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McLaren 765LT Spider

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Such is the rigidity of the car’s carbonfibre structure that very little retuning was required for any of the hardware. In fact, the most significant alteration has been to the calibration of the car’s trademark active rear spoiler, which now has different angle-of-attack strategies to deal with the differing aero pressures from having the roof opened or closed, which is kind of cool.

It all looks very promising on paper, but does it stack up? We’re sent out, roof up, onto the challenging Navara circuit in Spain to start with, and from where we’re sitting, slung low and legs outstretched in typical recumbent McLaren style, the differences between coupé and cabrio are as good as indiscernible. There’s the same deliciously precise and feelsome hydraulically assisted steering, plus the incredible grip and balance that allow you to push harder and faster with every lap. It feels every bit as ferociously fast, too – the LT’s extra grunt and the closely stacked intermediate ratios of its seven-speed transmission allowing it to gobble up straights with the rampant energy of a nuclear reactor experiencing thermal runaway.

As with the coupé, that wider front track promotes stronger turn-in bite for greater mid-corner rotation that allows you to alter your exit angle of dangle at will. You still need to be on your toes when the electronic safety nets are gradually lifted, but no other McLaren is quite as willing to play the fool.

Yet to really experience the Spider’s enhanced appeal, you need to exit the track, lower the roof and head out onto the road, where you can immerse yourself in the sights, smells and surround-sound backing track that all come as standard with alfresco motoring.

This 4.0-litre V8 has never been the most musical of performers, but when your ears are so much closer to its bespoke quad-exit titanium tailpipes, it’s hard not to smile – especially in Sport or Track mode, where the hard-edged mechanical blare is augmented with some theatrical pops and gurgles. You can even continue enjoying the aural onslaught when it’s raining, thanks to the ability to lower the small glass rear window at the touch of a button.

Like the coupé, the ride is just the right side of unacceptably stiff for the road, but it’s also just as engaging and involving. Such is the connection between driver and machine that you don’t have to be driving the LT in extremis to enjoy its finely honed dynamics: the constant stream of messages being fed back to you even when pottering about act as a constant reminder that you are at the wheel of one of the finest driver’s cars to be wheeled out of Woking.

Skoda to launch electric saloons and estates alongside SUVs

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Skoda remains committed to offering models other than SUVs as it progresses towards full electrification and will replace its most popular cars with EV equivalents.

One such example is the Skoda Octavia, which remains the brand’s best-selling model despite the growing popularity of SUVs and is tipped to be succeeded by an electric equivalent.

In the first nine months of 2021, Skoda sold 159,400 Octavias, meaning it substantially outsold the brand’s three SUVs. In the same period, Skoda sold 99,100 Kamiqs, 96,600 Karoqs and 82,600 Kodiaqs.

Nonetheless, SUVs account for a huge proportion of the brand’s sales, and its first three bespoke EVs will all sit in this segment. The Enyaq iV will soon be followed by a smaller crossover and Skoda’s entry-level EV, due around 2025, will be a compact, urban-oriented EV in the vein of its Volkswagen ID 2 sibling.

However, sales and marketing boss Martin Jahn told Autocar that Skoda doesn’t plan to become exclusively an SUV manufacturer.

“We’re committed to the needs of our customers,” he said. “In the future, we will always try to find shapes and bodystyles that our customers are expecting. I think that we will continue with the range of cars of Octavia and Superb. We still see a need for these cars, so they will continue for some time.” 

And such cars still have a place in the brand’s future electric line-up beyond that, according to Jahn. He said: “We will be looking at bringing a car similar to Octavia, a car with a similar purpose: for people who are a bit more conservative, who don’t want an SUV, or for company fleets who don’t want to have SUVs but want different body shapes.”

That suggests that any electric Octavia equivalent won’t share the current car’s name, and indeed Skoda is following a similar product strategy to parent company Volkswagen in marketing its new bespoke EVs separately from existing combustion models. Skoda could offer its own version of Volkswagen’s upcoming ‘Aero-B’ electric saloon, which itself is essentially an EV equivalent of the Passat

Opinion: Sebastian Ogier bows out – sort of

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Et voilà: after eight titles and 54 wins for Sébastien Ogier (he added one to his previous tally of each on Rally Monza), this is where it all comes to an end. Maybe. Officially, he’s down to do a partial programme of events next year with Toyota, sharing a GR Yaris hybrid with Esapekka Lappi (the exact programme is yet to be defined). 

Rally Monza showed, though, that Ogier has lost none of his speed, motivation or class. It would come as no surprise if the Frenchman triumphed on the Rallye Monte-Carlo next year: he has won it eight times before, after all, which is more than anyone else. 

And at that point, who could blame him if he wanted to carry on, perhaps to equal or even beat his compatriot Sébastien Loeb’s record of nine WRC titles? Ogier is still only 37, after all. 

But there’s one person who has a huge influence on his decisions, and that’s German TV presenter Andrea Kaiser – also known as his wife and the mother of young Tim Ogier. She has made her point of view clear: she would rather he stopped completely, making a clean break. 

Perhaps she has a point. Great champions operate at such a high level that it’s almost impossible to reproduce that stellar form on a part-time basis. Even the very, very best drivers (and Ogier is a member of that club), such as Loeb and Michael Schumacher, couldn’t quite return to their peak performances once they had nominally retired. 

And Ogier himself has actually been talking about retirement for a long time: he would have stopped at the end of last year, had it not been for the pandemic truncating the season. So it has only come to the end right now – sort of. 

Not so for Julien Ingrassia. Ogier’s co-driver announced last month that he would be ending his career for good after Rally Monza, which means that Ogier will be accompanied by Benjamin Veillas next year. 

And not just that: Ogier has already tested Toyota’s new Le Mans Hypercar in Bahrain, and all indications are that he would like to do some racing, too. 

You can never blame anyone for following their passions, but there’s going to be lot of things that will be very different next year. And while it will be great to see Ogier on the stages again, wouldn’t it have been neater to do something that nobody has ever done before: retire from the WRC having won his last title and rally, indubitably and forever at the very top of his game? 

How it works: waved double-yellow flags

No other flag is more important in motorsport than the yellow one, because it warns of danger. And two of them being waved at you is really serious, often meaning there are marshals on the track – which is why Max Verstappen lost five grid slots by not slowing down for Pierre Gasly’s stricken AlphaTauri in qualifying for the Qatar Grand Prix. 

Buy them before we do: used picks for 3 December

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“Find me a pick-up for less than £20,000, but make it properly cool.”

Land Rover Series 1, £18,450, vs Ford Ranchero GT Torino, £20,000

Oliver Young: Starsky and Hutch would be mighty proud of my choice. It’s a Ford Ranchero, a muscle-car-based pick-up that ticks all the cool car boxes. Is it a head-turning classic? It hails from the ’70s, so of course it is. Does it have a charismatic engine? Its American V8 is positively overflowing with charm and charisma. Could it be the star car of a Hollywood movie? With such road presence, I wouldn’t be surprised if LA comes calling. All this in a practical pick-up. It’s incredible. 

Mark Pearson: What on earth is that? Oh, well. At least I’ve chosen James a cultured, subtle and thoroughly practical pick-up. This lovely 1951 Landie is desperately cool and a thing of beauty: it’s great to drive, refined, spacious, economical and supremely practical. In fact, it’s one of the best cars ever made. And it’ll appreciate in value. 

OY: It’s barely a pick-up, Mark. Plus, it looks like a death machine. I imagine a pothole is enough to cause catastrophe. Does that sound cool to you? 

MP: You’re being very harsh on my Landie. It’s a luxury convertible really, like a Mercedes SL. And with its Lexus-like ride, you won’t be troubled by potholes. 

Greatest road tests ever: Alfa Romeo Brera

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Tested 5.7.06

Built on a shortened version of the 159’s platform, the Brera had looks that split opinion but were unmistakably Alfa. Power came not from the brand’s fabled and tuneful V6 but a less characterful GM unit, albeit with heads, pistons, induction and exhaust systems particular to Alfa. The variable four-wheel drive system was rear biased by default. At 1765kg, the Brera weighed more than some Jaguar XJs, which restricted performance to hot hatch territory and dented economy. 

The urban ride was unsettled, but it improved on challenging roads and provided reasonable comfort and good body control. Four-wheel drive curbed understeer in the wet but precluded tail slides. The steering was quick and the brakes effective if fade-prone. 

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Tall front-seat occupants struggled for head room and the rear was for kids only. There was plenty of Alfa brio inside, though, with handsome design and classy materials. Equipment was no more than fair, given the Brera’s premium over the Nissan 350Z GT and the Audi TT 3.2. 

For: Presence, laid-back V6, solid build quality 

Against: Heavy, thirsty, handling that lacked sparkle 

Price: £29,850 Engine: V6, 3195cc, petrol Power: 256bhp at 6300rpm Torque: 237lb ft at 4500rpm 0-60mph: 7.0sec 0-100mph: 18.8sec Standing quarter: 15.6sec, 91.8mph Top speed: 144mph Economy: 18.6mpg 

New Lexus ROV is hydrogen-fuelled hint at future 4x4s

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Lexus’s hydrogen-fuelled Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle (ROV) concept is designed to demonstrate that “exhilarating driving can co-exist with a carbon-free society”. 

The UTV-style two-seater features exposed long-travel suspension, prominent mud-deflecting fenders, a full roll cage and chunky tyres – but Lexus maintains that it’s still “the kind of vehicle that people would expect from a luxury car maker”.

It uses a hydrogen-fuelled 1.0-litre engine, but Lexus hasn’t given any further technical or performance details, beyond suggesting that it will meet its requirements for quietness, durability and reliability, and will offer “the exciting sound of an ICE and the responsive rise in torque that comes from the fast combustion speed of hydrogen”. 

Asked by Autocar why Lexus was showing an off-road concept so disparate from its series-production models, the brand’s European vice-president Pascal Ruch said: “Why not? In the past, we’ve looked in very different directions – we even had a boat, which is nothing directly linked to the brand.

“In fact, we could have sold quite a lot of these boats. We sold only a handful, but there was the demand. Sometimes you have to experience new things.” 

He added that Lexus is a “lifestyle brand” and suggested that there will be an affinity between its customers and this new concept. The brand isn’t necessarily considering production, but Ruch said it “shows our direction when it comes to nature – trying to be close to nature, enjoying nature in a sustainable way”. 

Toyota GR86 on sale for just two years due to emissions rules

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The Toyota GR86 will be on sale in Europe for just two years in Europe and is unlikely to be replaced after that. 

Speaking at Toyota‘s annual Kenshiki forum, European CEO Matt Harrison said: “We’re already receiving a growing number of enquiries from potential customers – including those who believe the GR86 could be the last of its kind. And at least for Europe, they might be right.”

Interested customers should act “relatively quickly” to place their orders, he said, as sales in the region will end in just two years time, because the GR86 won’t be compliant with incoming European emissions regulations. 

Order books for the GR86 – which recently lost the space in its name for marketing reasons – will open in the Spring, ahead of deliveries beginning in the first half of 2022.

Toyota’s senior European vice-president, Tom Fux, told Autocar: “We felt that the vehicle is so good and so needed for Toyota’s image in Europe, and we have a small but very passionate group of customers out there who are searching for vehicles like the GR86.

“In the end, we decided it’s important to offer this vehicle, and then we will need to stop the vehicle, because it will not meet the new requirements in the future.

“But these two years will still provide an opportunity for passionate customers to get the vehicle.” 

The news comes just two weeks after UK media drove the GT86 successor for the first time in Spain, and Harrison said that company president Akio Toyoda – a renowned sports car fan – would be “delighted” to see the widely positive feedback. 

The suggestion that the GR86 will be the “last of its kind” hints that Toyota isn’t planning to introduce another non-electrified, affordable sports car in this vein. Fux said this is meant in the sense that the GR86 is “a pure sports car which is really focused on performance and fun on the road”.

2022 Morgan 3 Wheeler: design previewed in official sketches

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“Around 2012, we were selling 28 cars a week in total,” said Morris. “We believe the new model could help us match or even beat those figures.” 

Morgan has no wish to “sanitise” the visceral 3 Wheeler driving experience: the 2022 car’s footprint is “virtually identical” to that of the outgoing model, its cockpit is just as open and it has the same diminutive road presence. However, the cockpit is wider and it has a lower floor that allows better access and better accommodation for taller and wider drivers. 

Many details, such as the main instrument and fascia design elements, draw heavily on the best-loved features of the outgoing model. 

Wells is well aware that 3 Wheeler owners “do extraordinary things” with their cars, including long-distance touring holidays and expeditions. The new model will therefore cater to this more effectively, with convenient mounting brackets for luggage racks, cameras, lights and a variety of windscreens. A “huge” range of racks, mirrors, luggage cases and panniers will be offered as options, too. 

Radical graphics are already a familiar feature of the 3 Wheeler, but Wells said his design team is ready to hit new heights of invention. 

One item unlikely to be offered is a roof, although owners will be able to buy fabric tonneau covers and possibly a hard half-tonneau that will effectively turn the car into a snug single-seater. 

Although the styling is entirely new, the relationship with the old 3 Wheeler is clear. This isn’t a classically streamlined car, but much attention has been paid to aerodynamics. (The small frontal area and the act of moving the engine inside the car help a lot here.) 

Perhaps the most prominent feature, though, is a pair of near-flat “diffuser plates” on the body sides. Wells said these have a number of key functions: to manage airflow along the body (including helping to extract hot air from two front-mounted radiators), to carry pannier mountings, to provide an ideal palette for graphics and “to add drama”. 

New 2022 Lexus RZ is electric SUV with performance focus

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The first bespoke Lexus electric car, arriving in the first half of 2022, will be a sleek, performance-oriented SUV called the RZ. 

Officially previewed as part of the Toyota and Lexus annual Kenshiki forum, it is based on Toyota’s e-TNGA platform but with bespoke modifications aimed at taking “the driving experience to the next level”. 

The brand’s Europe vice president, Pascal Ruch, told Autocar that a priority for Lexus is offering “exhilarating driving performance” and hinted that it will offer variants of future EVs that “support the sporty position of the brand”. 

The RZ will have fully variable four-wheel drive and steer-by-wire technology, and promises “incredible cornering and roadholding”.

Bespoke modifications – including “lighter and more compact motors”, increased body rigidity and Lexus’s own Direct4 fully variable four-wheel-drive technology – are aimed at providing “an engaging and rewarding on-road driving experience”. 

The Direct4 system allows the RZ to apportion power delivery across both axles “in the blink of an eye”, essentially switching instantly between front-, rear- and all-wheel drive as the situation requires. Lexus will employ this set-up on all future bespoke EVs, suggesting each will use a twin-motor set-up.

Preview images indicate that the styling will be inspired by the radical LF-Z Electrified concept revealed earlier this year. 

Toyota GR Yaris H2 is hydrogen-fuelled hot hatchback

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The Toyota GR Yaris H2 is a hydrogen-fuelled, combustion-engined concept version of the brand’s acclaimed four-wheel-drive hot hatchback.

It has been shown at Toyota’s annual Kenshiki forum, during which the Japanese manufacturer heavily reinforced its commitment to hydrogen powertrain development as an alternative to all-out electrification.

Toyota has been testing hydrogen-combustion technology for several months now, using a lightly modified Corolla touring car – which uses a hydrogen-fuelled version of the GR Yaris’s 1.6-litre turbo three-pot – in Japan’s Super Taikyu race series.

Hydrogen-combustion technology, Toyota says, allows cars to become zero-emission relatively affordably as it allows manufacturers to exploit “existing internal combustion engine know-how and manufacturing investment”. 

Using this technology, Toyota’s Europe CEO Matt Harrison said, would allow Toyota to “deliver almost zero tailpipe emissions without electrification, but it does so whilst retaining the things which fans love most about race cars – the speed and the noise.”

“Music to the ears,” he said, “especially to those of a petrolhead.”

The GR Yaris H2 uses the same unit as the Corolla racer, with minimal modifications from standard, and has the same refuelling hardware as the brand’s Mirai production car. 

The subtle mechanical modifications are limited to strengthening the block (as hydrogen explodes more violently than petrol), new valve seats and an upgraded injection system. Powertrain boss Thiebauld Paquet estimated that it would achieve “similar efficiencies” to its unmodified petrol counterpart, but performance details remain under wraps.

Speaking after the concept’s reveal, Paquet told Autocar: “When we started it, we created a bit of vibration and a bit of noise, so it was clear and apparent how it sounds. That was one of the things we wanted to demonstrate: compared to fuel cell technology, which is very quiet, you can still get this feeling from sport, where you can hear and feel the car.

“In the first instance, it’s a concept. The idea is to use sports to find out the difficulties and how we can accelerate, how we can quickly come to improvements in the technology.”

Toyota has not confirmed the production potential of the GR Yaris H2, but Harrison said this technology means zero-emission motoring “needn’t be a distant future”. 

He said: “The uplifting message of the GR Yaris H2 is this: even in a zero-emissions future, we could still enjoy motoring thrills similar to those we enjoy today.”

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