Quick Drives: SMMT Test Day 2021

Mike Humble & Ian Longman

Back after a break of almost two years thanks to this wretched kung flu, the brilliant SMMT test day – after a number of false starts got underway. Myself and site newbie Ian Longman (see his bio on the about us page) got to grips with a number of British built, British themed and European interesting other cars.

Plenty of vehicles were on show and the sun shone, here’s what we managed to grab the keys for – one or two were very much shock surprises…

LEVC VN5 Van – Ian Longman

The Brit built LEVC VN5 – A Bentley Bentayga mixed with a London cab?? You decide – either way its a bit more Coor rather than coor-blimey `guvnr

Working within the commercial vehicle sector for most of my life, the one thing I have seen of late is how much comfort van drivers expect from their vehicles. Long gone are the Freight Rover days of dashboards made out of melted down VHS cassettes and Wham LP’s with a engine bolted to a chassis that makes the NVH testers scream into the red under testing – not now, todays vans in some ways are better than some cars on today’s market.

What if Volvo made a van? Well in a word they do. Under the skin of the VN5 you’ll find a huge number of Volvo parts common to the new London electric cab. Yes you heard right… and a bloody good van it is too. You see, our good old London taxi has to perform a lot in its life, so its designed on a commercial vehicle platform anyhow, the good people at LEVC have now realised that this is a great format to launch a van in a bid to give the good old workers at Ansty a bit of overtime. 

What makes the LEVC the choice today? Fully electric drivetrain with a small petrol engine only used as a generator, space for two-euro pallets and a generous 830kg payload. This is the perfect van for the city, excellent build quality made from the finest components a great driving position. I chucked it around Millbrook’s very enduring alpine road – not a squeak or a rattle. Total pure electric range is 60 miles but combined with the generator that goes well over 300 miles.

List price however its not the cheapest – it starts at £46,500, but it’s certainly a van with the best technology bar none. But list price doesn’t really matter in the commercial world its all about the right back at the end and this is where the LEVC is very promising. So, if you’re a transport manager for a pallet line looking at a small van, great environmental credentials with outstanding build quality. Currently, the only British built EV commercial available too.

For more info CLICK HERE


MG HS Plug-in Hybrid – Mike Humble

Be really honest – does this look pretty decent or not? Beware rivals… MG seem to be getting serious!

Now, we have sampled the HS before shortly after launch and I was rather pleased with the car. It had an above average build quality, drove as well as the competition and had an alarmingly good level of equipment for the price ticket too. My only and big reservation wasn’t so much levelled at the car but the company itself. Despite the company rebrand in the UK in 2008, its seemingly taken forever for them to be taken seriously as a bona-fide here-to-stay company and a viable purchase.

My mind my be changing however. The Hybrid version was really good to drive and lacked the mooing cow noises in the cabin as the transmission slides up and down from low to high ratio. Stable handling with a ride comfort accent on the firm but not enough to shake the loose change out of your pockets. Build quality seemed a notch higher than before – better than a Qashqai? much better.

The PR spin Doctors from MG tell us that parts availability is now sorted, a big TV advertising campaign is now underway and more dealers are clambering to get on board with a franchise. If MG can finally prove themselves as being in control of customer care and aftermarket issues they’ve become known for – the only people laughing will be the owners – honest! Prices start from a smidge over £30,000

For more info CLICK HERE


Volvo V90 R-Design T6 Recharge AWD – Ian Longman

Proof that when it comes to estates, Volvo still cuts the mustard. The talented yet understated V90

The forgotten Volvo, as I approached the Volvo stand to my amazement all the SUV Volvo’s drives were fully booked for the day. Languishing in the corner was this beautiful Volvo V90. I call it the forgotten Volvo as I feel the public and the motoring press have forgotten what Volvo makes best – the estate car.

Yes, we know that the estate car is no longer seen as a fashion item in place of trendy SUV’s however jumping into the V90 your greeted with the same build quality as any of its XC cousins, a lot more room and just a overall space to fill with kids, dogs, kites, sofas tents & the summer obligatory inflated dinghy.

Slipping this silent hybrid vehicle into D and gliding along with an engine only used a generator when needed. The air suspension wafts you along up to three figures on the digital speedo within seconds. The leather and overall interior finish is just as good as any German rival, well weighted switchgear and a Bowers and Wilkins sound system in concert mode would make anyone’s weekend drive back from Centre Parcs a real rewarding treat.

Next time your thinking of replacing the family steed – look at Volvo and go to the dark corner at the back of the showroom and look in the estates section, bigger, better and in my opinion the ultimate family car bar none. Prices start from £41,645

Its no 240 GLT – but there again, what is?


MG5 EV Long Range – Mike Humble

Visually its a mash-up of a Passat meeting Fiat Tipo meeting Astra Sports Tourer. Either way its not half bad and oh so so smooth at speed. Comfortable, practical and well equipped.

Just like the HS hybrid, the MG5 EV came as a bit of a pleasant shock. With the accent on unbeatable value for money. Prices start from little over £27,000 to just over £31,000 for the rather lavishly equipped ‘Exclusive’ model. This pure EV estate car boasts a supple ride, plenty of space and good front visibility thanks to slender A-post pillars.

I noted a fair bit motor whining at lower speeds but once you are running at a fair clip everything is smooth and silent – those relatively high profile tyres cutting out a great deal of road noise. Motor power, in old money, gives around 156bhp with instant torque making this load lugger really shift when you need to.

Range-wise you’ll be looking around the 250 mile mark in long-range form and in terms of outright value, little on paper touches it for size and practicality. Reservations? well the dashboard top is bone hard and feels like recycled plastic guttering but nothing rattled nothing squeaked and at this price you’d be stupid to make it a deal breaker.

Overall, its an old-skool estate car with proper wheels and tyres and a ride quality that reminds you of the long gone days when cars floated along rather than crashed about… just without an engine. And if the plain Jayne looks bother you there’s a facelift model in the pipeline.

For more info CLICK HERE


Nissan Qashqai 1.3 Mild Hybrid – Mike Humble

The all new Qashqai. I wanted to love this as the old one was a peach. Sadly, it failed to impress me. Still a good motor but rivals are on a par if not better these days. Handsome thing though eh?

Some say its the car that started off the whole SUV trend, and with over 3 million built in over a period of just 14 years, whoever originally signed it off deserves a pint. Washington’s gift to the world has just gone through another re-birth. It looks distinctly Qashqai enough but the new lines of this new model are smarter and sleeker than ever.

A new virtual dashboard display is now fitted but was notably prone to bright light and reflections. I also felt that some weight saving and cost cutting has taken place. Key panels such as doors, bonnet and boot are now pressed from aluminium obviously to save kerb weight but interior build quality doesn’t quite seem to match the old model.

What really shocked me was how much more robust the interior felt on the aforementioned MG HS Hybrid – and that’s saying something. In the Nissan its not that bad… just notably could be better. Thankfully Nissan haven’t touched the handling and ride balance – its still a nice little mover and pleasing to shuffle about.

Its still smooth and quiet at speed, well equipped and bristling with technology. just a little underwhelming or maybe an indication at just how quick its rivals have caught up. Still a good all round car – but not a great one…. shame that!

For more info CLICK HERE


Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio – Ian Longman

Murdering the ozone layer has never been so much fun. What a machine!

Ever wondered what it would be like to make a soap box go cart, fit it with a turbocharged V6, then add a few bags of cement around the outside for a bit of ballast, now roll it down a hill…..

Still reading then good, as Alfa Romeo have made just this, what a wonderous thing in this world of EV’s and eco scores. The Stevlio is a large SUV powered by a 510bhp monster engine, that will do a sub 30 mpg score on the way to the school. Turning the clocks back all I can say if my Mum or Dad picked me up from school in this – I would have a grin like a Cheshire cat.

Respectable build quality, totally impractical with a eye watering price tag, my advice – go and buy it, seriously Alfa Romeo’s like this will soon never be built like this again. Who cares about Italian reliability, even if this did conk out on the M6 – think about just how bloody cool you’d  look on the hard shoulder anyway!

Pointless – Expensive – Absurd…. Fantastic!

For more info CLICK HERE


Toyota Yaris GR – Mike Humble

Addictive and adorable – nowt more needs to be said.

At first glance this sporting Yaris gives the impression of a customised rice rocket, but that would do the car a great injustice. Rather like the Stelvio that Ian drove, this Yaris is pure performance bred machine inside out. With a 3 cylinder 1.6 turbo intercooled engine matched to a six speed gearbox, the GR features the first sports designed Toyota all wheel drive system for over two decades – oh those halcyon Celica days!

With numerous weight saving features and 257bhp under your right foot, the Yaris GR is a pint sized hooligan – but with a forgiving nature. Extra induction roar is even fed through the front door woofer speakers – sounds naff perhaps but my word it had me and others fooled – it sounds great.

Limpet grip and beautiful steering coupled to a sub 6 second whoosh to 60mph soon finds you addicted to the cars endearing character.  Despite the racing bred suspension (honed by pro WRC drivers) the ride never gets too hostile and the precise build quality is everything anyone who knows a Toyota has come to expect.

Few cars these days truly make you scream to go faster and are laugh out loud fun. The GR Yaris has it by the bucket full – its a wonderful bundle of fun!

For more info CLICK HERE


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