Archive for the ‘DriveL’ Category

A long weekend with a Land Rover Discovery

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, April 21st, 2017

First, what Americans would call ‘full disclosure’. Land Rover asked if I wanted to borrow a new Discovery and then drive it to their Eastnor Castle off-roading place to have a play in some mud before sticking around for dinner and a night in a hotel. Also, they said, since this will be over a weekend, would you like to bring your wife and son? Oh okay then, I said. I had the steak.

Day one: A nice man drops the Discovery at my house on Friday morning. I use it to give him a lift to the station. On first acquaintance, this new Disco feels rather like a Range Rover. This should be no surprise since it’s built on the same all-aluminium monocoque, saving a chunk of weight over the old model which accidentally had two types of chassis at once and was rather hefty as a result. The plus side of the previous car’s tubbiness was that it rode very nicely in a confident, road-crushing sort of way. Despite the weight loss, the new car isn’t far off. It’s not that the ride is completely smooth, more that it brings news of a pothole and then summarily tells it to bugger orf. As in all of Land Rover’s stuff, there’s a feeling that no matter how large the pot hole or speed hump, the car is going to come away from the encounter completely unharmed.

I have to spend the rest of the day working so the Discovery stays outside but I can peer at it through the blinds. Overall, it’s quite a handsome thing but the exterior design isn’t perfect. The front lights look a bit squinty above a very chinny bumper that reminds me of the beard sported by the actor Mandy Patinkin in Homeland. There’s a bit too much unadorned metal on the sides but it’s not quite big and sheer enough to pass as a design feature, as it does on that new Velar. In this case, it just looks featureless, especially towards the back where it all gets a bit slabby and the back wheel seems a bit lost. It’s sort of okay, but then sometimes not okay, like someone who might be good looking but you can’t quite tell. Then we get to the back end where the smooth, glass-wrapped D-pillar and the smart rear lights are completely undermined by the single worst part of this car – the inexplicably offset rear number plate. Honestly, what the merry fucking frig were they thinking? It looks someone mumbling from one side of their mouth or, as the reviewer from Autocar had it, a man who’s had a stroke. There’s nothing wrong with asymmetry in itself, but it helps if it’s done with logic or with grace, not simply because the designer was bored and decided to try something obtuse. The first Discovery had an offset plate to clear the spare wheel. The last generation had an offset plate because the split tailgate was cleverly designed to make it easier to retrieve things from the boot. This model has an offset plate for why? A needless nod to the past, robbed of all logic? So that anyone who buys one will have to explain to their friends that no, honestly, it’s meant to be like that? Seriously, this lop-sided nonsense is needless and contrived, and I hope whoever thought it was a good idea gets ker-panged around the head with an asymmetric frying pan.

Day two: Off we go on a jaunt into the countryside to drive in some mud. This particular Discovery is the diesel V6 which has plenty of guts and can lollop across the countryside at a fair rate. It’s not bad in corners either, although it’s best to take a slow-in approach and then gently squeeze on the power on the way out. If you were on your own you could probably surprise people in lower cars to satisfying effect but with passengers it’s better to conduct things in the stately manner the car seems best equipped for. Anyway, no need for door handling heroics. It’s a nice day, light floods into the Disco interior through big windows and a vast glass roof, my wife sits in the back with our three year old watching stuff on the built-in TVs and passing round snacks, and it feels less like we’re in a car and more like we’re relaxing inside a better made and less dog hairy version of our house.

We get to the off-roading place and they transfer us into a different Disco, one with the new 2-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine. You can study the spec sheets, noting that it has just 18 horsepower less than the V6 and still manages a chunky 369lb ft of torque, but psychologically you can’t get over the suspicion that this engine will struggle to pull a door closed. Hold that thought. I was going to change into some stout off-road shoes for this exercise but a person from Land Rover told me not to bother. ‘You won’t be getting out of the cars,’ he said confidently. So off we go, in T-shirts and trainers, sitting inside this beautifully and expensively trimmed family bus as it clambers over ridges and plunges into muddy gullies and generally acts as if the lumpy, mucky landscape simply isn’t an inconvenience. And it does all this wearing very unchunky showroom-spec Pirelli Scorpion Verde tyres which even their makers say are designed only for ‘light’ off-road work. At one point, as inevitably happens during any off-roading event, the affable instructor chap in the passenger seat points to an improbably steep and sodden track disappearing almost vertically up into the trees and says, ‘Right. We’re going up there’. To which you want to reply, ‘No, no, no, kind sir, we are not going “up there”. In fact, there is not a cat’s arse in hell’s chance of us getting up there and actually what you are inviting me to do is overheat the engine and gearbox in a festival of plaintive revving before we slither backwards in an embarrassing slow motion tank slapper and end up dangling from our seatbelts in the remains of this very expensive car’. But I didn’t want to seem unwilling so I gave it a go and you know what? We just drove straight up. Well, not quite. We started to lose traction half way up so we stopped, eased back a bit, stuck it in third (strange, I know, but that’s how low the eight speed auto box can go, making gear three ideal for low traction hill starts), and then we monstered the rest of it. I haven’t driven it for long on an actual road, but from its behaviour off road I can tell you that the four cylinder diesel Disco seems plenty gutsy and perfectly refined unless you really clog it. I presume the other models in the range, the V6 diesel and a 336 horsepower supercharged V6 petrol which sounds like a giggle, are as good as this off road, which is to say, astonishing. Like driving a Porsche GT3 RS on a track, you feel a Discovery off road is so brilliant and so clearly in its element that however good you are, that’s how good the car is too, and if you’re not very good it’s going to flatter you into getting better. Or injured. But mostly, better. After a hearty afternoon mucking around and being amazed that Land Rover’s massive thing could clamber effortlessly over nature’s idea of a massive thing, we went to a nice hotel and had dinner and some drinks and it was very nice. All in all, a very pleasant day spoilt only by the rear number plate placement on the Land Rover Discovery.

Day three: And home we go. The journey passes in one smooth, calm, unfussy movement, which confirms my suspicion that the Discovery really does have the Range Rover’s ability to make everyone in it feel somehow more at peace with the world. It’s a nice car to be in. It feels luxurious without laying it on thick and everything works well, especially since the touch screen is no longer cack and the heated seat controls aren’t now hidden on an irksome sub-menu. What the Discovery has above a Range Rover, aside from an extra pair of decent sized seats in the boot, is a lot of storage compartments. They’re everywhere. Two gloveboxes, extra compartments in the doors, a whole labyrinth of things inside armrests, an air-con control panel that can be popped open to reveal a cubby behind it, even a mad front cupholder on which you slide back the top cover as normal and then find you can slide the entire cupholding bit itself forwards beneath the centre stack to reveal a massive storage chasm beneath. It’s the kind of car in which you could easily loose a wallet, laptop or much-loved spaniel. Which would be sad, although not as sad as remembering that your rear number plate is needlessly offset to one side.

Day four: One last drive to my office, from where the Discovery is being collected. It turns out to do an urban commute very well. After my weekend experience, you might wonder why this car needs all that off road ability when, in truth, most Discoverys will spend their time trundling around towns and cities. But if this thing wasn’t designed to maul the countryside into submission and take a flying headbutt at the Darien Gap, it would be a very different car. Maybe the ride would be harder, the chassis more aggressive and the gearchange paddles on the wheel meant for helmswrightship rather than giving you some extra control as you slither towards a felled silver birch. And all of these things would somehow spoil the character of the car which is extremely nice as it is. It’s the breadth of ability that makes the Discovery appealing. It’s a very soothing way to commute and a brilliant way to haul your kids and several of their mates, just as much as it’s probably a tremendous thing in which to crest a Saharan dune or drive across a river. Plus, wherever you drive I’m pretty confident when I say that unlike, say, an Audi Q7, it doesn’t make you look like a twat. Of course, the new Discovery isn’t cheap. I’d go so far as to call it quite pricey. Or you could look at it as a more practical, less flashy Range Rover for less money, in which case you might even argue it’s a bit of a bargain. As an all rounder, it’s an absolutely tremendous piece of machinery and without doubt the most complete and desirable family car on sale today. Yet I wouldn’t buy one and neither should you because it has a needlessly offset rear number plate.

The (main) car talked about here is a Land Rover Discovery HSE Td6. It has a 3-litre turbocharged V6 diesel engine making 255 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 7.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 130mph. In this spec it costs £58,495. 

 

A week with a Toyota C-HR

Posted in DriveL, News by Sniff Petrol on Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Everyone’s starting to do small, high-riding, sporty-looking cars. This is Toyota’s. 

Day one: There are two things you need to know about the C-HR. Firstly, it’s what happens when Toyota looks at the Nissan Juke and thinks, ‘Oh. Shit. That idea actually worked’. So it’s a sort of small, tall hatchback that’s meant to be distinctive and a bit sporty. Secondly, it’s built on the company’s New Global Architecture, the same box of bits that is used to make the latest Prius and will, in time, form the basis of almost everything Toyota including Aurises, Camrys, showrooms, coffee machines, notepads, and people. Probably. Toyota didn’t get rich by wasting chances for commonality across everything that it does. One other thing about the C-HR you might not realise; it’s built Turkey. With this in mind, I was expecting the sat-nav to become increasingly dictatorial. Actually, on first impressions this car feels eager to please.

Day two: It’s hard to ignore the C-HR’s styling because there’s quite a lot of it. At first glance it looks like a drawing of a more conventional car that’s been screwed up into a ball, or a child’s toy that’s about to turn into a robocat. But the more you stare at it, the more appealing it seems to become. I like the aggressive nose. I really like the clever tricks with folds and mouldings along the sides so that the entire body appears to pinch in, giving it an interesting, wasp-esque quality. And although the back end threatens to turn into an impression of the last Civic, it’s still quite unusual and interesting. During the design process it’s clear that the interiors people got wind of what their colleagues in the exterior design department were doing and decided they were not to be out-done in the mad detailing stakes. This must be why the C-HR is the first car I can recall that appears to have wicker door trims. They’re actually quite nice, as is the leather dash top, though both things are rather spoilt by being brown when the rest of the interior is black. Come on people, this is basic stuff. Anyway, the inside is almost as busy as the outside but it mostly works as a design and the quality of the buttons and switches is tremendous. In fact, the fit and finish of the whole car is superb. No one in the mainstream does this stuff as well as Toyota. You’d kill to have the doors in your house fit this well. In case you’re wondering, the C-HR still has the massive digital clock fitted to all Toyotas since time itself was invented. In this case, it’s blue, but it’s still hilariously out of date, especially since it sits next to a glossy, hi-res screen. There’s no need for it to be there. The screen has a clock. My wrist has a clock on it. It’s baffling, in this car especially. Design and drivetrain technology from the near-future. Clock from 1982. It’s like driving around with a tiny telly showing Stranger Things on a loop. If this is Toyota’s idea of an in-joke, it’s bloody good. However, I’m starting to suspect the entire corporation is actually in trouble with a local digital clock maker and cannot stop fitting the clock for fear that some uncompromising nudey photos from its youth will be released to the press. Toyota, if that’s the case and you’re reading this, blink once and we’ll send help.

Day three: Another trundle across London. This C-HR is the hybrid version, which means another chance to play the game of trying to run on electric power for as long as possible in slow traffic, treating the triggering of the petrol engine as a landmine going off. It demands very smooth and delicate throttle work, and even then the C-HR seems annoyingly keen to start burning fossils again. Since this car is made from the same kit as the latest Prius I presume it’s the same hybrid gubbins underneath but somehow it doesn’t work as well. A bigger problem, particularly when you get out of crawling traffic, is that the design and demeanour of the C-HR tries to suggest some fire in the belly, and the powertrain immediately drops a damp flannel onto it.

Day four: The hyphen in the C-HR’s name isn’t where you expect it to be. A bit like Ban Ki-Moon. It’s also not clear what C-HR actually stands for since Toyota themselves seems confused and claim it’s ‘derived from Compact High Rider and Cross Hatch Run-about’. I think the man who styled the back bumper gave the marketing department some of whatever’s in his vape pen. Compact-HighRider?

Day five: I’ve done some light helmswork in the C-HR and here’s what I’ve found. I think the chassis is actually quite good, what with its acceptable ride and keen appetite for the business of turning into and then going around corners in a brisk way. But there’s a subtle issue: In order to make the C-HR feel lively they’ve given it a pretty quick steering rack and this means that, with just a slight turn off-centre, it fair darts towards the place you’re pointing it at. But the springs and dampers aren’t quite tuned correctly for this and have to catch up, so in certain situations the car feels out of step with itself. It’s only slight, but it’s there. An easy mistake to make, I imagine. It’s not terrible, and certainly not as bad as the droning and grunting that comes from the engine compartment if you ask the hybrid drivetrain to come out for a play. No, it says. I want to go back to the city where I can be economical. Boo hiss.

Day six: If you ever have to go through an average speed camera zone, and if you’re not one of those fast-moving thickos who still hasn’t figured out what ‘average’ means, cruise control is a very good thing. And radar cruise control, as fitted to this C-HR, is even better. But this car’s system has a weird quirk. If you set it at, say, 52 for a 50 zone it will hold that speed. But if you try to adjust your speed up or down very slightly it insists on rounding to the nearest five. Which is no good because 50 in a 50 zone gets you tangled in other motorists and 55 feels like you’ll get a letter about it. Toyota always strikes me as a very logical car company, but I can’t work out the logic of that one at all. Unless they’re so logical, they can’t bear any number that’s not rounded off.

Goodbye: One last brisk drive in the C-HR before it goes away. It’s still not quite fun enough, almost entirely because of that engine/gearbox combo. I’ve nothing against hybrid systems per se. I like the new Prius simply because it seems fit for purpose, and that purpose is plodding about urban areas being smooth and quiet and economical. Sadly, when you attempt to apply that tech to a car that sets out to do more than that, it doesn’t work. It’s still quite economical, but it’s not very nice to drive in anything like an up-and-at-‘em manner. It’s a shame because the rest of the C-HR has great promise. I like the way it looks, I like the way it’s made, and I can sense some goodness in its chassis. But the mooing, fun sponge of a powertrain takes the edge off. You can have it with a non-hybrid, turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine and a manual ‘box. I’ll take a punt and say that, with that engine and transmission, I think the C-HR might be better than this.

The car talked about here is a Toyota C-HR Excel Hybrid 1.8 CVT. It has a 1.8-litre petrol engine plus an electric motor making a total of 120 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 11 seconds and on to a top speed of 105mph. In this trim it costs £27,995.

A week with a Volvo S90

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, March 31st, 2017

Want a large-ish saloon that isn’t German? Good news! Here’s a large-ish saloon that’s Swedish

Day one: Here comes the S90. It looks big, which it is, being longer and wider than an E-class or the new 5-series. It’s made from the same box of bits as the equally unsmall XC90 and has a similarly smashing Scandi-tastic interior, all light leather and portrait aspect touch screen. First impressions are slightly undermined by the cheap clack of the central locking and then immediately repaired by the niceness of the insides which look and feel expensive, from the softness of the leather to the real metal on the door releases and the stereo volume control. Also, as in the XC90, the S90 has keyless start operated by a sweet little metal twist knob between the seats. It’s an unusual and interesting way of doing something very mundane. Very nice. Very Volvo. What’s more remarkable is that this press demonstrator is the base model in the range and yet it feels upmarket, in a cleverly minimalist sort of way.

Day two: The last XC90 I drove had a very bumpy ride and this was a disappointment. The S90 is better, but not perfect which is a shame because in all other respects this is a very comfortable car. It’s also not a sporty car. There are no paddles for the autobox. There is no sense that it wants you to hare about the place like a nutcase with a wasp in his vest. It is calm and sensible and relaxing, which is why the ride should be better. On the plus side, the massive touch screen through which most functions are controlled is excellent. In the XC90 it could seem a bit sluggish. Here it’s fast and smooth and as logical as one of those Swedish television detectives who spends 80 percent of his working day sighing at a lake.

Day three: I have to go somewhere that requires use of the sat-nav. Like every other function in the S90 (except, weirdly, the fiddly buttons on the remote key) the nav is exceptionally easy to use and contains the two greatest things any car can offer, which are an easily accessed button for unilaterally muting the nav voice and a very clear, very simple way to cancel guidance. Bravo.

Day four: This S90 has some semi-autonomous ability. You can set the cruise control and the lane keeping thing and it’ll almost drive itself, though it shouts at you if it senses your hands are off the wheel for too long. As these systems go, it’s about as good as I’ve tried to date. Which is to say, you can let it run on a busy stretch of London’s wretched North Circular and only once or twice feel that it’s going to plough you into the central barrier. Later today I get stuck in a jam on the M1 and discover that it works like a charm in nasty stop-start traffic, bringing you smoothly to a halt when the car in front stops. To move off again you have to dab a button on the wheel or tap the accelerator which, given the generally effortless and relaxing atmos, feels like a bloody imposition. It’s only after a while I realise that it’s made particularly necessary by the effortless and relaxing atmos. You might have nodded off at a stop. If the car could set off on its own, the next thing you know you’re accidentally in Reading. And I’m sure Volvo doesn’t want that on its conscience.

Day five: I’m so impressed with the way all the tech on the S90 functions that today I decide to go all out and try the voice control. This sort of thing never usually goes well in cars because they have to do all the processing in their little brains, unlike your phone which can beam everything to a more powerful mothership and back again. But maybe the S90 is the car in which it’ll actually work? Sadly, it isn’t, and after a hopeless attempt to programme the nav, this Volvo becomes the latest in a long line of cars to which I have shouted, ‘OH FUCK OFF YOU FUCKBOT’. Shame.

Day six: There’s something curious about this car; everyone is interested in it, and everyone likes it. Pretty much every person from my office has not only asked me what it’s like but also then asked if they can nab the keys to have a poke around it, up to and including the Grand Tour presenters themselves. TV’s Jeremy Clarkson is especially keen. He even likes the rear lights which, for me, are inexplicably wide and badly resolved, making the rear look like a bad impression of an underbaked American car from the ‘80s. It’s the only styling clanger on the whole thing. Everyone who looks around the Volvo is impressed except for our runner who claims not to like it, probably because he is about 12, but then asks to sit in it on two separate occasions, probably because he knows he won’t be 12 forever and one day he too will experience the interesting in Volvos that age and wisdom brings.

Day seven: It’s not just colleagues who like the S90. Tonight while driving home a man in an old shape S60 pulled up next to me at some lights, waved to get my attention, and then gave a massive smile and a thumbs up. But in a very pleasant way. Obviously.

Goodbye: My time with the S90 is at an end. It’s not perfect, but then what is? I don’t like the smallness of the key buttons. I think there’s a piece of metal trim on the passenger side dash that looks weirdly glued on. And I wish the ride was a snadge better. But that’s it. Everything else about this car is excellent and I like it very much indeed. It’s calming and cheering, all at the same time. I feel like I could happily use one to drive around Sweden solving crimes, the inherent ennui of my surroundings and the grisly nature of my work effortlessly balmed away by the understated good nature of my thoughtfully designed and beautifully made car. There’s something else that draws me to the S90, something that’s beyond the car itself, and it’s the fact that it’s a Volvo. With SAAB now gone, it’s fallen to Volvo to act as a magnet for nice people and it’s a job they’re well equipped to do. Pricks, twats, shits and ne’er-do-wells don’t buy Volvos. And that in itself is one of the things that makes the S90 attractive. It’s a nice car for nice people. Nice.

The car talked about here is a Volvo S90 D4 Momentum. It has a 2-litre twin turbo diesel engine making 188 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 7.9 seconds and on to 140mph, though it would probably consider both things unseemly. In this spec, it costs £33,650.

A week with a Suzuki Ignis

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Monday, February 6th, 2017

It’s a new small Suzuki. No, not like the Swift. Smaller than that. 

Day one: The Ignis arrives at my office mid-way through the working day. A few of us go out to the car park to have a poke around it. In pictures it looks quite big and chunky thanks to its fake off-roader styling shenanigans; in real life it’s comically microscopic. The front is claimed to take inspiration from the first Vitara while the back is an homage to the old Whizzkid of the 1970s. The overall effect is unusual and quite handsome, especially since the wheels are at the corners giving the whole thing what car designers would call ‘a good stance’. More design has happened on the inside with the pod for the heater controls and the body colour centre bits and door pulls but it’s not quite as successful as the outside and some of the plastics are a bit Poundland. Also, there’s a Pioneer touch screen nav and stereo unit crudely integrated with a bespoke surround, like a cheap iPad knock-off in a posh sleeve. In general, though, they’ve made an effort and that’s always nice.

First driving impressions are of incredibly light controls and a nice zingy engine. This looks like the sort of car that should have three cylinders but it doesn’t. It’s a four. You might also think the engine is at the back because that’s where it was in the Whizzkid. But the vents stamped on the rear panel of the Ignis are fake and the motor sits at the front. I go to collect my wife. ‘What’s this little guy?’ she asks as she gets in. Interesting that on first encounter she’s anthropomorphised it. You wouldn’t get that with an Up.

Day two: In the morning light, I’m not sure about the Ignis’s arse. It ends abruptly and those retro fake slats are a bit contrived. Although Euro car makers are happy to plunder their back catalogues for design ideas so why shouldn’t Japanese ones? My mate Jim comes over. He likes the Ignis. ‘Oh, I like that,’ he says. So maybe I’m wrong about the arse. The rest of it’s quite sweet. This particular press demonstrator is an orangey colour that Suzuki says was inspired by the colour of molten metal. Ooooooh-kayyyyyy.

Day three: I put my little boy in the Ignis today. He’s almost three. Do you like the funny little orange car? He starts giggling. Later he asks if we can go in the orange car again. In the afternoon I stick a towel on the back seat and invite my dog to get in. The dog hates going in cars. There’s not a make or model I’ve found that I can get her into without some undignified lifting and shoving and quite often a bit where I hiss, ‘Just get in the car you furry prick’ at the precise moment a stranger walks past. But as soon as I open the back door on the Ignis, she jumps in. Amazing. So there you go, the Suzuki Ignis; popular with children and animals.

Day four: Zooming about London, I realise the Ignis is making me drive like a bit of a tit, simply because it’s very amusing to rag it everywhere. A lot of this is down to the engine, which is very excellent. It’s smooth and quiet unless you really hammer it, it’s got guts even from quite low down, and according to the car’s own computer it seems determined to do at least 50mpg everywhere, even when operated with a heavy foot. Also, the uncommon lightness of the gearchange means you can flick it between gears with delicate fingers and minimal effort. It’s another thing that helps the Ignis feel lively. Although I suspect the main thing that makes it feel lively is that it’s not very heavy, being just 855 kilos where the lightest Up is 926 kilos and the slimmest Panda 940kg.

Day five: There’s a chance for some light helmsmanship today and the Ignis turns out to be rather good fun. The ride is very good for a small car, but it doesn’t roll comically in bends and there’s plenty of grip. The steering’s a bit dead eyed in the usual electro-assistance way but that doesn’t detract from the general amusement of fanging about in this thing, banging up and down that slick gearbox, revving that hearty engine, and quietly smiling to yourself inside a bright orange flea. The Suzuki Swift Sport is one of my very favourite cars and I found myself wondering what an Ignis Sport would feel like. With some tighter damping, a bit more crispness to the controls, a snadge more horsepower I think it could be tremendous.

Day six: Back to everyday practicalities, today’s being the need to get an adult human in the back alongside the excited toddler who wants to go everywhere in the ‘orange car’. Normally in a titchy hatch like this I’d have to move my seat forward to allow someone to sit behind, and then drive along pressed into the wheel like one of those myopic buffoons in a Corsa who will one day receive an airbag to the throat. But in the Ignis, this is not so. I can leave the front seat set right for 6’3” of me, and a person can sit behind in surprising comfort. This is very impressive, and acheived in part because the back seat slides back and forth by about six inches. So you can have decent rear space or a bit more boot room. And the bench is split 50/50 so you can opt for one side back and one forward. This is all very smart thinking.

Goodbye: The Ignis has to go back. Which is a shame. My wife likes it. My son likes it. Even my dog likes it. And I like it too. You know what it is? It’s likeable. On a practical note, it’s also roomy and economical. And it’s really rather amusing to drive, making you feel nippy and cheeky as you dart about urban areas, as all good small cars should do. It’s not perfect of course. The interior plastics aren’t amazing, the stereo/nav system is aftermarket shonky, and it’s not quite as cheap as you might expect but in every other respect it’s terrific, being more jaunty than an Up and more lively than a Panda. I think I’d have it over either.

The car talked about here is a Suzuki Ignis 1.2 SZT. It has a 1.2-litre petrol engine making 89 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 11.8 seconds and on to 106mph. In this trim it costs £11,499.

A week with a Peugeot 308 GTi

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Monday, January 16th, 2017

It’s a new-ish Peugeot hot hatchback. Don’t mention the you-know-what.

Day one: For a while Peugeot was a peddler of lumpen turdery like the old 3008. Then they came up with the 208 GTi, which was excellent. And the current 308, which is actually quite good too. Now there’s this which seems to combine those two things and is therefore a promising idea. You can have it with a mad, two tone paint scheme where most of the car is red, except for a diagonal slice of black that takes up the rear quarter. It’s not even a wrap. They paint a car red, then take it into a special facility at the factory, mask the front, spray the back black and lacquer over the lot. It’s a £625 option which this press demonstrator doesn’t have. Probably for the best. I quite like it in photos but it might be a bit attention seeking in real life. Also, it reminds me of a strawberry dipped in chocolate and I think it’d make me feel hungry. This demo car is a discreet grey and looks fine. On a short drive home, it feels better than fine. Some cars, even on brief acquaintance, give you a sense of goodness deep within, and this is one of them. It’s promising. Very promising.

Day two: Like other 308s, the GTi has a minimalist interior and that strangely small steering wheel which you look over, rather than through, to see the instruments. It means you set the wheel a little lower than you might normally. Personally, I don’t find this a problem. Other people might, especially if they’re very fat. I don’t mind the interior of this car. My wife, on the other hand, says it’s ‘lame’. Further questioning as we drive along this morning unearths the assertion that it’s ‘just too boy-sy’, after which she points at all the red stitching and the red insert on the side of the gearlever and the GTi badge on the steering wheel and I realize that she has a point. It is a bit like being inside a 1980s washbag. You wouldn’t be surprised to find a massive bottle of Blue Stratos in the boot. But, since I’m a boy, I still quite like it. The 308’s interior. And quite possibly the smell of Blue Stratos.

Day three: I have to drive from London to North Yorkshire. I like weirdness and roundabouts and the chance to pass at least one porno warehouse so naturally I take the A1. The 308 has that pleasant sense of pulling, puppyish urgency you get in good hot hatchbacks, as if the engine is trying to burst out of the car, but it’s not overwhelming. This means it can still cruise quietly and comfortably. The seats are good, it sits solidly at speed, even the ride is decent, being firm but not crashy, suggesting time and money well spent on the damping. The engine feels hearty and strong, even though it’s just a 1.6 four. This car is the 266 horsepower version. There was a 247 horsepower model but it turns out 80 percent of buyers wanted the maximum grunt model and the weedier one has been deleted.

After the slog up the A1, I get to turn off and dash across the moors past Fylingdales where there used to be massive balls and now there’s just a scary obelisk that might be cooking our brains. It’s a tremendous road, and the 308 turns out to be a tremendous car in which to drive it. That engine is a fantastic thing, giving proper amounts of pull from low down yet, unusually for a modern turbocharged number, appearing to enjoy revs and giving you good reason to wring it out if you fancy it. Or, more specifically, if you fancy going really rather quickly. You can short shift and drive it on the torque or you can thrash the crap out of it just because that sort of thing is fun. It’s a marvelous thing, and it sits in a marvelous chassis, one of those great hot hatch set-ups that flows with the turbulence of an interesting road, soaking up shitty surfaces and diving into bends in a sprightly manner that can be adjusted by what you do with any or all of the major controls. It has a Torsen limited slip diff which can result in some magical cornering shenanigans as it clings on to an extraordinary degree and fires itself out of the other side, grabbing physics firmly by the neck and telling it to keep its mouth shut. But it can also lead to some lively moments when you mash the throttle in the run up to an easy overtaking move and find yourself darting towards the right hand verge as the tyres accidentally discover to an unfortunate bit of camber. But you learn to look out for this and work around it. On the downside, the steering is a bit dead and electric assistance-y and that tiny wheel sometimes makes it difficult to carry out subtle adjustments during fast, sweeping corners. So not perfect, but then perfect things are rarely very likeable. And on a brisk romp across North Yorkshire, the 308 turns out to be very likeable indeed.

Day four: I have no need of the 308 today so it sits in a car park, almost certainly attracting no attention whatsoever. I like the underplayed outside of this car. There’s a red stripe around the bottom of the air intake, some 19-inch alloys, and a pair of pipes at the back, but it’s all subtle stuff. One of my colleagues has arrived in a Focus RS which sits looking pumped and fighty, like the kind of car that would attract the attention of a friend by shouting GEEZAAAH! across the pub. I am in my 40s so I prefer the Peugeot approach.

Day five: Still working. Still no need to drive the GTi today. Still, can I have a prize for so far writing almost 1000 words about a sporty Peugeot without once mentioning the bloody 205 GTi. Oh. Shit. Sorry.

Day six: Right, Yorkshire back to London. Go, go, go. Another fast, fun drive across the moors, another reminder of all that is good about this car, including the sheer joy of using an old fashioned manual gearbox of decent weight and action. The GTi has a sport button which makes the throttle more sensitive, the exhaust more noisy, and the instruments more red. You can pretty much drive the car in this mode all the time, even cruising back down the A1. Always the mark of a well sorted car, rather than one that just turns things heavy and silly and shouty for the sake of making morons believe they’re in a sports car.

Day seven: Sitting at a junction behind another car this morning I discover something horrifying about this Peugeot. The front indicators do that irritating sequential trace-a-line-then-off thing made fashionable by Audi. It’s a tedious gimmick which further investigation reveals to be something they fit only to sporty 308s for some reason. But really there’s no need for such wankery.

Goodbye: The 308 GTi is going away and this is a shame because I like it a lot. It’s genuinely excellent to drive and handles exciting roads in a fast, flowing and fun way yet manages to avoid being noisy and exhausting when you don’t want to dick around. At the moment, everyone is making a fuss about the Ford Focus RS and that’s fair enough, but it does mean the more subtle 308 could be overlooked. Which is a shame, because it’s actually a bit of a gem.

The car talked about here is a Peugeot 308 GTi 270 by Peugeot Sport. It has a 1.6-litre, four cylinder turbocharged engine making 266 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 6 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. It costs £29,335.

A week with a Renault Megane GT

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

awwmeganegt1Day one: Doesn’t it feel like we only had a new Megane about three years ago? Well we didn’t, it was in 2008, so now there’s a fresh one and here it is, outside my office, trying to look more grown up and expensive than the old model. Unfortunately, these efforts are immediately undone by the key, which is a woeful wedge of cheap plastic that actually creaks when you squeeze the buttons. A car key is a little avatar of the car itself and therefore a vitally important indicator of how you’ll feel about the whole thing before you even see it. So this isn’t a promising beginning. Fortunately, you don’t need to fondle the Megane fob to get inside because it’s all keyless, but first impressions don’t get much better once you’ve jabbed the bulbous  (more…)

A long weekend with an Aston Martin DB11

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, December 23rd, 2016

awwdb11_1Day one: The Aston arrives at my house while I’m out walking the dog. In photos the DB11 can appear a bit flimsy and hollow at the front, as if there’s no engine under the bonnet and the front wheels are connected by a thin metal rod, like a Matchbox car. In real life, this problem doesn’t exist. The front is low, wide, handsome, and a tiny bit sinister. It helps that this demonstrator is white and all the grilles and gills are blacked in, as are the two rails running either side of the roof. This results in a slightly messy cluster of black panels around the C-pillar and back window, but overall it’s a very good looking car. Not as clean and elegant as a DB9 but striking and modern. Also, it immediately makes my son want to paw at it in an excitable way. And if an Aston Martin can’t elicit that sort of reaction from an almost-three-year-old, we’re in trouble. Opening the door for the first time, it does that funny diagonal sweep in the accepted Aston style, but the action seems smoother, the hydraulic stops more inclined to hold it where you want it. The whole thing feels of better quality and the same is true of  (more…)

A few days with a Kia Cadenza

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

Do you want a large Korean saloon car? Well go to America then, that’s where they sell this.

awwcadenza1Day one: I’d known for a while that I was going to the United America of States with my job so I asked my car journo mate Aaron if he could sort me out with a press car, preferably something interesting that isn’t sold in Britain. Unfortunately, the very reason I was going to America – to shoot the opening sequence for The Grand Tour with a flotilla of cars driving across the desert – turned out to be the very reason Aaron struggled to do my evil bidding. All the cool stuff was booked up. By the time he sent me a message saying even Mazda weren’t returning his messages, it seemed all hope was lost. But then he came back asking if I’d like a Cadenza. Fearing he was offering me a type of bush or some kind of spinal problem, I looked this up. Cadenza is not a back problem, it’s a type of large-ish Kia saloon and belongs to a very specific sub-set of car enjoyed only in North America. They’re quite big and roomy and tend to have V6 engines powering the front wheels. They’re generally conservative in design, softly sprung and bought by people of a certain age who can’t stretch to a Cadillac. The Toyota Avalon is a good example, or the Buick LaCrosse. The American press refers to them as ‘near luxury’ cars. I think I understand ‘near luxury’. It’s fancy, but not too fancy. Like the kind of restaurant you’d go to midweek. Or the kind of clothes you’d wear when you want to be well presented but not too formal. That’s what this car is: It’s smart casual. The first (more…)

A week with a Mercedes E-class

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Thursday, December 15th, 2016

aww_merce_1Day one: Has someone ordered a taxi? No, wait, the E-class is here. At least, I think it is. These days you get your intermediate level car spotting badge by identifying if an an oncoming Jag is an XE or XF. But correctly spotting the difference between Mercs C and E is some full on car nerd ninja shit. Even more so from the rear three-quarter where you could even mistake either for an S-class that’s a bit further away. Anyway, on its own the E is quite a nice looking thing. The interior is even more impressive, appearing to be of very high quality and a pleasant design. Only two things let it down. One is the mad stripey wood of this press demonstrator, and the other is the horizontal central section of the dash, which looks a bit like it’s melting, or collapsing into an unseen void behind. Otherwise, a top job. It’s slick, sophisticated and comfortable. And on first impressions, the E-class is like that to drive too.

Day two: My wife says the stripey wood makes her eyes go funny. She’s right. It’s very odd and a £645 option you (more…)

Just over a week with a Jaguar F-Pace

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

You know that new Jag? No, not that one, the other one. Yes. This is a test of that. 

awwf-pace1Day one: The F-Pace has been delivered to my house while I’m out because this is the sort of thing that happens when you’re a spoilt car journalist, or at least a spoilt approximation of one. As I approach my front door, my neighbour Sam appears as if by magic, pointing with excitement at the Jag. Ever since I’ve lived here, Sam has had a Golf R32 and said he can’t find a single car he likes with which to replace it. Until now. He’s just been to test drive an F-Pace and tomorrow he’s going to place his order. Somewhere within Jag, I hope a market research person is hastily updating a spreadsheet. I bet when they were profiling likely customers, they didn’t think of a bloke called Sam who thought his Golf R32 unreplaceable. And what led him to the Jaguar? He saw a poster for it and thought it was the nicest looking car he’d seen for ages. It’s certainly a very handsome thing and manages the trick of looking like a modern Jaguar whilst also seeming totally natural as an SUV or crossover or whatever you’d call it rather than having the appearance of one of those Auto Express renderings where they’ve slapped a Jag grille and wheels onto a Photoshopped Freelander.

Day two: If the outside of the F-Pace is a triumph of neat and attractive design, the inside is less so. It’s not as dismal as the basic XF (more…)