My Top 5 – SMMT Test Day 2019


Last week was the annual SMMT Test Day at Millbrook Proving Ground – an event where various manufacturers bring latest cars and friendliest PR teams to the testing facility to let us journos (rather foolishly) have a bit of a play. This is the 3rd year I’ve been to this event and my 4th SMMT event altogether, and like previous years, I tried to get behind the wheel of as many cars as I could covering a wide range of vehicle types. Below are the 5 cars I feel made the day for me:

Small, solid and a lot of fun! How can anyone NOT love the Jimny…?

5. Suzuki Jimny

First up is the plucky little Jimny… The micro-4×4 has been in existence since 1970 and it’s always had a reputation for a being a bit of a giant slayer in the rough stuff and this new model is no exception. 4-wheel-drive is standard and it’s powered by a small 1.5 litre naturally aspirated engine, producing around 100hp. So, it’s not fast, it doesn’t handle well, it’s not particularly practical and I wouldn’t want to do more than 40 miles in one at any one time. Fortunately, it’s “mini-G wagon” looks and off-road skill makes it a truly lovable little scamp.

Like the AMG GT coupes, but with 2 more doors…

4. Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S 4Matic

When I first saw the press release for the AMG GT63 4-door, I was a little underwhelmed. I’m a life long AMG fanboy and I’ve driven all the AMG GT 2-door cars and loved every single one, but for some reason, the 4-door just didn’t do it for me. And then I drove one… my word!

Like the 2-door models, this model has a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine, however, this one churns out 639hp and 900nm of torque and unlike the other models it is essentially sat on the E63s platform and with the 4-wheel-steer system and all-wheel-drive. This means that the larger, more usable 4-door model is actually faster off the mark. 0-62mph takes just 3.2 seconds compared to 3.6 seconds in the AMG GTR coupe. The way this luxury 4-door coupe can put its power down is truly remarkable.

Sensible, well made and just a nice place to be. Volvo are killing it right now.

3. Volvo V60 Cross Country D4 AWD

Being brought up facing the wrong way in the back of a Volvo 740 Estate, it only makes sense that I’ll forever have a soft spot for the super-Scandinavian people mover, but over the years models have become a bit bland with competitors like Audi and BMW stealing the titles for the best wagons. That is definitely not the case for the new V60 and V60 Cross Country. Volvo have massively upped their game with regards to styling, interior design and most importantly, functionality. In my opinion, the V60 is one of the best-looking estate cars on the market and the upgraded 15-speaker Bowers and Wilkins sound system is one of the best I’ve ever experienced in a car. Off-road it’s no Defender, but it was more than capable on the muddy route I tested it on at Millbrook and on the road it’s a lovely, civilised and comfortable place to be.

A green V8 ‘Stang with a manual gearbox. Perfect.

2. Ford Bullitt Mustang

If you listened to our latest 3 Car Garage podcast, you’ll have heard me going on about the original ’68 Mustang from the movie “Bullitt” – so imagine my delight when I discovered that a few days later I’d be driving the new 2019 edition… Last year I drove the standard V8 Mustang convertible with the 10-speed automatic gearbox and to be honest it left me a little underwhelmed, but I am glad to report that this was not the case with the Bullitt edition, mainly because this version had a proper 6-speed manual gearbox and 20 more horsepower.

The Bullitt Mustang is far from the best GT Coupe in its class, nor is it the most advanced or well equipped. It is, however, a proper V8 muscle car and it leaves you grinning like a Cheshire Cat when you get out.

The best 911 yet? Only time will tell…

1. Porsche 911 (992) Carrera 2S

From the outside, the average passer-by wouldn’t be able to differentiate the outgoing 991.2 with the new 992, but to car nerds like yours truly it’s almost night and day between the two. Especially with the rear-wheel-drive Carrera 2 as it now has the same widebody as the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 models, which to me is not a bad thing. Inside, the interior is again, similar but better to the old model. The gear selector has been replaced by a little gnarled switch and everything just seems a little bit tidier and convenient. Unlike a lot of other new cars, Porsche have decided to keep a proper dial in the centre binnacle showing the rev counter to give the car that classic 911 feel.

I’ve now driven so many 911s in the past few years it’s becoming hard to explain why each one is better than the last, but as with the 991 to the 997, the 992 manage to retain that unmistakable Porsche feel whilst also just being better. Another triumph for the clever bods over in Stuttgart.

As always, thank you to the SMMT for inviting me along to such a great event and I look forward to returning to Millbrook Proving Ground in 2020.