Archive | June, 2012

Furry Dice To Make A Comeback?

Since the dawning of time a certain portion of the population have modified and pimped their rides. Some customisation jobs make you look at the car and driver and wonder what exactly they were thinking of and from which brain disease they were suffering. The addition of many spoilers and spinners do not make for a better car and, even for the most basic of models, resale value is sure to be reduced; unless, of course, the seller can find an equally idiotic buyer.

In the same way that neutral colours are supposed to be beneficial in the sale of houses, so a conservative outlook with your car will ensure it can be promptly sold. This is what happens when a buyer, in the interests of giving his new car purchase a bit of individuality, goes overboard with the options list. The market dictates, for example, that boring silver cars hold their value whilst green and maroon ones lose money faster than a fallen favourite. White cars – formerly described by dealers as ‘60 day white’ because of the difficulty in shifting them off the forecourts – is now the most popular colour. Tastes change but nobody wants pointless pimping.

Unless you have an ear of such fine tune that only the finest harmonics will do, there is no good reason for speccing-up the sound system or fitting some after-market job. At resale time, it will not add value and neither will over-the-top leather trim options, odd colours or massive sparkly alloy wheels. Although they may look good, ordering larger wheel options can defeat the object. Bigger wheels cost more in tyres, may make the ride less comfortable and are easier to kerb, causing costly damage. Even complex climate control systems, good as they are, don’t add value. Everybody expects some basic air-con these days (how ever did we manage before it?) but most buyers won’t be looking specifically at that option when researching their purchase.

There are, however, some options which will help to keep value in your precious wheels. If it’s not fitted as standard, a buyer will always find a satellite navigation option in the lists. Here in the UK we like our sat-navs. Many drivers have foresworn paper maps in favour of clip-on devices but it looks so much better if the system is built in. The built-in option always seems to be eye-wateringly expensive compared to mobiles but most of that money will come back at sale time, so it’s quite a smart investment.

Bluetooth, another invention which makes one wonder what life was like before it, is a must. These days most so-called infotainment centres have it built in and will pair with one or more mobile phones stashed about ones person. Then there’s reversing sensors – they make sense on any vehicle. Quality, useful extras of this type will always help a car to depreciate less.

It pays to be careful what you order. Think about the options before you specify them and ask yourself if they will add value. And the furry dice? Not a problem when it comes to resale because you just untie them from the rear-view mirror and fit them straight into your new motor. Stylish.

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Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Technology is all around us, all of the time. As fast as a new gadget or gizmo is released so it is almost immediately superseded by a new model. How long can we go on like this? Ultimately, there is only so much that technological wizardry can do for us before it all becomes stale and we start to yearn for a simpler time. Cars are a good case in point.

Back in the dark ages of twenty or thirty years ago ABS was about as advanced as things got. The act of driving required of a driver some measure of ability to safely maintain progress without getting into a tank- slapper on every corner or arriving at a braking point in a lock-up slide. Now we have ESP, lane departure warnings and cars that can reverse themselves. Is it any wonder that driving skill is being subsumed by the technology that is trying to save us from ourselves.

The latest piece of kit that is likely to arrive on cars in the near future will replace the good old rear view mirror with a video screen in front of you, using the latest smartphone technology. Apparently, one of the benefits will be to reduce dazzle from high beam lights behind you – and we all thought that was what dipping mirrors were for. It will also help with those cars which have small rear windows. How many of those in common use can you name?

This is something that has come from Audi ’s boffins and it is going to be tested on their Le Mans car. They are not promising anything yet but this could well turn up on new road cars in the near future. It seems that the camera/screen combination will adjust almost instantly to combat blurred images and vibrations from bumpy roads – so that’s most of Britain then. It may well also incorporate other driver information.

Meanwhile, over at Morgan Cars, they have announced their new Plus 8. Unlike most of the bland, complicated offerings from mainstream manufacturers this car has a powerful V8 motor and good old rear-wheel drive but there are few electronic aids. Anti-lock brakes and power steering are all you get for your money. It has proper round dials, round wing mirrors and round headlamps; in short, a proper car that will be unforgiving of sloppy driving. In the middle of the windscreen there’s the bog standard mirror we’re all used to. In a nod to modern times, however, it does get a CD player!

Manufacturers put this techno stuff on cars because they can, not because we need it. It makes motors increasingly more complex and reliant on dealers at ever escalating costs. Repairs are often out of the question as replacement parts are usually the only option and, boy, do we pay for it. It is no good playing the safety card because technology will make drivers more careless, not less, as they let the car do their thinking and driving for them. What’s next for the driving test? Mirror, Video, Manoeuvre?

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BMW Reaches Out To Toyota

Next month BMW will introduce new models to its refreshed 3 Series range of cars to help the company keep pace with competitors. There’ll be an xDrive version – that’s 4×4 to you and me – available on only one engine option. Perhaps more significantly the company will offer a hybrid version.

It is called the ActiveHybrid 3 and it will be powered by a three litre six cylinder turbo-charged engine coupled with a 40kW electric motor. The combination will generate a satisfying 340bhp and a chunky 450Nm of torque, so no slouch then. Apparently the car will travel less than three miles on electric power alone but it is not meant to be an extended range electric car. With a stated consumption figure of 47.9mpg (so probably 40 in the real world) and a decent emission figure of 139g/km the car is sure to attract business users for its 18% company car tax rate.

In line with the trend for manufacturers to co-operate with each other to save money on research and development, BMW have reached their hands across the sea to Toyota in a bid to work together on hybrid and electric technology. In recent years the Germans have preferred to collaborate with their neighbours at Peugeot Citroen. Lately though, the cash-strapped French have been batting their eyes at General Motors who they see as a better partner. An alliance between the Germans and the Japanese now looks more mutually beneficial.

As a matter of some urgency, BMW really need to reduce the overall emissions target for the company to 101g/km by 2020, which means adding some health-giving hybrids and EV’s to the range in the next few years. Toyota will offer lithium-ion battery research in exchange for some of BMW’s brilliant diesel engines to bolster their slightly weak image in Europe. In the next few years we can expect to see Beemers running with Toyota hybrid power trains. The Japanese manufacturer would also expect to get in on the ground floor with the cutting edge lightweight materials to be used in future on a large scale on BMW’s forthcoming Megacity electric car, presently code-named the i3.

The xDrive 3 Series is BMW’s answer to Audi’s four wheel drive A4 and their over-arching plan seems to be to ensure that their range of cars, big and small, are a match for the best from other factories and especially top-end brands like Lexus and Infiniti. BMW are already extremely well regarded by drivers and are clearly keen to ensure their place at the top of the league tables.

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Defensive Driving

We are all aware of the cost of car insurance and the rise in criminal claims. To counter this it could well be time for you to consider your driving technique and avoid complacency. A serious student of driving will want to take the advanced drivers training and test but this costs money. In the meantime here are a couple of hints and tips to help you stay safe on the roads. No charge.

Defensive driving, rather obviously, aims at reducing risk on the road by taking responsibility for your actions. Rule number one – assume the worst. If someone is tail-gating you or pressing you to speed up – slow down and allow them to overtake if it is safe to do so. If in doubt, pull over. It only adds a few seconds to your journey. The same applies to cars in front of you. You may be about to full victim to a ‘slam-on’ scam, particularly on a quiet road. This is when criminals make you hit them from the rear by suddenly slowing down. They then claim against you. Assume responsibility and don’t tailgate but rather widen the gap regardless of whether you suspect criminal intent or not.

Remember the ‘two-second rule’. The rule is that a driver should ideally stay at least two seconds behind any vehicle that is directly in front of the driver’s vehicle. The two-second rule is useful as it can be applied to any speed. It is equivalent to one vehicle-length for every 8 km/h (5 mph) of the current speed, but drivers can find it difficult to estimate the correct distance from the car in front, let alone remember the stopping distances that are required for a given speed. The two-second rule gets around these problems, and provides a simple and common-sense way of improving road safety.

To estimate the time, a driver can wait until the rear end of the vehicle in front passes any fixed point on the roadway – for example, a road sign. However, don’t take your eyes off the vehicle for more than a second or that would defeat the purpose. As you count to yourself the elapsed time in seconds, the front of your car should pass the same point no less than two seconds later. If the elapsed time is less than this, increase the distance between you and so on.

Defensive drivers learn to scan the road ahead and not be fixated on the car in front. The idea is that you look ahead wherever possible for potential hazards or happenings. A car five vehicles up may show brake lights which means the cars in front of you are likely to brake as well. Leaving plenty of space fore and aft allows you to brake in good time and gives an emergency exit route should the need arise.

These are just a couple of suggestions. Good drivers can no doubt add plenty of their own. The main thing is to maintain your presence on the road through careful but assertive driving. It may not make any difference to your premiums but you and yours will be safer.

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The Worst Cars We’d Love To Own

It is impossible to list and describe all the terrible cars ever built without having an article the length of Doctor Zhivago and its less successful sequel: DZ2 – Lara‘s Revenge. Some cars are so dreadful or hopeless or terrifying that they should be blotted from the collective memory but others are so disastrously awful that they have, by some bizarre quirk, become desirable. Many people collect or own classic cars that have held their place in the pantheon of greatness and more often than not they are really expensive. So why not own cars that nobody else would touch with a bargepole? At least they’ll be cheap.

Reader – I give you the Zunndapp Janus (pictured in its prime). This is the only car that appears to be going in two directions at once and resembles a child‘s push-me-pull-you toy. Not only is it a monumentally stupid idea but, with that name, it sounds like an affliction of a delicate part of one’s anatomy. It was made in 1957 and is based on a prototype by the German manufacturer, Dornier. It sports a 14hp, 250cc engine and can manage 50mph but the real genius of this car is that the back seat faces rearwards affording your passengers the fun of watching a giant Mack truck bear down upon them. I really, really want this car.

As with any form of business, risks must sometimes be taken. It is a nice idea to name a car after the deceased son of the company’s founder but the Edsel Ford was a car too far. In the late 1950’s the American public were not noted for their taste in the automotive department but even they baulked at a vehicle which looks like the ceremonial barge of an eastern potentate. Try parking one at the supermarket!

Some cars can, however, achieve classic car status, despite a flaw that sent the buying public running in the opposite direction. The NSU Ro80 was and still is a great looking car and it ran on a Wankel engine. Now, Mazda have proved that rotary engine technology works but the NSU drank petrol faster than Rab C Nesbitt can down a wee swally. The rotor tips in the engine wore out constantly and engine rebuilds every 30k were commonplace – if you could find a UK mechanic who knew how to fix it.

Even Aston Martin caught an almost fatal cold with the ill-fated Lagonda. The design was and is astonishing and the dashboard would have done justice to the starship Enterprise but it was those very electronics that sounded the death knell. The first example was so bad as to be un-driveable and every one of the 645 built had problems. The other drawback was the stupendous price buyers had to pay for all that 1970’s technology that didn’t work. A shame.

DeLorean, Trabant, any Cadillac, the dreaded Yugo, the dull Ford Scorpio and many others have all gone down the pan in one way or another and yet, in some perverse way, they are all collectors cars. History will show there is place for any of them – under a tarpaulin.

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Turning Over A New Leaf

Understandably, considering the amount of investment involved, Nissan would appreciate it very much if we would all buy an electric Leaf as soon as possible. To encourage us in this green endeavour they are using social media to promote their zero-emission cars. The campaign is called ‘The Big Turn-on’, which is a 100 day labour of love to demonstrate the benefits of electric vehicles, and to bust the myths that surround them through online influencers, owners, and celebrities. No doubt the terrible play on words was deliberate. In the interest of your sanity Motor Blogger will try to avoid using daft puns and the like in the rest of this article.

Those bright sparks at Nissan say that the idea behind the campaign is to encourage communities to support electric vehicles. They’ve got a website of the same name – as well as using the social sites as conduits – where prizes can be won and information gained. The original plan was to get one million people switched on to the Nissan Leaf but they have achieved that easily, Europe wide.

The city that achieves the most ‘turn-ons’ (and there was us thinking that Amsterdam has had that record for years) wins 30 Quick Chargers – which can give an 80% charge in 30 minutes – and the company plan to donate some 400 in all to aid the current efforts to speed up the electric infrastructure development. Additionally the most successful ‘influencer’ in each country will win a new Leaf.

As well as encouraging European drivers to consider the benefits of zero-emission motoring they also want to show that the Leaf is safe, environmentally friendly and cheap to run. They suggest that the vehicle range is sufficient for most local daily journeys. This would depend on the frequency, obviously. Mind you, range anxiety aside, the Leaf is a good car, winning top prizes on the award circuit around the world. It has achieved the five star safety rating from NCAP and comes with the expected air-con, sat-nav and parking extras.

Nissan say that the AC motor in the car develops 80kw of power and an impressive 280Nm of torque from its in-house developed laminated lithium-ion battery. Over night 100% charging from a normal source will take eights hours as is usual these days so no shocks there.

The drive towards electric motoring seems to be gaining pace despite the efforts of the nay-sayers. So why not log-on and turn-on to the Nissan Leaf?

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Twenty Years Of Guilt

That’s how we were made to feel. It is as if by the very act of driving we were committing a crime and it’s almost as if, on that fateful day on the A316 in Surrey when the first Gatso speed camera was switched on, it signalled the start of what many see as the surveillance society.

That’s right: it’s been twenty years since the introduction of the yellow peril and its associated brethren. They are, of course, properly called safety cameras or similar pious names but in the mind of motorists everywhere they will always be speed cameras and be seen as being nothing short of automated revenue collectors.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. That first camera was in a 40mph zone and was, in fact, set to record offenders doing more than 60. In short, it gave drivers a sporting chance. The general attitude was that most drivers had a bit of common sense and understood that speed limits were there I’m in my driver’s seat at local track events competing or attending performance adult school keeping up to date on the advancements of car handling techniques. for a reason; the camera served as a reminder. The purpose of the device was to capture the worst offenders at a notorious traffic black spot. Now of course you can be prosecuted at will and the authorities will apply the strict letter of the law. There is no longer any give or take.

It all stems from authorities knowing an angle when they see it – the proverbial gift horse. Home Office figures show that in the year 2000 something like six hundred thousand drivers were nabbed in England and Wales. In 2007 the numbers had risen stratospherically to 1.8 million poor souls roughly coughing up £100 million large. The so-called ‘Safety Camera Partnerships’ started in this period, presumably on the basis that if you spot a winner then you might as well get on it. During this time the number of cameras tripled.

This is not a diatribe against speed cameras and other devices. In their place, at accident black spots, they are a good thing – if only to remind driver’s of their responsibilities. But the following piece of information is enough to show that the system became tainted. The more cameras were installed, the more people slowed down with the net result that income per camera actually dropped. The answer was to lower the trigger speed. For example, if a limit was set at 30mph, the camera was set to trigger at 40 to catch the worst offenders. As income dropped so trigger speeds were reduced to snare more people into the net. This is underhand and seems to show that income became more important than road safety.

So, happy birthday Gatso. It wasn’t your fault. Sadly you are being replaced with more sinister methods of watching our every move. The guilt lies with your human masters.

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Are We Nearly There Yet? (Part Two)

When it comes to buying a new car, or a used car come to that, the car that we want is the car that we want, right? Wrong. The car that we really want is the car that that we need. For most of us this is the financial reality in today’s economic situation when just the one motor is your limit. This obviously isn’t so much of a problem if you are single and fancy free but the family man has to have a different set of priorities.

Having children is a strangely anomalous state. It is wonderful, terrifying, frustrating and hugely annoying in pretty much equal measures and has a major and lifelong effect on your existence. Children in cars are often responsible for the hugely annoying bit, as we have seen earlier on Motor Blogger. So what sort of car is it that parents can happily buy in the certain knowledge that your children, at least, will be moderately content?

Clearly, you’ll need to satisfy yourself on the basics – economy, performance, optional extras and the like but then you’ve got to factor in the ankle-biters. The AA, bless them, have supplied a list of downloadable fun and games online to keep children amused at least for some of the duration of a long journey. They’re good too, but we’re also concerned with practical aspects.

The average family would probably favour a hatchback over a saloon for obvious reasons but what about the back seats? Naturally, you would go for a five door and it is useful if the back doors open wide – which implies a larger vehicle, like an SUV or MPV. Loading small ones into difficult to access child seats is not a lot of fun. This is where sliding rear doors come into their own. The 7 seat Ford Grand C-Max (pictured), for example, has sliding doors and a variable rear seat layout for maximum child effectiveness.

Some manufacturers also supply so-called ‘stadium seating’ – the rear seats are higher than the fronts – which gives kids a better forward view and is alleged to reduce travel sickness. And speaking of projectile vomiting, don’t worry about leather seats as they are a lot easier to swab down! It might be a good idea to avoid beige.

A twelve volt socket is a must, for plugging in hand-held games or, if you can afford the option, how about seat-back DVD screens for the more discerning square-eyed child. The average family car also requires more storage space than Cheryl Cole’s (né e Tweedy, for the purists) dressing room. It wasn’t so many years ago that we marvelled at the advent of the cup-holder. How naïve we must have been back then.

Most car makers have suitable offerings so it’s worth doing your homework first. The outcome is unlikely to be the sexiest option but both you and your children will be happier and that’s the important thing.

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Small But Perfectly Formed

My Citroen C1 has just returned from rugged North Yorkshire en route to which and during its stay it encountered all sorts of roads, terrains and weather. It ran through the briars and it ran through the brambles. It ran through the places where the rabbits wouldn’t go. It ran so fast that a Hummer couldn’t catch it – all through the dales of Yorkshire and on to Scarboro’. This little car has performed faultlessly. It kept up with the big boys and went down lanes too narrow for them. And they call them city cars. Frankly, my car laughs in the face of such sobriquets.

The point is that these small cars are growing up. Sure, a motorway express is always going to be better for long journeys, no question, but what if you can’t afford one or indeed afford to run one now that motoring costs have risen out of all proportion? Motor companies are beginning to understand that tastes are changing. For some, it is because the drip – drip – drip of the green lobby has finally worn them down and for some, to be fair, it is because they are genuine believers. Either way, small modern cars are becoming increasingly popular for all the right reasons.

For some of the more unscrupulous in the halls of government this is a worrying trend. Revenue from fuel and road tax is falling. Expect any day now for the VED rates to be ‘re-aligned’ to bring healthy electric cars into the tax bands, even though they were supposed to be exempt. The Citroen C1 pays only £20pa now and sips petrol so don’t be surprised if the fuel price stays artificially high. Just to remind you – this is the party that castigated those labour chappies for their ‘war on motorists’. Ha!

If you keep the revs up the Citroen C1 has zippy performance, The same presumably goes for the Toyota Aygo and Peugeot 107 because they are, effectively, the same car. It can only be a matter of time, as drivers adjust to smaller vehicles, that manufacturers will start to offer hotter versions of their baby cars. In fact, it has started already with the news that both SEAT and Skoda have shown concept versions of a Mii FR and a Citigo Rally, respectively; both were revealed at the GTI Treffen Tuning Festival in Austria. It is suggested that the SEAT Mii FR will not have any chassis or tuning upgrades, just that it will look ‘the business’. No word yet on performance upgrades for the Skoda Citigo Rally but it does look like a miniature Fabia S2000 rally car (pictured above with optional accessory). Brilliant!

As far as most regular drivers on regular budgets are concerned, the larger car may well have had its day. In the not too distant future small city cars are going to be big.

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The Alpine Berlinette Turns 50

Some cars are just so gorgeous, so iconic, that you can scarcely breathe in their presence. The Alpine A110, popularly known as the Berlinette, is a French sports car built, unsurprisingly, by Alpine and powered by Renault engines. It was made from 1961 to 1977 in various versions and in this writers humble opinion is the best looking sporting car ever – and I don’t say that lightly.

The car was once famous for beating all-comers in rally sport, initially with the famous Gordini engines which developed – wait for it – 95bhp at 6500rpm. The car reached international fame during the 1970-1972 seasons when it participated in the newly created International Manufacturers Championship, winning several events around Europe and being considered one of the strongest rally cars of its time. In the hands of the brilliant Ove Andersson it won the 1971 Monte Carlo Rally. Sadly, by 1974, it was starting to show its age and, although the company tried substituting new fangled fuel injection instead of Weber carburation, no extra power could be gained and the car had to give best to the mighty and infamous Lancia Stratos.

In honour of its noble heritage, designers at Renault have come up with the concept Renault Alpine A 110-50, dedicated to performance and driving enjoyment. That’s it in the snap. If you compare it with the original cars (look for pictures on the web and be in awe) you’ll see all the design cues from 50 years ago shining through. They’ve built the new car out of carbon fibre and painted it in a new shade of blue which refreshes and reinterprets the famous original ‘Alpine Blue’.

The Renault designers of this modern beauty have ‘reinterpreted’ (that’s designer language for ‘sort of copied’) the styling but, for future reference, have also included the new design ‘language’ first introduced in 2010 in the DeZir concept at the Paris Motor Show. The front end of the DeZir is expected to be pretty much be the face of future Renaults and you can see it clearly in the Concept Alpine.

Inside, the Concept Alpine has a steering wheel, designed in-house, incorporating a colour screen and including the same technology as a Formula Renault 3.5L single-seater to provide drivers with all the information they need. But it’s not all for show. The efficiency of the new car is largely generated by ground effect created by a hidden splitter in the front bumper which generates significant down force. Add to this a 3.5L engine driving the rear wheels through a six speed semi-automatic box and you’ve got a true sports car worthy of the name of its illustrious predecessor. If only they’d actually produce it! Va Va Voom!

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