A bit more on the gaps I was able to fill at the SMMT test day last week.
First up, two cars which aren't quite personal top ten jobs like the MX-8 and Jaguar XJ diesel but are nevetheless excellent. One of these has been around for a bit while the other has only just hit British roads in the last few weeks.
The one that's been around a bit is the Subaru Legacy. A recent Verdict participant was telling me all about his the other week, so I made a point of trying one at Millbrook. It's a bit understated but great to drive, with its vice-free behaviour providing an excellent advertisement for the purity of Subaru's drivetrain concept, which involves mounting all of the major components as far as possible 'in line', including the boxer engine, which contributes to Subarus' low centre of gravity.
The Legacy brought back fond memories of the Subaru Forester XT which featured on the Verdict a couple of years back. That test was held in Newcastle and the surrounding area, and I still remember the Forester munching up the miles and attacking the roundabouts on the A1 with a lot more agility than you would ever guess from its rather staid upright appearance. The XT, in particular, is pretty special - it can accelerate as fast as a Boxster until you get up to the sort of speeds where the bluff bodywork starts to hold it back. I was able to confirm that the diesel boxer engine that Subaru showed at Geneva would start making it into various UK models towards the end of the year, with the Forester and the Legacy being the first to benefit, if I remember correctly. I've got high expectations of this engine - as well as opening up Subaru as an option to large numbers of company car drivers and economy-minded private buyers, the diesel boxer promises to sound very good too.
The new car was the second-generation Skoda Fabia. This has the same frontal styling as the Roomster but a daintier rear. The rave reviews this model has had so far seem to be justified - the quality and the design are excellent. The car I tried was the 1.2 litre petrol version, which has an engagingly throbby three cylinder engine that pulls very well for its size. I'm guessing it must be the same as the one fitted to the Urban Fox that featured on the Verdict last year.
A third gap filled was the Volvo S80. Not quite as exciting as the other cars mentioned here, but a fair enough effort and a respectable alternative to some of the mainstream German stuff. The one I tried had a rather ghastly interior colour scheme though; 'bright brown', if you can imagine that, just about sums it up.