Green sports car, boats in background

LUX drives the latest iteration of one of the world’s great supercars, the V10 engined, open-topped Huracan Spyder

Green sports car, boats in background

It may look good outside the yacht club…

The latest evolution of the flamboyant Italian car company’s brilliant two-seater looks like something run by an avatar from a games console, more mini-spaceship than vehicle. With the roof down (Spyder is Lamborghese for convertible) it looks more like a pair of aliens (driver and passenger) are taking a little tour of Earth.

Colour is a fundamental element of cars like these. If our Huracan had been green, purple, orange or any of the other eye-popping colours Lambo drivers like to choose, it would have been one kind of statement of personality: perhaps the most attention-grabbing car in the world in an attention-seeking hue. But in a dark metallic grey, it looked intriguing: more space vehicle, less boulevard poser. The interior was also restrained, black leather with blue piping, although the company’s design flair was everywhere, playing on hexagonal patterns and forms. This is not a car that could be mistaken for any other.

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The Huracan has a V10 motor that howls on startup and growls its way around town, quickly turning again to a howl when you find a patch of open road.

Green sports car on empty road

…but the Evo Spyder is happiest on fast, empty roads

With the wildness of the shape and the sound, you may expect the Huracan also to be wild to drive: like trying to tame a bucking bronco, or the raging bull that is Lamborghini’s emblem. And here, you would be in for a positive, or negative, surprise, depending on how you like your steeds. While it’s sensationally fast, corners flat and steers racily, the Huracan is underpinned by the latest driving technology engineered in association with its parent company, which also owns more sober brands like Audi and Bentley.

Shoot out of a roundabout into an unexpectedly tight curve and the car just clings on, happily. Accelerate through a wet corner and hit a patch of slippery leaves? Lamborghinis of earlier generations may have skidded or bucked, heartstoppingly for the driver; the Huracan just uses its four wheel drive system and fancy electrics to keep you zooming on track.

It makes for a thrilling experience for a passenger, who can enjoy the sounds and feel and looks the car receives, without feeling like they are in peril.

green drop top sports car

The Huracan Evo is powered by a V10 engine, of a kind that will never be made again, that makes a characteristic howl

Read more: Ferrari F8 Tributo and F8 Spider

And let’s spend a final moment on that engine. It is what the motoring world calls a “naturally aspirated” V10, with no turbocharger to help it. That means that its noise and punch get steadily more thrilling as you rise up through the rev range: maximum yowl means maximum acceleration, and you have to get there either by whipping down through the gears with the paddle shift by the steering wheel, or allow the revs to build up in each gear. It’s something that even current hyper efficient petrol engines, with turbos or electric hybrid help, can’t offer, let alone electric motors. And given the tiny mileages these cars tend to cover, you don’t even need to worry about whether you are being green.

 

Find out more: lamborghini.com

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Red car driving on road
Red car driving on road

The latest Porsche Panamera, a comfortable, high-performance SUV, is less lumbering than other fast SUVs and provides genuine driver satisfaction

In the fourth part of our supercar review series, LUX gets behind the wheel of the Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid

Mitteleuropa (middle Europe) is a semi-mythical territory that has always fascinated us. It is, decisively not the same as central Europe, the web of countries to the east of Switzerland and to the west of Romania. Its German name suggests it incorporates a part of Germany, but it cannot include the brisk North Sea coast or the Hanseatic ports, which belong to the Baltic. And we felt we were entering Mitteleuropa when a sign on the motorway in eastern France (that’s right, France) declared that we were in Lorraine. The signs on the motorway exit boards changed tone, as did the scenery. The place names became Germanic, and the flat fields of the Champagne region gave way to forested hills and ridges.

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Here, the Porsche Panamera felt in its element, as it headed back to its homeland. The straight-line motorway that had been a feature of the route to date turned into long, beautifully engineered curves, taken at high speed in this long wheelbase, semi-electric, large sports sedan. It was enormously satisfying, with subtle growls from the V8 engine upfront and the steeliness of the car’s sporting suspension making you feel like a pilot more than a chauffeur.

front black seats of car

This is the aim of the Panamera: a comfortable, high-performance vehicle intended to be genuinely satisfying for the driver, without the compromises of a high-sided SUV. As we drove past one mini mountain, the clouds burst open in a Götterdämmerung of rain, which rapidly flooded the road. The four-wheel-drive of the Panamera felt as if it was vacuuming up the water and spitting it out the back, wanting still to go faster, as if on a wet race track, when it would have been irresponsible to do so.

wheel of a car

We spent the night in Phalsbourg, eating at a French restaurant on a terrace on its wide central square while being served beer brewed in the Black Forest, in neighbouring Germany, by staff who spoke French and German, as if the two territories were one.

Between Phalsbourg and the Black Forest lie the Vosges mountains. The roads here were narrow, tight, still damp and the car clung to them through the gears, the electric and petrol engines working in unison to propel us forward. The Panamera is not a sports car by any traditional definition, it is too wide, too heavy. But if you’re used to driving a fast SUV and hanker after something less lumbering, while still having a lot of space, this is for you.

Read More: Style And Substance: Bentley Bentayga Hybrid

In the Black Forest the autobahn between Stuttgart and Lake Constance has no speed limit in many places, and its trail snakes through the mountains. At normal speed, the curves are gentle, barely noticeable, and you have the ability to admire villages pinned into the surrounding woods. But when you go much faster, on an empty road, each corner feels like a racetrack, and the car on its limit is muscular, secure, reassuring but sharp, made to maximise its capabilities on these roads not so far from its birth town of Stuttgart. At 160mph (257km/h), there is no time to admire the scenery.
We finished the day with a glass of the same local beer offered to us hundreds of miles away in Phalsbourg, while sitting in a little café on Lake Constance, Switzerland, a series of green bumps across the lake in front of us, Austria a couple of grey spikes in the distance to the left. Middle Europe, and the ideal car to conquer it.

LUX Rating: 18/20

Find out more: porsche.com

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car on cliff side
car on cliff side

Bentley’s latest Bentayga SUV is more environmentally friendly, faster, more comfortable

LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai discovers Bentley’s new, faster and more environmentally friendly Bentayga model revealed earlier this week

You, dear LUX reader, have a transport conundrum. Your driver is self-isolating, and you have a desperate need to transport yourself, your latest husband, two very long adolescent offspring, and a large number of Louis Vuitton suitcases, from the private aviation terminal at Nice airport to your villa above St Tropez. (The husband does not do helicopters).

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We are pleased to say that a solution is at hand, courtesy of British (well, British-based) automobile manufacturer Bentley and its new Bentayga SUV, announced this week.

You will naturally have been familiar with the existing Bentayga, which was pretty much the most luxurious way to transport a large family at frightening speed while taking up most of the Autoroute Provencale.

dashboard of car

The new model is more environmentally friendly, faster, more comfortable and has more room in the rear for those ever-growing adolescents, or alternatively your long-legged late night companions home from La Voile Rouge and, crucially, it looks better: sleeker, and less huge.

Read more: Two of London’s best restaurants in our home

car in parking space

Apparently, it drives better also, thanks to a wider track between the wheels and various other improvements that we won’t go into here. The key point is that you will feel like les genoux de l’abeille (the bee’s knees) as you hand the keys to the voiturier at Les Caves. Now, where’s the alcohol-free Dom Perignon?

Discover more: bentleymotors.com

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Landscape photography
Landscape photography

The view across the Rhine valley from Alsace’s Chateau de Haut-Koenigsbourg to Germany’s Black Forest.

LUX takes a journey from Alsace-Lorraine to Lake Constance, through a historic, beautiful, tranquil and gastronomic part of France and Germany that is curiously overlooked on the international tourist map

Location photography by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

There was a point at which, quite abruptly, the Autoroute A4, the east-west artery arrowing out of Paris towards Germany, became interesting. For hours before this point, we had been driving on a wide motorway flanked by flattish fields. Wind turbines and the occasional tractor were for the most part the only distractions from the monotony, with the exception of a brief section, near the city limits of Reims, where the vineyards of Champagne crept up an unexpected hill to our right. But the Montagne de Reims is better experienced in a glass than through the glass.

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An hour or so east of Reims, as if the gods of scenery had decided on a set change there and then, the highway swept to the left and up through a sudden forest on a long incline. The forest felt ancient, revealing glades and streams between its fronds, even when travelling at a cruise. There had been no warning of this scenery’s arrival, making it all the more compelling. In a few miles, a sign told us we were in the Forest of Argonne, known as the site of some of the worst battles of the first world war, and among oenophiles as the source of wooden barrels for some of the world’s great wines.

As if now trying to free itself from its straight-laced former self, the motorway writhed through a series of hills, along viaducts and across shallow valleys. We were now in Lorraine, technically part of the same, recently created region of Grand Est that we had been driving through for hours, but in reality a different part of Europe, historically, linguistically and, evidently, topographically. Lorraine, by itself or bound to neighbouring Alsace, is arguably as Germanic as it is French. Without crossing a border, we had changed nations.

historic building

Riquewihr, one of the historic villages on the Alsace wine route

We turned off near Verdun and followed a country lane that tracked a little river, turning left at a little junction and heading into the forest. Through a tiny one-horse village aligned along the road, and some wrought-iron gates, and we arrived at our overnight stopover, the Lodge Hôtel du Domaine de Sommedieue.

Read more: Why we’re dreaming of summers at Badrutt’s Palace, St Moritz

The reception area doubled as a restaurant, in an old building with a few tables outside, scattered across a lawn shaded by tall trees and bordered by a series of ponds. Our room, tidy, clean, well prepared and functional, was in a newly refurbished building a few metres away. The Sommedieue advertises itself as a fishing lodge, but we don’t fish, so we ordered a bottle of very good Côtes du Rhône from the receptionist/ waitress, who happily chilled out by the bar with her beau, with no pressure on us late arrivals to drink up and allow her to lock up. We drank the bottle, then another, at an outside table, alone with our thoughts and the plopping of fish, until a deep night-time absorbed us all.

lake with boats

Uberlingersee, the northwestern stretch of Bodensee (Lake Constance), in southern Germany, is an idyllic destination for summertime leisure visitors

The next morning the waitress had been replaced by the busy, jolly owner, who asked me which newspapers we would like. He placed a selection on a long wooden table inside the restaurant which he had festooned with a breakfast spread worthy of a still life: fresh, fat loaves, thickly sliced; home-made raspberry and apricot jam; slabs of butter; a bowl of apples.

We headed on, eastwards, through Lorraine, through forests and past rivers and lakes, still in France but with road signs reading as if they were in German: Harskirchen, Hirschland. Lorraine and neighbouring Alsace were at the heart of Europe’s history and wars for centuries, sometimes French, sometimes German, sometimes independent: they have seen peace only since the establishment of the forebear of the European Union after the second world war.

The town of Phalsbourg is bounded on one side by high wooded hills and on the other by meadows dropping down into the lowlands of Alsace. It sits on the border of Alsace and Lorraine, and we were there for its annual festival, the Festival de Théâtre. We arrived in the late afternoon, and walked into the central square, which with its gabled, almost Hanseatic architecture, feels like it belongs more to the Baltic than a country with a Mediterranean coast. We had a pizza on the terrace of one of the square’s handful of restaurants, while the festivities geared up; children and adults wearing the traditional red wandered by, eating candy floss and sipping on local wines respectively. A jazz band launched into a fabulous set as the day turned from gold to light blue to darker blue.

As the band finished, we climbed into the car and headed into the hills enveloped in deep forest and arrived, around midnight, at the Auberge d’Imsthal, a little inn set on a lake in the forest, ringed by hills. I sat on the balcony, listening to fish splashing and animals crashing through the forest, looking for shooting stars.

Church at night

Notre-Dame de l’Assomption church in Phalsbourg, a town in the hills on the border of France’s Alsace and Lorraine regions

The Alsace Wine Route carves its way across slopes lined with vineyards and scattered with Hansel and Gretel villages. The road is slightly elevated from the Rhine floodplain, and as you snake through the vineyards you see views of the deep blue mass of the Black Forest mountains. Halfway along the wine route, we stopped off at the village of Eguisheim, which sits amid its vineyards near the leading edge of a steep hillside leading up to the Vosges mountains.

Read more: Artist Marc Ferrero on his collaboration with Hublot

Eguisheim is tiny – the size of a city square in Paris or Madrid – but seems both eternal and infinite. Its narrow streets, lined by 500-year-old gabled houses, many of them in pastel shades, are arranged in an oval shape, with a breathtakingly bijou square with a fountain at its heart. We sat in a courtyard belonging to a wine producer and drank light, pure local crémant rosé sparkling wine, as the sky and the buildings changed colour and a cool breeze wafted down from the mountains as night fell.

convertible silver car

Mercedes S 560 Cabriolet

For our epic drive across Europe, we had a Mercedes S 560 Cabriolet, a big, handsome, luxurious convertible with seemingly limitless performance and the ability to whizz down any road in a ‘swoosh’ of power and smoothness. The armchairs cradled us like a jealous lover, and, with the roof down, their air-conditioning kept us chill when the sun shone, and warm at night.

The most memorable, and attractive, thing about the Swoosh-mobile was its effortlessness; the way you could fire it up and almost instantly be going at the speed limit, while it made bumps and bits of broken road disappear as if they were not there. So many fast cars these days are tuned as if they are going to be driven on a racetrack, riding down the road so firmly that you fear the movements on your expensive wristwatch will disassemble themselves every time you hit a bump, and making you fear for the integrity of the wheel every time you crash into a pothole. The S 560 is different: it is made to give its driver and passengers the most soothing drive possible, at a level of luxury that would have been inconceivable in a car only 15 years ago.

Read more: Entrepreneur Dr. Li Li on the importance of global relationships

If that makes it sound like the car is boring to drive, it’s not. There is a certain rakish, louche joy in whipping the roof down, cranking the concert-standard Burmester hi-fi up to high, and aiming down the road, elbow on window sill, the car emitting a deep, sonorous but quite muted gurgle. It responds well to changes of direction, not driving nearly as softly as its super-smooth ride would have you fear. Perhaps on a racetrack it would suffer against sportier rivals, but who takes this kind of car on a racetrack anyway?

It certainly didn’t suffer on the autobahn. Parts of German motorways remain free of speed limits, meaning that, once you spot the roadside sign telling you all speed checks are off you can go as fast as you wish without fear of being stopped or photographed by the police. As the autobahn descended from the Black Forest towards Bodensee (Lake Constance) on the final part of our journey, the no-limits sign appeared. The road arrowed straight down a gentle incline bordered on either side by meadows, with no junctions, and no traffic ahead of us. With the accelerator buried, and a rumble of chest-beating from somewhere inside the exhaust system, we surged, roof down, unstoppably, past an indicated 150mph in a matter of seconds. I finally eased off at 155mph when the wind above the open roof was at a severe hurricane level. The S 560 may be easy going, but it can also go.

car dashboard

Convertible sportscar

Such speed hastened our arrival on the shores of Bodensee, which is shared between three countries: Germany on its northern shores; Switzerland on the south shore opposite; and Austria at its eastern edge. Überlingen, on the German shore, is a small and historic resort town. That evening we strolled along the lakefront along a pathway festooned with gardens and small hotels, past the Strandbad (lake beach), where families were sunbathing, playing games and jumping into the lake, and to the centre of Überlingen. A row of cafes, restaurants and ice-cream booths faced the lake, alongside the pedestrian path; a passenger ferry docked, sending a mother duck and her ducklings into a tizzy and causing a passer-by to rescue a duckling which had jumped into a hole for safety. A ten-year-old brother and sister played trumpet and violin, quite competently, attracting a pile of donations for their bicycle fund. A mini beach-volleyball tournament attracted a small crowd, sipping local beer sold from a pop-up stand, on the waterfront. Überlingen is a special find, a tidy, beautifully preserved hark back to another era that feels all the more relaxing now because of it.

For our final overnight, we drove five minutes to the Park Hotel St Leonhard, on a gentle hillside, covered with meadows, orchards and vineyards, above the town. From the wide balcony of our room, the hill sloped down into the town towards the lake; across the two fingers of Bodensee, the lights of the settlements on the Swiss side lit up, the Alps forming a jagged graphic backdrop. The air was wet, herbaceous and grassy. This had been Europe, both new and old, at its very best; and sometimes true luxury cannot be measured by hotel stars.

Four Alsace wines to try

Alsace’s wines remain curiously undiscovered. Whites and sparkling dominate, all are fresh and sophisticated, some are sweet but others are dry, complex and fabulous value; and there are many good producers, keeping prices reasonable.

Domaine Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile
Rich, rounded, but bone-dry riesling with layers of candy and lime. Fabulous wine and value.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris
Sweet but not cloying, packed with a thousand fruit salads and much more. One of the greats.

Bruno Hertz Crémant d’Alsace Rosé
Heart-stoppingly pure sparking pink, simple and delicious, tasting of summer forest.

Domaine Hugel Riesling
Somehow unctuous and dry at the same time, stony with kiwis; older vintages can age beautifully.

For more information visit: mercedes-benz.co.uk

Note: This trip was undertaken pre-lockdown. LUX paid in full for all the hotels in this feature. 

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 Issue.

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red sports car shown on the road
red sports car shown on the road

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

In the second of our supercar reviews, we test drive a road-burning Italian sports car suitable for all the family: the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

One of the great conundrums for any current car enthusiast involves trying to work out why the country that produces the greatest supercars in the world has in general not produced anything nearly as outstanding to drive in the fast saloon car category.

If you’re looking for a racy two-seater, you’ll look first at Ferrari and Lamborghini. But if you want to carve similar performance and passion for four or five people, you would, in general, need to look to Germany’s Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, and BMW.

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Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo were world-beating sports cars before Ferrari was even born. Its more recent history as (largely) a maker of saloon cars has been less exciting.

Alfa’s heritage still resonates strongly: as soon as the new high-performance Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon was announced, I had texts from excited Ferrari owners wondering if they had found their next potential family runaround in this four-seater high-performance car.

We took delivery of our Giulia in Zurich. The Quadrifoglio is the high-performance version of the Alfa saloon, and the first thing to note: it looks mean. Beautiful and flamboyant alloy wheels are wrapped in Corsa racing tyres, aimed for use mainly on the track and in dry weather. The car may be a four-door saloon, but it looks like it means business. It has a wide shouldered stance, and the racy feel continues inside, where the combination of bucket seats, carbon fibre and a focused dashboard say supercar more than family car.

Interiors of sportscar

So, the Giulia QF can talk the talk, but that’s the easy part. Can it also walk the walk? We are, after all, in an era where any good family saloon/sedan is comfortable, fast and capable. Standards are high, and if you are pitching yourself as both a practical, comfortable car and a sports car, it has never been harder to be at the top of the pack.

First impressions are very racy. This is a car with steering out of a two-seater track machine, and it is extremely bracing. Every millimetre of movement of your hands translates into an equivalent change of direction from the wheels, something that does not often happen with saloon cars which tend to have a lot of safety margin to avoid inexperienced or inattentive drivers wheeling them off the road in a moment of low concentration.

Read more: Behind the wheel of the world’s most powerful supercars part one

The engine sounds glorious; it is a turbocharged V6 with a feeling of being tuned for both sound and power. In a future era where cars are electric or hydrogen powered, the melody of a Giulia QF will be sorely missed. (And before this prompts anybody to write in about greenhouse gases produced by conventionally engined cars, a proper audit of the carbon footprint of every component of an electric battery car should bring you back down to earth.)

So, sharp steering, fabulous sounding engine, fun interior – and how does it drive? The Giulia zinged down the back roads above Lake Zurich with the kind of gusto and brio missing from many of the highly capable but emotionless fast saloon cars on the road today. This is a car that, like some kind of Alpine hound, wants to sniff out twisty roads with delicious curves and power through them, challenging the driver to get everything perfect, balancing their way through the corners before powering outwards
and upwards.

It’s very fast, too – but that is really a given for this category of car, and in a straight line it is neither perceptibly slower nor faster than any of its rivals. It’s more about the way it goes about doing its business with a sense of joy.

But is there a flipside to that, in terms of comfort and practicality? The short answer is no, not really. That Giulia is a good solid motorway cruiser, perhaps not quite as magisterially comfortable as its German rivals, but certainly not flawed. The boot is big, the interior is spacious, although the ride is a little bit bumpy on the big wheels and racing tyres. If you wanted to sacrifice a bit of its alertness for more smoothness, you could swap to Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres, which in our experience come close to giving the best of both worlds.

But given that this is a car aimed at enthusiasts, the sharpness is really no sacrifice to make. For driving your family and friends around with a big grin on your face there really is no better alternative.

LUX Rating: 18/20

Find out more: alfaromeo.co.uk

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

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luxurious camper van with pop up roof and ocean in distance
luxurious camper van with pop up roof and ocean in distance

The Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo parked on a clifftop above St. Mawes, Cornwall. Image by James Houston

The Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo camper van provides a luxurious and hassle-free alternative to camping, as Digital Editor Millie Walton discovered on a road trip around Cornwall

At its best camping means seclusion, starry nights, wilderness, mugs of hot chocolate, campfires and barbecues; at its worst it means pouring rain, crowds of people, and hours of packing and unpacking. Usually, it’s a combination of the two. As children, we would drift around, teeth chattering in our damp pjs hoping for an invitation or even just a glimpse inside one of the gleaming camper vans that promised unimaginable luxuries: warmth, electricity, a real bed. Last summer, the childhood dream came true in the form of the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo.

Needless to say that the Marco Polo is a lot smarter than most of the camper vans I encountered as a child; in fact, if you were to pass it by unaware, you’d most likely think it was a luxurious people carrier rather than a camper. It’s sophisticated and spacious, rather than bohemian and cosy.

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On Friday evening with a fridge full of food and cupboards stuffed with crockery and bedding, we set off from London to Cornwall, or rather to Blackdown Hills in Devon where we had booked in for a night at a farm campsite to break up the journey. Aside from this one reservation, our general plan was to have no plan, to find the most beautiful, remote cliff-edges and watch the sunset on the horizon with a glass of wine. The real joy of a camper van is the absence of hassle; it’s all there, ready to go, whenever you want it.

The drive down was incredibly comfortable. It’s a large vehicle, but it’s easy to control with excellent visibility; little flashing lights appear in the wing mirrors when another car is approaching and a 360-degree camera system that makes reversing and parking actually fun. We had a few hairy moments of sliding cutlery on sweeping bends, and had to do a bit of rearranging in the back, but all in all, it was a pleasure to drive. Perched high up on the driver’s leather arm chair, you have the sense of commanding the road.

Seagull in front of beach

A seagull in St. Ives, Cornwall. Image by James Houston

English beach scene in the summertime

Summer on Padstow beach, Cornwall. Image by James Houston

The Marco Polo’s interiors are high-tech, sleek and shiny. There’s a lot of leather, chrome and metallic surfaces; it reminded us of being inside a yacht, but with the roof up, it is spacious enough to stand upright, which makes cooking a lot easier. The first night, we struggled working out which button did what and regretted not studying the manual on the way down. In an ideal world, you’d be given a quick demo before you set off; I’m convinced there were lots more exciting features that we didn’t discover.

Read more: Savoir Beds’ MD Alistair Hughes on the value of craftsmanship

It might not be the most homely of spaces, but the layout has been carefully considered to maximise space. There are plenty of hidden cupboards and drawers, and the option of two double beds: one ‘upstairs’ in a pop roof (you push a button and it raises electrically) and one ‘downstairs’ formed from the rear seats, which flatten at the touch of another button. We preferred the downstairs bed because it was warmer, but the upstairs mattress is more comfortable owing to the fact that it is actually a mattress rather than two slightly lumpy leather chairs. Each morning, after a cooked breakfast, we hopped into the front and hit the road – easy as that.

Interiors of a luxury camper van

The Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo features a compact kitchenette, swivelling seats and a pop room for added room as well as extra sleeping space. Image courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Our route took us on a tour around the edge of Cornwall, which did mean encountering several remote cliff-tops, but it’s actually harder than you think to find camping friendly spots that aren’t on private land or somewhat precarious. Also if you want to utilise the mood lighting, it’s necessary to occasionally plug in and charge up. We didn’t mind the campsites though, even the busier ones. Tucked up inside with the doors shut and curtains drawn, we felt snug and enclosed in own little space pod. It took us a while to work out the best layout for daytime usage; there was a lot of swivelling seats and moving things in and out of different cupboards but after a few days, we had it all figured out.

We spent four nights sleeping in the camper, and could have easily spent more. It is able to accommodate up to four guests sleeping, but it would be tight with more than two sharing the space unless they were small children. Also it’s worth noting that it feels a bit too slick for climbing in and out of with sandy feet and wet suits, and I wouldn’t imagine it’s the best environment for dogs; we became oddly precious about sweeping the wood panelled flooring, more out of anxiety than house pride (this is probably due to the fact that we were renting).

On our final night, we found the perfect perch on the edge of a cliff above St. Mawes. We woke to the sun skimming pink and gold across the surface of the sea.

For more information visit: mercedes-benz.co.uk

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cars-1The head of future mobility at the world’s leading luxury car manufacturer predicts that the transformation of the auto market will come slowly, but surely. Herbert Kohler

As a company, as announced a few years ago, we are preparing the platforms of our cars to adapt to hybridisation [the use of electric and combustion engines in the same car]. We have done this with very good results in the [mid-sized] E-Class, but we have to admit that the market has changed a little since: hybrids are not the only way to dramatically reduce CO₂ emissions anymore. Look at the [big SUV] M-Class and you can see that a [diesel] combustion engine by itself can reach emission rates lower than 160g CO₂/km, which is outstandingly good. Nobody would have imagined that three or four years ago.

Still, the latest development is plug-in hybrid technology [where the electric engine is powered by batteries charged by mains electricity] with the S-Class, with preparations taking place to use the technology in other cars in the future. However, that depends on market acceptance, and nobody can realistically claim to predict that. The technology is fantastic and outstanding in terms of the technical challenge and solution; there is no question about that.

But the question is: how does this technology fit in and work from the market side, from the consumers’ side? And there is not only one market. There are different markets – China, the rest of Asia, Europe, the US and the rest of the world. It will come step by step and we are all feeling our way.

There are different opinions in the market. On the one side, you have the consumers who love such developments and are more passionate and committed to sustainability. Others do not care about that sort of thing, or not that extensively. And most people have no clear idea of the technology involved. In itself, this is not a disaster. But there is a tendency to associate with the word ‘hybrid’ – that this means the car has less emissions, that it is cheap but with as good a performance as before, and that there are no restrictions in the package. Most people would like to have all that without the additional costs – it’s a very attractive idea.

An important point to make is that [car manufacturers] cannot survive solely on the purchases of those who are really committed, on the consumers who say, “I really want to have that technology, and I will bear the extra costs because I know it is a positive thing to do”. I would say that they are less than five per cent of the market. You cannot build a business on less than five per cent.

There is a global move towards reducing emissions. China and Japan are in the same situation as Europe and the US. If you sum up the volumes of these countries, it adds up to more than 50 per cent of the world market, so it is clear we have to be guided by that. And then there’s the requirement for high technology and specification, from the Middle East, for instance, and such markets might not be as interested in the consumption side.

It is not possible to predict the future with certainty, as we all know. But we think there is strong movement behind plug-in hybrid motoring technology. I remember seven or eight years ago, when the first realistic ideas were being aired about plug-in hybrids. The initiative actually came from our Van department. Due to some requirements in the US, they asked if we were planning to do a plug-in hybrid. Our response at that time was, “Is this really necessary?”

My reason for recounting this is that there is a lot of development going on and there are a lot of new ideas, so it’s very difficult to say today what will happen in the next 10 years. I do think we will have more plug-ins in the future, because we’ve got good technical solutions without the compromise of additional costs or the lack of driveability. Nobody would want a luxury hybrid car with an electric mode that drives very slowly; nobody would pay for that. We are convinced that the time will come for [hydrogen] fuel cell and hybrid cars and that will bring us additional momentum, not being appropriate at the moment for the entire portfolio. But certainly [compact cars] will go in that direction for the next generation, and it will conquer other segments step by step. The technology is a given, we can do it, but it is also important not to swallow too much from the beginning. We need to do it step by step.

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Our biggest challenge in all this is infrastructure [the network of electrical charging points for plug-in cars, which is mostly incomplete or non-existent around the world]. We will not get involved with it because it is not our core business and we are not willing to compete against energy suppliers – that would not make sense for us. We therefore have to rely on those who are more interested in it to grow in that direction. And sometimes there aren’t enough companies who wish to develop in that direction, so there is always an intensive struggle behind the curtain about that. This is one of the biggest challenges, but of course we also have a lot of technical challenges, as with any new technology. On the engineering side we have developed a very good cooperation with Nissan and Ford.

To showcase our technologies on this front is the S-Class [the new large saloon launched at the end of last year] for several reasons: it has autonomous and semi-autonomous driving modes, the most advanced safety features, and a plug-in hybrid solution. It shows everything we can do right now.

Professor Herbert Kohler is Chief Environmental Officer of Daimler AG, parent company of Mercedes-Benz; mercedes-benz.com

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Ergonomics, style and sound. Sports car technology, intelligently combined.

Ergonomics, style and sound. Sports car technology, intelligently combined.

In which Darius Sanai experiences the latest model of the most iconic sports car of all, and an updated version of a modern legend 

Porsche 911 C4S Convertible

Pity is not an emotion that has commonly been projected onto purchasers of Porsches over the decades. Envy, loathing, awe, respect — all of these have their place. But pity?

Yet I do feel for purchasers of the latest Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet, and, more particularly, for the car’s makers. They are judged by an impossibly high standard.

When comparing benchmark wines against each other, it is standard practice, among professionals and amateurs, to do so ‘blind’, in a quasi-scientific setup that ensures each product is (theoretically) judged on its virtues alone, and not its reputation.

It is impossible to do so with cars. Even if you were to blindfold a driver until he was seated, and to cover up the badges in the interior, most driving enthusiasts would recognise the interior style of a new sports car as belonging to a brand with which they are familiar: whether it’s Aston Martin’s architectural cool, AMG’s metallic chic or Ferrari’s boyish flair. In the case of the Porsche 911, one look at the rev-counter dominating the instrument pod and the sweep of the interior door handles is enough. Even though the latest 911 may have no visible parts carried over from its predecessors, it is plainly a 911.

And that means it is judged as a 911: not just an icon but a benchmark, the 911 is to sports cars what Château Lafite is to wine or (currently anyway) what Bayern Munich is to football. Everyone wants to try and beat it; everything else is the underdog.

Even the most ostensibly unbiased enthusiast may fall into the trap. Drive the latest Aston Martin, or speedy Jaguar, or Audi, and you err on the side of the positive. You forgive. The steering that is not quite right is ignored in favour of the handling balance that is. Traction that may be questionable is overlooked in favour of blowout mid-range performance. Back seats that aren’t really usable are less relevant than the machined finishing on the dashboard. You are constantly thinking: is it as good as a Porsche? Is it better? Parts of it are better!

Porsches, like all cars, are constantly improving: each generation is faster, smoother, more economical, roomier, more efficient. And the 911 can only be benchmarked against itself. I climbed in to the 911 C4S Cabrio, and, instead of marvelling at its stunning exterior — stretched, slicker, smarter than before — and modernised, roomier interior, immediately asked myself whether the electronically-aided steering system would be as alive as the wonderfully tactile steering in its predecessor model.

I realized I was preparing to judge the 911 on a different standard to any other sports car: not asking whether it was fun, fast, well-made and complete, but whether it was perfect: whether every element of it was an improvement on every element of every one of its predecessors.

And that would be falling into the trap I outlined above. So, instead, here are my views on the new 911 C4S Cabrio — at the moment the fastest of Porsche’s convertibles, with an uprated engine, as well as four-wheel drive — as if written by someone encountering the brand for the very first time.

Firstly, it looks stunning. Mine was in silver with a crimson roof, and matching crimson interior — every centimeter of the seats, doors and dash leather was crimson. Very, very cool. Even in more standard colours, the extended back and elongated light cluster on the rear give it an elegance that adds to the 911 squatness (necessary because the engine is in the back). It instantly makes all the previous models look a little squitty.

The interior is functional and purposeful, rather than chic: the red dash leather is a good idea because I imagine that in black it might look a little basic. There are lots of switches and the instrument display is absolutely clear and crisp. There is a surprising amount of room: much more headroom than in any other sports car (even with the convertible roof) and so much rear legroom that my long-legged 11-year-old could happily sit straight while my long-legged wife sat in front with her legs stretched out.. The downside, according to the rear seat passengers, is that the seat squab itself is flat and you have to sit very straight up. Fine for a fit nearly-teen child, not so good for a bibulous adult.

You may imagine that the slim front area of a 911 doesn’t offer much of a boot/trunk and it’s certainly an odd shape, stretching deeper than it does long, but it’s surprisingly commodious. It can take a couple of weekend bags, tennis rackets and other bric-a-brac with ease — apparently golf clubs fit comfortably in it (although I would think that if you are keen on golf perhaps a Jaguar might suit you more).

The convertible roof is very quick and easy to raise and lower electrically, and you can now do so while outside the car by pressing a button on the key, which makes for a good show on the street if you are hiding behind another car. You do need to keep pressing hard, though, or it stops and reverses its movements next press; in the end I found it easier to do so using the button in the car.

Instantly noticeable on driving the 911 is the beautiful purity of the accelerator’s response. There is no mechanical connection these days between the pedal and any engine — it’s all done by computer, like flying an Airbus. As a result fast cars can suffer from one of two ailments: over-eager programming that sends the car spurting forward as soon as you brush the pedal, which is both tiring and inauthentic; and turbo-response, which means wildly differing amount of go per touch on the pedal depending on where you are in the rev range.

The 911 suffers from neither of these. Instead, you feel like you are coaxing that powerful six-cylinder engine gently from a prowl to a growl and then finally a wild sprint.

I spent the first couple of days with the Porsche driving it like a sports car: engaging the Sport option that speeds up responses and firms up the suspension, measuring my way into corners and blasting out, noting with satisfaction that, pushed hard, it has a wonderfully interesting tendency to remind you the engine really is at the back — the 911 thrill, although I shouldn’t be noting that as I am playing the 911 novice here. I can’t think of a better sports car.

On the last day I had an early-morning journey entirely within central London, so I flipped it into lazy-automatic mode. Comfort suspension, automatic gearbox. How would it cope? Would it feel like a caged lion? Would the automatic gear changes to maximise engine efficiency mean you never got into the speedy range of the engine, and thus lacked performance to zip into gaps in traffic?

It was surprisingly good: quiet, smooth, with enough low-rev muscle to remind you that you were in a seriously fast car. Not as intuitive as a sports car with a proper automatic gearbox like an AMG Mercedes, perhaps, but this is technically an automated manual, not a traditional automatic, although the differences are becoming increasingly moot.

And how was the steering? It is precise, well-weighted, intuitive, and gets more communicative the harder you drive. I suspect that on a circuit it would be brilliant. Compared to all the other super-sports cars out there, it’s near the very top. Putting the 911-critic hat back on, I would, if pressed, say it’s not quite as tactile as the previous version of the 911 that went off sale last year. It means the car, as a whole, is perhaps a tad more grown up. Less instantly loveable, perhaps, but a better machine. And if you want fun, all you have to do is lower the roof, punch Sport, and the (optional) exhaust button that makes the car sound fabulous, and take off. At the price, the 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet is impossible to beat.

LUX Rating: 18.5/20

Chassis control systems make a key contribution to the 911 driving experience

Chassis control systems make a key contribution to the 911 driving experience

Porsche’s iconic 911 celebrates its 50th birthday this year. To mark the occasion, LUX spoke to Vic Elford, former racing and rally legend and one of the most famous 911 drivers of all time, for his view on how the icon has developed over the decades.

LUX: What is the defining driving characteristic of a 911?
Vic Elford: Unlike many ‘luxury’ cars of today which apparently think for themselves, the Porsche 911 can not be left to just wander around on its own — it needs a firm, knowledgeable hand in control at all times!

How does it compare to its peers when driven on track?
The simple answer is, it has no peers! There is no other car like the 911 in what it can do and how it does it. Sure you can make some Ferraris go fast, even some modern Corvettes, although they do it by brute force and not engineering superiority.

Is each generation of 911 better than the last, in what way?
I would say, “I would say different, but not necessarily better”. For example, in my ‘Porsche High-Performance Driving Handbook’ originally published in 1994 and still selling well in it’s second edition today, the chapter on ‘Driving in Unusual Conditions’ explains how to drive fast on snow or ice; but since the advent of on-board electronics which take over when they think the driver has overstepped his or her ability, some of those manouevres are impossible to do with a modern car. And you can’t switch them off; they are always waiting in the background ready to switch on again when they think something is wrong.

Have they become less thrilling even as they have become more sophisticated?
In some ways, yes, as noted above.

Which are your favourite 911s to drive in the real world, and why?
Older versions where I decided what the car was going to do, not the car itself!

What are your favourite 911 memories?
In 1967, only the second time I had driven a 911, I should have won the Monte Carlo Rally, but quirky regulations meant that although we were leading as we approached the Col de Turini for the very last speed test before the finish, I had no snow tires available when it started to snow heavily. I finished third. So my favorite moment was the following year, 1968, when for the first time the Monte Carlo Rally was a pure scratch event — fastest driver in the fastest car wins. I did! First time for Porsche, last time for a Brit!

911s used to have a reputation that they needed handling with care — do you think this is still true?
Years ago the 911 had a reputation created by people who had no idea what they were doing. A 911 is a very gentle understeering car but early ones, especially the short wheelbase which was so effective in rallies in the late 1960s, were extremely sensitive to the input from the driver, especially in the way it affected the balance of the car. Modern versions are too, but to a much lesser extent as improved chassis engineering and having tires that fit the performance of the car iron out most of the problems for normal drivers.

Would you encourage 911 owners to get onto the track?
Sure; why not? Just make sure you read my book first and then get really expert tuition from an approved driving school or from the expert driving consultants at a Porsche Experience Centre.

If you could have one 911 from any era to race, which would it be?
A 1967/68 911R with a 2 litre four-cam engine!!! (If you have never heard of that engine, look it up. I think I am the only driver who ever used it).

If you could have one 911 from any era to own and drive every day, which would it be?
Since I discovered and analysed the need for it and then wrote the original specification, I would have to say, ‘The Porsche RS America’, 1993. Preferably in Sky Blue, my favourite colour!

World Class Dynamics - The new revised V12 engine makes this the most powerful DB9 every produced

World Class Dynamics
– The new revised V12 engine makes this the most powerful DB9 every produced

Aston Martin DB9 Volante

It is hard to believe it has been 10 years since Aston Martin launched the DB9. Motoring experts point to its predecessor, the late 1990s-issue DB7, as the car that saved the company, selling more units than all Aston models before it put together. But the DB9 was something else. While the DB7 still had hints of old-fashioned English sports car about it — parts of it were based on the 1970s Jaguar XJS — the DB9 was strikingly, brilliantly modern.

Here was a British sports car which you wouldn’t dream of specifying with walnut wood on the dash and black piped Connolly hide on the seats accompanied by a Racing Green Exterior. It had to be metallic grey or black, with anthracite leather, all the better to show off the metallic-chic dash. The DB9 belonged to an industrial-chic, minimalist, modernist school of design — indeed, it was at its vanguard. It was equipped only with a V12 engine, looked superb with brushed aluminium and carbon fibre adorning its interior, and was a quantum leap over any other Aston in terms of driving appeal.

It was developed with a personal passion by Dr Ulrich Bez, the transformational CEO of the company who is also a successful racing driver. My first experience of the car was in a pre-production model driven on the country roads around the factory between London and Birmingham by Dr Bez himself.

Brilliant and highly desirable though it was, the DB9 was not perfect. Its imperfections were minor and masked by those wonderful avant-garde looks and that beautiful-sounding engine. They crept up on you slowly. In my first drive with Dr Bez, I couldn’t help notice that for such a sophisticated-looking car, its ride seemed ever so brittle. Drive onto a change of road surface and you could feel the change with a thump, and seemingly no suppleness in the suspension.

I drove an early DB9 to Scotland and back and returned with a blend of exhilaration and doubt. This was an involving, entertaining car to drive; but pushed like a sports car, its responses weren’t as progressive or intuitive as they should have been. It wasn’t agile, like a Porsche 911, and it wasn’t as relaxing as a Bentley.

It did look beautiful though.

Now, a decade later, there is a new DB9, although in terms of its looks it is strictly evolutionary. It looks like a sleeker, updated version of the original, particularly from its mean, flat front end. But there’s no mistaking what it is. The interior has also had the touch of a gentle magic wand: you know things have changed, but it’s unmistakeably a DB9 and you would be hard-pressed to say what, exactly, has changed.

Nearly 50 per cent of all parts and more than 70 per cent of all body panels are new

Nearly 50 per cent of all parts and more than 70 per cent of all body panels are new

The engine, still a V12, has 60 horsepower more than the original, taking it to 510, and while this sounds like a lot, it is worth bearing in mind that the lead two-seater super-convertible at the time of the Aston’s original launch, the Mercedes SL55 AMG, managed more or less that kind of output a full 10 years ago. (Its successor has even more now.) And the Aston is not a lightweight car.

For the purposes of an honest assessment, I took along as a passenger a friend who bought one of the first DB9s to appear in 2003 and who still owns it, among numerous other cars. (His is a coupe, while my new test car was a convertible ‘Volante’ version). His immediate response a few seconds after we set off down a central London road was that this model was far more refined, quiet, and smooth in its ride. “It’s like being in a saloon car,” he said. “Mine is like a wooden go-kart in comparison.”

The actual driving experience is also very different, although subtly so. The car sounds the same — that is to say, magnificent — and you still know you are at the helm of a long two-seater super-sports car. This DB9’s responses are smooth, accurate, progressive: it is a relaxing car to drive slowly through traffic, especially when you hit the D button for fully-automatic mode. It heads into corners with gentle determination, or with gusto when you push it, although at speed you are more aware that this is quite a heavy car, despite the admirable flatness of the suspension. What is new is the suppleness to both ride and handling: there is no crashing of suspension, no unnecessarily sudden responses. It makes for a far more satisfying and relaxing experience.

The engine wails mellifluously when you accelerate, and this, combined with the looks which are as striking today as on the previous model, means it scores highly on the head-turn-o-meter I use while driving among tourists in central London. (Most accurately measured by the scientific measurement of cp/h, or cellphone pictures per hour.)

The Aston also has two back seats, although you need very understanding children if you are planning to sit them there (adults won’t fit) and they are best suited to Hermès and Chanel bags, including the larger sizes.

It seems almost all the niggles of the previous DB9 have been ironed out in this new model, although I should mention one factor that will be of concern to a minority of readers. The acceleration is fast, true and smooth, as a V12’s should be: but the car lacks the ultimate punch of today’s latest cars of this price, most of which would leave the Aston behind on cross-country blast (I am thinking in particular of the Ferrari California and Mercedes SL63 AMG). This may only make a difference of mere minutes to a journey, but it also means that an overtaking manoeuvre that is accomplished easily by those other cars might be tight in the Aston: and that’s not necessarily what you might expect from a car with an Aston Martin badge and a V12 engine and a price tag to match.

If that doesn’t worry you — and in most places, you won’t be able to use the car’s full power in any case — then the new DB9 Volante is as beautiful as it gets, and now refined, sophisticated and modern to go with it.

LUX Rating: 18/20

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Reading time: 15 min