Driving Torque

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Archive for the tag “Mini”

Vauxhall Adam Rocks Air – Driven and Reviewed

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_gold_front

 

 

The Adam’s been a huge success for Vauxhall since its release in 2012 and has sold especially well here in the UK. A huge part of the car’s modus operandi was based on personalisation, with over 1 million combinations of options apparently available. This thrust it into the highly competitive area of the market that’s also occupied by the ubiquitous MINI and Fiat’s 500. Brave move.

A Little Fact

Here’s a little Vauxhall Adam based fact for you; it’s the only model in the current Vauxhall range that doesn’t end in the letter ‘A’. Feel free to use that the next time you’re on a first date or you really want to impress your mates down the pub. Alphabet based nuggets of information aside though, what is this new version – the Adam Rocks Air all about?

 

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_sunroofRocks Air?

This Rocks Air is a quasi-SUV version of the Adam, complete with a little rise in ride height (15mm) and some rufty-tufty bits of plastic splashed liberally about the place. That explains the ‘Rocks’ part of the new title then, but what is the ‘Air’ bit all about? It’ll come as no surprise that it refers to the full length fabric sunroof that every Adam Rocks comes with. Don’t worry if you didn’t really want a soft-top though; it doesn’t impede rear visibility when it’s folded back like some similar models do, and the added noise it creates is barely detectable.

Vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_gold_side

 

 

They might only be for show, but I feel that the visual additions to the Adam Rocks really set it apart from the base model and give it far more road presence. I’m not sure what the extra 15mm ride height will achieve in terms of off-road ability, but where the Adam could get lost in a crowd, the Adam Rocks stands out, especially with the 18” ‘Twister’ wheels that our test car was shod with.

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_door_handleRide Quality

These enhanced looks do come at something of a price though, and I don’t just mean financially. The whole setup has been adjusted and tuned to accommodate the loftier height and it’s left the Adam Rocks jittery on uneven surfaces; any bumps and potholes are felt throughout the whole car, irrespective of which wheel encountered them.

This particular Adam Rocks is powered by the same 1.0l, three-cylinder engine that so impressed us in the New Corsa recently, proving to be competent and refined in equal measures. It works just as well in the smaller Adam, as you’d expect, and when it comes down to triple-cylinder units that are so de rigueur at the moment, it really puts Vauxhall up there with the best.

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_goldIt combines the best qualities of a three cylinder engine – decent economy and bags of character, with a useable torque curve and just enough restraint in the sound department to not be intrusive. Plus, it gets this Adam Rocks Air to the 60mph mark in a not-too-shabby 9.9 seconds

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_boot_release

Simply press the Griffin, et voila…..

Luxurious Touches

Vauxhall as a brand aren’t really renowned for their luxurious little touches but that’s precisely what’s so satisfying about the Adam range as a whole.

Take, for example, the exterior boot release; not an element I usually get over-excited about but I feel it deserves special mention in this case. There isn’t a button or lever as such, one simply presses the boot’s entire Griffin badge and the bodywork depresses slightly, opening the boot.

Some of the prettiest dials I've encountered

Some of the prettiest dials I’ve encountered

The basic design and materials in the cabin are satisfying both in terms of aesthetics and quality. The rubber-look eye level plastics, user-friendly Intellilink infotainment system (£275 option) and large, circular air vents put the Adam Rocks ahead of much of the competition, but it’s the fabulous dials that seem to take inspiration from both the aviation and nautical world that pleased me most. A tiny spotlight glows behind the dials, following wherever the needles go, and when the stop/start kicks in, the tachometer needle doesn’t just drop to zero like most cars – it goes to an ‘Auto Stop’ position, leaving ‘Stop’ solely for when the ignition’s turned off. It’s these little touches that add an ‘air’ (excuse the pun) of exclusivity.

vauxhall_adam_rocks_air_interiorAt What Price Though?

The Adam Rocks Air’s premium look and feel does come with a premium price tag however; this exact car would set you back a whopping £20,335. It doesn’t have to be this way though; even with this highly desirable engine option that does suit the car so, the basic price is a far more reasonable £16,695. Or, if it’s just the show you’re after and the go element isn’t a priority, you can spec your Adam Rocks with their 1.2l unit, dropping the base price to £14,695.

There’s obvious flair, and equal amounts of care that’ve been put into the Adam Rocks Air’s design – both inside and out; show some restraint with the options list and you can end up with something that’s got enough taste and refinement to put any MINI to shame.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Vauxhall Adam Rocks Air, 1.0l 12v Direct Injection Turbo , Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 115PS, Torque – 170Nm, Emissions – 119g/km CO2, Economy – 55.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 121mph, Acceleration – 9.9s 0-62mph, Price – £16,695 OTR, £20,335 as tested

For full details, go to; http://www.vauxhall.co.uk/vehicles/vauxhall-range/cars/adam-rocks-air/overview.html

Ford Ka Studio Connect – Driven and Reviewed

The Mk1 Ford Ka - an icon

The Mk1 Ford Ka – an icon

Rust issues aside, Ford‘s first generation Ka was a huge (if slightly unexpected) success story. It combined inexpensive costs with quirky looks and a fantastic driving experience, even spawning a hot-hatch and two-seater convertible versions in the guise of the nattily-named SportKa and StreetKa (why the latter was never sold as a ‘Desire’ special edition, I’ll never know!).

What we have here is the second generation Ka in Studio Connect guise, now built by Fiat alongside their 500 model, with which it shares many components. Ford recently announced  plans for the third generation Ka which appears to share nothing but a name with previous models, so what should they carry over from the existing Ka, and what should they ditch?

ka-image-1Sales of the 2nd gen Ka have been disappointing for Ford, and I can’t help but assume this is mainly due to the look of the thing. The original model arrived before the raft of quirky superminis that are on offer today, cars such as the Mini and Fiat 500, but even today, it’s different enough to be instantly recognisable in the crowd. Not so this generation. I spoke to scores of people about my test car and the I consistently heard the same thing – “I didn’t think Ford even made the Ka anymore”. Obviously incorrectly assumed extinction isn’t good news when trying to sell a car, but it’s just too anonymous and similar to it’s sister car  – the universally popular Fiesta. It’s not ugly, that would be unfair,  but in such a competitive market, it needs more individuality to appeal to its young, fashion conscious target audience.

ka-image-2When it comes down to  engines, the Ka comes with a selection of one. It’s called the 1.2 Duratec but in reality, it’s a renamed version of Fiat’s 1.2l unit. I can’t help but feel that the Ka is stuck between a rock and a hard place here – being built by Fiat, Ford’s excellent range of diminutive EcoBoost engines aren’t at their disposal. Unfortunately though, Fiat obviously weren’t prepared to offer their impressive TwinAir or Diesel engines for the Ka either, leaving it lumbered with this 69ps unit. This is an old-fashioned engine, and unfortunately it shows; It feels sluggish, lumpy and uninspiring in pretty much all situations, and it’s figures don’t compensate for this lack of performance either. 0-62mph in 13.4 seconds actually feels a tad optimistic ,and 115g/km Co2, coupled with 57.7mpg combined just don’t cut it when so many alternatives have been launched recently.

Things don’t get much better inside either, I’m afraid. I don’t expect high-grade plastics, or anything high-grade in this price bracket for that matter, but even when only paying the relatively meagre sum of £8-£10K, I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t provided with central locking and electric windows. The lack of standard equipment could possibly be forgiven if it weren’t for some other irritating features, such as the Fiat sourced indicator stalks that refuse to operate if the car’s being steered around certain bends, and if they do relent and perform the task they were invented for, they self cancel the second the steering wheel starts returning to straight ahead. Infuriating.

ka-image-6One aspect of the Ka that’s a pleasant surprise is the room you get inside. Yes, anyone on the loftier side of average will probably feel a little strained after a long journey behind the wheel, but that’s not really what the Ka is designed for. The rear seat space isn’t bad at all, even with the front seats inhabited, and the head-room on offer is a lot more spacious than you’d imagine. Boot space is an area often overlooked on cars in this segment, but this is one area where the Ka really shines. At 244 litres in 4 seat mode, it’ll fit quite a few shopping bags in without putting the rear seats down and when you consider that the New Mini’s boot is 30% larger than the previous model, and that’s still only 211 litres, you get the picture.

The all-new Ford Ka

The all-new Ford Ka

From the images we’ve seen so-far of the new Ka model, it’s unrecognisable next to all previous incarnations including this one, and it’s not hard to see why. The Ka seems to have fallen between two hugely lucrative stools in recent times; on one hand there’s the premium superminis – Mini, 500 etc – these are definitely more expensive than the Ka but they offer a driving experience and a customisable look that the Ford could only dream about. On the other hand, there are cars such as the Kia’s Picanto and Hyundai’s i10 – not only are they cheaper to purchase but the standard equipment they’re provided with puts the Ka to shame. Even similarly priced models such as the Citigo/Up!/Mii offer a certain personality that’s sadly missing in the Ka.

When you find a great recipe, as Ford did with the original Ka, it’s very tempting to drag it out, sometime beyond it’s shelf-life. Unfortunately though, when the competition’s products supersede your own, it’s time to move on. This is very much the case with the Ka and by the looks of the new model, Ford have come to this conclusion too.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Ka Studio Connect, Engine – 1.2l Duratec petrol, Transmission – 5 speed manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 69bhp, Torque – 102Nm, Emissions – 115g/km CO2, Economy – 57.7 mpg, Maximum Speed – 99mph, Acceleration – 13.4s 0-62mph, Price – £9,925 OTR, £10,415 as tested

Peugeot 208 GTi – Driven and Reviewed

When Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement from management earlier this year, Manchester United were left with the unenviable task of replacing one of the most successful managers since the notion of hoofing an inflated pigskin was deemed to be an idea worth taking seriously. They took a grand total of four days to name his successor.

Only time will tell whether Mr Moyes will be up to the job, but still, four days is pretty impressive.

The original - Is it still the best?

The original – Is it still the best?

Believe it or not, Peugeot‘s mighty 205 GTi was killed off almost two decades ago and so far, regardless of how hard they try, a replacement worthy of being uttered in the same breath has been conspicuous by its absence. I’m well aware of the various 306s and 106s that have got near, either in XSi or Rallye guise but nothing has dragged Peugeot back into the limelight in the same way that the superb 205 GTi did all those years ago. Trust me – I owned one. (1.9, in case you were wondering)

The 208 GTi - can it retake the hot-hatch crown?

The 208 GTi – can it retake the hot-hatch crown?

What we have here then is the latest attempt from Peugeot to reclaim its place on the hot-hatch throne – the 208 GTi. Can it possibly be the car to live up to its lofty bloodline?

Initial impressions are good – on paper.The 208 GTi trumps the much-lauded Fiesta ST in the race to 62 mph, and although it may lose out by a smidgen in that department to the Renaultsport Clio, it’s more economical, undoubtedly prettier and has a ‘proper’ 6 speed gearbox – not the much maligned ‘flappy paddle’ effort as found in its Gallic cousin.

So, that’s the competition sorted out – on paper anyway, let’s get back to taking the 208 GTi on its own merits though.

Peugeot 208 GTi rearFrom the moment the first press shots of the standard 208 were released, I found the whole thing, well, a bit ‘busy’ if you know what I mean? That’s not to say that it’s ugly by any means – the jutting jaw and toothy grin may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s a welcome relief from the recent ‘wide mouth frogs’ that Peugeot seemed to have developed a fixation with. The 208’s proportions are near-perfect and it’s got some very pleasing features. I simply felt that the 208’s designers should maybe have known when to stop and adopted the ‘less is more’ theory a little more readily when applying some visual aspects to the car.

Peugeot 208 GTi sideOf course, a GTi is supposed to be an assault on the senses, and that’s why the 208 GTi gets away with it. The only downside to all this is the slight lack of contrast between the GTi and its lesser brethren. I found myself studying passing 208s, checking whether they were also GTis and this just won’t do. If you’ve worked hard and want your supermini to be the most superest (!?!), it’s got to stand out, not only in a crowd but in a family photo too.

GTi's gear-knob is particularily satisfying!

GTi’s gear-knob is particularily satisfying!

It’s a completely different story in the GTi’s cabin, with many highlights and features that constantly remind its inhabitants just what statement this car is intent on making. Ignoring the 208’s multitude of red flashes that adorn just about every surface at some point (in homage to the 205), there are other, possibly more significant features that transform this car’s living space from everyday hatch into B road king. Not least of which is surely the slightly unusual driving position.

The 208 GTi’s grippy sports seats are mounted 8mm lower than the standard car to give a more ‘sit in’ rather than ‘sit on’ sensation. Once in the driver’s seat though, things can initially feel  rather alien due the combination of a semi-race- car, small diameter steering wheel and the fact that one’s view of the dash dials is achieved by looking over it, rather than through it. There has been much already written that this position is distracting and the steering wheel can end up in the driver’s lap – I’d say that this is purely due to driver error, as after two minutes’ instruction from a trained Peugeot representative on how to match seating and steering wheel position, the whole effect was conducive to a spirited, almost rally-driver effect, whilst all dials were clearly in view.

One of the many homages to the 205

One of the many homages to the 205

On the road, the GTi feels instantly alive, as it should with 200bhp on tap from it’s 1.6 litre engine. This unit may be the same one as found in Mini’s Cooper S but it’s important to remember that it is a Peugeot product, not a BMW one so fettling it to the 208’s needs shouldn’t be a problem. 0-62 mph is taken care of in less than seven seconds, with the driver feeling an integral part of achieving this speed as they grip the wheel, correcting the inevitable torque-steer from the front-driven wheels. The GTi – only exhaust outlets may look the part but one of my major criticisms of the 208 is the lack of drama and noise. I’ve recently driven Peugeot’s excellent RCZ, equipped with exactly the same engine and the aural sensation was worlds apart. Definitely an area to improve upon to achieve true GTi greatness.

The most often admired quality of the 205 GTi was the way it negotiated corners in a go-kart like fashion. It’s modern-day equivalent has extra weight and power which usually hinder satisfying handling but it’s certainly no slouch on the twisty stuff. There are obviously a whole host of electronic aides to assist in hedge-avoidance but the trick for manufacturers is to keep them operating in the background without being intrusive and I’d say the 208 does an admirable job of achieving this. By utilising variable-electric power steering, the feather-light feel around town recedes at higher speeds and weights-up nicely, although I did find myself yearning for a touch more feedback around the tighter corners.

Any front-driven car is asking a lot of its multi-tasking front wheels, even more so when power is increased as they attempt to direct whilst also providing drive. Introduce an uneven surface for the suspension to deal with and this is where the 208 GTi can come slightly unstuck. I found that the, once train-like handling characteristics developed an unnerving, skittish feel over  typically unkempt British Tarmac, which could undoubtedly lessen confidence as our roads aren’t likely to be completely fixed anytime soon, if ever.

Peugeot 208 GTi headlightIn reality, it’s nigh-on impossible for anyone to recreate the hot-hatches of the ’80s and ’90s due to the added complications of safety and emission constraints. It’s therefore a fairly fruitless task to constantly compare Peugeot’s GTi products to the 205. Peugeot are obviously proud of their heritage though, and are keen to utilise it in their marketing of the 208 so I’ll go along with it. No, it just doesn’t feel alive as the original, no car ever will. However, the 208 GTi is undoubtedly faster, more comfortable, built to a higher standard and, perhaps most importantly, safer than the 205 so I think we should lay that old ghost to rest and look forward.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Peugeot 208 GTi 1.6 THP 200, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engineFWD, Power – 200bhp, Torque – 275Nm, Emissions – 139g/km CO2, Economy – 48 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 143mph, Acceleration – 6.8s 0-62mph, Price – £18,895 OTR, £20,070 as tested.

My own MINI Adventure – how I rediscovered my idenity

No man is an island, as they say. Neither is any man a T-junction or dual carriageway, as no-one says. I’ve waxed lyrical in the past about the inextricable link between man and machine, in particular his/her chosen mode of transport and what this choice says about us to the onlooking world.

Audi A6 Avant

Audi A6 Avant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since selling my excellent Audi A6 Avant in June 2011, I’ve been without a ‘car’ of my own, but a couple of weeks ago I came in out of the cold (literally) and rejoined the rat-race – I bought a bona fide automobile. The effect this has had on my life is infinitely more than the mere convenience of owning another car, it’s had a huge impact in a more spiritual sense.

Some may argue that I never really went cold-turkey on the transport front as I would never sell Matilda, our beloved VW Type 2, I own a Vespa which I classed as my everyday transport and ultimately, I could use my wife’s Citroen whenever the need arose. So why the tangible shift in attitude, just what can a humble car bring to aid one’s wellbeing?

My Vespa - Not so useful in winter

My Vespa – Not so useful in winter

As a hopeless car addict who’s owned one in some shape or form since he was 16, through thick or thin, in good times and bad, I couldn’t possibly have predicted the effect that non-ownership would have on my life. As handy and, in many ways, more convenient as it is to switch from car to scooter, I just couldn’t bring myself to jump whole-heartedly into the two-wheeled camp. The sensation could only be described as treachery, as many people would ask ‘So, what’s replaced the Audi?’ and I’d point sheepishly at my pretty Vespa, quickly uttering some pathetic excuse, like ‘I’m in-between cars at the moment’ or ‘It’s so I can save up for something’. Like someone who’s covering up for recently being sacked, I just couldn’t face the fact that I didn’t actually possess an everyday car to call my own.

A huge part of how we view and judge each other is based on what we do, both professionally and for pleasure. It generally doesn’t take too long for perfect strangers to realise that cars are of substantial importance in my life, usually because I’ve bored them to death about it within half an hour of introduction. It was therefore acutely alien, not only to me, but to my friends and family, when I was without an automobile, like a yin without its yang, like Ant without Dec – you get the idea.

My dream car - temporarily put on hold

My dream car – temporarily put on hold

So, just what vehicle has brought me in from the wilderness, what’s ended the drought? Well, having made no secret of my desire to own a late 80’s Porsche 911, that was the plan, but then our Victorian house started falling down so that budget literally went up in smoke. An Oak Green 16v Mk2 Golf Gti was a slightly cheaper proposition, but they were mostly going the same was as my house – crumbly. The highly desirable E36 M3 Convertible in Estoril Blue was my next target but I was told one too many tales of astronomical running costs for one of those and the idea lost its appeal.

So……. just what ended up fitting the bill? Well, it’s built beautifully by BMW, it’s a very hot hatch with some of the usual practicalities this brings and it’s roughly as quick as an ’87 911…….. It’s a MINI!!! Not just any MINI though, it’s a Cooper S. Not just any Cooper S though, it’s a JCW Cooper S. Pushing out 210bhp through the front wheels, courtesy of a supercharger and various engine upgrades, performance is, shall we say, spirited, especially in this treacherous icy weather we’re currently enjoying.

2003 Mini JCW Cooper S

Our new baby – a JCW Cooper S

If anyone’s considering a Works MINI, just bear in mind that it’s fairly uncompromising in many ways. The suspension upgrades, coupled with 17” wheels make for a ride that eventually forces you to weave across your lane, avoiding the many pot-holes in an effort to preserve one’s spine. The trade-off is obviously limpet-like handling characteristics, just don’t expect to waft to one’s destination, it’s more of a trial than a waft.

By far the most characterful part of an early Cooper S is the supercharger and its unmistakable whine. To say this scream is addictive would be an understatement and the faster you go, the louder and more satisfying it gets. I’m currently achieving an average of 30mpg in my Works but if you suffer from a particularly addictive personality, or a heavy right foot, those economy figures could easily tumble, along with your bank balance as you constantly top up the tank with the 98 RON petrol it demands.

I seem to be painting a fairly negative picture of my new pocket rocket so far but I’m just getting the potentially bad bits out-of-the-way first. Having sorted the fiddly seating position to my liking, this car is evidently serious quality and gravely serious fun. It is so obviously a 0.5 series BMW, they just refused to put their moniker on it, partly because it’s front wheel drive, partly to preserve the MINI identity without linking it to the far more grown-up BMW range. Space inside is a lot more reasonable than I envisaged and my daughters find the rear seats palatial. One word of warning though, whichever way you look at it, THE BOOT IS SMALL. I presumed that a spindly single Maclaren buggy would squeeze in – I was wrong.

Having been generously specced at the factory, my MINI wants for nothing, neither do it’s occupants. Everything’s either heated or electric which gives the sensation of sitting in a little M3. The extra weight added by these luxuries may detract from the go-kart sensation a Works offers but they’re more than welcome if you like your creature comforts.

Like every good relationship, any initial doubts I may have harboured about my new acquisition are rapidly dissipating as the satisfaction of MINI ownership shines through. Perhaps more importantly though, I feel complete again.

By Ben Harrington

smart fortwo Brabus Cabrio – Driven and Reviewed

Over the years, the world of music has presented us with many artists collaborating into what have been dubbed ‘supergroups’. This usually involves previously highly respected artists coming together in the hope that the result will be greater than the sum of its parts. With varying success.

On the face of it, what we have here is the automotive equivalent of a supergroup; We’ve got Mercedes as the all-seeing management company and the glue that keeps the assembly together. The frontman is Smart who were instrumental in the modern city-car phenomenon  and have had the grit and determination to stay credible in a highly competitive market for 14 years. The wild-man of our group is undoubtedly Brabus who have been tuning and modifying Mercedes in somewhat extravagant fashion since the 1990s.

The question is though, do we have here a beautiful combination who compliment each other in perfect harmony? Or have they created a monster that should never have seen the light of day?

First impressions are good; visually, the Brabus additions are pleasing without being too dramatic. The extra skirting at the front and sides adds to the overall sporty feel but doesn’t look out-of-place. This is possibly thanks to the exclusive alloy wheels which measure 16” at the front and 17” at the rear – that might not sound too impressive but when they’re bolted to such a small car, they look quite large enough.

Smart ForTwo Brabus Cabriolet Interior

smart fortwo Brabus Cabrio Interior

The interior is similarly smattered with various Brabus-only parts including the dashboard, heated leather seats and aluminium levers which proudly sport the Brabus logo. It was never going to achieve the opulence of an S-class or a Maybach but it’s worlds apart from the utilitarian cabins found in lesser Smarts. This little car initially seems like the real deal.

Once on the road however, cracks start appearing in our lineup as the car’s limitations come into view. The dimensions of the car were never going to easily lend themselves to a road-hugging, sports car sensation but thanks to the lack of height adjustment in the seats, I sometimes felt like I was sitting atop a skateboard whilst careering downhill. Surely this one little feature which would have relieved me of the need to duck to see through the window could have been built into the seats? Rear visibility isn’t any better. Once the roof is down – no matter how the rear view mirror is adjusted, the only view it offers is of the sky.  Maybe Smart assume that their target market will all stand well under my 6ft height and won’t encounter this problem, who knows?

The ride in the Brabus is something of a paradox. The 10mm lowered, sports suspension initially feels taught and responsive, appearing to suggest snappy, sharp cornering. The stiff, crashy ride is apparently flattering to deceive however as at the first sign of a corner, the body rolls and wallows and the whole car under-steers horribly.

Smart ForTwo Brabus Cabriolet 2

smart fortwo Brabus Cabrio

It’s a similar story with how the Smart Brabus sounds. At tick-over, the sports exhaust does an admirable job of squeezing a pleasant tune out of this unlikely 999cc, three-cylinder engine. Depress the throttle, though and the note reverts to a highly unpleasant strangulation which does nothing to encourage spirited, roof-down driving. This is possibly a ploy to prevent overuse of the brake pedal as it sprouts from the floor in the same manner as a 1960’s Volkswagen Beetle and achieves roughly the same result; press a little – nothing, press more – still nothing, press firmly – the car shudders to a standstill. Not really what we’ve come to expect by modern standards.

All of this is overshadowed, however by what can only be described as the worst gearbox in the world. I’d heard reports previously but this was my first hands-on experience and I wasn’t disappointed. I sampled it first in automatic mode and the inherent problem is startlingly obvious. The time this ‘box takes between changes is almost painful. Just when you expect the ratio to have changed and drive to be available, it’s not there at all. I would lean forward, ready to be pressed back into my seat when the propulsion forced me but it takes so long that I could honestly have caressed the steering wheel with my forehead before the ‘box had remembered what to do. The story’s just the same if manual gear changes are attempted, I’d go as far as to say that with this gearbox in the Smart Brabus, I’m surprised they’ve sold a single unit; it’s dreadful.

All of the problems stated above could perhaps be overlooked if the car were a giveaway, a bargain. This is possibly the final nail in our supergroup’s coffin though  – it costs £16,750 before options. This is very similar money to the Mini Cooper Convertible and the range topping Fiat 500C Abarth; both of which feel better to drive, offer seating for four and are arguably more attractive.

In conclusion, combining these three automotive legends has unfortunately created less of a supergroup, more of a one hit wonder.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; smart fortwo cabrio 98 Brabus Xclusive, Price – £16,750, Engine – 999cc 3-cylinder turbo, Layout – Rear engine, RWD, Power – 102 bhp, Acceleration – 0-62mph 8.9s, Maximum Speed – 96mph, Economy – 54.3mpg combined, Emissions – 119g/km CO2

You can’t kid a kidder, even with a fancy car!

Here’s my somewhat early entry into 2012’s ‘stating the bleeding obvious competition’: ‘Cars are no longer simply a means of transport, they are an expression of our character’. There you go, a winner if ever I saw one, but it is true or at least partially. You see, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the gap between the reflection our cars give of our actual lives and how they reflect our idealised lives is widening to astronomical levels.

rover-p6

Rover P6

Until fairly recent times, a car was bought primarily to suit our needs best. If you were young and footloose, you bought a two-seater sports car before the impending requirements of family life hit. Once family had arrived, more doors and a larger boot were deemed necessary so you’d pop down to your local Ford dealership and buy whatever sensible model they were producing at that time, be it the Cortina, Sierra or Mondeo. If you required yet more space, various estate cars were available or you could buy a van. This carried on until old age, upon which time you could treat yourself to either a Rover or a Jaguar, dependent on how financially prudent you’d been in the previous 65 years.

These days however, armed with niche markets appearing in existing niche markets and an almost desperate desire to express ourselves, we can live out our fantasy lifestyles through the cars we buy and most people are.

Littering is without doubt one of my greatest pet-hates, seeing ignorance of this level has the ability to catapult me to hereto unseen levels of annoyance. Recently however, I witnessed some extraordinary discarding of waste that got me thinking about how much we are attempting to pull the wool over each other’s eyes, just with the mode of transport we use. What really got my attention about the moronic, selfish, lout desecrating our streets was the fact that he had wound down the window on his Toyota Prius to do it. That’s right folks, the driver of a car that comes equipped with its own soap box for impromptu ‘I’m helping save the world’ speeches, purposefully ejected his litter onto the street. He thinks that by buying a Prius, he could be mistaken for Leo Dicaprio arriving at his latest premier but the truth is he couldn’t care less about the environment, he’s just tight and wants to save a few quid on petrol.

discovery

Land Rover Discovery

When you think about it, this type of masquerading is commonplace on our roads today. The much highlighted abuse of 4x4s is an easy target. Once the reserve of farmers and the Queen, today, no mother could possibly expect to survive the perils of a modern day school run without permanent 4wd, a limited slip diff and bullet-proof glass all-round. In truth, any large hatchback could easily replace 90% of 4x4s on the road but, and here’s the sticking point, they wouldn’t portray the horsey, rough and tumble image that is deemed so desirable.

Sports car owners are just as guilty. You count the amount of young, attractive men equipped with a full head of real hair that you see driving a Porsche Boxster or a BMW Z4. Now tot up the drivers of these cars who want you to think they’re youthful and virile yet in reality smell slightly of wee and swear by sanatogen and cod liver oil. This can partially be blamed on the economy or insurance premiums but no-one forces pensioners to buy two-seater convertibles.

rod-ferrari

Rod and his Enzo

The examples are numerous and widespread; ‘Hells Angels’ Harley riders who are actually merchant bankers and would cry if they got dirt under their recently manicured nails. New Mini drivers, clinging desperately to their youth whilst simultaneously subjecting their teenage children to years of physiotherapy caused by being shoe-horned into the back seats alongside the weekly shop as the boot is the same capacity as a Samsonite briefcase.

I think the point I’m trying to make here is that we are increasingly putting vanity ahead of practicality which is fine when buying say, a t-shirt, a car should primarily fit your needs and everything else comes second. We need to realise that it might not be cool, but it’s ok to be ‘Mondeo man’. (I wouldn’t have one though – far too boring!)

By Ben Harrington

Geneva Motor Show 2011

Well, the doors haven’t yet been opened and already we have a fair idea of some of the new models set to wow us at next month’s Geneva motor show. Below are a few titbits I’ve selected which may be of interest.

BMW alpina b5 in white

Alpina B5

Alpina B5 Touring. This 500bhp, 188mph monster may possibly be the quickest way to ferry four adults and a large dog around in sumptuous comfort. Alpina may well be onto a winner here as BMW have already announced that the next gen M5 will not be available in estate guise. Something tells me this may change if the B5’s sales figures rocket!

Subaru coupe

New Subaru Concept

Subaru have used a clear, plastic body shell to showcase their ‘Boxer Sports Car Architecture’ concept. This will be a rear drive coupe which will undoubtedly be beautifully built, handle like a dream and be capable of embarrassing some expensive exotica. If some of Subaru’s recent designs are anything to go by (Impreza, Tribeca etc, etc), they may be wise to consider offering this new model with the concept’s transparent panels as standard.

aston martin virage in orange

Aston Martin Virage

Aston Martin have revived a name not seen since the ‘90s – the Virage. Looking suspiciously like every other Aston in the range, it will be available as either a coupe or a convertible and will be priced from about 150k to £160k. Aston Martin hope the Virage will fill the ‘huge’ gap between the DB9 and DBS models.

Lotus Elise Club Race in blue

Elise ‘Club Racer’

Geneva will see the launch of a new, track day orientated Lotus Elise, the Club Racer. Boosting power output by 5bhp and stripping the Elise of its few creature comforts will make the car even more focused, even more precise. It may also transform a car that already offered an uncompromising ride into the world’s fastest iron maiden.

Jaguar XKR-S in blue

Jaguar XKR-S

Jaguar have fired another warning shot across Aston Martin’s bow with the XKR-S, the latest hardcore version of the XK. With 542bhp and 0-60mph time of 4.2 secs, it is the quickest XK yet but at £85-90k, also the most expensive. Purely for comparison’s sake of course, Aston’s V12 Vantage achieves 0-60mph in 4.1 secs but would set you back £140k.

Rolls Royce 120EX Powered by lithium ion batteries

Rolls Royce 120EX

Rolls-Royce are displaying an all electric Phantom, codenamed the 102EX, the world’s first electric ultra-luxury model. Sources at Rolls-Royce are apparently unsure whether the Phantom could achieve an acceptable range in extreme weather conditions using electrical power only. Surely in a car as powerful as this, uranium rods would be a more appropriate power source than lithium-ion batteries.

mini rocketman concept in gray

The Mini ‘Rocketman’ concept

Finally, a Mini that isn’t in danger of contradicting its own name. This ‘Rocketman’(!!!) concept is highly likely to see production in the upcoming 2013 range of new Minis. Whether neat styling touches such as the Union Flag etched roof and retro exterior door hinges make the final cut is anyone’s guess.

And most pointless exhibit on display goes to……

smart forspeed in white

Smart Forspeed

morgan threewheeler in green

Morgan Three Wheeler

The Smart Forspeed. I was originally going to give this award to the Morgan Threewheeler but the order books are full for this little oddity so, who am I to argue? The all electric Forspeed however, has no windscreen or roof, no rear seats and very little range. It is essentially the lovechild of an Ipod and a mobility scooter. Oh dear!

By Ben Harrington

Ben’s Cars

 

 

Austin Metro

Austin Metro

1. 1983 Mk1 Austin Metro 1.0L, Owned May1996 – Jan 1997

Colour – Stratos Blue

Purchase Price – ?- Sold For – ?

Although technically my first car, I tend to disregard my Metro as I never actually drove it on a public highway, legally. Bought for me by my dad, it was an MOT failure which needed plenty of bodywork and dad naively thought I would jump at the chance of learning to weld. Observations on handling and performance are obviously limited in spite of the hundreds of journeys made travelling up and down Mum’s 30ft driveway.

2. 1967 Volkswagen Beetle 1200, MNG 781E, Owned Feb 1997 – Jan 1998

Colour – Peppermint Green

1967 Volkswagen Beetle Lowered

1967 Volkswagen Beetle

Purchase Price – £1500 – Sold For £1000

The car I prefer to refer to as my first. In lurid green and slammed to the floor, subtle this car was not. Despite pedestrian performance, wayward handling and woeful unreliability, this little bug was my introduction to air-cooled VWs, a breed I’m still passionate about today.

3.  1990 Peugeot 205 1.9 Gti, H936 CPO, Owned Jan 1998 – Dec 1998

Colour – Cherry Red

86-peugeot-205-gti in red

Peugeot 205 Gti

Purchase Price – £3995 – Sold For – £3000

A combination of receiving my first regular income and still living at home meant I could afford the Pug, arguably the greatest hot hatch ever. Seemingly supercar performance and renowned go-kart like handling easily justified the insurance which was equal to over a third of the value of the car!

BMW 320i

BMW 320i

4. 1987 BMW 320i, Owned Dec 1998 – June 1999

Colour – Cirrus Blue

Purchase Price – £4200 – Sold For – £3900

From the days when the Germans were hell bent on over-engineering, this Beemer was heavy, and I mean heavy! So much so that despite the more desirable six pot engine nestling under the bonnet, it struggled to propel its own weight and the result was mpg to rival a Hummer. I admired this car but never truly grew to love it.

Volkswagen Golf Mk2

Volkswagen Golf Mk2

5. 1986 Volkswagen Golf 1.6L, Owned June 1999 – Jan 2000

Colour – Mars Red

Purchase Price – £1700 – Sold For – £1500

University meant my days of desirable motors were forced to go on hold and thriftiness was the order of the day. This Gti look-alike however, proved that little budget doesn’t have to mean little quality. The lack of outright power was overshadowed by the magnificent chassis, cocking the inner rear wheel when pushed. If nothing else, this car knew how to have fun.

Ford Sierra Sapphire

Ford Sierra Sapphire

6. 1988 Ford Sierra Sapphire 1.8L, Owned Jan 2000 – March 2000

Colour – Rosewood Red

Purchase Price – £500 – Sold For – £400

Some of the most honest, satisfying  cars I’ve owned have cost less than one thousand pounds, so have some of the worst. The Sapphire fell into the latter category. Built when quality control was becoming a foreign concept at Ford, its bodywork was unseasonably rusty although I’m fairly sure a bodged accident repair didn’t help matters. The previous owner had had a decent stab at replicating a Cosworth by pilfering a set of wheels from a Mk2 Escort RS2000 and they were definitely the highlight. I would say the worst aspect overall was the engine though. The car ran on petrol, the engine looked like a petrol engine, the logbook even stated petrol fuel was required and yet the rattling engine note wasn’t dissimilar to a tired London Taxi.

Mini Mayfair

Mini Mayfair

7. 1984 Austin Mini Mayfair (Auto) Owned March 2000 – May 2000

Colour – Ermine White

Purchase Price – £400 – Sold For – £200

As a rule, automatic ‘boxes aren’t really my thing, I prefer the pure driving experience of a manual. The lack of a clutch pedal in this Mini however only added to the joy it brought. The handling was so precise and accurate that being an auto enhanced the feeling of driving a go-kart on the road. There was no fluidity or smoothness to the box, rather a violent jolt with every change which, to me was pure rally car. Unfortunately, one two many jolts resulted in broken engine mounts and that was the end of my Mini adventure.

8.  1988 Renault 5 Campus, Owned May 2000 – January 2001

Colour – Avis Red

renault 5 campus in red

Renault 5 Campus

Purchase Price – £250 – Sold For – £250

I have very fond memories of my Five, for the simple reason that it did everything asked of it and it did it well. It suited my needs perfectly – it was cheap, reliable, did about a million mpg and, joy of joys was an absolute hoot to drive. The suspension was too comfortable to ever make handling precise but somehow you always knew where the limits were with no nasty, hedge bound surprises. Hailing from when French autos still had a sense of humour, even the dash was a design masterpiece with random levers sprouting from bizarre locations like a Dalek.s helmet.

9. 1987 Volvo 340 GL, E596 GOO, Owned January 2001 – November 2001

Colour –  Smoke Silver Metallic

Volvo 340

Volvo 340

Purchase Price – £400 – Sold For – £300

It may be purely psychological but I always find a Volvo a warm, cosseting environment to be in, like a great big steel hug. My Volvo really was a warm place to be in due to the fully functioning heated seats, a pleasure until the many occasions when I forgot they were on in mid summer resulting in a Swedish sauna effect. My friend and I were once waiting in traffic, heard a screech of tyres and felt a slight shunt from behind. We went to survey the damage and found an apologetic Punto driver clearly upset about his mangled front end. Damage to Volvo wasn’t even a scratch. Crumple zones – who needs them anyway?

10.  1985 Volkswagen Golf  1.3L, Owned November 2001 – November 2001

Colour – Mars Red

1985 vw golf mark 2 in red

Mark 2 Volkswagen Golf No.2

Purchase Price – £100 – Sold For – £100

Whilst possibly trying to rekindle my emotions for my first Golf, I stumbled upon this example, similar in many ways except for the smaller capacity engine. Like going back to a favourite holiday destination, I was destined for disappointment. This Golf was to put it mildly, knackered. A nightmare to start, when it did start it stopped again at every opportunity and when it didn’t stop it still felt as though it had due to the measly amount of power on tap. Thankfully my torture lasted but a week when a workmate needed extremely cheap transport and I saw my opportunity to end my misery.

From November 2001 to June 2002 I reverted back to car number 4, the BMW as I had sold it to my dad and he wasn’t using it anyway.

Volkswagen Golf GTi MK3

Volkswagen Golf GTi MK3

11. 1996 Volkswagen Golf Gti 8v, P383 KND, Owned June 2002 – September 2004

Colour – Dusty Mauve

Purchase Price – £4995 – Sold For – £3500

2002 was a big year for me. I met my future wife and started earning proper money again, life was good. Of course, more money meant a new car and I’d always wanted a Golf Gti so that was what I got. The Mk3 8v always gets bad reviews as being overweight and underpowered but after years of snail pace driving, it initially felt pretty spritely to me. Admittedly though, it wasn’t long before 115bhp started feeling a tad pedestrian but as is usual with VW, the car was greater than the sum of it’s parts and the Gti’s character and build quality shone through.

12. 1996 Ford Escort Si, P96 WBV, Owned May 2003 – February 2007

Colour – Metallic Panther Black

1996 Ford escort SI 16v panther black

Ford Escort Si 16V

Purchase Price – £2995 – Sold For – £ 750

In truth, my wife’s car but I ended up doing a lot of driving in it so it’s on the list. The Mk6 was doomed to fail from the start as its technology was outdated before production even began, poor safety levels and even poorer build quality didn’t help either. I always found this ‘warm hatch’ quite endearing though, the Zetec engine moved it along nicely and I don’t remember it breaking down. The interior was quite a pleasant place to be, that is until a cucumber was lost under the back seat for a month, resulting in an ungodly smell that never really seemed to dissipate.

Audi 90 Quattro

Audi 90 Quattro

13. 1988 Audi 90 Quattro 2.2, Owned April 2004 – May 2004

Colour – Lagos Metallic Blue

Purchase Price – £800 – Sold For – £300

I’d always fancied an Audi Quattro so when two of my friends bought Audi 90s, I decided to take the plunge. The theory was to sell the Golf and save some money by running a decidedly cheaper Audi. The engine had plenty of life left in it and the handling was excellent due to the 4wd system. Its first long run to the Lakes resulted in a strange knocking noise developing on the motorway. You can imagine my joviality when I discovered the wheel nuts had worked their way loose, a trick they continuously repeated. A disastrous MOT led to the car going, albeit at a huge loss. Thankfully, I’d never got round to selling the Golf so I jumped back in that and forgot the Audi ever happened.

14. 1974 Volkswagen Kombi, ANW 610M, Owned September 2004 – Present

Colour – Originally Alpine White, now BMW Jet Black & Antique white

1974 Volkswagen Camper

‘Matilda’

Purchase Price – £4750

Where to begin?! We originally went to a VW show to find a Karmann Ghia and came away with our hearts set on a camper. After viewing several rust buckets, we found a company who imported VW’s from Australia and went to have a look. We were shown a weather beaten, plain white van with no interior but more importantly with no rust or bodged repairs either; we fell in love and agreed on a price. Matilda, as we christened her was my daily drive for over a year – not much fun in winter with no heater! Having spent thousands on her, she sadly spends most of her time in my garage now but that’ll change once the kids are a bit older. My eldest loves her already – she should do really, she was conceived in her after all!

15. 1993 Volkswagen Corrado VR6, L479 VLA, Owned January 2006 – Sept 2007

Colour – Midnight Blue Pearl Effect

1993 Volkswagen Corrado VR6 in blue

Volkswagen Corrado VR6

Purchase Price – £3500 – Sold For – £6360

The only car I’ve ever bought by accident. I traipsed down to Brighton with a bag of cash to see this car but it was far from as advertised. It was low mileage and had potential but the owner wanted top money for it so I made my excuses and motioned to leave. After relentless pressure to make any offer, I came up with a meagre figure- less than half the asking price just to allow me to leave. Next thing I knew I was circling the M25 in a car I didn’t really intend to buy, luckily my gamble paid off though. Torque steer aside, it drove magnificently with an addictive soundtrack and after some more money and time were invested, yielded a healthy profit. I’d still have it today if it wasn’t for those pesky kids! (Sold following news of wife’s pregnancy – baby seats don’t fit in Corrados)

Fiat Punto

Fiat Punto

16.  2001 Fiat Punto ELX 16V, AP51 HMC, Owned January 2007 – January 2008

Colour – Metallic Gun Metal Grey

Purchase Price – £2995 – Sold for – £1400

Another of the wife’s cars technically, recommended by me after I walked away unscathed from a Punto that was involved in quite a serious accident. Sadly, a truly dreadful car however. Over lightened steering meant the driver could only marginally affect the direction of travel via the traditional steering wheel method and an iron maiden would embarrass the interior when comparing comfort levels. By far the worst aspect though was the build quality which sported rust levels previously unseen on a non seafaring vessel.

Volvo 460 GL

Volvo 460 GL

17. 1993 Volvo 460GL, Owned September 2007 – June 2008

Colour – White

Purchase Price – £200 – Sold for £100 (Scrap)

Finding myself in-between cars again meant a cheap solution be found quickly, resulting in a return to Sweden’s finest. Joy of joys, this one had heated seats too which more than made up for the rotten bodywork and various dents. Testament to the brand, this unloved shed got through a freezing winter without a hiccup. I almost felt guilty when the MOT ran out and I summoned the scrapper without even granting the opportunity to attempt a further twelve month stay of execution.

Citroen Xsara Picasso blue

Citroen Xsara Picasso

18. 2002 Citroen Xsara Picasso Sx, PE52 DFO, Owned January 2008 – Present

Colour – Mediterranean Blue

Purchase Price – £2995

Getting closer to two becoming three meant that the hateful Punto had to go in place of a larger, five door model. The price and family friendliness of these ubiquitous Gallic oddities does a good job of excusing their faults, i.e. build quality and driver satisfaction. Some nice little features inside that really feel like a helping hand after a long night with a screaming baby!

Subaru Impreza WRX

Subaru Impreza WRX

19. 2005 Subaru Impreza WRX SE PPP, AY05 MLO, Owned June 2008 – Dec 2008

Colour – Crystal Grey Metallic

Purchase Price – £9600 – Sold For £9000

I needed a family car by now and to me, having four doors meant the Scooby qualified perfectly, fulfilling a long term desire to own this road going rally car was merely a bonus! I didn’t want the attention the Sti brought with its pink badges and spoilers so I opted for the relatively subtle WRX SE with the Prodrive Performance Pack. This meant I got luxuries like leather interior combined with a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds – supercar territory. By far the fastest car I’ve ever bought and also the most painful on the wallet with mpg averaging around 20 and already high insurance premiums reliant on a tracker. The expense combined with being surprisingly small inside meant after six months I wanted out and on Christmas eve my wish was granted with little depreciation. Time for a proper family car.

Audi A6 Avant

Audi A6 Avant

20. 2003 Audi A6 1.9Tdi SE Avant, KC03 HLG, owned Jan 2009 – August 2011

Colour – Crystal Blue Metallic

Purchase Price – £6000 – Sold For £5000

Without doubt the most complete car I have ever owned. Torquey, economical, beautifully built, absolutely reliable, cavernous inside, handsome and even cheap to tax. I really cannot fault this car for anyone with a young family. High mpg is appreciated whilst outgoings rise and incomes drop, the boot easily swallows buggies etc and if you go for the multitronic or auto, it’ll even change gear for you, leaving you free to consume precious coffee on the way to work. I’m even lucky enough to have an incredible stereo for when the kids aren’t in the car.

Piaggio Vespa PX125

Piaggio Vespa PX125

21. 2006 Piaggio Vespa PX125, YX06 LTZ, owned July 2011 – Present

Colour – Black with tan seat

Purchase Price – £1250

Fair enough – it’s not exactly a car. My first venture into motorbike ownership is represented by my beautiful black Vespa. I’ve desperately wanted a Vespa since I was 16, so this is really an ambition fulfilled, as well as a very cool, ultra economical piece of transportation. The fact that it’s iconic, black and air-cooled means that it fits in perfectly next to Matilda the VW and I’ve used my Italian scooter in all weathers without her missing a beat.

2003 Mini JCW Cooper S

JCW Cooper S

22. BMW MINI Cooper S JCW, CU53 UNB, owned October 2012 – August 2013 

Colour – Royal Grey

Purchase Price – £5650

Sold For – £5000

‘Buy a Cooper’, I said to myself. ‘You’ve driven the Cooper S and it’s too powerful, the Cooper is more fun’. I’ve got a track record of not listening to my own advice though, so, although I didn’t buy a Cooper S, I went the other way and bought the 210bhp John Cooper Works. Great fun over a perfectly flat road, not so much on the tarmac disgraces we call roads in Britain. Jarring ride aside, the performance was fabulous, especially with that supercharger constantly whirring away.

0534525-Saab-900-Cabriolet-900-SE-2.0i-Turbo-Cabriolet-199523. Saab 900 SE Turbo Convertible, R978 XON, owned August 2013 – November 2014

Colour – Midnight Blue

Purchase Price – £1060

Sold For – £995

I’d always admired Saab’s quirky nature and the 900 Turbo is an absolute icon. Having seen the upwards spiral that the early models’ prices had taken, I couldn’t resist this immaculate, low mileage ‘New Generation’ car. The body was about as rigid as cooked spaghetti, but that 2.0l Turbo Saab engine was a dream. Registered at the end of February 1998, I believe that my car was one of the last ever made before the arrival of the GM sourced 9-3, and I saw it as something of an investment. Unfortunately, it was getting enough use and when I was made the right offer, it had to go.

 

 

Audi A1

Is it just me or does the new Audi A1 strike you as, well, just a little bit boring? I promise this is in no way a knee jerk reaction to the recent mauling of the England football team by Germany but the pictures I’ve seen from all angles aren’t exactly exciting. Audi seem proud that the A1 has the look and feel of a shrink wrapped A4 but that’s not exactly screaming charisma is it? When I consider this car’s direct competition i.e. obviously the Mini, the DS3, the Mito or even the relatively far cheaper Fiat 500, what they have in spades is character. Every time I look at a DS3, I notice a subtle design feature I’d previously overlooked. I’m still not bored of the ubiquitous Mini. The Germans rarely get things wrong (see world cup) and I doubt the A1 will flop but in my opinion, small cars should be fun, not simply functional.

By Ben Harrington

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