Archive | March, 2012

The Citroen DS3 – What’s Not To Like?

Is this the best looking small car on the market? It’s certainly up against some stiff opposition these days as the market is crowded with a terrific selection of superminis in the same price bracket.

The Citroen DS3 offers a fresh and funky design, but the key to this car is the level of personalisation offered. With over thirty colour combinations and a big box of options we calculate, expounding the figures mathematically, that there would ultimately be – well, let’s see, wheels times upholstery choices and paintwork selection comes to…erm, a lot of variety. Remember the days of mad homemade customisation with hideous flaming decals and the like? Well now you can have it all sorted discreetly and tastefully in the factory using only the very latest new parts. Individual design flair without the all the work.

There are some fantastic new cars on offer in this sector. Ford’s evergreen Fiesta and Renault’s Clio sell consistently and evidence the fact that drivers are looking increasingly for individuality coupled with green and efficient credentials, in preference to power and performance. Citroen have wisely avoided falling too obviously into the hot hatch camp by taking on the familiar Renaultsport or Cupra offerings but this doesn’t mean that performance options aren’t available.

There is the limited edition DS3 Racing. This is a harder edged version based on the standard Citroen DS3 Dsport which itself can boast a not insignificant 155bhp. Not as challenging to drive as Renault’s Clio Cup, the Racing takes a less aggressive approach to steering, throttle response and ride quality delivering a more fluent feel on the road. With a car that seems so desirable there has always got to be a downside and in this case it’s the words ‘limited edition’. You’ll be lucky to get one!

One area where Citroen have excelled recently is the interior of their cars. The DS3 has an imaginatively styled dashboard which can be customised in one of six colours to match your overall styling choices. Quality trim and solid switchgear add to the premium feel. Needless to say the car features all the expected safety equipment and it comes as no surprise to learn that Euro NCAP awarded the full five stars for safety. There is no doubt that the French company has pulled out all the stops on this car and the other models in this premium range.

The thing about car design is that tastes change. If you look at any vehicle from, say, the 1980s or 90s you will be forgiven for wondering what on earth we were thinking about. Thankfully, the technology that allows manufacturers to build cars in ways once unheard of means that styling we would once have described as ‘futuristic’ is here with us now and constantly evolving.

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Driving in Europe

Britain is separated from Europe by much more than La Manche. That’s French for sleeve, by the way. Apart from the fact that people on the continent resolutely continue to refuse to speak English as their first language, they also insist on driving on the right. Why, it’s downright perverse.

On the plus side, whilst we may moan and complain about all the motoring legislation designed to thwart our every turn, as it were, the poor old Europeans have it much worse than us. Take France – well we’ve done it before! No, sorry about that. Just a little joke, honest. We don’t do xenophobia here. France is a wonderful country with an interesting culture. It is also the place where the original Citroen DS was designed and that is an enduring thing of beauty.

Sadly, they are also very fond of bureaucracy. The latest wheeze from the French legislature is that it is illegal to carry a device – and this includes sat-navs – that give the locations of speed cameras. Not very sporting, is it? If that isn’t bad enough, the government is installing hundreds of new, unsigned speed cameras and removing signs warning of existing sites. Can you imagine the furore if that happened here?

From the 1st July 2012, drivers, including motorcyclists, must start carrying a breathalyser and this law will be fully enforced from November. It must conform to a standard and be replaced annually. They are not very expensive but it’s another cost to the poor, downtrodden motorist. How long before we all have to carry a full set of car parts?

The rules and regulations change from country to country. Driving in Greece, for example, is not for the faint-hearted and fines, as you might expect in this cash-strapped country, are high and enforced. Across Europe you will be generally expected to carry, variously, one or more high-visibility jackets, warning triangles, fire extinguishers, replacement bulb kits and so on. If you are visiting a specific country then always ensure you check the rules of the road before departure. If you’re touring then take the lot and hope for the best! And keep right! On roundabouts, give way to traffic coming from the left except in Italy where experience has shown that it makes no difference what you do. So the next time you complain about our rules think yourself lucky you don’t live ‘over there’.

Maybe the answer is not to take your car at all. Hiring cars can be a little bit chancy so go for a reputable firm, but at least the steering will be on the right, that is to say, the wrong side and the car will also include the accessories you need to have. Returning to France, if you rent yourself a nice new Citroen DS3, say, you can blend right in with the locals. Baguette optional.

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Why Motorway Driving Should Be Part of Learning to Drive

According to new guidelines from the Department for Transport, learner drivers will now be allowed on the UK’s motorways when accompanied by a qualified driving instructor.

However, with proposals for learners to now be allowed on the country’s motorway network to gain experience, are the plans a good idea or will it increase the problem of lacking confidence seen in new drivers when making their way on to a motorway for the first time as the speed differential widens?

In short, no. Leaners will be accompanied by their instructor in the normal manner, meaning their teacher is more than likely not going to throw them in at the deep end with a 70mph stretch of tarmac until they’re good and ready.

Garnering motorway experience so new drivers are au fait with how motorways work straight away is a superb idea as we all know how exploring a three-lane carriageway can be a daunting experience.

Many newly qualified drivers build the first motorway trip up unnecessarily, creating undue fear.

But motorways are well sighted, don’t have any corners to speak of and have traffic flowing in the same direction. In theory then, they should be the easiest type of roads to drive on in the UK.

Hopefully the new initiative will see learners realise that motorways aren’t something to be frightened of, simply that the trick to fruitful navigation of a motorway is getting on, changing lanes and leaving the carriageway safely – and its only experience that can teach this.

Motorways aren’t dangerous. In fact, according to the European Road Assessment Programme, they’re the nation’s safest type of roadway.

For a leaner to gain experience in a controlled (relatively) environment is an excellent idea. That a newly qualified driver could return home from a test centre by driving on a motorway at 70mph – sometimes faster – is nonsensical, but more importantly dangerous to both themselves and other drivers.

The plans for “motorway practicing” could prove the perfect way to eradicate the culture among learners that motorways are scary, highlighting to them that when broken down and learnt in chunks, driving on a three-lane highway is actually perfectly manageable.

We’re convinced by the proposal and believe it’ll help raise both awareness and driving standards amongst young motorists on the country’s motorways – it’s been a long time coming but will hopefully see accident rates also further reduced.

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HIRIKO – The World’s First Fold-up Car

If you happen to be sitting in your bath one day and suddenly have one of those magic eureka moments when, in a blaze of clarity, you come up with an idea that nobody has ever thought of before, the chances are that you are presently going to be bitterly disappointed. Brilliant ideas, I think you’ll find, are the province of someone else; so if you dream of inventing a folding car, I’m afraid you are too late – the Hiriko has already been born.

The Hiriko is, as you’d expect, very small, essentially what we’d describe as a bubble car. When parking, a mechanism tucks the rear of the car beneath the chassis effectively reducing the length by one metre and can be accomplished whilst still sitting in the car, so being crushed is not an issue. The windshield is also the door, which means the car can be driven into the space thus enabling the two occupants to step straight out onto the pavement! Outstanding!

Drive comes courtesy of regular mains juice and is driven and steered by ‘in-wheel’ electric motors; control is maintained through a joystick rather than a conventional steering wheel. This arrangement means that the car can effectively turn pretty much on its own footprint. Each wheel integrates a motor, steering actuators, suspension and braking, controlled by a drive-by-wire system. The car is entirely battery-powered with a single-charge range of 75 miles (120 km), or, if current (sorry) experience is anything to go by, less.

This latest ‘city car’ has been jointly developed by a partnership involving the Spanish government, the Basque Centre for Innovation and local businesses coupled with the MIT Media Lab in the USA. The Spanish hope to put it into production in 2013. Such a radical design idea is hoped to be the beginning of the push to free up space in our traffic choked city centres. Initially, trials are to take place in some European and American cities, in line with the policy set by the ‘Autolib’ project in Paris which provides an electric car hire/share scheme. The car was announced by no less a luminary than the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso.

In case you’re wondering, the name isn’t Japanese but rather a combination of the Basque words hiri and kotxe which mean, respectively and approximately, city and car. It has been suggested that the car will sell for around £11000 which seems a bit optimistic. Whether it has any value for anyone other than city dwellers remains to be seen but it certainly will appeal to city authorities who may well consider it for car hire schemes. Wait a minute! Here’s a great idea. If electric cars are already exempt from the London congestion charge, maybe Mayor Johnson will pay us to drive a Hiriko as we could get three into one parking space! What do you reckon?

 

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Saving Money On Servicing

Servicing is very important to keeping your car running efficiently and in preventing breakdowns.  It can also help you achieve a higher resale price when you finally come to selling your car and can mean that you shift your car a lot quicker.  More and more often, buyers will simply ignore and completely ignore any car that doesn’t have a service history, making it practically impossible to sell.

The costs of servicing can add up though.  MOT’s, full services, part services and then the costs of fixing anything that has gone wrong can all add up to some really significant sums.  There are a few ways of minimising these costs though.

The first thing to do is to try and time your MOT and servicing so that they are due at the same time.  Many garages will offer a discount when you combine your MOT and service and have them both done at the same time.  The reason is simple – When they conduct an MOT they are already getting involved in your car and checking the essentials.  This crosses over with a lot of the stuff that they will check out in a service and therefore they can afford to charge you less as it is quicker and easier for them to do both at the same time.  If you don’t make use of this discount you are effectively paying for your brakes to be checked on your MOT and then paying for them to be checked again on your service.  So, try to get them both done together at a discount.

The second thing is to use a specialist.  Using main dealers can be extremely expensive and see huge hourly rates.  Using a specialist can knock as much as 50% off these prices and sometimes even more.  The irony is that most specialists originally worked at the main dealers and then moved on to start their own business.  This effectively means that you are paying someone who is just as qualified and experienced on your car as the main dealer but at a fraction of the price.  They will also often make a smaller mark up on parts as well which can save even more money.

The most important tip for saving money on servicing though is to not avoid a service!  Some people think the best way to save money is to simply ignore a service and just keep driving.  This can actually prove to be the most expensive decision of all because missing a service can mean that you miss detecting small problems before they grow into big problems that can cost serious money!

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Battery Powered Cars – Is it worth it?

You could be forgiven for thinking that the battery powered car is a new creation, however it has actually been with us for many decades and the concept of a car powered by an electrical battery has been with us for even longer.

It is only recently though since battery power has become a more viable option for powering a car.  Previous downfalls were the simple fact that battery technology simply wasn’t capable of providing enough power for long enough to make it a worthy contender to petrol. Batteries were often incredibly heavy and cumbersome and gave very poor performance, meaning cars that were incredibly slow.  Think of a milk float for example!

The other downfall of battery powered cars was the range.  Battery powered cars sometimes had a range of as low as 12 miles meaning that it was totally impractical for most car owners.

However, battery technology has advanced in leaps and bounds and now batteries are smaller, lighter and more powerful.  As well as this, designers have found ways of making the use of that power more efficient, meaning that the range of a battery powered car has drastically increased.

There is now also the infrastructure for battery powered cars beginning to pop up in major cities.  Take London for example, many of the car parks in central London now have battery charging points for people driving battery-powered vehicles.  This makes owning a battery powered car even more viable.

However, battery powered cars still do have a very limited range when compared to petrol vehicles and this can mean that long journeys are practically impossible.  Unfortunately the infrastructure simply does not exist outside of major cities and that means that on a journey from London to Manchester, for example, there would be nowhere to “refuel” a battery powered car.  This is where an electric car still falls short.

So, is it worth it?  Well, investing in a battery powered car means no petrol costs which straight away makes for some huge savings.  It also makes your car exempt from paying road tax, and if you are in London you are also exempt from the congestion charge.  These all combine to make some pretty significant savings.  Therefore, if you live in London and only ever really drive in London then the answer is most certainly yes, it is well worth it.  The range on an electric car nowadays is easily enough to get you around the city and to and from work with ease.  The savings will be absolutely huge and will make ownership well worthwhile.

If you live outside of a major city though then the benefits of ownership of a battery powered car can quickly be outweighed by the negatives.  The lack of charging points and infrastructure will make it practically impossible to leave your town or village or residence and means that you will always be keeping a beady eye on your battery meter as you panic that you won’t make it home.  Also, outside of the slow-crawling traffic of London and other cities you will quickly notice the lack of performance and speed.

In short, if you live in a built up and congested city that has charging points and infrastructure then you are on to a sure winner.  If you live outside of these areas then it is probably waiting a few more years for things to improve a bit more.

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Sponsored Video – Channelling The Need For Speed

And so it begins. The first race of the 2012 Formula 1 season heralds what looks set to be a bumper year of spectacular motor racing with a packed schedule of 20 events worldwide. Six world champions, including the returning Kimi Räikkönen and including some new boys, will compete in this long and demanding season.

Nothing gets the pulses of the fans racing more than those last few minutes before the red lights go out. The starting grid, a hive of activity, quickly empties as the crews return to the pit lane and anxious faces begin to peer at trackside monitors looking for any telemetry data that suggests a thwarted start. The crowds hush as the tifosi unfurl their banners; the engine revs rise and, in a crescendo of sound and fury, twenty drivers power to the first corner. The tension is released – the race is on!

Armchair enthusiasts are well catered for as Sky introduce their dedicated Formula 1 channel. Offering all this uninterrupted colour and drama in High Definition will surely make up for not actually being there. Some might say that not actually being there is even better. An accomplished team will bring the viewer interviews with drivers and the team bosses coupled with all the trackside and pit lane news as it happens during the race. My goodness – you even get Martin Brundle!

It’s all there. The latest automotive technology, the fixed stares behind the visors, the heat and passion of drivers and pit crews striving to be the best. Only the bravest need apply. Go! Go! Go!

 

This post has been kindly sponsored by SKY, but all thoughts are our own!

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The Cost of Road Maintenance to Drivers And Utilities

Our beloved councils, who are responsible for about 90% of our road network, have been told to save many millions from their road maintenance budget in line with Department for Transport spending guidelines. Anyone whose wheel has plummeted into a crater on the road will know how they feel about this. Even Margaret Hodge, the fearsome chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee sees the motorists point of view. She said:

“The Department doesn’t fully understand what impact its cuts to road maintenance will have on the state of UK roads. My committee is concerned that short-term budget cutting could prove counterproductive, costing more in the long term as a result of increased vehicle damage and the higher cost of repairing the more severe road damage.”

She went on to say that there were many ‘unanswered’ questions about the DfT’s plans. The Highways Agency which is responsible for the other 10% of roads – the major ones – has already had to pay out £2.5 million in compensation for damage and injury. A committee of MPs has concluded that this short-term thinking will increase the costs of road repair to the taxpayer in the long run. The President of the AA, Edmund King is on record as saying:

“”All road users…will be concerned at any prospect of deteriorating roads. In the past we have applauded the Highways Agency for the efficient maintenance of motorways and trunk roads which generally are kept in a better state than local roads. Potholes can blight roads and are particularly treacherous for those on two wheels. The AA has seen an increase in the number of call-outs due to tyres, suspension and steering problems which could all be linked to potholes. As drivers are paying billions of pounds in various motoring taxes, they expect to be able to drive on main roads bereft of potholes. The last thing we want is a vicious circle where the declining state of roads leads to more claims for compensation due to damage and injury, which in turn means less spending on roads.”

That just about says it all, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Norman Baker has decided to rake in more cash by penalising the Utilities if they take too long with road works. Companies must agree a time frame for the work with the local council. If they overstay the agreement then they have to cough up a fine – currently up to £2500 a day. From October this year that will rise to £5000 a day for the first three, then up to £10000 thereafter. Note the interesting point that councils ‘must spend overrun charge income on implementing transport policies’. Having seen some crackpot local ‘initiatives’, that could mean anything.

The Local Government Association will tell you that, despite the cuts, they are actually spending more on road repairs but the reality doesn’t seem to match up. Our roads are in need of a massive cash investment, but it doesn’t look like it is going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime watch out for those potholes!

 

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Citroën Pass The New Car Test

As motor technology and design have improved during the first ten years of this century, so drivers have become more discerning about the cars they buy. Citroen is a company that has always been at the forefront of interesting design. Aficionados still speak of the now legendary DS model which featured hydro-pneumatic self levelling suspension and also the ubiquitous 2CV, beloved of French families for over forty years.

Recently the company have produced some very good motors but, just lately, there seems to have been a renaissance in the design of their new cars that re-introduces the fabled DS name. This new premium range, which started with the instantly popular Citroen DS3 in 2010, features a new DS logo instead of the more familiar Citroen double chevron. The original logo now appears instead as part of the front grill design. Citroen’s multiple world champion Sebastian Loeb is presently campaigning this supermini at the highest level of the World Rally Championship. Sadly, the version he drives is not offered to the average motorist but there are more powerful models available for the sporting driver!

The company’s featured packed website includes details of their Citroen Select Approved used car scheme. This enables customers to buy thorough the dealer network with confidence, knowing that the chosen vehicle has been thoroughly checked. Each car also comes with a package of additional benefits. In the unlikely event of a problem – in these austere times when everything seems to cost too much – it’s also nice to know that Citroen offer fixed price repairs. Their promise is that the price you are quoted is the price you pay and that their technicians use only genuine Citroen parts.

The DS range has been augmented now with the larger DS4 which incorporates a dramatic four door coupé body on raised suspension.  The DS family resemblance is retained and, to complete the set, April 2012 will see the release of the family sized executive DS5. This car is especially interesting as it offers within the range a hybrid version. This 200bhp car will have a conventional engine coupled with an electric motor delivering performance, four wheel drive and, it appears, a road tax busting 99g/km emission figure. It certainly looks good; so much so that the brutally honest reviewers at Top Gear Magazine, who have always been fans of the DS3, have pronounced the DS5 their ‘family car of the year’. Praise indeed for a company that, in amongst the Euro-design cars, dares to be different.

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Car Gadgets We’ll Love To Love

In these dark days of austerity we are all trying to save money so rather than tempting us with hugely powerful, gas guzzling rockets our canny car makers are looking at new ways to entice us behind the wheel. There’s the new range of small, turbo-charged, fuel efficient engines of course but what’s more fun is the amount of toys coming on stream in the next few years. The opportunity to personalise our cars has been around for some time now as the Citroen DS3 has proved, so what’s new on the gadget front?

Motor shows, like the recent Geneva bash, are the manufacturers’ shop window for future developments. Tiny engines, electrification and hybrid technology point to a sea-change in how we’ll view our cars in maybe five to ten years. Volkswagen have previewed the Cross Coupé, a hybrid concept with range extending technology with both Citroen and Peugeot offering similar ideas. Essentially, these cars will give the driver more options on how they choose to drive their vehicles – full power or minimal energy, two or four wheel drive and so on to suit the traffic conditions.

Here at Motorblogger, we’re rather keen on Ford’s new gadget which will make an appearance on the Kuga sometime next year. Basically, you arrive at the back of the car with armloads of shopping, but instead of fumbling with buttons and the like you simply wave your foot under the bumper and the tailgate opens! Genius. Picture this: all over the land in supermarket car parks people will be hopping about, trying to keep balance whilst waggling their foot about. It’s tied into Ford’s keyless entry system so you’ll need your key fob in your pocket, so don’t worry about the boot opening for every passing cat.

This gizmo stems from the general idea that car functions can be controlled by hand movements to navigate through menus; for example, to select music. The thinking is that, in years to come, buttons and switches can be eliminated from dashboards to allow designers more freedom for mad ideas. The Geneva show featured some even more futuristic inventiveness, at the forefront of which is the Honda Diji. The outer ‘skin’ of this concept is basically one big screen. Find an image you really like, through the car’s own connections of course, and display it. Ideal for business logos, advertising or your personalisation – as long as it’s honest, decent and legal, obviously. Everyone’s at it. Even tyre manufacturers are looking at cleaner, greener ways of producing the goods without the use of oil based products. The drive for technological advancement has hastened the speed at which even ideas that would have been considered fanciful a few years ago are now reality but the ultimate question is: how much change is the public willing to accept before techno-fatigue sets in? How long before we say ‘enough is enough – we like our cars the way they are!’

 

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