Whenever anyone talks about a Volkswagen Group vehicle, they start off by saying how well made and classy it is. Which gives Audi a bit of a problem, because its products are meant to be the best made and classiest of the lot.

Certainly, the new Q5 has a tough set of siblings to rise above. VW itself set the bar high with the second-generation Tiguan, then Skoda and Seat came along with the Kodiaq and Ateca and next thing you know, the Audi is being prodded from below by a three-pronged trident of closely related and very, very good SUVs.

Yes, we know, tridents are three-pronged by definition. Let’s concentrate instead on the four hoops. Audi has a pretty impressive record when it comes to making classy motors, and the latest Q7 is held by many experts to have raised the bar in the large SUV market with its interior. So the Q5 has form on its side.

It also has a strong range of engines, all of them smooth and quick. There are 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines developing 252 and 190bhp respectively, plus a 3.0-litre diesel dishing up 286bhp. At the top of the range (Audi presents it as a separate model), the SQ5 version comes with a 3.0-litre petrol unit producing 354bhp and slinging the vehicle up to 62mph in a suitably exciting 5.4 seconds.

In comparison to that, the 7.9 seconds it takes our test vehicle to reach the same speed might not sound as lively. But with the latest version of the VW Group’s 2.0 TDI engine under the bonnet, even this most modest Q5 felt every bit as strong as a premium SUV should.

The model on test is a 2.0 TDI 190 S line S tronic, which retails for £41,810 on the road. Ours had enough options on it to add about 10% to the price.

Not cheap, then. But it’s an Audi and it’s premium, and you see and
feel it from the moment you climb aboard. We said its siblings set the bar high, but the Q5 rises above them by coming over as more than just another VW Group product.

There’s still a bit of hard plastic on the bottom part of the dash, and the trim around our test vehicle’s centre vent panel was rather creaky when prodded. But overall build quality is excellent, and the floor console is one of the most solidly installed you’ll ever see. The materials are extremely pleasing to look at and touch, too, and the digital screens are pin-sharp – though the main one is mounted on rather than in the facia, sticking out from where it looks as if the vent panel has been cut to find a mounting point for it. It hasn’t, of course, but the aftermarket image doesn’t suit the vehicle.

You do get plenty of leg, elbow and head room, however, and the driving position gives you a good view all-round. The seats are very comfortable indeed, with loads of support and adjustability alike; leather is standard lower down the range, but it was a pleasure to relax upon the excellent synthetic suede that’s standard on S line models.

In the rear, the sliding seats will allow one six-footer to ride behind another on short to medium journeys. Headroom, meanwhile, is excellent, and you don’t get the C-pillar crowding too badly into your field of view.

For carrying cargo, the Q5 is only average in terms of absolute space but good in terms of flexibility, thanks to a 40:20:40 split rear seat. This folds reasonably close to flat, leaving just a slight slope in the load bay and a step that’s small and completely smooth. The floor is nice and low, too, which adds to the volume available, but this does mean there’s a bit of a lip to get over when you’re loading up.

This all adds up to a solid, usable level of practicality that’s fine but not remarkable. If you want that, Skoda is right across it with the Karoq and Kodiaq. But what really sets the Q5 apart is its classy air of quality and refinement, and having settled in to the cabin the aforementioned first impressions continue to ring true. It’s right at the top of the tree.

The same can be said of the power delivery from the 2.0 TDI engine, which is beautifully smooth and quiet. The dual-clutch auto box is absolutely seamless and its ratios are well matched to the engine’s torque, which rises to 295lbf.ft by 1750rpm. Even when you’re pulling away from junctions, which can be the achilles heel for auto diesels, any lack of alacrity is only fleeting.

On the move, what strikes you most is that however fast you go, noise never seems to gather with your speed. The engine note is very well muted, and wind noise too is hushed. There’s also a noticeable lack of vibration, and very little in the way of road noise.

If you think you’re paying for things like leather and the latest gadgets when you buy a premium car, you’re not. What the extra money buys is the sort of tireless research it takes to make a vehicle drive so effortlessly.

Ride quality is just as good, though there’s a baffling array of suspension options available across the range. Our test vehicle was on its standard springs and shocks, which as far as we’re concerned is all you need, but if you want to add another nth degree of smoothness you can shell out extra for air suspension and adaptive damping. That we wouldn’t bother should speak volumes about how good it is as it comes.

One advantage the air suspension option does provide, however, is
the ability to lift the vehicle’s ride height for off-road use. We’d be pretty sceptical about anyone at all paying this any mind, however; while the Q5 might appeal as an ‘off-roader’ to people with unmade driveways or who live far enough into the countryside to have loose, weather-prone going between them and the rest of the world, the undoubted sophistication it has is clearly best suited to the road. If you genuinely want to be able to tackle off-tarmac terrain in a Q5, most likely you’ll soon talk yourself out of it and into a Tiguan or Kodiaq.

That sophistication comes out again in a rewarding blend of grip, body control and steering precision which makes the Q5 enjoyable to lean on in corners. It’s a doddle to drive in town, exceptionally well settled on the motorway and agile enough to make B-roads fun. Perhaps it’s not the very most focused SUV in this area, but it manages to strike a compromise between every aspect of road-going ability in which it manages to do everything very well.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the arrival of the new Amarok at the start of this year. VW’s double-cab had already gained a lot of admirers despite having the smallest engine on the market (a 2.0 TDI), but now here it was being reinvented with a 3.0 V6 TDI that was one of the biggest.

The engine was always going to be the biggest talking point with the revised Amarok. It’s available with three different power outputs… or at least it will be once the launch process is fully complete.

That’s because you can currently get it in 224 and 204bhp form, in each case with an eight-speed auto box as standard. Later this year, VW   says, the 204bhp unit will gain a manual gearbox as standard. 

At the same time, there’ll also be a 163bhp version of the engine; this too will be manual as standard. The range will also be expanded to include a Startline model specced with fleet and business customers in mind.


For now, however, we have a range of three. The Trendline is comfortably specced, while the Highline adds some bling and luxury. You might also still get one of the Aventura launch models, but the 224 Highline tested here is the range-topper going forward.

Our test vehicle had optional brown leather, but even without this the feeling of quality in its cabin is obvious from the word go. The dash is all hard plastic, but the standard of build is very good and the centre console is rock solid.

The seats don’t have lumbar adjustment, however. We found ourselves shuffling around in them after an hour behind the wheel when we first drove the Amarok last winter; this time, long journeys on the motorway proved that it’s a comfortable enough place to sit, but we still found ourselves reaching in vain for a lumbar lever after a while on board.

The Amarok is not alone in lacking this apparently obvious feature, but a more surprising black mark is the lack of decently proportioned stowage space up front. The cubby, glovebox and door pockets are all small and awkward to get into, so you’re likely to end up leaving things like your shades, keys and wallet in the bin and cup holders in the centre console.

Most seriously, however, we were disappointed by the lack of knee room in the back seats. We commented last time that you’d struggle to get four tall adults on board without at least one or two of them having something to grumble about; this time, we found that a five-year-old couldn’t get into his car seat without the driver (who stands at 6’1”) having to slide forward and hunch up.

The back of the rear bench does at least drop forward to create a flat platform. Whether this is really better in practice than just putting things on the seats is open to question, but it’s there.

Also there are hidden stowage bins under the front seats, which might help save you from having to take small items with you when you leave the vehicle parked up. But when it comes to practicality, obviously in a pick-up it’s all about the rear bed, and this has a tough plastic liner with four lashing rings proud of it, as well as a 12-volt socket in the side of the bed.

Thus provisioned, the Amarok is well equipped for a duty of work, and our test vehicle also had a rigid flat deck to keep things secure. The tailgate locks, too (using a key, rather than as part of the central locking circuit), and you can spec the vehicle without a rear bumper to let it drop fully down and sit vertically, allowing you to reverse right up to loading bays.

As is often the case with pick-ups, there are areas in which the Amarok frustrates us. Its dash looks outstanding, and it’s as well made as it is thought out – but if you have any sort of need for proper rear seat space, you’ll come up against a serious obstacle.

A car would need to be pretty heavy to have 224bhp and not feel at least reasonably fast. The Amarok is indeed pretty heavy, but it does still feel usefully brisk by pick-up standards – even if the gearbox takes a fair bit of winding up when left in auto mode.

It does change gear smartly when you start working the paddles behind the steering wheel, however. All the same, with so many ratios to deal with it’s a lot more relaxing to leave it in auto and just live with the rise and fall of the revs.

While the auto unit is genuinely sophisticated, we do find ourselves looking forward to the day when the Amarok gains a manual. Even though it will be limited to less powerful versions of the same engine, we have little doubt that they’ll be more enjoyable to drive and quicker from A to B in the hands of a typical pick-up driver.

Talking of A-to-B pace, the Amarok’s steering takes a lot of getting used to before you can handle it with confidence. It’s nice and light around town, but gains more weight than is necessary at speed – so much so that at first, you might find yourself thinking something is jamming it. We really did find it that unnatural. The extra weight seems to be trying to make up for a lack of feel, too.

Our previous experience with the Amarok was in a version with 19” alloys and 255/55 tyres, so we were hoping the 225/60R18s on this model would allow a gentler ride. Not that we found it harsh previously, but there were some jitters from the suspension which upset its poise at times.

Happily, there was no sign of that this time. The Amarok still feels heavy over speed bumps and so on, but while the impacts certainly come through they do so without upsetting its composure, and its suspension settles straight back down – even when running unladen.

We also noticed a complete lack of vibration through the vehicle’s drivetrain and pedal box. That’s a particular boost to its refinement, which is generally as high (by pick-up standards) as its cabin quality would have you expect.

All the same, the entry-level Amarok will come on 16” rims – and we can’t help thinking about how much fun it would be with a manual box and a set of 265/75R16s. That’s a reference to the tarmac, but it also rings every bit as true off-road – not least because manual models have low box, but autos do not.

For many (and we’d be among them), this would be an absolute deal-breaker on the Amarok tested here. While you can’t yet get one with the correct equipment for proper all-round use, however, models with the auto box do have an Off-Road button which brings hill descent control into play and modifies the behaviour of the ABS to suit loose ground.

This is certainly necessary with no low range, but to be fair on the Amarok it’s almost unbelievably agile, and tractable, in really tight conditions. The auto box works well enough when used manually, and at these speeds the steering is lovely and light, so the physical effort required to drive it is low, but we found it quite mentally tiring to be constantly working the paddles on terrain where we’d being leaving a manual in low first or second and letting it find its way.

Once again, then, we think the arrival of the manual box will be the making of this Amarok. It does great things with big alloys, low-profile road tyres and a gearbox we wouldn’t choose – so with proper tyres and a manual with low box behind it, we expect the vehicle to demonstrate just how good this engine is capable of making it.

Volkswagen’s options list includes a locking rear diff, too, as well as heavy-duty underbody protection. And of course the aftermarket is right across the sort of accessories it takes to bring out the best in a good truck. Wait a little longer, then, and the Amarok has the potential to become the best off-roader in the one-tonne market. For now, while it’s very good, that’s despite itself – this is a tale of massive potential waiting to be realised.

The Amarok tested here lists at £30,495 – that’s £37,627 on the road if you pay your VAT, and the options on this truck would kick the latter figure up to £39,805. We were critical of the vehicle’s high price when we drove the Aventura model at launch; to be fair, VW is not alone in flirting with the £40k barrier for its top trucks, but it still concerns us that at that sort of money, flaws like the lack of rear knee room become harder to forgive.

You do of course get plenty of kit for your money. And the Amarok has a level of build quality that instils great confidence in it as a product – though we’d expect it to have a warranty which at least matches the best on the market, and 36 months or 60,000 miles is trounced by the 60 months and 100,000 miles for which Nissan will look after you if you buy a Navara.

The good news is that once the Amarok range is complete, you’ll be able to buy one for a lot less than this. And, in our view, it will be the right one. Combine a manual box with a more modest spec level and, having worked the discount game, you should be in the best model for less than £30k. At which point, we think the pick-up market may well have its first five-star truck.

First featured in 4×4, December 2017 issue.

Although Suzuki is primarily known in hardcore off-road circles for making small but amazingly capable 4x4s like the SJ, Jimny and original Vitara, the company has long been bringing four-wheel drive to corners of the car market you barely knew existed. So now the entire car market is trying to turn itself into a parade of SUVs, the Japanese outfit should be sitting pretty.

Pretty. There’s a word. Not one we heard many people using about the recently revised SX4 S-Cross, though. Suzuki’s small SUV has been restyled to make it look more aggressive and off-roady, and you can form your own view on how that went.

Inside, it’s more conservative without being sparse the way Suzukis once could be. The cabin design is simple and effective, not very exciting but not offensive either. That’s unless you’re an adult trying to sit in the back seats, in which case the roof will offend the top of your head to kingdom come.

The panoramic sunroof is to blame here. Unfortunately, Suzuki’s range structure means this is standard fit on all 4×4 models with either the 1.4 petrol or 1.6 diesel engines; you can avoid it only by going to the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol model.

This will break the deal for some, but if you (or, more likely, your children) can cope with the dire lack of headroom in the back, legroom is among the best we’ve seen in SUVs of this size. You get a good view out, too.

That’s despite the fact that a six-foot driver will need to have his seat fully back and, probably, quite well reclined. The cabin doesn’t feel hugely roomy up front – though ironically, headroom is very good – and the seats are on the small side, though they remain comfortable over a long journey.

The seat leather does feel tough rather than supple, however. In general, material quality smacks of cost-saving, with hard plastics pretty much everywhere on the dash, though it’s stoutly assembled.

Where you don’t see any sign of cost-cutting is in the spec of the range-topping model tested here. As well as the aforementioned pan roof and leather, you get heated seats, distance-sensitive cruise, autonomous emergency braking and so on. High-spec, low-price cars can sometimes leave you feeling let down, but you don’t want for much in the driver’s seat.

One thing you do want for is a flat cargo area when the back seats go down. They do fold very simply, however, and there’s no lip to slide stuff over, so while the SX4 could be better for practicality it does still punch above its weight.

So too does the engine, which Suzuki says has an output equivalent to that of a 1.8-litre engine. It certainly doesn’t feel short of pace, with top torque coming in nice and low to help it up through the gears as the auto box does the work.

In particular, we found the vehicle impressively refined for its size. We’d driven the latest Vitara a few weeks previously and been rather disappointed by the amount of noise in the cabin at any sort of motorway pace, but the smaller SX4 is altogether quieter. It rides smoothly, too, damping out bumps with a lightness of touch that sets it very far apart from Suzukis of old. Its cabin may have similarly cheap plastics in it, but there’s nothing tinny about it.

It steers and handles well, too, with enough agility to be quite engaging when you’re on a mission. We’d choose the manual gearbox for this reason, though, to make it that much easier to wring its neck.

The auto box is very well suited to off-road use, however, at least to the modest extent to which that’s relevant. The SX4 does have decent ground clearance, and with Lock mode engaged its transmission will use the traction control system to mimic a limited-slip differential, so while ruts and deep mud are not its forte it does have green lane skills.

This all goes to making the SX4 a useful little all-rounder which, if you can see beyond its looks and aren’t put off by its terrible rear headroom, represents decent value for money in today’s new car market. It’s not a giant-killer in the mould of the vehicles that turned Suzuki into a legend among the off-road cognoscenti twenty years ago, but it’ll do everything a typical owner will ask of it – while keeping some clever tricks in reserve.

First appeared in 4×4 November 2017 issue.

Think Italy, think supercar. Or should you? In an age where 4x4s command such a high percentage of vehicle sales, even traditional sports car brands have had to broaden their horizons into unfamiliar territory.

Maserati is used to making fast and elegant sports saloons and coupes, traits that rarely transfer easily into SUV guise. But seeing as the Italian firm has identifed that 57% of the luxury car market is made up of SUV offerings (and only 6% for sports cars), it makes sense to dip a toe in the potentially lucrative pool. It worked for Porsche, after all.

Enter the Levante. Riding on the same platform that supports the Ghibli and Quattroporte, this Range Rover Sport and BMW X6 rivalling SUV uses Maserati’s Q4 AWD system and comes with one of two 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engines. You just choose which fuel it drinks.

All versions of the Levante use an eight-speed ZF auto, while any powertrain you opt for is hardly short on oomph. The diesel has a cool 275bhp and it’s all very smooth, civilised and adequate. Plus, Maserati has worked its harmonic genius so that even the diesel sounds pretty gorgeous.

We recently drove the entire Levante range on a test day at Millbrook. The diesel, which is the model that’s been around since the vehicle was first launched, was earmarked for off-road duties, and it did it with very little fuss. Naturally, there’s plenty of electronics making sure that’s the case, with the Hill Descent Control a standout feature that impresses, even on ridiculous gradients.

The transmission delivers rear- wheel drive in ordinary conditions, but the system can send up to 50% of the engine’s torque to the front in just 150 milliseconds. The vehicle also has Adaptive Air Suspension, with a pair of Off-Road modes allowing you to raise its ride height by by 25mm or 40mm, and between all these various technologies it can perform better in the rough than almost anyone will ever discover.

Naturally, the Levante is designed predominantly for the road. But Maserati is candid about the need for it to have a level of off-road credibility. Which it has.

But the real reason for us being at Millbrook was to get a first experience of the newcomer, the petrol-engined Levante S.

This uses a 3.0 twin-turbo V6 designed and manufactured by Ferrari, which produces 430bhp.The diesel is nice, but this is gorgeous. It’s like cacio e pepe instead of spag bol; Pavarotti instead of Vasco Campagnano; Andrea Pirlo instead of Paolo ‘I was in charge at Swindon Town once’ Di Canio.

Around the Alpine Track at Millbrook, everything starts to add up. The Levante is still a hefty thing, but it manages to disguise its weight fairly well. It’s helped by two sport settings that can lower ride height by 20mm or a slammed 35mm.

In Sport mode, the exhaust valves open up and you can expose yourself to the full opera performance – there’s no fake ’sound symposer’ acoustics being channelled through the delightful Bower and Wilkins stereo, either. Even changing gear is an event, with the large brushed-metal paddles gifting you the same sort of sensation you receive when firing a bolt-action rifle.The only downside is that the paddles are column-mounted rather than on the wheel. A personal gripe, perhaps.


The engine is a joy to rev, though, even for a turbocharged unit. And while the steering doesn’t serve up as much detail now the 2018 Levante has switched from hydraulic to electronic, there is plenty of information to gather through your buttocks.

Switching over to electronic steering was essential for the new Advanced Driving Assistance Systems to work properly. Traffic Sign Recognition, Forward Collision Warning and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) are just a few of the new aids operating in the background. The latter simply wouldn’t work with a hydraulic steering set-up.

Also new are the two trim levels now available for Maserati customers. If you’re doing what we’d do then for any going for the Levante S, the only choice left is whether you upgrade to the GranSport or GranLusso variant, both of which cost £76,995.

The GranSport trim dresses the car with black accents externally, while inside the steering wheel is wrapped in a carbon fibre finish. The alloys are also an inch bigger.

If we were asked to put our own money on one, however, we’d go for the Levante S GranLusso.

It’s a classier look, enhancing the Levante’s elegance with metallic highlights, giving a less opposing stance than the GranSport.The wonderful soft-close doors come as standard and in the cabin, Zegna silk fills the inserts of the seats and decorates the door trims.

It’s a refreshing break to an all- leather environment and turns the Levante’s interior from a good one into a great one.

What’s ironic is that Maserati has been rather German about the Levante. They haven’t tried to pretend this is a vehicle that could rock-crawl its way across the Alpi Cusiane. Instead, they’ve gone to great lengths to nail the basics and focus on what it does best – which is bringing a sense of occasion to the everyday driving experience.

In diesel form, the Levante already did that in its own way – simply by being a Maserati. Now, however, the vehicle has what’s surely the right engine for it. The Levante S brings a wonderful sense of theatre to the 4×4 market – it might be Maserati’s first attempt at creating an SUV, but on this evidence the company has hit the ground running.

First featured in 4×4 February 2018 issue.

The Navara is the first mainstream double-cab to use coil springs at the back rather than the more traditional leaves. It’s still a live axle, of course, but this is now controlled by a multi-link set-up promising more sophisticated dynamics than have been possible on pick-ups prior to this.

We’ve had some experience of coil-sprung double-cabs before. The Ssangyong Musso Sports from the mid-naughties managed to distinguish itself by riding and handling far worse than any of its cart-sprung rivals, and the Walkinshaw edition of the old Mitsubishi L200 proved that coils alone aren’t the answer when a truck still needs the ability to tote a tonne.

Thus the NP300 is a vehicle which comes to the UK with a number of questions to answer. In the top-spec form tested here, it feels convincing from the moment you get aboard, with a properly integrated media screen within a dash which, despite being fashioned in hard, wipe-clean plastics, is pleasingly stylish to look at.

We found the dash and centre console rather creaky, however. The latter in particular can be wobbled from side to side from the back seat. There’s a good range of stowage options, though, and the view ahead across a vast, swooping bonnet is excellent. The seats are as classy as any we’ve experienced aboard a current double-cab, too.

Those in the rear are kind of snug, however: one six-footer can’t sit behind another without one or both having to make compromises. Our test vehicle had a sunroof, too – and from the back seat, our view was basically of the head lining dipping down in front of our eyes to accommodate it.

Under the bonnet, the 2.3-litre turbo-diesel engine is available with two different outputs. Here, we’ve got it in 187bhp, 332lbf.ft form.

It’s not the most refined at idle, with a fair amount of clattery noise that doesn’t settle until you put it under load. There’s little in the way of vibration, though, and though it’s vocal when revved the engine does pull very well through the standard-fit six-speed manual box.

A 10.8-second 0-62 time sounds about right, or even a little on the pessimistic side. More to the point, it feels as if it will accelerate just as strongly with 1000kg in the back or a heavy trailer on the back. The towing limit is 3200kg, so you’re a step down from the legal maximum.

On the road, the Navara feels light on its feet the way the old D40 model never did. There’s none of the crashing and shuddering that came from that truck’s front end when it hit rough roads, though we did find the back getting loose on the way round fast corners on a couple of occasions.

In terms of ride, though, the coil springs don’t change much. When all’s said and done, they still need to hold up a tonne of cargo; if anything, we’d say the Hi-Lux and L200 are a touch smoother over bumps.

Where the Navara’s rear coils certainly should come into their own is off-road. The multi-link set-up should allow usefully more travel than a pair of leaf springs, and sure enough it does seem to be more supple over axle-twisting terrain. This may be the rationale behind Nissan’s decision only to offer a locking rear diff as a factory option.

As it is, the old D40 felt heavy and clumsy off-road – and you couldn’t accuse this one of being either of those things. On the contrary, it’s more agile than its size would have you assume.

Very few people buying one of these from new will take it that far, however. For them, the Navara turns in a thoroughly tractable, sure-footed performance on the sort of ground that accounts for 99% of off-tarmac driving in the real world.

On the subject of real-world concerns, the Navara is usefully cheaper than the equivalent Hi-Lux, and if you’re using it as a daily driver there are ways in which it’s arguably better. Its multimedia system doesn’t look like an aftermarket add-on, for example.

Whether it will hold its money as well is open to question, however. And for off-roading, you need to add another £500 for that diff-lock.

Nonetheless, the Navara is a totally convincing vehicle which, at this level, comes with all the kit you expect in a lifestyle truck.


First featured in 4×4 November 2017 issue.

At long, long last, we’ve had our first experience behind the wheel of the all-new Jeep Wrangler.

And it’s so far, so good. Very good.


It’s been mainly road miles so far, but that’s the area where the Wrangler had to improve – and it has. Ride quality is way better than before. Admittedly on very smooth roads (we’re out here in Austria on the European launch), the new Wrangler glides along with no sign of harshness or vibrations coming through the chassis. We aimed for whatever rough bits we could find, and they didn’t upset it.

So far we’ve found that positioning it on the road needs a bit of concentration, as steering feel is – well, still pretty Wrangler-like. To put that comment in context, though, we’re talking about narrow roads, driving on the wrong side, while trying to avoid aquaplaning in the middle of a thunderstorm. So we’ll come back to you on this when we’ve done some more.

The 2.2-litre diesel engine pulls pretty well. So far we’ve only driven it with an auto box (there doesn’t seem to be a manual) in the long-wheelbase model, and if it can cope with that it can cope with anything.

The new Wrangler is a lot lighter than the old model, which is one reason why smaller engines are okay – initially at least, we’ll only get the diesel, along with a 2.0-litre petrol unit.

Inside, the cabin is looking excellent. The design is not dissimilar to the old JK’s, but its quality is strong as an ox, and the layout is really pleasing. Elbow room still isn’t what you’d call generous, but the driving position is outstanding.

So, next step off-road. Quite what we’re going to find, we don’t know, because this was written from a tent in the middle of a thunderstorm on an Alpine hillside, and the forecast is for things to get dramatically worse over the next few hours. Ideal, then! We can’t wait.

Thus far, though, we’ll say this – if you liked the old Wrangler, we reckon you’re going to love this one.

Dacia has come a long way in a short amount of time and it’s now time for the UK’s most affordable SUV – the Duster – to have a proper makeover.

Let’s be clear from the offset: this is Europe’s second best-selling C-segment SUV, so pay attention. Plus, this isn’t just a facelift either – you’re looking at the Duster 2.0.

There are no panels carried over from the old model, and the new version looks altogether more muscular.

The sculpted bonnet, wider headlamps and revised grille all contribute to this, while the raised shoulder line gives a greater sense of security from inside. At the rear, the tail lights are now chunky and square and smart alloy wheels now reach as big as 17” on the top-spec Prestige derivative.

The simplicity of the brand is clearly inside. You have everything you need and nothing more. The new S-shape dash is uncluttered, with the focal point being the 7” touchscreen multimedia system that comes as standard on Comfort and Prestige trims.

It’s a typical black interior, which should help it age gracefully, while the seating has been improved with height adjustability, even if more support under your thighs would be nice. Look more closely, though, and you can start to see how Dacia keep their prices so low.

The air vents for example (of which there are five) are identical, meaning they’ve only had to spend the time – and resources – in developing one vent. As a result, they can focus on stuff that matters, like improving storage and refinement.

A neat drawer under the passenger seat addresses the former, while the thicker glass and more liberal use of absorption materials behind the scenes tackles the latter. Okay, so the Duster still isn’t a byword for luxury, and there is an air of cheapness about the cabin, but you cannot argue when you consider the Duster’s pricing.

You can get behind the wheel of a new Duster for just £9,995, albeit one that is basic even by Dacia standards and only 2WD. Nevertheless, you could go all-in for the 4WD Prestige model and you only need to part with £16,395. You’ll find that down the back of the sofa…

And for your sofa change, you now get rather a lot. Owners of the old Duster wanted a few of the extra toys you expect to get with modern cars. Climate control, keyless entry, a rear camera and even electric power steering – you can fill your boots with the new Duster. There’s even fancy tech like blind spot detectors, although no lane departure or autonomous braking yet.

What about driving, then?

Well the 4×4 variant only comes with the 1.6-litre 4cyl SCe 115 petrol motor. It’s a naturally aspirated unit and rather slow. But, in the absence of a turbo, this is an engine that loves to rev and even manages to sound fruity on occasion. So you can thrash it to your heart’s content (necessary rather than a choice) and you’ll still only be doing 17mph.

Thankfully, a turbocharged TCe 130 engine is expected to arrive in March next year, which should help provide some welcome mid-range. The 4WD Duster also uses the six-speed manual over the five-speed, lowering drone on motorways. Shifting gears requires a relaxed approach, but is certainly no chore, while the lighter steering will prove useful around town. The only place the Duster does start to feel out of its depths is on the faster roads, where tyre noise, ride quality and its lack of power are all exposed.

Around town the suspension setup is actually pretty good at tackling the worst of British roads. Off-road the Duster is a capable and formidable machine, with short overhangs, all-new Hill Descent Control, short first gear and the 4WD rotary system, the same you get in a Nissan X-Trail.

It’s still more of a soft-roader, with limited articulation and no low-range ‘box, but it’s determined to conquer any obstacles in its way and performs like an SUV as well as looking like one.

Like Dacia, the Duster sticks to doing what it does best. It’s a plucky SUV that will give you everything you need on a drive as you go about your daily life, but has more than enough ability to turn out a welcome surprise now and again.

Plus, the Duster seems a vehicle that is as easy on the eye as it has always been – and still is – on the wallet.

Jeep are flourishing as a brand, and a model that has helped the brand grow in Europe – and the UK – is the Renegade, and it’s just received its mid-life facelift. So what’s changed?

Firstly, the 2019MY Renegade looks fresh. The front end is updated and has taken inspiration from the new Wrangler. The stylish mimicry begins with circular lights either side of the trademark grille, featuring the same horizontal, rectangular LEDs found in the big brother. At the back there are more similarities, with the square tail lights echoing those on the JL Wrangler. There’s plenty of space inside and the interior is smart – ours was black with grey leather inserts on the seats and dash – there isn’t a luxury feel, though.

A touchscreen infotainment system dominates the dashboard, and at times the menus made simple functions overly complicated, but it is responsive and display quality is good. At one point, however, the system froze and became entirely unresponsive, before sorting itself out after an indiscriminate amount of time. But, this being an early model, we wouldn’t fuss over that.

There is a cost to the eye-catching design, however, as the tall, square cabin is a victim of loud road noise on motorways and visibility is poor. The safety features and blind spot warning system is fine on faster roads, but driving in towns you’re reminded that it’s just better to not have a blind spot at all.

It isn’t just the looks than have been updated, with three new petrol engines on offer. With new aluminium blocks, there is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder worth 120bhp, and a 1.3-litre unit with an extra cylinder available with 150 or 180bhp. On the diesel front the 1.6 and 2.0-litre MultiJet II units remain unchanged.

We drove the 150bhp 1.3-litre four-cylinder, which comes with 4WD and a dual clutch six speed gearbox. It was sluggish off the line and this initially resulted in the right foot asking for more than it needed. However, it did highlight that the new engine actually has something to give and was fairly peppy and energetic when prodded, and at cruising speeds it was comfortable.

Ride quality in the Renegade was surprisingly firm, with potholes and impurities on the road very noticeable and not entirely comfortable at times.

There was plenty of safety tech too. Alongside the blind spot indicator there’s lane departure warning, speed assist that reads traffic signs, forward collision warning with active emergency braking – all of which is standard on Limited models like the one we drove.

We also nabbed a brief go in a TrailHawk version, and although it wasn’t a taxing off-road course there was no cause for concern. The ride was rather on the firm side, as in the Limited, but with the added off-road modes it remained surefooted up and down steep gravelly climbs and remained unfazed by the route.

The Renegade is by no means the hardest off-road vehicle Jeep make. Nor is it a driver’s car. It’s a practical family vehicle that sits everyone in comfort and does a job. Put to use or not, Jeep’s off-road credibility means that the updated Renegade remains desirable as the rugged option is its class.

Full specs as pricing are yet to be announced, but expect prices to start at about £25k when the refreshed Renegade goes on sale in the autumn.

A Range Rover with a 2.0-litre petrol engine. Truly, we never thought we’d see the day.

Last time Land Rover put such a small petrol unit in a proper-sized vehicle, it was the first-generation Discovery MPi. And just look how well that worked out.

But there’s no cause for concern. The P400e is a million miles away from that bad old Disco. It’s petrol engine is part of a plug-in hybrid system – which dishes out a total of 404bhp and 472lbf.ft. The latter peaks from 1500rpm and most of it is there from standstill, electric motors being what they are, so the only resemblance between this vehicle and the wheezy, breathless MPi is a small, green, oval one.

Well, there’s also the fact that it’s built to be masterful off-road, albeit thanks now to a cornucopia of electronic sensors rather than any reliance on basic engineering. That’s just an inevitable by-product of Land Rover’s march to where it is now, however, so there’s no point being rooted in the past – and anyway, there was no off-road part to the brief test drive we had in the vehicle, though a set of back roads rougher than many a green lane proved that even with 21” wheels to cope with, the Range Rover’s air suspension is capable of smoothing out pattery corrugations and crashy pot holes alike.

But what we’re here for is to experience the effects of the hybrid powertrain. It has an EV mode, which allows you to glide around at low speeds with literally no mechanical noise to be heard, though the petrol engine does still kick in under enough load. In theory, you can do 31 miles on battery power, and with plug-in charging this means that under the right circumstances, you can get to and from school, work, Waitrose and so on without ever using a drop of petrol.

In the real world, where the electric motors simply assist the engine, the results are impressive to the point of being startling. You can build speed smoothly, quietly and with ridiculous ease – the engine doesn’t sound strained, and the electric side is impossible to detect in action.

That’s not the case when you’re pulling out at T-junctions, however. Twice on our brief drive, as we put out foot down the Range Rover eased out with an initial hesitancy followed by a sudden surge of torque that kicked out the back end  and brought the traction control rampaging in to keep us from going into a spin. Definitely not a very Range Roverly state of affairs.

Nonetheless, this is a sublime 4×4 whose smoothness and refinement are backed up by a claimed 101mpg. And at £95,500 as tested, it almost looks cheap by the standards of today’s luxury SUV market. Turns out a 2.0-litre petrol engine was a welcome addition to the Range Rover range after all.

Refinement is a big part of what makes a Range Rover what it is. The Sport has always played up to that, but the SVR model has made a virtue of being, if not unrefined, then certainly unrestrained. It’s monstrous V8 shove and trademark boorish exhaust note leave you in no doubt as to the sort of people to whom it’s trying to appeal.

For the new year, the SVR gains yet more power, with 575bhp backed up by 516lbf.ft. Top speed is 176mph and it’ll leap from 0-60 in 4.3 seconds. Yet it’s also more of a luxury SUV than ever – albeit a very showy one. The vehicle we tested had 22” rims, special paint and loads of carbon fibre on top of its in-yer-face body kit, and of course if you don’t see it coming, with that thundering exhaust you’ll certainly hear it.

Is it appreciably different to drive than last year’s model? No. It remains a big, loud handful whose willingness to erupt forward when provoked makes it endlessly entertaining but less than relaxing. Needless to say, it gathers pace more or less instantaneously, but on the way into corners it feels like you’re having to harness a large, tall, heavy weight. It doesn’t think much of big pot-holes, either.

We’ll acknowledge here that we only had a short drive of the SVR, which barely gave us time to get used to it – which, we’re confident, we would on a longer session. However, immediately afterwards we drove the same route in a Bentley Bentayga V8 – which, by comparison, felt like a hot hatch.

Perhaps that’s the difference another £35,000 makes – though at prices like these, that sort of money is probably irrelevant. Either way, various racing drivers have demonstrated that the SVR is incredibly capable through corners. But to everyday punters like us, it’s a beguiling speed machine and look-at-me device rather than an easily accessible driving tool.