrain on foot, and nothing on wheels will cut it. These packs are so well engineered that babies feel weightless. Steve has tested their quality on rocky paths and mountain routes.
  • Sun suits: Steve has three very fair children, so sun protection is vital. That means making sure sun hats are firmly in place and regularly applying high factor sun screen. Using sun suits means you can always spot where the kids are and they’re convenient because they dry out quickly
  • The car: Camping is not just about the end location, but the journey along the way, and keeping spirits high before reaching the campsite relies on a good choice of vehicle. Steve had a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid for two years and loved it because it was economical, quiet and spacious – everything you need for a stress-free drive to the campsite. It served faithfully as his adventure wagon, kids’ climbing frame and mobile base-camp, and it never let him down. His new Toyota Highlander has an extra row of rear seats, which means Steve can comfortably load up all the children, Helen and even her mum.
  • Buoyancy aid jackets: these are a must if the children are on or near water. They fit snugly and Steve makes sure all his youngsters wear them whenever they are close to water.

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Toyota GR Yaris review

Is this rally-bred pocket rocket as good as everyone says it is?

Toyota GR Yaris

I don’t know about you, but I’m always a bit suspicious of a new car when it’s universally acclaimed and wins major awards before it’s even hit the roads.

The Toyota GR Yaris is one such vehicle, but don’t worry, it actually exceeds expectations. Here is a car that bears some resemblance to its sensible (and very good) supermini sibling, but in reality it’s totally different and has been developed with the World Rally Championship in mind.

In fact, Toyota says the only unchanged exterior parts are the headlights, door mirrors, rear light clusters and the shark fin antenna on the roof – everything else has been redesigned or adapted to meet targets for downforce, aerodynamic performance and stability.

Toyota GR Yaris

The most obvious visual difference is that the GR Yaris has three doors, a lower roof line, flared wheel arches and bigger wheels, plus spoilers and air intakes aplenty.

Weight-saving aluminium body panels have been used, along with a forged carbon composite roof, while under the bonnet the regular Yaris’s hybrid 1.5-litre 114bhp petrol engine has been replaced by a bespoke 1.6-litre turbo producing 257bhp and 265lb ft of torque – the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine and also the smallest and lightest 1.6 turbo.

What’s more, Toyota has also developed a sophisticated full-time four-wheel-drive system for the GR Yaris and the result of this this tech and attention to detail is impressive. A dinky hot hatch that can sprint from 0-62mph in just 5.5 seconds, and on to an electronically limited top speed of 143mph.

Toyota GR Yaris

For the record, this road-going rally special can return up to 34.3mpg and CO2 emissions are 186g/km.

Of course, outright speed is only half the story, it’s how a car uses that performance that matters, and this little fella doesn’t disappoint.

From the moment you fire it up, the GR lets off a low-level growl and is straining at the leash. Pedal to the metal and it’s like a bat out of hell, especially when that turbo boost kicks in.

Toyota GR Yaris

Flick through the slick six-speed manual gearbox, with its sporty short-throw, and it not only feels fast – it is fast.

There’s impressive grunt, even lower down in the rev range, and thanks to a little acoustic enhancement, the engine note builds to a throaty roar to add to the theatre of the driving experience.

Toyota GR Yaris

In short, the GR Yaris is among a select group of cars that puts a smile on your face from the moment you press the start button.

There are three driving modes (Normal, Sport and Track), but frankly default Normal will do most owners just fine in everyday driving.

Toyota GR Yaris

Even if you let your inner Boy Racer get the better of you on more challenging roads, the nimble GR Yaris’s intoxicating blend of supreme handling, remarkable traction, sharp steering and powerful brakes will flatter your driving ability.

No car is perfect, and the GR is no exception. As you’d expect from a hardcore hot hatch, it’s engineered more for performance than comfort. Sure, the sports seats are suitably supportive, but the ride is on the firm side.

I wouldn’t expect anything else, but to make this a true daily driver, a Comfort setting might have helped smooth out our pothole-ridden roads on those few days when you’d rather cruise than enter a rally stage.

Toyota GR Yaris

On a practical level, the rear seats and restricted headroom mean these spaces are only acceptable for children and small adults, while the luggage capacity is a modest 174 litres (the 60/40-split seats fold down should you need more room).

Like its standard little brother, the Yaris is well put together, but it also shares much the same interior, which means functional black plastic mouldings and a lack of soft-touch surfaces.

Toyota GR Yaris

On the plus side, it comes with a generous five-year/100,000-mile warranty and benefits from Toyota Safety Sense as standard, which includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control and automatic headlights.

Prices from £30,020, the GR’s formidable rivals range from Ford’s Puma and Fiesta STs, to the Honda Civic Type R, Renault Megane RS, Hyundai i30 N and Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Verdict: The Toyota GR Yaris is a little gem. Hot hatch looks and on-the road thrills combine to make this dinky thoroughbred a real driver’s car and instant classic.