Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

For Richer or Poorer – Are our cars an accurate reflection of today’s society?

The rich are getting richer and the poor are helping them get there. For a few years now, the headlines have been dominated by global, double-dip recessions and credit being crunched beyond all recognition and yet some small pockets of society seem to be  immune to these awful afflictions. On the contrary, certain, more affluent members of the population are reeking of their own grotesque prosperity, seemingly oblivious to the general mood of the masses.

Multi Millionaire - Premiership Footballer Carlos Tevez

Carlos Tevez – laughing all the way to the bank

Footballers are one such group that spring to mind. You can’t blame them; combine the prospect of a short career with an IQ smaller than their (sponsored) boot size and a parasitic agent who doesn’t even have the decency to work up a sweat for his money and who wouldn’t take every penny they could get?  Of course, the irony is that without us plebs trying to enhance our humdrum lives by cheering on our team of choice every week, no-one would go to football matches, pay Sky to watch football matches or buy replica shirts for easy tribal recognition and where would the footballers be then? The world of finance shares similar ironies, every week new reports surface from the seemingly failing banking world, detailing the inflated bonuses being received by the head honchos, on top of their already inflated salaries. If my memory serves me correctly, this whole mess was kicked off by these same bankers irresponsibly lending money to people who quite obviously couldn’t afford the repayments.

Car manufacturers have by no means been immune to this worldwide recession with automotive giants such as Ford and GM staring into the precipice of permanent oblivion, holding onto their lives by the skin of their teeth. Some long-established marques such as Saab have gone by the wayside but hopefully we’re on the better side of things and the car industry as a whole can go onwards and upwards, back into profit.

The Bugatti Veyron L'Or Blanc - Highly Exclusive

Bugatti Veyron L’Or Blanc

How different manufacturers have gone about this seems to fall into two categories. Some of the traditionally more luxurious marques have taken a huge gamble and made their products even more exclusive, even more out of reach of the masses whereas the other 90% of cars on the road are apparently made to be as cheap to run as possible. Take Ferrari for example. Thankfully, no-one on the board at Ferrari has ever sat down and announced that their products are just a bit too shouty and maybe they should look into the practicalities of an MPV. On the contrary, Ferrari have obviously realised that if you can afford to pay a lot for a supercar, you can afford a lot more and so that’s how much the price of their mid-engined supercars has risen in the past five years. In 2007, an F430 would have set you back £128,000. Today, if you can find one, the F430’s replacement – the 458 Italia would set you back upwards of £160,000. That’s an increase of  25% but has it deterred buyers? Has it heck, supply can’t keep up with demand because when you’re in the market for a new Italian supercar, an extra £32,000 makes little to no difference. Maybe this is partly due to what I call the ‘Veyron effect’. When Bugatti unleashed this hyper car on the world it came complete with a mind-boggling array of huge, impressive numbers. 1,000 horsepower, 0-60 in 2.5s and a top speed of over 250 mph. The one fact that everyone remembers though is the list price of $1,000,000. All of a sudden there was a car being manufactured that was out of the reach of your everyday lottery winner, this one set the rich apart from the super-rich at a time when the rest of the world was worrying about job security and mortgage payments. The likes of Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Porsche must have thought all their Christmases had come at once, they could add a few thousand pounds to the list price of their entire range because they knew that they had a ‘get out of jail free’ card – compared to the price of a Veyron, all of their products cost peanuts.

Of course, every action must have a reaction and in the real world that 99% of us live in, the way in which we buy cars has also altered. In the past we would gauge our opinions towards the cars we drove in various ways but they would usually  involve either how quickly they got us from A to B or in how much comfort, that was it. These days, no matter what, the first thing someone will think of when they consider a particular car is what MPG it can achieve and which tax bracket it will fall into. It’s become a national obsession and when you think about it, it’s bordering on the ridiculous. Just because the world’s finances are in a bit of a mess, why can’t cars that are made for the general population be interesting instead of just frugal?

Ford's 1.0l Ecoboost Engine

Ford Ecoboost Engine

Take Ford for example. They’ve recently announced that the Focus will soon be available with an all new engine. Through wizardry and witchcraft, this five door, family hatchback will be powered by a 1.0 litre unit, it’s block being smaller than an A4 sheet of paper. Whether this will result in the Focus becoming the most terminally boring car on the planet to drive or not hasn’t been mentioned, probably because Ford don’t really care. As long as the emissions from the exhaust are lower than their competitors, that’s all that truly matters as that’s what sells cars.

The world of used cars has also suffered from this phenomenon and their value can vary dramatically dependant on how much the annual tax bill will cost, even if a far cheaper model is only £50 a year more expensive to tax. £50! That wouldn’t even pay for a meal for two in a half decent restaurant and yet many people will dismiss a perfectly good automobile on the basis that it’s less powerful, less luxurious sibling will save them this paltry amount once a year.

What I think I’m trying to say here is that if the makers of luxurious marques for more affluent people want to charge what they want and can get away with it, good for them. But to the manufacturers of the majority of the world’s cars- have the nerve to go back to letting the quality and driving experience of your products be what sells the car. Let owning a car return to being the pleasurable experience it once was for all of us instead of simply trying to make car ownership seem like one expensive chore that the masses can little afford and could do without.

By Ben Harrington

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Jaguar Land Rover Experience Day

Friday the 27th of January saw The Heritage Motor Museum in Gaydon host the first Jaguar Land Rover Experience Day and I went along to have a look. Designed to be a very ‘hands on’ occasion, they’re scheduled to be held monthly with a different central theme. This being the inaugural event, the theme was ‘Speed and Sustainability’ with the former being represented by the stunning Jaguar XJ220 and the latter being ably demonstrated by the Range_e Concept.

There were various models from the Jaguar and Land Rover ranges to be sampled, ranging from the Jaguar XF 2.2 Diesel all the way to the captivating Range Rover Evoque with plenty in between to satisfy all appetites. Couple this with not one, but two Jaguar XJ220s available for rides around the Gaydon proving ground at breathtaking speed and as I’m sure you can imagine, boredom was never an option.

Driving Torque drives Range Rover Autobiography

Driving Torque test drives the Range Rover Autobiography

Having booked in for my XJ220 experience, I took full advantage of the cars available for test drives. What is startlingly apparent in all modern Jaguars is that, whichever way you look at it, they’ve regained they’re USP, they’re mojo, they’re certain je ne sais quoi, if you know what I mean? Jaguar’s reputation was built on creating cars that were not only well built and luxurious but that offered a level of excitement that’s difficult to quantify. What’s very clever is the way in which each car in the Jaguar range seems to approach translating this ‘Jaguarness’ into a slightly different yet equally special driving experience.

Driving Torque drives Jaguar XKR-S

Jaguar XKR-S

Firstly, I took the 5.0 litre XK Coupe out and initial impressions were actually quite deceptive. With sister models the XKR and XKR-S offering awesome levels of performance, one could be forgiven for assuming that this ‘base model’ is quite sedate, maybe a little bit placid. Where this model excels is that as you sink into the sumptuous seats, start the barely audible engine and select drive on the automatic six speed gearbox, it can be as calm and peaceful as you like, allowing you to arrive at your destination in complete relaxation and comfort. If you’re feeling like having a little more fun however, there’s a couple of ways the XK can help out. One of them is an option on the gearbox simply marked ‘S’, another is a little button displaying a picture of a chequered flag that’s just asking to be pressed. In full sports mode, the XK is a different beast altogether. Everything seems to gain a certain taught quality that it didn’t previously have. Quite appropriately, like a cat that’s just spied its prey, senses heightened, waiting to pounce. The car just feels ready for a more enthusiastic style of driving and it doesn’t disappoint, yet reverse the procedure and you’re back behind the wheel of the cruising GT you originally sat down in.

Over the course of the day I noticed that every Jaguar I drove featured an ‘S’ option on the transmission and that little chequered flag button I mentioned earlier, even the colossal Range Rover Autobiography could be driven in sports mode if so desired. This got me thinking again about that certainly intangible quality, that ‘Jaguarness’ and how it could be best described. You see, sitting in a Jaguar is always an occasion, it’s warm and inviting without being kitsch. In normal, every day mode a Jaguar is the perfect gentleman, assisting you on your way with nothing being too much trouble. Hit full blown sport mode however and that perfect gentleman is a party animal, taking you wherever you please, at whichever speed you please yet still being able to take you quietly home when you’ve had enough. Even the massive XJL Supersport somehow manages to belie its substantial mass and seems to shrinks itself when the urge takes you to have some fun.

The one model that fails spectacularly at covering up its more wayward intentions is undoubtedly the XKR-S but then, I don’t think it’s actually trying to. When you can boast 550bhp, 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 186mph, any disguise would surely be thinly veiled so, why bother? Having said that, there is a noticeable difference between normal and sports mode, it’s just that in the XKR-S, one starts off with a party animal and ends up with an absolute lunatic! I dared to drive this car in a slightly enthusiastic manner and it seemed to be offended if I even momentarily lifted off the power, it looked down at me and laughed at what a pathetic specimen I was. One things for sure with this car, you’d run out of nerve before it ran out of horsepower!

jag-cx

Jaguar F-Type

One hugely impressive aspect of modern Jaguars is their interiors; this undoubtedly contributes towards a large percentage of their USP. With their neat features, cleverly sculpted vents and use of high quality materials, there’s always a little reminder that you’re in something special. I know that in this category we’ve come to expect a certain standard and the likes of Mercedes and BMW aren’t exactly slums but no other car manufacturer can compete with Jaguar’s interiors across their entire range. They’re modern and fresh and yet offer a warmth and familiarity that lifts them above the competition. The XJ’s interior really should be classified more as art than car; I doubt you’d ever stop noticing previously unseen features that simply made you smile.

The progression that Jaguar have made since being under Ford’s control is nothing short of staggering in what is actually a relatively short period of time. From the XF to the XK, right up to the XJ they’re not just contenders but what the competition aspires to beat and when the eagerly awaited C-X16 sports car is launched in the near future, the Jaguar brand will be thrust right back into the limelight – where it belongs.

Driving Torque gets ride in Jaguar XJ220

Fulfilling a lifelong dream in an XJ220

XJ220 This year marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Jaguar XJ220 and the highlight of the day for me was undoubtedly the two examples of this iconic car on show, one being no.004 – one of the development mules and the other being a lightweight ‘S’ model. As a young boy, a poster of one of these beautiful machines stared down at me from my bedroom wall, right next to my bed so it was the last thing I saw before I went to sleep and the first thing I saw when I woke up. The opportunity to be driven round the Gaydon Proving Ground in one of the actual development cars that hit the (then world record for a production car) 217mph, by none other than Le Mans winner and XJ220 test driver Andy Wallace seemed almost to good to be true and yet, here I was, trying desperately to maintain an air of composure and professionalism whilst creeping past 180mph on a slightly damp track.

I did manage to ask Mr Wallace a few of the many questions I had planned, in between the involuntary squeals emerging from my throat – some induced by fear, many induced by pure, unadulterated pleasure. I quizzed him on his personal reaction when the XJ220’s initial concept of a thunderous V12 and 4WD were shelved in favour of a turbocharged V6 and 2WD, did the turbo lag not irritate slightly? His reply – ‘Not really, you see I’m a racing driver and I always favour lightness’. This said whilst demonstrating what a whacking great turbo plus lightness can achieve by flooring the throttle in second gear. The results were, shall we say, shattering!

Huge thanks to all at Jaguar Land Rover for the day, thanks to Don Law of Don Law Racing for supplying the XJ220s and finally, thanks to Andy Wallace for helping me fulfil a life long dream.

By Ben Harrington

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