Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

The Renault Twizy, Driven and Reviewed; A Wise Move or just a Clever Gimmick?

Renault Twizy being recharged

Renault Twizy – filling up

Earlier this year, Renault released upon the world what they hoped would be the start of a revolution in transport – the Twizy. Officially classed as a Quadricycle and powered solely by lithium-ion batteries, it’s a pocket eco-warrior with distinctive, space-age looks and a tandem layout that would struggle to gain anonymity on any road it graced. Not seen one on the road yet? Me neither. Come to think of it, I’ve not met anyone who’s seen one, nor have I met anyone who’s friend’s seen one and I think I may know why.

The conundrum with the Twizy in my opinion is just who Renault expect to buy one? When they collated the results from the inevitably extensive market research they commissioned, just how large was the pot of people who couldn’t possibly be happy without a Twizy in their lives?

Renault Twizy interior view from driver's seat

The view from a Twizy driver’s seat – fairly conventional really

The first and perhaps most obvious target audience are small car drivers who’s trips are invariably localised and who want these journeys to be as cheap as possible. With prices starting at just £6,690 for the base ‘Urban’ spec, it’s certainly cheap enough and has the added advantage of being exempt from VED due to being a zero emissions vehicle.  Parking doesn’t get much simpler and the transition from driving a car to a quadricycle is negligible due to the Twizy sporting a proper steering wheel and the switch- gear from a Clio. Doors don’t come as standard but for just £545.00 they can be added. Unfortunately though, they’re half-doors with no windows and therefore offer slightly less protection from the elements than a Sunday newspaper and this is where the whole idea falls down. Even the cheapest cars on sale today do a fairly impressive job of keeping their occupants dry and warm which, in this country at least, is one of the huge benefits of owning a car. Being forced to don deep-sea fishing apparel for every cloudy/chilly journey might just put some drivers off.

Renault Twizy with doors open

Twizy, complete with optional ‘demi-doors’

Are Renault looking to tempt riders off their motorcycles?; They’ve already got wet-weather gear and aren’t afraid to use it. Somehow I can’t see this plan working either though, no Ducati rider could possibly get his fix of adrenaline in a vehicle with 17hp and a top speed of 50mph. The advantage that bikes possess in stationary traffic would also be nullified as the Twizy is too wide to weave between cars.

Scooter riders could possibly be swayed but that zero road tax is only £16 cheaper than a 125cc and, oh yes, I may have forgotten to mention that when you buy a Twizy, it’s compulsory to also adopt a battery; this privilege will cost you £45 a month. Coupled with the fact that a Twizy can’t be stored in your average garden shed as many scooters are and all of a sudden it’s not a viable swap.

On a more positive note, the Twizy handles fantastically on its skinny rubber and the instant torque available from the 6kwH battery makes for an entertaining experience. Just don’t be tempted to have too much fun though; the 60 mile range is drastically reduced by spirited driving and although 881lb is light, one wouldn’t want to push it home and the alternative is to find an accessible plug socket and wait for the 3.5hr recharging cycle to complete.

Charging a Twizy is another conundrum I can’t quite fathom; if it’s left on the street attached to a domestic extension lead trailing from your front door, it’s surely only a matter of time before someone trips over the wire and sues you for negligence. If you’ve got a garage you can charge it in then you can probably afford a proper car with four seats that won’t contribute towards a bout of pneumonia. As long as you live or work in a major city centre, you’ll be able to top-up your Twizy at dedicated charge points. This is assuming that the optional anti-lift alarm you paid £170 for has sufficiently deterred any thieves from walking away with it.

So, is the Twizy a glimpse of the future and I need to move with the times? Possibly, but right here, right now this little electrical oddity seems to generate more questions than it answers.

By Ben Harrington

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Cholmondeley Pageant Of Power 2012

Jann Mardenborough's Nissan GTR at Cholmondeley Pageant of Power

Jann Mardenborough’s Nissan GT-R

‘Yesterday was really wet, not like today. It’s not the slipperiest track I’ve driven on in the wet of course, that’d obviously be Silverstone‘ GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough is talking me through the previous days events that resulted in his slight coming together with an Armco as I nod in complete and blind agreement with his analysis of the perils of a wet Silverstone. Having been a passenger of Jann’s in the past whilst he demonstrated the insane Nissan Juke-R, I get the feeling that he’s here to win; coming second in his opinion is simply the first loser.

The reason I’m comparing notes with Jann is because he’s competing in the 5th Cholmondeley Pageant of Power, an annual celebration of anything with an engine including motorbikes, planes, powerboats and, of course, cars. The main focus of the three-day event which this year ran from the 15th – 17th of June was, as always, the timed run competition. Raced over a 1.2 mile section of the Cholmondeley Castle driveway, the cars are split into eight classes ranging from pre-war, all the way up to modern supercars including the raucous Ferrari 458 Italia and the Nissan GT-R being piloted by Jann.

Original 1960's AC Cobra in Black

One of the seven AC Cobra’s competing

New features for 2012 included the Top Gear Experience, the Gran Turismo Academy and Bond in Motion which showcased some of the more exciting vehicles that have appeared with 007 over the years. My personal highlight was the seven AC Cobras that had been accumulated to not only celebrate 50 years since its inception but to pay tribute to their creator – the late, great Carroll Shelby.

One other change from previous Pageants was the single-tier entry fee; in Pageants past there was an option to purchase a cheaper ticket which gave access to most areas but meant the car paddock was out-of-bounds. This year, all tickets included paddock entry which, in my opinion, was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, all visitors to the event could get better acquainted with the competing exotica, rather than only seeing them roar away from the start line and up the driveway. On the other hand, I spotted a few rather nervous looking car owners as the hugely swollen crowds bustled past their pristine paintwork, including parents, pushing prams and trying to control their understandably excitable children.

By all accounts, the weather on the first two days of the Pageant was cursed with persistent rain showers which resulted with some thrills and spills on the track but also some rather restricted timed runs. Thankfully however, the sun sporadically revealed itself from behind the clouds on the final day and as the track temperature went up, the driver’s times inevitably came down. Try as he did, Jann was helpless to prevent the impressive Scott Mansell take overall victory in the 300bhp Caterham Superlight SP/300.R with a time of 61.89 seconds. Not only was this time fast enough to win on the day, it also smashed the previous track record of 62.68 seconds, set by Nikki Faulkner in a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera.

47 Litre Brutus competing at Cholmondeley Pageant of Power

Brutus – 47 litre BMW engine!

Some rather slower yet no less spectacular cars competing at the event were the four monstrous, pre-war, aero-engined vehicles, most famous of which is the 47 litre ‘Brutus’ who’s previously appeared on the BBC’s Top Gear programme. No matter how many times I witness these behemoths in action, the effect is always the same, shock and awe. It’s possibly best likened to standing behind the start line as a top-fuel dragster launches down the quarter-mile. The performance is somewhat more limited but with slightly ineffective, cable operated brakes to halt proceedings, that’s maybe for the best.

Other winners included the RAF who put on a hugely impressive display to win the Tri-Services Helicopter Agility competition. The opportunity to see just how well-trained and skillful our armed services are should never be passed up and the RAF were deemed to have executed their handling tests just slightly better than the competition.

The most deserving winner of the weekend was undoubtedly the Pageant itself however. The organisers and sponsors efforts were quite rightly rewarded with record crowds of over 50,000 people. In spite of the unseasonal weather, the public came in their droves to witness over 120 cars and bikes competing on the track and to be wowed by the 1000+ vehicles on display. Here’s to next year when some overdue sunshine would surely see the Cholmondleley Pageant of Power go from strength to strength.

By Ben Harrington

Jann Mardenborough's Nissan GTR after collision with armco

Oops!!!

Don Law's Jaguar XJ220 in full Martini livery

Jaguar XJ220 in full racing colours. One of Don Law’s impressive array of cars

Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans car

Bentley Speed 8

Range Rover Evoque – First Drive

Ben Harrington of Driving Torque drives and reviews the Range Rover Evoque

Range Rover Evoque Coupe

Bertone, Karmann, Pininfarina and now, Beckham. For all of their years of designing and building serious, rugged 4x4s, the new Evoque will forever be tagged as the car that Victoria built and obviously that’s just the way that Land Rover want it. I’m going to put this possible error of judgement to one side however and attempt to deliver an honest, unbiased review on what is repeatedly labelled as the greatest new model to have been launched in recent memory, by anyone.

On the particular day that I tested the latest Range Rover, I was lucky enough to have not one, not two but three of them to go at, both a coupe and 5dr 4wd and the latest addition to the group, the 2wd- eD4.

Ben Harrington of Driving Torque driving Range Rover Evoque 5dr

Range Rover Evoque

The 4wd coupe I was testing sported the SD4 2.2 litre diesel engine, capable of 0-60mph in 8.os, 169g/km CO2 and 43.5mpg combined. But the real fun was to be found in the 5dr as it had the Si4 2.o litre petrol under the bonnet, pushing the 0-60mph time down to a very respectable 7.0s but consequently the economy suffered at 32.5mpg combined and 199g/km, I’m predicting that the petrol will be a rare sight on Britain’s roads. Apart from the engines and the obvious lack of rear entrances and exits on the coupe, the 3dr and 5dr 4wds that I was testing were virtually identical and so I’ll group these two together. Both were the range topping Dynamic models, prices start at £39,995 for the 5dr and £40,995 for the coupe and both were fitted with the optional Lux pack, weighing in at a not-insignificant £4,325. These cars were unashamedly meant to impress.

Putting practicality swiftly to one side, in my humble opinion the Evoque looks at it’s best in 3dr guise and from every angle the coupe I tested does look a million dollars, which makes the £44,325 price tag seem a bargain. Now, there’s two ways of looking at the list price of an Evoque; yes, its expensive when compared with some other similar size 4x4s on the market but those other 4x4s aren’t Range Rovers. So maybe the best way to consider the price is from the angle of how much money you’d be saving over a similarly specced Range Rover Sport or even a fully grown Range Rover, both of which could easily cost double the amount of the Evoque with options.

The Range Rover Evoque prepares to attempt a gradient

Can the Evoque cut it off-road…………

Anyway, back to my test cars. The quality of the grown up Range Rovers has been successfully transplanted in terms of materials and interior finish into this baby one, without creating a 70% size photocopy- that would have been far too easy. Obviously, you just don’t get the acres of space that’s found in its big brothers – that would be impossible but the Evoque isn’t all about compromise either. The driving position for starters is unique to this model; it offers that essential high up feeling in order to gain superiority over lesser mortals but it very cleverly avoids an industry standard, bolt-upright posture in favour of a far more cosseting, sporty position that results in an entirely more engaging sensation. Another feature that’s unique to the Evoque are the jewelled rings that adorn the instrument dials. On first impression, these could simply be considered a tacky bit of bling, inspired by Mrs B. On closer inspection however, this ring detailing is echoed in the front and rear light clusters and somehow seems appropriate for the model, especially when they change colour, reflecting how spirited the selected driving mode is.

Having only previously seen the Evoque in the flesh from the outside, I was somewhat surprised to glance rearwards from the driver’s seat and find proper, adult size leg room for your lucky rear passengers. I was so astonished in fact that I leapt out of the car, determined to open the boot and therefore expose this bounder’s shortcomings. I’m fairly sure that a genuine double-take then occurred when I discovered a decent size boot, 550 litres in the coupe and 575 litres in the 5dr, to be exact. Just to put this into context, the Audi A4 Avant’s boot weighs in at 490 litres, that’s over 10% smaller than even the coupe, all of a sudden this baby Rangey doesn’t seem quite so compact. And I’m right, it’s neither small nor a tardis – the Evoque actually measures 4355-65mm, under 10cm less than aforementioned A4 so it could hardly be considered a super-mini. When placed on its own and not being compared to its palatial siblings, the Evoque is a car that’s realistically capable of transporting a family of four and all their luggage around in comfort.

Out on the road, the 4wd Evoque’s driving experience confirms what the seating position had previously hinted at; this car is no wallowy barge that has to be coaxed around corners with its wing mirrors scraping the floor. With the Terrain Response system set to dynamic (menacing red instrument dials) this genuinely rides like a capable hot-hatch, even the diesel engine in the 5dr was keen with little engine noise disturbing the tranquility of the cabin. My only complaint would be that the 6 speed automatic ‘box found in both the Dynamic models had an unnerving tendency to change gear whilst tackling bends. This made the whole car’s geometry go out of shape, not a pleasant feeling whilst negotiating a sweeping left hander. This situation could maybe be avoided by opting to change gear yourself but there’s no guarantee that the ‘box won’t disagree with your chosen gear and select a different one anyway.

The Range Rover Evoque tackles a tricky angle

………….yes it can!

One aspect of the Evoque that I was eager to assess was it’s off-road ability as this is where it’s attracted many doubters. Could this very fashionable vehicle prove itself to be as comfortable plugging mud as it is looking good? To put it through its paces I was going to take the Evoque around the rigorous off-road Land Rover Experience at Gaydon, a track I’d previously tackled in a Discovery although I think on that occasion the car was guiding me round, not vice versa. Now, I’m not naive to think that the good folk at Range Rover would risk the embarrassment of their new baby coming unstuck and certainly not on their home turf but my experience of proper off-road driving is limited at best and I wanted to see how assured a ham fisted novice such as myself would feel when tackling the rough stuff. One limitation that became immediately apparent was the comparative lack of ground clearance, some strengthened belly plates had been fitted to the test car to protect its vulnerable underside. I must stress however that this course is no walk in the park and on the few occasions that there was an audible scrape, it was on the most extreme of obstacles, not a kerb in Tesco’s car park. Otherwise, the Evoque successfully defeated any problems thrown at it, all without the aid of a low ratio gearbox and a locking differential, these are replaced with electrical wizardry controlling the drivetrain, dependant on the selected terrain mode.

Having assessed that the 4wd Dynamic Evoques are luxurious, capable off road and have excellent road manners, I went for a spin in the latest addition to the group – the ‘base model’ 2wd eD4 in Pure trim with a six speed manual gearbox. Just to clarify things a little, the entry-level Range Rover is a little different to how I remember other model’s entry levels; heated leather comes as standard, as do climate control and combined sat nav/entertainment screen; a far cry from the lack of a near-side wing mirror on some base models I’ve owned. It is an odd sensation getting into the driver’s seat of a Range Rover and finding a third pedal and a gear-stick but the gearchange is assuredly positive with a purposeful short shift between gears. On the road, the manual has the obvious advantage of feeling more engaging than the auto and avoids that unwanted mid-corner shift I encountered in the auto. I’m not entirely sure however whether there’s great demand in today’s 4×4 wielding society for a Range Rover that relies on the driver to change gear themselves;even taking into account the depleted fuel economy and £1,600 price hike, the auto just feels more at home than the manual. Some switch gear is lost in the transition from 4wd to 2wd Evoque as it loses its Terrain Response system but I’m sure this would only be noticeable if you transferred straight from one model to the other as I did. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the chaps at Range Rover were unwilling to let me take the 2wd model around their off road test track but I’m led to believe that even with only two driven wheels, the Evoque is better than you’d imagine when the going gets tough. Quite why anyone would opt for the 2wd Evoque over the 4wd Evoque (or any other 4×4) if they were planning on doing any off-roading is another matter.

To conclude, the Evoque is a comfortable, luxurious and surprisingly spacious car and in 4wd guise it can wear the Range Rover badge without fear of diluting the brand. The 2wd eD4 Evoque offers most of the benefits of the 4wd with possibly better road manners and some attractive financial savings- when compared with similarly specced cars, however, it may be difficult to justify its price tag whilst losing its off road capabilities.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications

eD4 Pure Coupe;£29,695, 2.2l Diesel, 2WD, 150bhp, 0-60 mph = 10.6s, 112mph max, 56.5 mpg combined, 133g/km CO2

SD4 Dynamic Coupe; £40,995, 2.2l Diesel, 4WD, 190bhp, 0-60 mph = 8s, 121mph max, 43.5 mpg combined, 174g/km CO2

Si4 Dynamic 5dr; £39,995, 2.0l petrol, 4WD, 240bhp, 0-60 mph = 7.1s, 135mph max, 32.5 mpg combined, 199g/km CO2

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