Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Ultimate Satisfaction – True love for a Renault Vel Satis

Oliver Hammond and his Renault Vel Satis when he met Driving Torque

Oliver Hammond and his Renault Vel Satis

Take a good, hard look at this picture because it may be a while until you see this car again. I can say this with a fair amount of certainty as earlier this week I had the pleasure of a morning with fellow motoring journalist Oliver Hammond of Simon’s Car Spots, who also happens to be the founder of the U.K. Vel Satis Owners Club. According to Oliver, there are less than a thousand of these Gallic oddities left in the U.K. including his own so the chances of stumbling across one are, shall we say, Velly slim (sorry, no more puns from now on. Promise).

Being the owner of a classic car myself, I’m well aware of the ‘labour of love’ style relationship which Oliver has developed with this French luxo-barge. The old adage that some children could only be loved by their parents can often be translated into an owner’s emotions towards his or her car, with outsiders often wondering how and why we tolerate what can only be described as despicable behaviour.

Ben Harrington of Driving Torque in rear of Renault Vel Satis

Nicolas Sarkozy could have been lost for days in here!

Everyone to their own though I say and as Oliver is proudly showing off the many highlights of the big Renault, I’m beginning to warm to this MPV/Estate/Limousine with its subtle design cues, unimaginably large pews and rear leg room not equalled since Concorde was decommissioned.

We went out for a thoroughly enjoyable tour of the area whereupon Oliver ably demonstrated the car’s prowess when smoothing out bumps whilst not appearing too shabby under hard acceleration round a tricky bend. The President of France previously utilised a Vel Satis to waft arrogantly from place to place and I was really seeing why, even to the point where I found myself pondering the inevitable question – ‘just why did Renault sell so few of these cars?’ Even the name ‘Vel Satis’ (which is simply gleaned from ‘Velocity and Satisfaction’) was beginning to seem wholly appropriate.

My quizzical confusion must have been painted on my face, however, because it was at this point that Oliver shattered the illusion of vehicular superiority and brought the scene into glaring, terrifying focus. Tales abound of spending over four times the car’s value on repairs, struggling to find simple, everyday parts such as tyres and then being charged £200 (each!) to own them. Garages have been known to flatly refuse to work on the car or helpfully suggesting that every component be replaced at a cost of £5k as this was the easiest way to rectify an electrical fault.

So why on earth would someone voluntarily own an apparent money-pit such as this?

Ben Harrington Driving Torque meets Oliver Hammond and his Vel Satis

Ben, meet Hubert the Vel Satis. Hubert, this is Ben

Oliver is very knowledgable in many areas, especially cars so it’s not as if he doesn’t have either the confidence or common sense to invest in a far more sensible proposition. Not only this but Oliver doesn’t even hide his love for his ‘Vel’ away like some sordid affair, far from it, he runs a successful website dedicated to the model. His own Vel Satis even has a name! (Hubert if you were wondering)

But then, I guess that’s the point. You can’t put a value on true love, neither are we granted the luxury of choosing who the recipient of our affections is. Personally I’m glad people like Oliver exist; seeing unbridled passion about a car that strays away from the norm is a joy to behold. Without people like him, the roads would be a whole lot less interesting and varied. It pains me to say it but even classic Volkswagens go largely unnoticed these days due to their large population.

French presidential Renault Vel Satis escort

The Renault Vel Satis – a car fit for Heads of State

It was a true pleasure to meet Oliver and his Vel Satis and I’m looking forward to many chats over coffee in the future. The only slight snag may be that I’ve promised him a ride in my VW Type 2 next time and I can’t help but feel that he’s going to find it a bit boring!

By Ben Harrington

Volvo C30 T5 R-Design Polestar – Driven and Reviewed

1990s volvo 850 t5 touring car on two wheels

Volvo 850 T5

Every now and then, Volvo decide to comprehensively ditch their safe, utilitarian image in favour of an approach which is a whole lot spicier. The resulting car is generally a huge hit, combining safety and reliability with performance to set your pants on fire. Favourite of traffic police and family men alike, the turbo-charged set-square, T-5R of the ’90s achieved 60mph in 6.5 seconds whilst ferrying a double divan home in the boot.

Things seemed to have reverted to type in recent years at Volvo, that is until a new kid on the block emerged – the C30 Polestar Concept. With 400bhp and all wheel drive, it was unseasonably hot with performance figures to worry even the mighty Evo X. But, will Volvo again discard their somewhat dowdy shroud and put it into production? Well, there’s time yet I suppose but for now we’ll have to appease ourselves with this C30 R-Design, sporting an enticing Polestar upgrade.

Volvo C30 with Polestar upgrade in blue

Volvo C30 Polestar

Our test car came in the same Polestar blue that’s graced both the C30 Concept and, more recently the S60 Concept so beautifully, but unfortunately, this is where the similarities ended. Utilising Volvo’s popular T5 engine, the C30 attempts to harness a whopping 250bhp through the front wheels, unfortunately without much success. The chassis just doesn’t seem to have been sufficiently fettled to cope with such power and the engine feels disconnected from the rest of the car, as if it’d prefer to break free from its shackles and carry on alone.

From launch, pedal feel is vague and uninspiring in the Polestar and, whereas other manufacturers such as Ford have adopted clever torque-steer compensation systems like the RevoKnuckle to rid themselves of the inevitable wandering found in high-powered, front-drive cars, Volvo seem to have forgotten. The result is involuntary changes of direction into either a hedge or oncoming traffic, dependant on which gear’s selected at the time.

Once on the move and heading in a straight line, finding a corner or bend is an unavoidable occurrence. The car’s front wheels do an admirable job of multi-tasking propulsion and direction, resulting in levels of grip that inspire confidence all the way to the limit. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link however and in this case, the Volvo’s seats let the whole ride down. Offering the same support, lumbar or otherwise as your average park bench, I found myself attempting to pilot the vehicle from the passenger seat whilst negotiating a tricky right-hander.

Build quality and safety features are usual Volvo fare which is where the C30 shines over the competition. It’s always hugely reassuring to know that if exuberance overcomes talent, the car is designed and built in such a way that it’ll do it’s best to protect our fragile bodies, especially with 250bhp on tap.

Volvo c30 Polestar floating console

Still a work of art

The interior is looking a little dated in the C30 generally, although its floating centre console was always a pretty, if not unusual dalliance with the world of form over function and it still impresses now.

One of the main competitors of the c30 is the impressive Focus ST. One interesting point to note here is that whereas the Volvo has only ever been available in 3 door guise, Ford have decided to only offer the ST with 5 doors. Which approach will prove more popular is anyone’s guess but traditionally, hot-hatches must be a jack-of-all-trades, ferrying the children to school one minute and winning red-light races the next. This task is generally a whole lot more enjoyable when aforementioned children aren’t forced to clamber over the front seats.

Volvo C30 Polestar badge blueThe C30 Polestar is certainly an exciting insight into where Volvo could be heading in the future. For now though, the competition is simply poles-apart.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Volvo C30 T5 R-Design with Polestar upgrade, Price £22,920,  Engine2.5l 5-cyl petrol, LayoutFront engine, front wheel drive,  Power250 bhp,  Acceleration 0-60 5.9s, Maximum Speed –  152mph, Economy32.5 mpg combined, Emissions –  203g/km CO2 

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