Hotel California

As I write this I’m sitting in a campsite in Co Clare, surrounded by camper vans, caravans and tents, at the end of a three-day trek through Munster and Leinster. Travelling the highways and byways of Ireland, it’s amazing how much the country has to offer – the Ring of Kerry might be something of a tourist trap, but it’s an incredible trail that takes in some of the best vistas north and south.

There’s an undeniable freedom in this lifestyle, as I’ve found, but driving a rather large vehicle can be a little awkward, particularly if you’re used to a regular-sized car. Enter the Volkswagen California.

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Caddy means business

For small business owners on the hunt for a new vehicle, the case for investing in a small panel van is quite strong. They’re generally quite cheap to buy, the engines offer decent fuel economy, tax is low thanks to their status as commercial couriers, VAT can usually be claimed back, and there’s plenty of space in the back for cargo. There’s also quite a few options on the market from which to choose, ranging from the likes of the cheap as chips Citroen Berlingo to the Ford Transit Connect or Volkswagen’s popular Caddy at the top of the pile.

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Enlarging the Mini

The new Mini Countryman might have ‘Mini’ emblazoned front and back, but there’s nothing small about it. The second generation of Mini’s chunkier compact crossover is larger and wider than its predecessor, though it’s a little sharper and leaner on the outside.

Looks might be subjective, but I think it’s fair to say the new Countryman isn’t good-looking in the traditional sense. Like all Minis since 2000, the Countryman has a bulbous air about it, like someone who’s overindulged a little too much at dinner. Having said that it’s got a nice stance on the road, and if you’re opting for a colour beyond the usual black or red, Island Blue with the go-faster Cooper stripes lends a great degree of attractiveness.

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Introducing Project Giorgio

On a recent sunny Sunday in the Powerscourt Hotel, the car park was full – as you might expect – of varying Mercedes, BMW, Audis and Range Rovers. In the midst of them all and stealing most of the admiring looks was the new Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Developed under the Giorgio platform, bringing the rear-wheel drive Giulia to life was something of a daunting task for Alfa – taking an entirely new platform from concept to tarmac within a timeline of three years as part of the brand’s expensive relaunch plans. But the result is quite stunning, visually speaking, a sporty five-door saloon that combines Alfa’s rich heritage with the driving experience you expect. There’s no denying that they’ve created a head-turning beast.

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Cross Country with the Volvo V90

Earlier this year I spent a week behind the wheel of the Volvo S90, the first Volvo I’ve been in since the family 340, a 1991-badge hatchback that was better known for its safety than performance. An immediate contender in the executive market, the S90 is a fabulous car – powerful yet sleek on the outside, very comfortable on the inside, filled with gadgets and quite fun to drive.

The V90 (and its Cross Country version) is essentially an S90 with a squared rear end, albeit with a few tweaks here and there. It’s not quite as good looking, in my opinion, though both share sleek lines, a forward stance and that aggressive Volvo prow – there’s no mistaking it for anything else on the road. Having said that, the V90 Cross Country is one of the most stylish estates on the market today, in a segment perhaps more known for practicality than looks. Straddling the line between estate and SUV, it’s been raised 60mm compared to the ordinary V90 (offering a more composed ride), but doesn’t look any bit awkward on the road.

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Swedish delight

S90

When I was about five years old, my parents purchased a grey 1991 Volvo 340, a 1.4L compact five-door hatch that was renowned more for its safety than its performance. I remember it because it was one of the first cars to follow our luminous green Ford Fiesta, and because it had wipers on the headlamps. Five-year-old me was quite tickled by this – clearly some sort of mistake had been made at the factory. That marked the last time I was in a Volvo until quite recently, when I sat behind the wheel of the new S90.

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