SMMT Test Day: Autoblog reports from Millbrook



Perhaps the best thing about the SMMT's annual bash is the convenience of it all. With manufacturer's stalls inches from each other and a track just seconds away means it is a little like a motor show hosted by Carlsberg.

Of course being cold-hearted professionals we knuckled down to the business of driving cars without a hint of enjoyment. Read on to find out what we drove during a sunny afternoon at Millbrook...

The only way to follow a hearty lunch and the misty memories of Bentley's GTC was to trot over to one of the other big names in attendance - Porsche. Unfortunately, every other journalist had the same idea and we were forced to wait for a chance to try out the new Boxster Spyder and 911 Turbo.

Desperate to satisfy our apparent need for speed we got behind the wheel of the one of the 370Z Roadsters Nissan had kindly brought along. We opted for the manual, and returned to the hill run. The 3.7-litre V6-powered rear-wheel-drive convertible is one of the most hairy chested cars you can buy at the moment - it might not have the delicacy of Porsche's products, but in terms of smiles per miles, it is hard to beat.

With the lead taken out of our collective right foot, we changed down a gear and reminded ourselves of just how good the Hyundai ix35 is. The 2.0-litre diesel engine beneath the crossover's bonnet is peachy keen, and though the front wheels will light up with little provocation, the handling certainly isn't shabby either. It also looks great. Scrappage might have gone, but Hyundai are here to stay.

Just across the paddock from the South Korean brand was another brand on the rise. Citroen can thank the DS3 for a resurgence in attention, and it was impossible to go out on the track without seeing one of the pretty hatchback's being put through its paces. We've driven the car before of course, but after so many less-than-perfect products it always rewards a second look. Citroen's hard work pays off on the hill run - aside from very light steering the DS3 handles with aplomb. Its setup is noticeably softer than the other hot hatches, but then it isn't actually meant to be a performance car. Expect to see a lot more of these on the roads by the summertime.

Not to be outdone by its sibling, Peugeot had also brought along its beauty queen. The RCZ is never going to have the sales potential of the Citroen, but it's still the most desirable car the manufacturer has built in years. We had a go in the 2.0-litre diesel version. It's not the engine we'd pick for a sports coupe, but even though it might not seem fun on the track, it's easy to see the financial angles which might make it desirable.

Desirability is not a problem for the new Boxster Spyder, a thought we ruminated on as we took it onto the track under the watchful gaze of one of Porsche's professional drivers. The stripped out, slightly more powerful car looks great, and it instantly feels sharper, harder and pushier than the standard version. There's a premium for that extra performance of course, and the firmer suspension does mean that some of the everyday usability has gone, but as a second car it is a thrilling prospect.

The 911 Turbo, on the other hand, is all that you could ever want in an automobile. We took to Millbrook's high-speed bowl to experience the full force of the car's explosive acceleration, and were glad of those banked turns when we floored the 500bhp supercar. There are only a handful of rivals which pile on speed like the iconic Turbo, and 130mph appears in the blink of an eye. Allied to Porsche's PDK automatic transmission, the 3.8-litre flat-six hits 62mph in 3.7seconds, but feels even quicker. On the hill run the 911 was imperious. All-wheel drive and a surprisingly compliant ride means the car exudes the kind of planted adhesion to the track which breeds confidence and awe in equal measure.

We'd still be going round the track now if Porsche had let us.
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