"He's staring at us. He's definitely staring. Look, now he's pointing!" My passenger is narrating the events unfolding before us. It might sound like we're celebrities attending a gala event, but we're really just a couple of average Joes driving through the middle of town. The thing is, we're doing it in an Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35.
With the world and their dog now apparently making small SUVs, standing out from the crowd requires something a little different. Luckily for Citroen, 'different' is what they do better than anyone else. And so it is that the new C3 Aircross brings the company's inimitable sense of design to a market segment that can be a little... well, dull.
Already the dishiest of the small SUVs and, we think, one of the more perfectly proportioned cars on the market today, Mazda have given the CX-3 a little extra visual verve with the addition of a new GT Sport model.
Yeah, yeah, these things aren't real 4x4s. We know. But that hasn't stopped them from notching up more than a million sales, and that's set to double in Europe by the time 2020 rolls around. That makes it perfect timing for Kia to launch their own entrant, arriving this month in the guise of the new Kia Stonic.
Recently, the Ford Fiesta was crowned the UK's best-selling car of all time, having shifted more than 4.1 million over the course of its 40-year history. But today’s Fiesta is a far cry from the basic shopping trolley of the seventies and eighties. In fact, this new seventh generation Fiesta almost has more kit and technology than a Mercedes S-Class from just a few years ago. Ford claim it’s the most technologically advanced small car on sale in Europe and, as far as we can tell, they’re not wrong.
We were always fans of the old Volvo XC60. That's not surprising when you consider it consistently found itself at the top of the premium SUV best sellers list. In fact, Volvo sold more XC60s in its last year of production than they had in any other year. Clearly, this new XC60 is a car Volvo can't afford to get wrong. So let me start by letting you in on a secret: they haven't.
So now, we’ve come full circle. After reinventing every model in the Mazda range under the guise of the company’s Kodo and Jinba Ittai malarkey, it’s now the turn of the one that started it all, the CX-5, to enjoy a comprehensive going-over. And to best explain it all, I’d like to start by talking about cargo covers. Ok, I know that sounds about as exciting as watching water evaporate, but bear with me...
While most people probably think of pickups as a fairly simple creation, these days buyers expect something more from their working vehicles: like all-day comfort, for one. That makes designing the modern pick-up a rather more delicate balancing act than it used to be, one that some manufacturers seem to struggle with, with more than one recently-launched pickup arriving onto the market while, shall we say, significantly under-engined. Thankfully, there is an answer in the form of the Ford Ranger, and with the option of a 3.2-litre five-cylinder it’s currently the most powerful pickup on the market.
So, let’s recap. Starting in 2010, Alfa Romeo binned most of its product line-up, leaving just the MiTo and Giulietta to carry the brand’s somewhat wilting flag. When Alfa dragged the 159 behind the garages to put it out of their misery, they attempted to console us all with promises of a soon-to-arrive new model to replace it – the Giulia. That makes this a car we’ve been waiting six years for. So it had better be good to make up for all that self-flagellation.
Never, while behind the wheel of an Isuzu D-Max, have I found myself thinking "this is a great truck, but what it really needs is a smaller engine." In 2.5-litre twin-turbo form, we've praised the D-Max for its no-nonsense utilitarian appeal, and in Arctic Trucks AT35 guise, it's proved itself practically unstoppable. So when Isuzu revealed the 2017 model would be powered by a new 1.9-litre engine, I have to say I had my doubts.
So busy are we buying hatchbacks and crossovers that the concept of having four doors and a boot feels like something that died with the Ford Cortina. But that didn't stop the Mercedes C-Class bursting into the top 10 sellers list this year to rub shoulders with the Ford Focus. And if all saloons were like the Volvo S90, we’d probably buy a lot more of them.
Jacked-up estate cars can sometimes end up feeling like the poor relation; a last-ditch attempt to mop up a few niche sales with the promise of a suspension lift and some plastic cladding. However, it's a recipe Volvo have been perfecting since they created the V70 XC back in 1997. And, having spent a week a with it, I humbly submit that this latest Cross Country model, far from being the runt of the V90 range, is actually the pick of the bunch...