Archive for the ‘DriveL’ Category

A week with a BMW 740Ld

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, August 5th, 2016

Want an S-class but wish it was a BMW? Well, here you go then.

AWW_BMW740_1Day one: The 7-series is here. At a glance it looks quite a lot like the previous one. On closer inspection, it’s actually quite a handsome thing. I especially enjoy the shiny trim that runs down the sills and the way the bootlid slopes downwards. Not quite like an old Jag, but elegant all the same. The interior is nice too. There are metal buttons and some virtual dials that look like real BMW dials and everything feels very high quality except, weirdly, for the piece of crap black plastic just ahead of the door handles.

On first impressions, the 7-series is as quietly pleasant to drive as it is to look at. The ride is superb and the engine is very quiet and very smooth, especially for a diesel. There’s none of that faint tinkling sound you get from big Merc or Jag diesels, possibly because this is a straight six rather than a vee. Pedants may want to tut about the capacity, which is three litres, despite the 740 name. BMW got a taste for badge-based fibs with the 1980s 525e and has been doing it ever since.

Day two: It’s the weekend. We’re going to a thing in the countryside and bringing a friend. With a car like this the obvious question is, can the back seat comfortably accommodate the CEO of a medium-sized, Düsseldorf-based petrochemical concern? And the answer, I would guess, is yes. This being the long wheelbase 7-series, it’s ruddy massive back there. But I feel a more challenging question might be, can the back seat accommodate two toddlers in child seats and a Scottish lady called Helen? Well, as of today, I can say with confidence that yes, yes it can.

When we get to the countryside we’re required to park in the field. This is of no trouble to the BMW because it has four-wheel-drive. Although I notice it’s of no trouble to any other car either. You can’t have this engine without 4WD system for some reason.

As we’re getting all of the children and ladies called Helen out of the car, my mate Lewis comes over. ‘Is this a 5-seri… no, wait, it’s a 7,’ he says. Lewis used to sell BMWs for a living and even he can’t immediately ID the 7 as the big daddy of BMWs. An S-class or an XJ looks like the biggest car they make, yet somehow the 7-series never does, even when it’s sodding huge. Fact fans might be interested to know this is actually the biggest production car BMW has ever built. So there.

AWW_BMW740_2Day three: Today I parked on the street and walked off only to have a sudden pang that I’d left the sunroof tilted open. Ah, but hang on. The 7-series has a tricksy key with a little screen on it which allows you to swipe through various status menus and options. Except it ends up being quicker to walk back to the car where I discover that it’s closed its own sunroof for me. Thanks car. There’s another, bigger problem with the fancy key. It’s so huge, especially tucked inside its special leather pouch, that it doesn’t sit comfortable in the average trouser pocket and makes it look like you’ve got a stiffy.

Day four: The are-you-pleased-to-see-me? key isn’t the only bit of tech overkill on this 7-series. It also has something called ‘gesture control’ by which you can adjust certain functions simply by making prescribed hand movements with your arm in mid-air. The most obvious one is a twirling motion to turn the stereo volume up or down. It works, but only some of the time. Too often, it doesn’t and you find yourself frantically twirling your hand about like a shit wizard. In half the time you could have adjusted the volume using the dashboard knob and saved yourself looking like a dashboard knob. Gesture control is a £160 option. I wouldn’t bother. The rest of the interior is terrific and doesn’t need such gimmickry.

Trundling about London, there is something extremely calm and exceptionally pleasant about the 7-series. It’s quiet, it’s comfortable, it has plenty of the greatest luxury a car can have, which is torque. This makes it very relaxing. Although I am wearing a T-shirt and this feels wrong. It’s strange, isn’t it, that you could tool about all day in a Range Rover while casually attired and it wouldn’t seem odd. But in this car, you can’t escape the feeling that it looks like you’ve borrowed your dad’s car. Or robbed a chauffeur.

Day five: Today I have cause to give a lift to TV’s James May. “This is quite a nice car,” says TV’s James May after we’ve been in it for a bit. And I agree with TV’s James May.

Day six: You can, if you’re so inclined, chuck the 7-series around a bit and it’s actually quite lively and agile and handles itself rather well. I’m not sure that anyone will bother, but it’s nice to know you could. For a long, long limo of a thing it feels very rigid. This might be down to the centre section of the structure, which is made of carbon fibre and therefore strong and light and the reason there are slightly tacky looking ‘carbon core’ badges on the inside of the door frames.

AWW_BMW740_3Day seven: For an extremely high tech car, this BMW has surprisingly useless rain sensing wipers. Even by the sodding dreadful standards of this awful and irritating feature, the 740’s sensors are cock awful, signally failing to notice great torrents of water slapping into the screen. Given the sophistication and attention to detail of the rest of the car, this is a strange oversight.

On the way home from west London tonight I put on the massaging seats for the first time and quickly come to regret it. Sometimes the cushion feels like it’s full of sand which is falling away beneath you. Sometimes you get the impression that the entire seat is actively trying to hurt you. The overall sensation is not especially nice. I think I might have had it on the wrong setting. Unless you want to feel as if your arse is on an acid trip while a robot attempts to burst your kidneys. In which case, bob on.

Goodbye: The 740Ld xDrive is going away and this is a shame. There are a few bits of technology on it that feel unfinished and pointless but these don’t detract from the fundamental parts of this fast, comfortable, relaxing, handsome and enjoyable car. It’s technically very good at being a massive, soothing barge and nicer to drive than an S-class. But some cars also have a feeling to them that goes beyond the sum of their parts and this is one of them. There’s something very appealing about it, even beyond its obvious strengths. It is, as TV’s James May rightly observed, just a nice car.

The car talked about here is a BMW 740Ld xDrive. It has a 3-litre, twin turbocharged straight six diesel engine which produces 316 horsepower. BMW says it can go from 0-62 in 5.3 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. Without options it costs £76,010.

A week with a Jaguar XF

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, July 1st, 2016

AWWXF_1Day one: The XF arrives. This is the ‘Prestige’ model which is, confusingly, the entry level. On first impressions it feels quite modern, but also quite humdrum. This tone is set by the interior, which is plain to the point of stark. This is a shame. I don’t want to be one of those old farts who demands Jags to be slathered in burr walnut and cream leather but nor do I want them to feel sterile and bleak. Plenty of people can do that. Part of the attraction of a Jag is that you get more than that. Not here. You’d struggle to call this interior welcoming unless you were being chased by a bear. Based on a bit of trundling around London, the driving experience is fairly plain too.

Day two: A drive across the fringes of the city. Wondering if my first impressions of the XF were a bit harsh. It seems okay this morning. But that might be because it’s sunny. The sunlight can’t really do much for the outside because the paintwork is flat white and the wheels are 17-inchers which look too small. A few weeks ago I saw a dark blue XF on bigger alloys and thought it looked sophisticated, elegant and extremely handsome, especially from the rear three-quarter. The front is good too, but a bit too similar to its little brother. Indeed, my new favourite motorway game to play with cars on the opposite carriageway is the fiendishly difficult ‘XE or XF?’ One of my neighbours has an old-shape XF, also in white and also on the small wheels. The thing about the old XF, like all good Jags, is that it seemed to get better and better looking throughout its life to the point that it doesn’t seem dated, even alongside this new one. This version has sharper lines and less bulbous sides but I wonder if it will age as well.

Day three: Another morning run through the outskirts of town. I’d read some road tests of the XF which suggested that it had an exceptionally good ride. Based on this car, I’d say that’s bollocks. The ride in this car is okay, but no more than that. Sometimes it jiggles so much over a shitty bit of tarmac that it awakens a tiny rattle somewhere within the dash. It’s the kind of thing that undermines your belief in how well a car is put together. On that note, there’s also something behind the steering wheel that makes a peculiar thud about 30 seconds after you’ve set off – I presume it’s to do with the air-con system – and the doors don’t come anywhere close to making the dry whump you’d expect from a 35 grand car with an upmarket badge on the front. This car has the optional ‘soft close’ facility. I wonder if that’s why they don’t seem to latch closed in a positive way. It’s a £485 option you can probably do without.

AWWXF_2Day four: Jag has come up with a new widescreen infotainment system which is meant to be very good. This car doesn’t have it. It’s got the older system which is a bit laggy and someway behind the state-of-the-art, like one of those Android tablets that is 80 quid off eBay for a reason. This morning it fails to hook up to the Bluetooth on my phone and, since last night I was streaming music, I find myself driving along for some time without anything playing from the stereo. It turns out that, once warmed up, the engine is quite quiet and the whole car very peaceful. This car has that homegrown 2-litre diesel, Perineum or whatever Jag calls it, and it gets on with the job in that functional way that 2-litre diesels do. According to the trip computer, the XF is doing over 40mpg which isn’t bad considered it’s been stuck in town for three days.

Day five: Another drive across London. Some friends of ours are having their third child baptized. After the water splashing and Jesus business there’s a some lunch in a pub. I end up outside, leaning on the XF and chatting to a mate. ‘Were you boys talking about the Jag?’ my wife asks later. I realize that we weren’t. This seems a bit odd. My friend never noticed it. I never felt the urge to bring it up. Hmph. Much later, the Christening gives me a theory about this car: What if, as I suspect, all the youthful hotshots within Jag worked on the baby XE while all the wisest and most valuable minds developed the vital F-Pace. That left the XF stuck somewhere in between. And maybe that’s why it seems so unexceptional. It’s not as important to the business as the small saloon and the tall crossover. So it’s the attention-starved middle child.

Day six: On the way to get a takeaway this evening I park next to another new XF. This one is grey and it’s in the more aggressive R Sport trim. It has nicer wheels, the chrome is blacked in, it’s a better looking car all round. I’m filled with XF envy. In my white, small-wheeled, non-Sport version I look like someone who really pissed off their fleet manager.

AWWXF_3Day seven: At last, a trip out of London and a chance to give the XF a proper drive. After being a bit down on it for the past few days, I’m expecting all to become clear out in the countryside. This is where the magic will happen. Except, it doesn’t. It might be hoping too much for any medium sized saloon with a four-cylinder diesel engine to sparkle on a fine B-road but you’d hope that Jag of all people, given their recent skills at making nice-driving cars, would serve up something beyond the norm. Actually, the XF is rather flat. That’s not much fun in revving a diesel like this and that in turn makes it feel slightly futile to keep titting about with the paddles behind the wheel. Worse still, because the ride is a bit bumpier than it should be, the car sometimes gets knocked off line by bumps halfway through bends and the whole experience is barely worth the bother. I’d hoped for more.

Goodbye: The XF is going away. The last time I had a Jag on test I considered pretending to be out when the collection man arrived. With this, he’s welcome to it back. I can’t help thinking they’ve got this car exactly the wrong way round. It’s actually an extremely expensive bit of kit underneath, what with its (mostly) aluminium shell and its lavishly engineered suspension. Yet on the surface this entry level model looks and feels much cheaper than it is. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the interior. Good car interiors seem lavish and inviting. It’s only later that, inevitably, you notice a few bits where they’ve saved money. With the XF it’s the opposite. Your initial thought is that it seems stark and joyless. Only later do you spot the little bits of silver filigree around the air-con controls, the shiny fillets on the centre console, the clean minimalism of the central dashboard, and you realise there are glimpses of goodness here. But they aren’t your first impression. Your first impression is of the bare minimum. And this isn’t right. Jag interiors used to have something to them. I don’t want to trot out the well-worn word ‘special’ because it sounds like I’m patronising the car’s performance in a school sports day, but there was always something indefinable that made you want to get into a Jaguar and then stay there. It was a warmth and a cosiness. It was the same unique and sometimes disorganised charm that makes your house feel like a home where a hotel room does not. The XJ has it. The F-type has it. The old XF had it. The new XF, at least in this trim, does not. It’s hollow where it should be stout. Hard where it should be cushy. Calculated where it should be human. It’s a coldly monochrome handshake where it should be warmly coloured embrace. Worse still, it feels penny-pinching. The buttons around the touch screen make a flimsy click, the controls on the steering wheel are wobbly, and significant parts of the interior are covered in a terrible leath-a-like that Kia would reject for being too low rent. You could scuff some of this dirt under the rug if the basic XF was a sensational car to drive but it’s not. It is, at best, okay. The ride isn’t brilliant, the handling is functional, the engine is unexceptional. There’s very little of this XF that doesn’t make you think you’re being punished for not choosing a more expensive version, or perhaps a different car entirely. With a new E-class already here and next generation rivals from BMW and Audi on the way, if the XF doesn’t buck up its ideas it’s going to be become embarrassed. Which is a shame because I’d like it to keep the British end up, I really would. I like Jags. In fact, I used to own one. And I’d like to own one again some day. But not this one. This one commits the worst sin possible from a Jaguar; it’s ordinary.

The car talked about here is the Jaguar XF Prestige 2.0 i4 163PS. It has a 2-litre turbocharged diesel engine making 161 horsepower. Jaguar says it can go from 0-60mph in 8.2 seconds and on to 132mph. Without options, it costs £34,050.



A few days with a Porsche 718 Boxster S

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, June 17th, 2016

It’s generation 3.5 of the entry level Porsche

AWW718Box1Day one: The Boxster arrives early. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d think it was the old model. In fact, every panel except the bonnet, bootlid and windscreen frame is new. But carefully styled to look very similar to what was there before. The bumph says that the changes over the old car include ‘independently styled wheel arches’. I suspect this loses something in translation. The biggest change is underneath where the old flat six has been removed and a new four cylinder, turbocharged engine installed. On start up it sounds a little bit Beetly, but without the ring-a-ding rattle that makes old VWs so wretched. Put some revs on it and it gets very fruity and a little farty, much like an old Impreza. It’s no smoothly whirring flat six, but it’s not an unpleasant sound. This car has the sports exhaust which probably helps with first impressions. Engine aside, it’s business as usual. The ride seems good, the manual gearshift is exceedingly nice, the steering has that usual Porsche sense of weight and a lack of slack in the system. Inside, there’s also the usual Porsche spec and layout madness such as the seats, which have electric backrest adjustment but manual everything else, the clocks, of which there are four, and the little slot behind the gearlever which is too small to be of any use whatsoever. If you want to stash your phone, you have to put it in the doorbin. Unless you don’t want to forget your phone and accidentally leave it in the car every sodding time you get out, in which case keep it in your pocket.

Day two: A day of driving round London. In such circumstances you’d expect to be longing for the double clutch PDK ‘box to do all the left leg work but the gearchange in this car is so light and yet precise it’s a joy to use, even in cacky traffic. Likewise, you’d expect to be cursing the firm suspension of a sports car on the capital’s terrible road surfaces but the 718ster’s ride is so decent that it’s simply not a problem. In fact, there are plenty of saloons that cover bumps with less brilliance which is as much a damning indictment on them as it is a testament to the skills of Porsche’s chassis tuners. Overall then, a very good town car. After a trip to the supermarket I’d even call it practical since at the back there’s a reasonable boot and at the nose there’s what Americans call a ‘frunk’. Or, if you’re in the UK, a froot. After two days with this car I’d dearly like to tell you what it’s like with the roof down but it’s been pissing it down almost constantly. If you’re wondering why the weather is crap at the moment, it’s because I stupidly booked in a convertible test car. Sorry.

AWW718Box2Day three: People keep admiring the Boxstevenoneeight. And rightly so. This press demonstrator is an especially sheeny silver and from most angles it looks excellent. Only the back end doesn’t quite work, what with its nasty black bit below the spoiler and its strange, clear-effect lights, both of which look cheap and after market. The badge on the back of this car simply says ‘718’. This turns out to be an option. As standard, the badging would read ‘718 Boxster S’ which would make the back end look messier. Amazingly, Porsche has missed a chance to charge more for less with this one because the minimalist badge might be an option but it’s not one you have to pay for. Unlike the startling ‘Bordeaux Red’ interior which is an extra £1680 and best avoided unless your fantasy is to become trapped in a massive jar of strawberry jam.

Day four: The weather is dry enough to put the roof down. It’s time to take the Porsche for a proper drive in the countryside. And what a generally delightful experience this turns out to be because this car really does have a tremendous chassis. Naturally, there’s lashings of grip and you’d struggle to find much in the way of under or oversteer unless you’re a total nob but you can sling it into bends and feels it moving about in a perfectly balanced way before firing you out the other side. It helps that the ride is superb, and doesn’t get much worse when you put the dampers in sport mode. Always a sign that the engineering department outranks the marketing people and their typical desire to make things ‘feel sporty’ for the benefit of morons. Then there’s the steering which is electrically assisted and doesn’t allow the wheel to fidget in your palms like Porsches of old but does its best in the waxing and waning of its weight to give some idea of what’s happening down below. The gearchange remains excellent. Also, if you put it into sport mode with the little dial on the steering wheel, it does that auto rev-matching thing on downshifts. It feels a bit like cheating, although it’s depressing to note that the computer is bloody good at faux heel and toeing. This is a fun car to drive with a purposeful sense of urgency. The chassis is great, the gearbox is great, the brakes are great. And that just leaves the engine. Which is not completely great. Being turbocharged, it’s passes a teeny moment of lag very low down and then just grunts away in a torquey manner that was missing from the old model. This makes it feel quite fast because it simply picks up and then keeps pulling. It also masks the usual madly long gearing that Porsche fits to these cars, as if the company is amused at the idea that you could lose your licence in third. At any speed in any gear, you step on it and it goes. It’s a gutsy motor. There are, as I see it, just two problems. Firstly, when you really rev it the Scooby throb becomes a drone. And secondly, it’s just a bit too even. In the old, normally aspirated car, you revved it to release the good stuff, to get it on cam, to really let it rip. With the new car, it’s pulling from low down and there is no burst of power further up the range. Although the new engine is more flexible and more useable, it’s also less interesting just because its delivery is so one-note. Since I’m on a downer about the engine, you should also know that the computer reckoned some motorway, some A- and B-road ragging and then some town work gave an average of 30mpg which is what I got in similar circumstances from the old six cylinder car.

AWW718Box3Day five: It’s a nice evening. I’ve got to go across North London for some podcasting. I take a cab. There are two reasons for this. One, I want to have a boozy drink. And two, because I’m not sure want to pass through some of the grittier parts of the city with the roof down. It’s the fear of being gobbed on. And the fear of this car’s new, larger, more smoothly integrated touch screen readout which allows people to clearly see that I’m listening to the best of Girls Aloud. And also a fear of recreating the scene a mate of mine once saw in which a cyclist pulled alongside a bloke in a top-down Boxster, leaned down into the cabin and shouted, ‘GIRL’S PORSCHE’.

Goodbye: The 7Box18ster is going away. In every technical sense, apart from the measurement for useful dashboard cubby holes, it’s really quite brilliant. The chassis, the brakes, the weight of the controls, they all feel as if they were set-up by people who really care about driving. It’s only the engine that doesn’t quite hit the spot. It’s technically very good but when you get to know its character, it’s also a bit one-dimensional. I wonder how many Boxster owners will really care about this. Most are just thrilled that they’ve finally got the Porsche they’ve always dreamt of and the convertible they always wanted. They like that it feels sporty and that it looks cool and they’ll rarely use it for anything more than trundling around town. In which case, the new engine makes perfect sense. And all the incredible ability of the rest of the car feels like a bit of a waste.

The car talked about here is a Porsche 718 Boxster S. It has a 2.5-litre turbocharged flat four engine making 345bhp. Porsche says it can go from 0-62 in 4.6 seconds and on to 177mph. Without options it costs £50,695.


A week with a Mercedes GLS

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, June 3rd, 2016

It’s a big Mercedes. But not an S-class. 

AWWMercGLS1Day one: The GLS is here. I know this because the sun has been blotted out causing trees to shed their leaves and birds to fall from the skies in confusion. From somewhere nearby, an owl hoots. It’s a big, big car. You might already know it as the GL. Now Merc has decided that its taller cars should mirror the saloon car range so we have the C-class based GLC, the M-class has become the GLE and, along with a facelift, here’s a name-change for this, to suggest that it’s like a high-riding S-class. Unfortunately, the name also makes it sound like an almost top-of-the-range Vauxhall Cavalier. Perhaps there’ll be a Maybach SUV called the CD. They’re majoring on the luxury angle with this car and to underline that point they’ve taken the interior and quilted the shit out of it. It’s actually quite nice. The whole interior has a feeling of being well-made and sensibly arranged in that Merc-ish sort of way. On the move, it feels hefty in a reassuring sort of way. It also seems quiet and relaxing. This gives you plenty of time to enjoy the quilting.

Day two: Given its size you might assume this Mercedes has seating for several hundred people. In fact there’s room for seven. Today I made a trip to the central regions of GLS and discovered that the three seats in the middle row are weirdly small. Or rather, the backrests look too short, which makes them seem undersized, cowering in the vast cavern of the interior. Another strange discovery is that legroom for people in these seats is not as generous as you might think. This seems to have been done to make the legroom in the very back better than expected. The rear and middle rows fold electrically which is quite amusing the first time you try it. I suspect your kids will continue to find it amusing and will play with the switches until they’re all full of crisp residue and snot, at which point something will short circuit and your youngest will become trapped in a terrifying scissor of quilting.

AWWMercGLS2Day three: I have things to do at home. Although I suppose I could try doing them in the car. It’s almost certainly got more bedrooms. I just need to find the switch that unfolds them. Staring at the GLS through the living room window, I’ve decided it’s quite a handsome thing. This facelift has given it some nice touches, in particular a set of bladed alloys a bit like the ones you got on the McMerc SLR. The only bit of the design I can’t understand is the half-hearted way the windowline kinks upwards at the back. It’s like they designed it to be flat all the way along and then at the very last minute decided this was boring and hastily stuck an upward flick at the end without really working out the right angle for it.

Day four: Some journeying to do. The GLS is good at covering distance. It’s got air springs and the ride is, in general, very good. Although it’s sometimes caught out by ruts and cracks and the generally shit state of British roads. Get it onto smoother, German-style tarmac and it finds its form, lolloping along like a Range Rover while you look down on people whose cars aren’t big enough to be categorised as a place of worship. The only thing that spoils the atmos for the driver is an occasional and strange tizz through the steering wheel. Also, if you come to a roundabout on a dual carriageway the brakes aren’t quite as bitey as you’d like and you get a sudden reminder of how hard they’re working to prevent you clattering through the sponsorship sign from Cockflap’s Carpets. AWWMercGLS3It’s much the same with the handling. For its size and weight, all 2455 kilos of it, the GLS does a reasonable job of keeping everything tidy but you’re frequently aware of the clever engineering that’s straining to keep the tyres on the road whilst a body the size and weight of a shopping centre does its best to overwhelm them. But it’s stupid to talk about handling in a car like this because no one’s going to rag the crap out of it now, are they? You just wouldn’t, and if you did it would only make your children ill and then your Google search history would contain the query, ‘how do you get sick out of quilting?’

Day five: Today is the first day I’ve got into the GLS after dark. It’s therefore the first time I’ve noticed that after sundown it has little lights in the door mirrors that project a Mercedes logo onto the ground in a way that is cool and vulgar all at the same time.

Day six: I hate to bang on about how massive the GLS is but today I parked it next to a Range Rover in the supermarket car park and it was noticeably longer. Don’t worry, the supermarket was a Waitrose, they’re used to this sort of thing. I was going to say the Merc is a bit less flash than the British car but there’s not much in it. The smoothness, serenity and quilted calm of the GLS work well in Britain but it does rather feel like one of those cars that would be more at home in Miami or Los Angeles or Dubai. In such places you can’t get this 350 diesel version but they will sell you a petrol one with a twin turbo V6 or a twin turbo V8. I bet those are quite nice. If you insist on petrol power in the UK, you’ll need the GLS63 AMG which has a 5.5-litre, 577 horsepower turbocharged V8 and sounds like it could be moderately frightening.

AWWMercGLS4Goodbye: The GLS is going away. There’s much to like about it. It’s stout and practical and strangely relaxing. It’s also – brace yourselves – £78,000. Or, with the driving assist package and the off road package and the rear seat entertainment package of this test car, £84,270. Ouch. For that money you could have a pretty nice Range Rover. And that’s what I’d do. The GLS is good, but in a dark colour it looks like the kind of car they use to deliver a rock star to a venue. Whereas a Range Rover is what the rock star would drive on their own time.

The car talked about here is a Mercedes-Benz GLS350d 4Matic Designo Line. It has a 3-litre turbocharged V6 diesel engine making 255 horsepower. Mercedes says it can go from 0-62 in 7.8 seconds and on to 138mph. Without options it costs £78,095.


A week with a Toyota Prius

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, April 1st, 2016

The fourth generation of the hybridists’ hybrid is here.

AWWPrius4_1Day one: The Prius is waiting for me when I get home. You couldn’t miss it, sitting outside and scowling at other cars. There’s no easy way to say it; this is an alarming looking car. The front isn’t too bad, what with all its dramatic, triangular detailing and its low, pointy nose but then this section doesn’t seem to match up properly with the tall windscreen and from thereon it all goes a bit mental, what with the swooping roof leading into a blacked out rear pillar like something Citroen might think about, and the doors with two kinds of scallop in them. Then we reach the back end where the roof inexplicably develops fangs and the back lights seem to have melted. It’s as if Toyota got all huffy about people saying their cars looked boring and completely over-reacted in a petulant, slightly crazed way that they’re going to regret in the morning. I want to applaud them for their bravery, but only in the same way I might applaud someone lowering their bollocks into a blender. Really, I’m thinking they must be mad or stupid or both. Anyway, I’ve got to go somewhere and the good thing about the Prius is that if you’re in it, you can’t see the outside. You can also admire the interior, which is much nicer than the outside, and enjoy the smooth, quiet way in which the whole thing moves down the road.

Later I go to see a mate. His teenage son comes in from looking at the Prius and announces that he likes the way it looks. So maybe it’s just me being an old fart.

Day two: Crawling in almost total silence around London’s life sapping North Circular ringroad this morning I noticed that the man in the next lane was enthusiastically taking pictures of the Prius. Either he was spamming his own Instagram account with pictures entitled ‘urrgh luk at this horible car!!!!!’ or he quite liked it. I don’t know. Possibly the latter. He was driving a Mini Countryman so there’s some evidence that his eyes don’t work properly. Anyway, the Prius turns out to be a good car in which to tackle bad traffic. It’s comfortable. The massive windscreen makes it very light inside. It’s extremely refined. There are no gears to worry about and it has that instant torque you get from electric motors which is always nice. Aside from getting papped by a Specsavers dodger in a fat Mini, it’s an unusually relaxing journey.

AWWPrius4_2Day three: At today’s New York motor show Toyota announced a plug-in version of the Prius. It has a more aggressive front end and back lights that don’t seem to be dribbling down the bumper. As a result, it’s much less upsetting to look at. On the inside, you can have it with a massive, Tesla-ish, portrait aspect touchscreen. This is all very nice, but the interior of the normal car is perfectly decent. The plastics are much better than in previous models and there are some nice details, like the little Prius branded tabs that move the vents. Conversely, there are a couple of things that are a bit odd. Firstly, the heated seat switches are hidden at the bottom of the dash, behind the ‘floating’ centre stack so you have to lean forward to operate your own arse warmer and, because there’s a bit of dash in the way, you’re completely denied the hot day delight of setting your passenger’s heater to maximum when they’re not looking. The second bit of strangeness is within the very nice and very glossy TFT screen that makes up the instrument panel where, in a complete clash of technologies, they’ve installed the same rinky-dink LED digital clock fitted to every Toyota since 1978. It’s so dated and so out of place it must be there as part of some knowingly ironic in-joke. Still, the rest of the interior is fine. And I suppose in 20 years time when all the TFT trickery has gone on the blink, at least you’ll still be able to tell the time. No, hang on a sec. I used to have an ancient Lexus LS400 and that cacky clock was the only thing on the entire car that didn’t work properly. Bah!

Day four: The old Prius had a funny, hollow feeling to it, as if they’d made it out of very thin materials to offset the weight of the batteries. The old Prius also used to make a bit of a strange droning noise when you clogged it as the CVT gearbox let the engine whinny up to high revs and then hold itself there. Both things made it feel a bit cheap and nasty. The new car does not feel like this. It comes across as sturdier and more expensive. If you really lean on it, there’s a bit of mooing from the petrol engine, but it’s quieter and less unpleasant. Also, the ride is quite good. Around town, it’s a very relaxing way to get about. It just goes and stops and does what’s needed without demanding much from the driver apart from the occasional bit of steering and braking and the other things that come as part of not having an accident.

Day five: We’re on our way home from seeing some friends across town when my wife announces that she doesn’t like this car. ‘I feel like I’m in an Uber,’ she grumbles. I contemplate completing the experience by popping Magic on the radio and then missing the turning for our street. But she does have a point. In London at least, a Prius is a taxi. I was in Los Angeles recently and the same seems to be true there. Toyota don’t even shy away from this any more because you can order the new Prius with a ‘taxi pack’ which includes fake leather seats, a boot liner and rubber floor mats. You have to make it smell like sick and synthetic daffodils on your own. On the one hand, the cab thing isn’t brilliant for the image amongst private buyers. On the other hand, it’s a pretty towering tribute to the way Toyota has made a very complicated piece of petro-lectrical technology work seamlessly well and with the kind of reliability that allows it to be ragged around city streets seven days a week without going wrong. Think about that for a sec and it’s really impressive. Oh sorry, was that your turning there? It’s quite hard to see on this tiny smart phone screen which I’ve got clipped to the dashboard by the door.

AWWPrius4_3Day six: I was going to take the Prius for a proper, dab-of-oppo drive in the countryside but really, what’s the point? I can’t imagine it would be amazing fun on a swishing B-road. That’s not what it was designed for and not what anyone is going to do with it. In its natural habitat, which is trundling around the city, it does its job. Rather well actually, since a big part of its job is being economical and it seems pathologically incapable of doing much less than 60mpg.

Yesterday we were in the Prius when my wife suddenly said, ‘What’s got into you?’ Oh God, I thought, she’s going to bring up that thing about why I refuse to get matching bath towels. But no, she was puzzled as to why I didn’t go round a dithering driver ahead but happily let them bimble across our way. ‘Normally you’d have been round him in a second,’ she observed quizzically. I hadn’t the guts to say it’s because the Prius has this display that scores your driving, I’d just got 96 out of 100 and I was buggered if I was going to ruin my stats for one mash of the throttle. So that’s why this car seems so economical. It’s turned the dreary business of fuel saving into a competitive sport. Clever.

Day seven: I’m still troubled by the styling of this car. I want to like it because there are some bits that I quite enjoy, like the blacked out rear pillar and that scooped out bit in the rear wings, but as a whole I just can’t get on with it at all. Maybe it’s just too futuristic for my tiny mind. To check this, I emailed a proper car designer expecting that he’d explain how clever and technically complicated it was and that I was wrong. Oh dear me no. He hates it even more than me and delivers an eloquent rant accusing it of looking like two designs stuck together and suggesting that the C-pillar assembly looks like it was ‘cobbled together in someone’s garage’. He also says the beltline is ‘all wrong’ making the sides look too thick, the roof has a ‘peak’ which makes it look taller when it’s meant to be sleeker, the sill design forces your eye down which accentuates the pointy nose and the tall, slabby back end, the side sculpting is soft but then gets really boxy at the back, the A-pillar extension line is ‘weird’ and the wheels are too small. Also, he points out that the lower rear window line ‘wanders all over the surface below it’ and the fact they’ve nonetheless managed to achieve a really nice fit between these two ill-matched shapes just demonstrates how skilled Toyota is at building cars but not at styling them. So there we go.

AWWPrius4_4Day eight: A brisk, early morning run to Sussex bringing a chance to sling the Prius into a couple of roundabouts just to see what happens. The steering has a funny quick bit in the rack just off centre which I presume was put there to make it seem more dynamic. It does turn in with some vigour but the more you get all helmsmannish the more you also realise the wheel doesn’t really feel connected to the tyres, although there are other ways to discover that the front tyres will quickly lose their grip if you keep driving like a tit. None of this really matters. It’s better to sit back and relax, swooshing along in a calm and smooth way rather than trying to drive it like there’s a wasp in your trousers.

Goodbye: If you’re into cars you’re not meant to like the Prius. You see it all the time on car forums and in comments sections, all those rants about how it’s an eco car, a hand wringing hypocrites chariot or a clueless lead-hoof Uber-ists work tool. Which, when it comes to this new Prius, seems a bit unfair. As a piece of cleverness and indeed as a gadget, it’s an admirable piece of work. It has one job, which is to be a very economical and spacious urban workhorse. And in that score, it does a job and does it well. It’s not very exciting, but then nor is the average diesel hatchback and at least the Prius is quiet and won’t pump blobs of cancer into our children’s faces when the third owner pulls off the DPF. As a way of getting around the city, the Prius is calming and completely untaxing. It’s like driving, but less so. And sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that. You can see why minicabbers love ‘em. They’ll like this new one even more because in every respect it seems a lot better than the old model. As a device that’s fit for purpose, it’s pretty much bob on. It’s a good piece of engineering in a horrible piece of design.

The car talked about here is a Toyota Prius Business Edition Plus. It has a 1.8-litre petrol engine making 97 horsepower and an electric motor making 71 horsepower, although the quoted maximum ‘system output’ is 121bhp. It can go from 0 to 62 in 10.6 seconds and on to 112mph. This version costs £25,995.


A week with an MG6

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, November 20th, 2015

Remember MG’s medium sized model? Well, they’ve given it some new lights and bumpers and things. 

AWWMG6_3Day one: The MG has been dropped off at my house while I was out. My wife retrieves the key from the dog proof thing beneath the letter box. ‘What a shitty key,’ she says flatly. She’s right. The MG6 has always had the most horrible, flimsy dongle to start it and they’ve done nothing in the facelift to fix the nasty, lightweight plastic that makes it feel like one of those cheap dummy mobiles they keep tethered to the wall in phone shops. ‘So where’s this MG?’ she continues, peering out of the window. Well, I reply, you see that grey hatchback right outside? That’s it. ‘Oh,’ she sighs. My wife heard ‘MG’ and thought ‘sports car’. But they don’t make sports cars anymore. They make grey hatchbacks.

Day two: Calling the MG a grey hatchback makes it sound dismal but actually this morning, flecked with raindrops under a slightly sunny sky, the 6 looks alright. It’s a moderately handsome car and the grey paint actually seems quite deep and glossy. In the ‘90s the Rovers coming out of the Longbridge paintshop were uncommonly shiny and you might assume this car uses the same Brummie know how. But it doesn’t, because the 6 arrives from China already trimmed and coloured in. The British end just bolts in the underparts. Superficially, it feels well put together. The interior smells a bit odd, like a robot’s fart, and some of the plastics are from an Audi engineer’s nightmares but it’s okay. And it’s okay to drive too. The ride is firm but comfortable, the gearchange is alright, only the weirdly inconsistent and springy feeling to the steering lets it down. This isn’t helped by the wheel itself, which has an unattractively swollen centre section like half a cheap boob job.

AWWMG6_2Day three: Tooling around the city today it’s hard to ignore several things that aren’t quite right about the interior, digital guff smell aside. The cover over the digital climate control display appears to be misty. The screen between the instruments is very pixelly. And the image from the reversing camera is comically low res. Also, the camera itself is angled too low, so that anything behind you appears completely by surprise just a nanosecond before you hit it. All of these things conspire to make the MG feel like a car from two generations ago or the well-meaning efforts of a Korean company you’ve never heard of and which can’t afford to buy any rival products to see what they’re like.

Day four: Every so often the MG decides to skip to another radio station or bounce to the next track in whatever album you’re listening to. I wondered if I was accidentally knocking one of the remote stereo controls either side of the Jordan’s knocker steering wheel boss because they’re quite crappy and don’t have enough built-in resistance. But today the system did it while I was sat at some traffic lights and I know it wasn’t me because I had both hands off the wheel at the time. Later, I come back to the car and start the engine to find that the stereo is dead. Naturally I turn the whole car off and then on again and that seems to fix it. None of this inspires confidence in the electrics.

Day five: I once drove a pre-facelift MG6 diesel and it was absurdly easy to stall. This one is better, but not perfect. I know this because this morning I stalled it. To get it to re-start you have to depress the clutch, which is normal for these electronical start systems, and you must have the gearbox in neutral, which is not. In fact, it’s sodding annoying and contributes to a sense that the entire development process for this car was stopped about five months too early, before they had a chance to go through the ‘to-do’ list one more time.

AWWMG6_1Day six: I’m going to a wedding up north. The MG6 is a fine motorway cruiser. Mind you, what car isn’t? Any car that makes a cock of driving briskly in a straight line is probably dangerous. Later, during the reception, a mate asks me if I’m driving anything interesting at the moment. I tell him I’ve got an MG. ‘Oh nice,’ he says. ‘Is it a convertible?’ No, I say, it’s a grey hatchback that occasionally thinks I’m bored of a song and should move onto the next one. He’s expecting a sports car but, as we know, MG don’t make sports cars any more. They make grey hatchbacks. And I’m not sure their heart is really in it. With this facelift they’ve simplified the 6 range so across the three trim levels there’s just one alloy wheel design, which looks a bit small, and only four paint options, just one of which is metallic. Even this choice is removed if you buy the base model, which only comes in white. Not long ago MG’s own product manager was quoted as saying, “When you sit in the MG6, it won’t be as good as a Skoda Octavia. But it’s £7000 cheaper than the equivalent Skoda Octavia.” On the one hand, admirable honesty. On the other hand, it’s almost like they don’t want to sell any cars.

Day seven: It’s a beautiful morning in Cheshire and I’ve got a bit of time so I go for a proper drive on some roads I know well. This turns out to be a good exercise because the MG suddenly reveals hidden and rather excellent depths. The engine is never going to be anything more than a bog standard diesel with a pretty narrow power band but everything else that contributes to a hearty and helmsmanly strop across the countryside is of a much, much higher standard. The gearchange is slick, the steering still has that odd power assistance but it’s very accurate which makes the car easy to drive neatly, and the chassis is a masterclass in tight but well sorted damping. It’s one of those cars that flows along a road in the way Peugeots used to when they were good and, by golly, it’s actually quite fun. The dashboard detailing and the engine management programming might have been done by people who appear not to have driven a brand new car in 12 years but the suspension of the MG6 has plainly been tuned by a team which understands that making a car feel dynamic is about subtlety and the skilful blending of ride, roll rates and reactions into one marvellous whole, rather than just giving it idiotically rock hard springs and then claiming it’s ‘sporty’. On a good road, the MG6 unexpectedly comes alive.

Goodbye: The MG is going away. It’s not a great car. In far too many ways, it’s not even a good car. This might explain why they seem to have sold about seven, all to hardcore MG enthusiasts who have a broken B in the garage and spend most of their time on the internet moaning about bits of their 6 that have gone wrong. On the plus side, it’s relatively cheap and on an open country road it has a hidden well of considerable talent that makes it more fun than any diesel hatchback of its size, enough to make you forget about the crappy key and the stereo that waits until halfway through a really good song on the radio and then decides you should be listening to Talk Sport. If you care about nothing but open B-road ability and yet you must have a brand new diesel hatchback you might like it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother. It’s a genuinely good chassis looking for a better car to go on top.

The car talked about here is an MG6 1.9 DTi-TECH TL. It has a 1.9-litre turbocharged diesel engine producing 148 horsepower. MG says it can go from 0-60 in 8.4 seconds and, for insurance purposes, has a limited top speed of 120mph. It costs £17,995.

A weekend with a Land Rover Defender Autobiography

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, October 16th, 2015

AWWDefender01Day one: I’ve got a book coming out. I might have mentioned this. More details here. To promote its release, the publisher wanted to film me talking about it while driving. I told them I would blag something interesting. But what? Too flash and people might think, I’m not buying that twat’s book when he’s clearly got too much money as it is. Too rubbish and it might seem as if I didn’t know my shit. I explained this dilemma to the nice people at the book company. We’ll let you sort out the car, they said sweetly in a way that suggested I was wildly over-thinking something unimportant like a full-fat loony. But it was important to me, and there seemed to be only one solution. I needed a Defender. Everyone likes a Defender. Not too flash, not too shabby, just chunky and likeable. In fact, I’m about to buy a Heritage run-out model, but it doesn’t turn up until December and the shoot was scheduled for a few days’ time so I contacted Land Rover and asked nicely if I could borrow something. You’re in luck, they said, we’ve got a Defender spare. And it’s one of the end-of-days Autobiography editions. I’ll get this out the way now; the Land Rover Defender Autobiography costs £61,845. It’s an idiotic amount of money for a piece of 1940s farm equipment, even one with two-tone paint and an interior so comprehensively leathered that even the roof lining is the old wrapper from a cow. Mind you, they’re only selling 100 in the UK, it’s (almost) last of the line, they probably won’t struggle to shift ‘em. But yes, 61 grand. It’s a lot.

The book people are already at my house when the Defender arrives. We go outside to have a look at it and, having previously humoured me with my pathetic fretting over car choice, suddenly they’re interested. The word ‘cool’ is used several times. I agree. In this spec, the Defender looks extremely handsome, what with its black wheels and fancy paint and whathaveyou. My next door neighbour comes out of his house and openly fawns over it. A camera is unleashed, I talk some drivel while driving it and some more drivel while standing next to it, and our filming is done. I meet my friend Mike for lunch. He too declares the Defender to be cool. Although he also notices the various sturdy clonks and thumps that emanate from the mechanical parts. No amount of fancy trimming can disguise the fact that, technically, it’s as complicated as a pair of scissors. But a pair of scissors with a richly scented leather handle.

AWWDefender02Later I go to the supermarket. Don’t strictly need to, but we’re out of milk and I want to drive the Defender again. If I had a Ferrari at my disposal I’d feel the same, but I’d have to get out of the city and find some decent roads upon which it could unleash its skills. Obviously I’m not using the Land Rover’s real talents either, because they are to drive up very steep, very rough and very muddy things and there is none of that in Waitrose car park, but the delight of driving it in town is that it still feels unusual and amusing. Also, it’s only about the length of a Fiesta so it’s a piece of piss to park, lousy steering lock aside.

My wife comes home from work and declares the Defender to be cool. I think what we can conclude from today is that this is, on totting up the totals, the coolest car in the world.

Day two: Last night I had a cheery message from the Land Rover PR chap asking if I appreciated the extra power of this Autobiography edition. Thanks to an ECU tweak, it gets 148 horsepower rather than the standard 120. Frankly, I’d forgotten about this spec detail and hadn’t noticed any difference at all. But today, while bumping around London, I paid more attention. I can’t really spot more power as such, but it’s a little more flexible and co-operative. You can leave it in third for turning into junctions, rather than slamming the chunky change down into the low second gear. So that’s nice. If you’ve got a regular Defender, there are aftermarket companies who will put their hands into the engine’s brain to achieve similar things.

Later, I lash a car seat into the back and take my 19 month old son out in the Defender. In most cars, he’s down low and the glass line is around his forehead. In the Land Rover, he’s up high with a whole window in front of his face. This makes him giggle with delight as we chug about the place. He’s happy, I’m happy, the car feels happy. In some ways it reminds me of my dog. She too has many, many flaws and on paper you’d be an idiot to welcome such an awkward, noisy, daft creature into your life. Yet, I adore her. And the same goes for the Land Rover. Although, on the plus side, I’ve never seen a Defender wait until it’s been cleaned and then immediately roll in some fox shit.

Day three: There’s a Grand Prix on. But there’s also an Avro Vulcan scheduled to fly over an airfield just outside London and that seems like a more interesting option so the boy and I pile into the Land Rover and set off on a trip to Essex. The Defender does not have what you’d call a smooth ride. It joggles and jiggles and generally shifts around in a restless way. It’s quite noisy on the motorway too. Yet, amazingly, the little chap in the back falls asleep for most of the journey. I wake him in time to see a glorious old V-bomber soar overhead then we have a snack sitting in the open back door, watching little planes taking off on the runway nearby. All told, a grand day out. An ordinary car would have been simply a way of getting there and back. Doing it in the silly, slow, friendly, jaunty car made it feel like an adventure.

AWWDefender03Day four: The Defender has to go back to Land Rover. I wish it didn’t. I know, I know. My heartfelt affection towards it defies all logic. I don’t need one. Few people do. But it has a personality and a spirit that is beyond all reason. I like it because it’s unlike any other brand new car. I like it because, though it’s hard work to drive, it makes you think and concentrate and put more effort into the basics of working the controls where most cars smooth away such skills in an anaesthetic sludge. I like it because it makes my little boy smile and seems to bring out the warmest reactions in strangers. As an awful Brit car bore, I even like the parts cupboard interior with its Marina stalks, Metro buttons, Montego window switches, and door lock buttons from the Rover SD1. And that in turn reminds me that it’s the bookend of 67 years of local history, which is something else in its favour. It’s not quick, it’s not quiet, it’s not smooth or slick or sophisticated. But it has something sorely lacking in most cars you can buy today. It has a heart, and it has a soul.

The car talked about here is a Land Rover Defender Autobiography. It has a 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel engine making 148 horsepower. They haven’t re-tested the more powerful engine, but the standard car will go from 0-62 in 14.7 seconds and on to 90mph. It costs £61,845. Feel free to mention this several times in the comments section below.

A week with a Kia Soul EV

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, May 8th, 2015

You know the Kia Soul? Yea, well it’s that, but electric.

SoulEV1Day one: The Soul EV arrives at my office full, but not completely chock full, of electricity. It’s a pure electric car with no range extender back up and I’ve got a big journey tomorrow so I plug it in. The charging socket is in the middle on the front, rather than where the fuel hole would be on the side. In fact, the normal filler flap has completely disappeared which means they’ve altered the rear wing pressing for this one model, which in turn means they’ve spent some money on it. Putting the electro-umbilical point in the middle makes sense, especially if you’re neurotic about cable stretch.

Later I’m driving home without the stereo on, enjoying the smooth silence of electricalicityness when my brother rings me and his call connects through the Bluetooth. It’s only then I notice the light-up rings around the door speakers pulsing every time he speaks. I’ve seen this on a diesel powered Soul. They do it in time to whatever you’re listening to on the stereo. In a normal Soul, it’s a bit idiotic. In this electric one, it’s idiotic and a waste of precious electricity. Fortunately, you can turn it off.

Day two: The Soul EV has a claimed range of 132 miles. But even after a full charge last night the most it would show was 92. It’s a bit parky. Maybe that’s why. The problem is, today I’ve got to drive to somewhere that’s about 60 miles away. This might sound fine, but experience tells me that the range-o-meter on an electric car can be cheerily optimistic right up until the point you attempt to keep up with normal traffic or go onto a motorway. Then it plummets to the point where you it becomes clear you’re not going to make it and you will run out somewhere in the countryside and be unable to get help and have to live out your days in a forest. So this could go horribly wrong. Except, it doesn’t. The Soul turns out to have the most accurate range predictor I’ve ever seen. As long as you don’t ineptly mash the throttle like Maldonado on a pit entry, it seems to tell the truth. A mile goes by, it clicks off another mile. Sometimes it doesn’t even do that. I make it to where I’m going without range stress and buttockular clenching then plug it in, knowing I’ll get home again just fine. Which is an pleasant surprise.

SoulEV2Day three: Having established that the Soul isn’t a liar, it’s much easier to relax and enjoy its smooth, torque-rich electricness, knowing that whatever the range readout says is actually about right. I don’t know how they’ve done where others can’t. What I can tell you is that there’s one clever, electro-specific feature on this car, which is a button that sets the heater to driver-only mode, so it’s not wastefully guffing its efforts into the rest of the car for no reason when you’re on your own. Nice touch.

Day four: A day of padding around town. In most respects the EV is like the normal Soul. It’s roomy, the view out is good, it’s a fully functioning car. Except actually I think the ride is very slightly better. It’s firm, but not uncomfortable. And the dashboard, which for some reason is now beige, feels of better quality. I might be imagining that. Either way, it’s well made without being the full VW. Only the gear selector lets it down, being massive and with a horrid surround, like you’d see on some weird 1990s JDM import you find yourself when you call a minicab in a town you’ve never been to before. I like the Soul’s seats, which appear to be made of the same material as that sloppy sweatshirt you wear on a Sunday when there’s a grand prix on and you’ve no plans to go out.

SoulEV3Day five: My electrician comes round. ‘What’s that?’ he asks, pointing at the Soul. Ahh, I say jauntily. It’s an electric car. ‘Oh,’ he replies, flatly. I thought he’d be more interested, what with being an electrician and everything. I think the Soul looks alright, although for no readily explicable reason the EV version is only available in two colours. There’s blue with a white roof, which is the colour scheme of electric car cliché these days and shouts ‘Look how sodding eco I am’, or a grey, which has the opposite effect, and makes the Soul look like a very normal car. You’d think there’d be at least another couple of colours in the middle. Apparently not. I’d have the grey.

Day six: A trip to the supermarket. It’s a Waitrose so naturally it has an organic Essentials electric car charging point in the car park. Which is handy for a quick juice up. Except that some utter frig kettle in a normal car has parked in the electrical parking space. What a nob. And what a very modern problem. As electric parking spaces get more commonplace, at least it’ll give selfish twats somewhere else to park if all the parent and child spaces are taken.

Goodbye: The Soul EV is going away again. It feels like a very thoroughly developed electric car, usual long distance and charging limitations notwithstanding. It’s not as strenuously normal as the VW e-Golf and not as self-consciously wacky as the Nissan Leaf. It also seems much better at predicting its own range than either. If you’ve got 25 grand to blow on a school run-ish sort of car that lives in town it could be quite handy. I liked it.

The car talked about here is the Kia Soul EV. Its electric motor makes 109 horsepower and 210 lb ft, giving a 0-62 time of 10.8 seconds and a top speed of 90mph. Including the government’s £5000 plug-in car grant, it costs £24,995.

A couple of hours with a Jaguar XE

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

After starring in 57,000 Autocar scoop stories, the baby Jag is here at last.

AWWXE1The XE is sitting in a car park. At a casual glance, it looks like an old XF. At a more formal, paying attention sort of glance it looks lower and wider than an old XF. From the side, the wheelbase appears longer and the cabin further back. The proportions have changed and the details are different but the overall effect is familiar, a bit like the new Golf compared to the old one. Or meeting an old friend who’s lost weight and bought better glasses. Jag seems to have avoided anything radical for two reasons: Firstly, it wants to build up sense of design continuity. And secondly because the world of small saloons like this is quite conservative. By which I mean, it likes familiarity, rather than because it hates the NHS and thinks Ed Miliband is a twat.

The inside of the XE isn’t radical either. Recently Jags have featured all manner of shenanigans with moving air vents and touch sensitive glovebox buttons but there’s none of that here. It’s rather ordinary. There’s a large rubber mat in front of the knob-o-matic gear selector to keep your phone in place but that’s about it for delightful features. No wait, the button on the touch screen that goes to the phone menu has a red telephone box on its background. It’s quite sweet and apparently American and Chinese buyers soil themselves with delight at this ‘British’ touch. The rest of the screens and menus work well enough but the graphics are drab and Android-y rather than crisp and Apple-ish.

This XE is the S version, which has the supercharged V6 petrol engine from the F-type. Because of that, I was expecting it to start with an almighty BRAAAAAAH! and then grumble and snarl to itself, as if digesting a handful of treacle and rocks. But it doesn’t. It’s very quiet at idle. It’s very quiet when you set off too. Someone from Jag told me they made an XE prototype with an F-type level of fruitiness but it just seemed wrong in a saloon. Also, to get the full F-type shouting experience they’d have needed a bigger exhaust system which would have eaten into rear seat space. (Later in my time with the XE I stopped in a lay-by and got into the back. There’s enough space back there for a grown man. A lorry driver parked in the same lay-by seemed confused as to why such a grown man would briefly get into the back of his own car. Like most things that happen in lay-bys, he probably assumed it was something to do with dogging.)

AWWXE2Off we go then, for a bit of a drive. The XE is one of those cars you can settle into very quickly. It’s comfy. It’s smooth. It’s quiet. But it feels sharp at the edges yet not intrusively hyperactive. It’s what used to be called a sports saloon, before everyone started trying to be sporty. The ride is firm, though not uncomfortable. Better than an Audi, worse than a Rover 75. The damping feels expensive and well judged.

There are winding roads ahead and the chance for some bitch spankery. Knock the car into sport mode and it gets a bit fightier. But not much. The accelerator is more sensitive, the ride becomes firmer, it’s 19 percent more helmsmannish. You can complete the set-up by putting the gearbox in S and then titting about controlling the 8-speed autobox on the paddles. And then you’re off, zooming around corners, revelling in the chassis control and the grip and at how much traction it finds, even if you really hoof it. It’s a very, very easy car to drive in a brisk manner and quite satisfying as a result. At some point in the rev range the engine takes on an aggressive, hollow sound that reminds me of an old XK straight six. Maybe they’ve done this deliberately. Or maybe I’m talking bollocks. Anyway, it’s nice. At other levels of revs the V6 actually sounds a bit flat. You cease to care too much about this as you slice through the countryside, enjoying the splendid balance of the chassis, clicking crisply up and down the gearbox, marvelling at the excellent ratio and weight of the electric steering and how it doesn’t feel electrically assisted at all. There’s an agility to it too, which could be ascribed to the aluminium body except that some of it – the doors and the boot floor – are still steel and actually, the whole car weighs 1665 kilos which is 70 more than BMW claims for 335i, strangely. Even so, it’s genuinely lovely to drive.

AWWXE3After some wheelwrightmanship I stop for a moment and have a bit of a stare at the XE. There are a few nice details on the outside. The wide, hidden third brake light above the back window and the headlights that look like camera lenses, for example. Or the subtle ducktail built into the bootlid. But overall, it seems knowingly discreet rather than showy and flamboyant. Then I feel compelled to check the rear seat space, a lorry driver probably thinks I’m coming on to him, and it’s time to get back on the road.

A bit more driving. A bit more enjoying the unflustered way you can hack around bendy roads at a right old lick. It feels like a good car in which to tackle a massive journey. You’d have fun on the back road bits and remain untroubled at a cruise. It’s relaxed and relaxing. Only a couple of things annoy me. The head-up display works off fricking lasers and looks terrific but its dashtop gubbins reflects in the screen in an annoying way. And the touch screen is hard to use accurately, especially if you’ve got the suspension in jiggle+ mode.

Overall though, I liked the XE a lot. I’d like it even more if the interior was jazzier but I suppose Jag has been wilfully cautious to avoid frightening people used to the equally plain dash in an A4. On the plus side, the XE S drives with a vim and a lightness of touch an Audi can only dream of. Not that this is strictly relevant, since I can’t imagine many people buying a 3-litre V6 petrol. They’ll get the diesel. But if the XE D is as good as the supercharged version, it’ll be very good indeed.

The car talked about here is the Jaguar XE S. It has a 3-litre supercharged V6 engine making 336 horsepower. Jaguar says it can go from 0-60 in 4.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph. It costs £44,865.


A week with a Vauxhall Corsa

Posted in DriveL by Richard Porter on Friday, February 27th, 2015

The car of idiots enters its fourth generation

AWWCorsa1Day one: Here comes the Corsa, wrapped in a deep green colour that looks utterly vile on the configurator and absolutely delightful in real life. You might have seen the ads for this car. They’re everywhere, busily boasting about various features and claiming this car is new. Which is a bit of a fib. The front end engineering is new, the suspension has been re-done and the whole lot has been re-skinned and re-trimmed but the hull is from the old model. There’s a big giveaway on the back doors of this five door model. The window line kicks up at the back where it was flat on the old car, but they’ve kept the same glass to save money so from the inside the kicked up metalwork has glass behind it. It’s not a bad looking car. The interior is inoffensively smart and feels quite well put together. On first acquaintance you could same about the driving experience. But here’s the thing: In my experience, Vauxhall are really good at cars that feel passable at first and turn out to have hidden depths of dismalness that quickly make you want to hack at your own wrists with the hand jack. So let’s not be hasty.

Day two: It’s a cold morning. This Corsa is an SE model which means it gets heated seats as standard. They’re the sort that are either on or off rather than offering levels of arse toastery. This turns out to be a bit of problem because, rather unusually, the one setting is simply far too hot. Honestly, you put it on and it’s cut through the thickness of a normal pair of jeans in less than a minute with the kind of bum scorchery you’d get from leaning on a radiator. So you jab the button to turn it off, wait until you get a bit chilly, switch it back on again and repeat the whole strange cycle again.

AWWCorsa2Day three: A run out into the countryside. The Corsa isn’t bad at scuttling around in a lively way if you attempt some bitch spankery. A Fiesta would be more fun but a Polo wouldn’t. I can’t tell you anything outstanding about the Corsa, but nor can I pinpoint anything bad about it. It’s happier in town, of course, where its ride is really decent and the engine is quiet. It is, in fact, a surprisingly refined car.

Day four: It’s a frosty morning. But no matter because all new Corsas come with a heated windscreen as standard. The reason for this is that people who owned the old car complained that the demisting was shit. And since the guts of this car are carried over including the heater, this is the quick fix. Unlike the heated seats, the heated screen is not too hot. This trim level also gets a heated steering wheel as standard, also not too hot. Whatever else you think, you can’t accuse Vauxhall of skimping on heating elements.

Day five: If you’re really bored, go to the Vauxhall website and attempt to get your head around the Corsa range. There are eight separate trim levels, which aren’t listed in ascending order, and then a giddy hierarchy of engines you’d need an applied maths degree to unpick. This test car, for example, has a four cylinder 1.4 turbo petrol making 99 horsepower. But you can also have a 1-litre three cylinder turbo petrol which has 15 more horsepower but less torque and almost identical economy figures. Worse still, lower down the range there’s a 1.4i and a 1.0T that both have 89bhp for no readily apparent reason. How does anyone get their head around this? Especially since, judging by the general standards of driving seen in old shape Corsas, the average buyer can barely understand what a steering wheel does, never mind fathom the differences between a Corsa Excite A/C 1.4T 100PS Turbo EcoFlex and a Corsa SRi VX-Line 1.0i 115PS EcoFlex.

AWWCorsa3Day six: There are a lot of gadgets on this test car. Lane assist, park assist, blind spot warning and all those sort of things manufacturers think cars should have and customers probably don’t bother with. As long as they’ve got their heated screens and can cook an egg on the heated passenger seat, they’re happy. Today, driving along minding my own business, a light appears on the dash. It’s green, so I presume it’s nothing bad, and it’s in the shape of a car viewed head on. I have no idea what it means. I assume it’s related to one of the techy systems but which one? I have no idea. And I’m in too much of a hurry to stop and RTFM. So it remains a mystery.

Goodbye: Bye bye Corsa. I’ll be honest, based on experience of previous Corsas I was expecting this thing to feel dispiritingly shit by the end of a week. But it doesn’t. It’s quiet, it’s refined, it has a nice interior with plenty of equipment and a slick, intelligently organised touch screen. A Fiesta is more sporty and a Polo more grown up but the Corsa gets unexpectedly close to both. It’s not especially exciting but nor, crucially, is it found wanting in performing the basic functions of being a car. And also, as it turns out, a griddle. For three generations, the Corsa has been a crap car driven by blithering idiots. Now the blithering idiots are getting a car that’s quite good.

The car talked about here is a Vauxhall Corsa SE 1.4T 100PS five door. It has a 1.4-litre four cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that makes 99 horsepower. Top speed is 115mph, 0 to 62 takes 11 seconds. In this spec it costs £13,840.