Click here for Part 1

On the minute-or-so drive to the Hill Route you have to keep your speed down because there are so many pedestrians about (mostly with their heads buried in the car-list and so not really paying attention to traffic) and other vehicles either coming out or being parked up again. During that minute I was surprised at how easy the Vanquish was to drive. The steering was well-weighted and visibility all round was good. Okay, you felt like you were sat on the floor but that added to the sense of occasion rather detracted from it – everyone seems to be high up in an SUV these days.

The Vanquish didn’t misbehave at lower speeds; it wasn’t jerky or too eager, it was – well, patient . . .

And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. I’d got some laps under my belt in the Massers and the Porker so knew when to hit the loud pedal at the start of the Hill Route – and I use the term “loud pedal” here literally. There was a roar and a shove but I can’t tell which came first. Anyway, I was already at the first sweeping corner but didn’t touch the brakes – the Vanquish S just snarled and went around. Yep, this felt like a car that was capable of topping 200 mph.

 

More Aston Martin Vanquish S pictures . . .

My co-driver went to some lengths to get the best sounds out of the car, not just the best performance – “Hit the brakes here! Yes, now. You hear that?” I quickly learned that Best Sound and Best Performance are intrinsically linked so the better you drive, the better the soundtrack. Why they even bother putting an audio system in this car is beyond me.

Three or four laps later I’m beginning to think I could be the next Stig but the sight of the Golf GTi behind me that never shrinks in my rear view mirror brings me back to earth. I haven’t stopped grinning for the last 15 minutes though and when my co-driver suggests we try some laps of the High Speed Circuit I readily agree.

Now, you may think that 100 mph on a banked circuit sounds like it may be stressful, then think again. When that circuit is virtually free of traffic – as it was most of the time – it’s actually an easy drive. Even your steering is helped by the banking and the faster you go the more it is helped.

Anyway, after a couple of very quick circuits it was time to take this genius piece of engineering back so someone else could have a grin welded onto their face. I said thank you very much to my co-driver and waited for him to get out so I could shoot off and disappear under that barrier.  He wasn’t stupid though and waited for me to get out first.

Popping my Off-Road cherry in the new Land Rover Discovery

Next up was a visit to the lovely Lindsey Dipple at the Jaguar Land Rover stand, to say hello, show my face and ask about the possibility of someone taking me around the Off-Road course as I had never driven off-road before.

Lindsey was astounded that I’d never driven off-road before. I was astounded that Lindsey was astounded.

“No, never”, I said. “Can someone drive me around though? I might have a go myself afterwards”.

Lindsey couldn’t contain her mirth and took great delight in telling me that they are not allowed to chauffeur the journalists. I would have to do the driving but I could be supervised.

I was introduced to Matt (I think), a driver from Blackburn who got me settled into a new Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury and we set off toward the Off-Road route.

I do like the smoother curves of the new Discovery and the fact that it is up to a staggering 480kg lighter than the old model means it should be a lot more frugal too.

“Not sure about the off-set rear number plate . . .” I said

“No, it’s proven a bit controversial.” said Matt. And we left it at that.

When we arrived at the muddy, forestry bit Matt went through some of the controls and terrain selection options of the new Discovery. It mostly seemed familiar as I had driven the previous model, albeit always on the tarmac.

One of the main differences now was that the Terrain Response 2 system can be left to make choices for you. If the system detects you are on a loose surface, it will adapt to ensure you have max grip without losing traction. The same goes for muddy or rocky conditions. The diffs will be automatically locked as the system sees fit and the dampers will be adjusted. No input needed.

However, if you know that you are about to hit difficult terrain (ahem!) you can still use the rotary dial between the front seats to set up the car and so be proactive rather than leave the system to be reactive.

So, at the push of a button we raised the car up 75mm and set off into some of the biggest, muddiest ruts I’d seen this side of a tank-trap.

Of course the Discovery went over them without a fuss and more importantly without bouncing me out of the sunroof. It felt all too easy – all I had to do was keep the speed down and steer.

Next we rolled up to a banked wall and drove onto it at a 26-degree angle. It felt a little disconcerting but once again, keep the speed down and watch where you’re going.

There were steep, muddy climbs and what seemed impossible vertical descents but it soon became clear that the Discovery wasn’t fazed by any of it and with Hill Descent Control applying braking to individual wheels, even an off-road numpty like me needn’t panic. Feet off the pedals and just steer – the Discovery controls everything else, locking diffs when needed and extending or retracting dampers so quickly you never notice much more than a “jostle”.

After a quick jet-wash by a man-with-a-van waiting at the end of the course, we were back to the Steering Pad where I went for a lovely lunch of lamb casserole, roasted potatoes and veg. Twenty minutes later, fully fuelled, I headed off to my appointment with the Porsche 718 Boxster S.

Back to Porsche for a drive in the 718 Boxster S

It was Steve this time who sat in with me and went through some settings in this 345 bhp S model that uses Porsche’s new flat-four, turbo-charged engine instead of the much-loved 6-cylinder unit of previous models. Did it sound flat? Well, not really no. It made a satisfying sound that I could certainly live with if I could afford the £52,000 price-tag – and it went like stink too.

The cabin felt a generation in front of the Cayenne and the 7-speed PDK twin-clutch auto box was simplicity itself to use and never hesitated to help throw me at the horizon. I even liked the bright yellow paintwork which, although a bit “shouty” suited the car very well.

0-60 in 4 seconds felt about right and the Boxster S had the dubious honour of being the only car that I got “yellow-flagged” in all day – although that may be down to my over-confidence with the course as the day wore on.

Definitely a car you could live with on a day to day basis but you’d want to be doing track days on a regular basis too to get the most out of it which means having a “New Tyre” fund would be a must.

Back down to earth? Not quite . . . the DS 3 Performance

My penultimate car was the rather cheeky DS 3 Performance which I had to try out as the DS 3 is Mrs. B’s favourite “real-world” car and I rather like them too. Typically French in style it isn’t conservative in it’s looks and the Performance model isn’t conservative when it comes to power either – 208 bhp from a 1.6 turbo, 4-cylinder engine and 0-60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. This 6-speed manual version costs £23,355 on the road.

It was, as I had expected, a lot of fun too. Okay, not quite as visceral as what had gone before but we’re talking real-world sporting fun here in a car you would be happy to drive anywhere – and park anywhere for that matter.

The DS 3 comes with a Torsen Limited Slip Diff and Brembo brakes as well as being lowered with a slightly wider track. Inside doesn’t disappoint with sport seats that look great and also held me very well around the twisties. The interior of the DS 3 has always felt towards the premium end no matter what spec you are sat in and the Performance model is just as good but, disappointingly, no different.

The actual performance is different though and the little DS held it’s own out on the hill route where it felt very responsive and made all the right noises for a turbo 4-cylinder. It held on very well too but I couldn’t help thinking the Mini Cooper S is even more fun. And a little cheaper too. The cheaper Ford Fiesta ST-3 would also give it a run for it’s money although it is down by almost 30 bhp.

If looks are more important to you though, the DS 3 wins the day over the Mini and the Fiesta as it is just that bit more exclusive and has a more daring style about it. Residuals on the DS 3 ain’t bad either so you can forget worrying about catastrophic depreciation  – Yep, Citroen knew what they were doing when they severed marketing links with the DS marque.

What a way to round off the (almost) perfect Driving Day – the Audi R8 Spyder

Final drive of the day for me was the stunning Audi R8 Spyder V10 in Ara Blue.

The lovely folk at Audi UK didn’t bother allocating times for these in-demand models – they also had an R8 Spyder in Daytona Grey, an S4 Saloon, S5 Cabriolet, a new Q5 and the stonkingly quick TTRS – instead, you just turned up and if a car was there, you got in it and drove away. It seemed to work very well with most folk not waiting for more than a couple of minutes.

I strolled up just as the Ara Blue R8 Spyder was returning so it was just a matter of politely asking if I could take it out and then climbing in and starting her up. Except I had to get out again as the previous driver wished to take a few photos before I drove it away again. No problem. I took the opportunity to take a few of my own and then climbed in again and set off for the Hill Route.

First impressions were very good indeed. The interior is absolutely top quality – as you would expect in a car costing £130,000 – but very stylish with it with contrasting stitching everywhere. The cabin is a little shorter than the coupe version but as I’m only 5ft. 8in. anyway it didn’t present any problems. Neither did the roof as I didn’t raise it but I believe you can do at speeds of up to 30mph and it only takes around 20 seconds.

With 540 bhp and Audi’s excellent Quattro all-wheel-drive system I was expecting this thing to absolutely fly around the Hill Route, and of course it did. The amount of grip is nothing short of magic – as is the sound which is even better with no roof. Audi actually provide an opening slot in the rear when the roof is up so those sounds can get into the cabin but the cold air can’t. Genius.

I took the R8 for a couple of laps of the High Speed Circuit where it felt rock solid, even at 100 mph – although it was getting a bit blowy in the cabin. Flooring the accelerator even at this speed provides an instant extra shove in the back and the naturally-aspirated V10 bellows so loud you can hear it easily above the wind-noise. The whole thing is intoxicating and feels so stable I expect some people would be turning the driver aids off just to create a sense of risk. Not me though, I had no intention of getting anywhere near the car’s top speed of 197 mph and I just marveled at how civilised the ride was. A brilliant piece of engineering that will make the clumsiest of drivers look like a pro.

By now I was all-driven-out and decided it was time to rescue Mrs. B from the retail park so I parked the Audi up and climbed on board one of the many mini-buses that were ferrying journalists back to their cars. We’d been very lucky with the weather as it was one of the hottest day of the year so far and I was definitely feeling the heat.

However, as I was being dropped off at my car I was kinda regretting giving up that last 90 minutes and started thinking about the cars I’d missed out on – including the Alfa 4C which I had a booking for (which I passed on to another journalist before leaving).

Oh well, maybe next year . . .

Here is a list of all the cars available to drive this year – Which ten would be top of your list?

Allied Vehicles – Ford ProCab 2.0, 130ps, Diesel, Manual, 7 seats
Allied Vehicles – Peugeot Flexilite 2.0, 130ps, Diesel, Manual, 15 seats
Allied Vehicles – Peugeot Impulse Euro 6, Diesel, Auto
Allied Vehicles – Volkswagen Vista 2.0, Diesel, Manual
Aston Martin DB11 – 5.2-litre V12 – Automatic
Aston Martin Vanquish S Coupe – 6.0-litre V12 – Automatic
Aston Martin V12 Vantage S – 6.0-litre V12 – 7-Speed Manual
Audi S4 Saloon Daytona Grey
Audi S5 Cab Navarra Blue
Audi TTRS Coupe Daytona Grey
Audi Q5 Ibis White
Audi R8 Spyder Daytona Grey
Audi UK R8 Spyder Ara Blue
BMW 5 Series 530d xDrive M Sport
BMW 5 Series 540i xDrive M Sport
BMW M4 Competition Pack Coupe
BMW M4 Competition Pack Convertible
Citroën C3 PureTech 110 Flair
Citroën C3 BlueHDi 100 Flair
Citroën C3 PureTech 110 Auto Flair
Citroën C4 Cactus PureTech 110 Auto Flair
Dacia New Sandero Ambiance Sce 75
Dacia New Sandero Stepway Summit Tce 90
Dacia Duster Laureate dCi 110 EDC 4×2
Dacia Logan MCV Stepway Laureate dCi 90
DS 3 Performance 208hp 1.6-litre 3-dr hatchback
DS 3 Inès de la Fressange LE 1.2-litre PureTech 11-, 3-dr hatchback
DS 4 CROSSBACK Terre Rouge LE 2.0-litre BlueHDi 180 5-dr
DS 5 Performance Line 2.0-litre BlueHDi 180 5-dr Executive hatchback
DS 7 CROSSBACK 2.0-litre BlueHDi 180 5-dr EAT8
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.9 510hp Bi-Turbo Quadrifoglio
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Alfa Romeo 4C Spider 1750 Tbi 240bhp TCT
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Fiat Tipo 1.6 MultiJet 120hp Lounge
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Fiat 124 Spider 1.4 MultiAir 140hp Lusso Plus
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Abarth 595 Competizione 1.4 TJet 180bhp
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Abarth 124 Spider 1.4 Turbo MultiAir 170bhp
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT 6.4 SRT V8 Hemi
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Fiat Professional Fullback 2.4 CRD 180bhp
Ford KA+ 1.2 Manual
Ford Focus RS 2.3 Manual
Ford Kuga Vignale 2.0 TDCi Automatic
Ford Mustang 2.3 Manual
Ford Mustang 5.0 Automatic
Honda UK Heritage Insight Citrus Yellow
Honda UK Civic 1.5T Sport Plus Manual Sonic Grey Pearl
Honda UK Civic 1.5T Prestige CVT Brilliant Sporty Blue
Honda UK Civic 1.0T EX Manual Rallye Red
Hyundai IONIQ Electric Contactless car – Stand Up 2 Cancer donation car
Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid Premium SE 1.6 Gdi
Hyundai i30 5 door SE Nav + Visibility Pack 1.0 T-GDi 120PS
Hyundai i10 Premium SE 1.2 87PS
Infiniti Q60 3.0 Sport
Infiniti Q60 3.0 Sport
Infiniti Q60 2.0ltr
Infiniti Q60 2.0ltr
Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 Manual Blue Mica, Sports Bar & Under Rail Liner
Isuzu D-Max Utah Auto Blue, Tow Bar & 13pin & Roll Top
Isuzu D-Max Blade Auto Black Tow Bar & 13pin, sports bar, bed rug, lazor lights
Isuzu D-Max utility 4×4 Double Cab Obsidian Grey, Towbar & 13pin
Jaguar Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury .
Jaguar Land Rover Discovery Td6 HSE Luxury
Jaguar Land Rover Discovery Sd4 HSE Luxury
Jaguar Land Rover Discovery Sport Sd4 HSE Luxury
Jaguar Land Rover Range Rover SDV8 Autobiopgraphy
Jaguar Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible Sd4 HSE Dynamic
Jaguar Land Rover F-Pace 180ps Diesel R-Sport
Jaguar Land Rover F-Pace 180ps Diesel Portfolio
Jaguar Land Rover XE 2.0L Diesel 180ps Portfolio
Jaguar Land Rover XE V6 340ps S
Jaguar Land Rover XF 2.0L 180ps R-Sport
Jaguar Land Rover XRJ V8 petrol
Kia  Picanto 1.0 MPi ‘2’
Kia  Picanto 1.2 MPi ‘GT-Line’
Kia  Rio 1.0 T-GDi ‘First Edition’ Eco
Kia  Rio 1.4 CRDi ‘3’ Eco
Lexus RX450h F Sport
Lexus GS F 5.0L V8
Lexus RC F 5.0L V8
Lexus RC300h Premier
Maserati Levante Diesel 3.0 Litre V6, 275hp
Maserati Levante Diesel 3.0 Litre V6, 275hp
Maserati Ghibli Diesel 3.0 Litre V6, 275hp
Maserati Quattroporte S 3.0 Litre V6, 410hp
Mazda MX-5 1.5i 131PS Sport Nav
Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0 160ps Sport Nav
Mazda3 2.2 150ps Sport Nav Hatchback
Mazda2 1.5 115ps GT Sport
Mercedes-Benz smart BRABUS forfour 109 hp
Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line Coupe
Mercedes-Benz E 400 4MATIC AMG Line Coupe
Mercedes-AMG E 43 4MATIC Estate
Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Saloon
Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster
Mercedes-AMG GT R
Mercedes-Benz V-Class Marco Polo
MG GS Exclusive 1.5L Turbo
MG3 3Form Sport
New MG XS Compact SUV
MINI Cooper D Countryman
MINI Cooper D ALL4 Countryman
MINI John Cooper Works Challenge
MINI Cooper Black Pack Clubman
Mitsubishi Galant 2.0 litre, trim level GLX
Mitsubishi 3000GT 3.0 litre V6 twin-turbo
Mitsubishi Starion 2.0 litre single turbo; wide body
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makkinen Edition 2.0 litre turbo GSR
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 5hs (exterior silver, interior grey leather) 2.0 litre
Mitsubishi L200 SVP Barbarian Double Cab SVP; 2.5 litre turbo diesel
Mitsubishi 1917 Model A
Newspress –  200MY Rover 45iE 1.4 litre
Newspress –  Vauxhall Monaro VRX 500
Newspress –  Kia Pride LX, Manual transmission
Nissan Micra 1.5 Diesel – N-Connecta Energy Orange
Nissan Micra 0.9 Tekna Echo Grey/Energy Orange
Nissan  Micra 1.5 Tekna Diesel Echo Grey/Energy Orange
Nissan Micra 0.9 Tekna Echo Grey/Energy Orange
Nissan  Micra 1.5 Tekna Energy Orange
Nissan Micra MK1
Peugeot 308 GTi 270 by Peugeot Sport
Peugeot All-New 3008 SUV GT Line PureTech 130
Peugeot All-New 3008 SUV GT BlueHDi 180 Auto
Peugeot Traveller Allure BlueHDi 180 Auto
Porsche 718 Boxster S
Porsche 911 Carrera GTS coupe
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS coupe
Porsche Macan Turbo with Performance Package
Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Porsche Panamera Turbo
Renault TWIZY Dynamique
Renault New Clio Renaultsport 220 Trophy EDC
Renault Twingo GT
Renault ZOE Dynamique ZE 40
Renault All-New Scenic Dynamique S dCi 110
SEAT Ateca 1.4 TSI Eco 150 PS 6 speed Xcellence
SEAT Leon 5dr Cupra 2.0 TSI 300PS 6 speed
SEAT Leon ST Cupra 2.0 TSI 4 Drive 300PS DSG
SEAT Ateca 2.0 TDI Xcellence 190 PS 4 Drive
SKODA Kodiaq SE L 1.4 TSI 150PS 4X4 DSG
SKODA Kodiaq Edition 2.0 TDI 150PS 4X4 Manual
SKODA Octavia SE L 1.4 TSI 150PS 6G MAN
SKODA Octavia Estate SE 2.0 TDI 150PS 6G MAN
SKODA 1100 OHC Red racer
SsangYong Musso EX
SsangYong Tivoli XLV ELX 4×4 Auto
SsangYong Korando ELX 4×4 Auto
Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX Manual Crystal White
Subaru Levorg 1.6i GT Lineartronic Lapis Blue
Subaru  Outback 2.5i SE Premium Lineartronic Dark Grey Metallic
Subaru WRX STi 2.5 Manual WR Blue
Suzuki Swift 1.0 Boosterjet SZ5 SHVS
Suzuki Swift 1.0 Boosterjet SZ5 SHVS
Suzuki Swift Dualjet SZ5 SHVS Allgrip
Suzuki SZ5 Allgrip Ignis 1.2 SZ5
Toyota New Yaris 1.5 Man Bi Red
Toyota CH-R 1.2 Excel Man
Toyota CH-R Dynamic Hybrid 1.8 CVT
Toyota GT86 Coupe 2.0L Pro Man
Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport SRi VX-LINE Nav 2.0 170PS
Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport Design Nav 1.6 110PS
Vauxhall Crossland X SE 1.2T 130PS
Vauxhall Crossland X Elite 1.6 120PS
Vauxhall Omega, 3.0 Elite, T678 LAB
Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0 TSI 230PS manual
Volkswagen Golf GTE Advance Hybrid 1.4 TSI 150PS DSG
Volkswagen Golf e-Golf 115PS BEV
Volkswagen Golf Estate Alltrack 2.0 TDI 4MOTION 184PS DSG
Volkswagen Amarok Aventura 3.0 V6 TDI 4MOTION 224PS auto
Volkswagen Amarok Aventura 3.0 V6 TDI 4MOTION 224PS auto
Volkswagen Mk1 Golf GTI 1.8-litre 112PS manual 3dr
Volvo V90 D4 AWD Cross Country
Volvo V90 D5 PowerPulse AWD Cross Country
Volvo V90 D5 PowerPulse AWD R-Design
Volvo S90 D4 R-Design
Volvo V60 T6 AWD Polestar
Volvo V40 T5 R-Design Pro with Polestar Performance Parts
Yokohama HPT

Let me know in the form below and I’ll publish the top choices next month.

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