Archive | November, 2012

Surprising Subaru

Just when it seems that the automotive industry is all getting a bit dull and the usual vehicles are taking on the usual roles, a little ray of sunshine sometimes breaks through to illuminate something a bit different.

Subaru have obviously been building cars for years but they’ve never really broken through into the major league. Certainly they have a reputation for quality and class leading four wheel drives but they have never been seen to feature in the mass market, appealing more to the country set with cars like the Legacy and Forester. They do however, have a long and proud association within the world of rallying.

Well, now things are changing. The Subaru XV has been named SUV of the year by at least one set of judges. This move into the mainstream market may be as a result of the company’s tie-up with Toyota that has so far produced the stunningly good BRZ/GT86 sports car. Whatever, they seem to be onto a winner.

The experts reckon that in the highly contested sector of ‘crossover’ 4×4’s the new Subaru XV beats the more accepted offerings from Kia, Mazda and even mighty Audi. The car provides a mix of an enjoyable and involving on-road drive with real off-road ability. Fuel economy was also considered good for this sector.

One of the aspects of the product that really tipped the balance in Subaru’s favour was the company’s terrific customer care deal ‘Everything Taken Care Of’. The list of aftercare offerings in this package has to be seen to be believed and it is at no extra cost!

Lucky buyers will get minor dent and scratch repairs to body and alloys along with a monthly wash and an annual valet. How much is that worth in aggravation alone? An annual wheel alignment check, service collection and delivery and lost key replacement also feature. All this and more is in addition to the usual warranty. The dealer will even store your winter wheels and tyres for you and arrange a contribution to your insurance excess. How good is that?

So; an attractive all-rounder that starts at around £21k and is good to drive on and off road; has a range of decent engines and is good looking to boot has got to be worth considering. Subaru is apparently the Japanese word for the Pleiades cluster of celestial bodies, hence the badge. Why have the mundane when you can reach for the stars?

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Manual Man

Many cars are described as having an automatic or semi-automatic gearbox. Most will have an option to manually change gear using flappy paddles behind the steering wheel – the invention, incidentally, of a mysterious and secretive German engineer known only by his initials, DSG. It is the era of the techno car and everybody seems very happy about it.

But wait. In the UK at least – leaving aside the emotive issues of emissions and fuel economy for once – why do we need seven and eight speed gearboxes when the speed limit is just 70mph? Purists will wonder what was so wrong with four speeds and an overdrive switch which reduced engine revs when cruising in the highest gear.

The truth is that you’ve all gone soft and wimpy, frankly. Have you forgotten what driving is all about? Have you forgotten the feel of a well sprung clutch beneath your left foot (the only correct appendage for the job); the joy of seamlessly shifting a lever? Don’t you miss the cry of “sort ‘em out!” when you miss your gear selection or the terminal sound of stripping synchromesh? How quickly you forget.

Well, Jaguar haven’t forgotten that particular sporting need because in about a year or so they plan to offer fully manual gearboxes as an option on some of their cars. They understand that sports cars need a manual ‘box for that pure experience. It is likely to be offered first on the forthcoming F Type and subsequently on the prestige XF. The company has seen that as well as added driving fun there are also cost benefits too.

It’s obviously not for everybody though because the company are also considering a new nine-speed (!) ZF auto gearbox, not just in Jaguars but also some Land Rover models.

There is as yet no confirmation that they plan to offer some new accessories to those discerning drivers who choose the manual option. These may or may not include some delightfully retro string-back driving gloves, Hermes scarves for lady passengers, a nostalgic but branded wicker picnic hamper and possibly an amusing stick-on handlebar moustache.

Jaguar aren’t wrong though. There is something hugely enjoyable about driving a manual sports car that can’t be replicated through paddles. A feeling of being completely in control. It’s a welcome addition.

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Open Top Motoring

There is no other feeling quite like driving with the roof off. It feels entirely different from driving in a saloon. Not only do you feel the wind in your hair, but the sounds and the smells are different too. Birdsong and the sweet aromas of the countryside take on a different complexion. And once you have tried it, then it is likely that you will become addicted to it; in a recent survey, around 95 percent of people who own an open top say that their next car will be an open top too.

Modern open tops are every bit as safe to drive as saloons, though there are some precautions you need to take when driving one, as evidenced by what happened recently to a man in Germany who happened to have €23,000 in an envelope on his back seat. He had intended to use the money to pay for a car. The envelope was whisked away by the wind with the result that the driver left behind a paper trail of notes. The road was closed by the police for some time so that they could recover the cash and, surprisingly, €20,000 was returned to him.

So what to wear for open top motoring? If you have done much of it in the past then you will be aware of what a long journey can do to the skin. You might not notice at the time, but with the combination of wind and sunlight you are likely to arrive at your journey’s end with a bright red face which can take several days to fade to a mellower tan.

This can be avoided with the right head gear. The best kind of hat to wear is a peaked cap, and if you want to look cool then a peaked leather cap is a good choice. If you are an all-weather open topper, then why not match it up with a flying jacket? Not only will it keep you warm and cosy when the icy wind doth blow, that retro look is very stylish too, and that goes for both the boys and the girls. Soft leather driving gloves are also highly recommended.

In the olden days raising the roof was a manual job, but with modern open top cars you can raise and lower the roof at the touch of a button; the whole process takes just a few seconds. There are still many cloth tops around, though some modern open top cars have a metal roof which provides the best of both worlds, allowing you to enjoy the wind in your hair along with providing all the comfort and style of a coupe.

The fabrics used to make the roofs of modern soft tops are very different from those that were used in the past. In order to cut out much of the wind noise that one had to endure when the roof was down, many modern soft tops have a layer of insulation sandwiched between an outer and inner lining. This technology has been used on the new Vauxhall Cascada, a particularly stylish four seater convertible that will be launched in 2013. A feature of the car is that you can raise and lower the roof at speeds of up to 30 mph and it takes just seventeen seconds to do so, so you don’t need to actually stop when it starts to rain.


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Tips For Buying a Young Person Their First Car

Buying that first car for a young adult is an exciting time, but it also presents innumerable choices and decisions. Striking a balance between a car that looks good (which might matter more to them than you…), and something that is fuel efficient and safe can be challenging. So to that end, here are a few tips on what to consider when helping your son or daughter choose their first car:

What do they need from their car?
For a new driver at the wheel of their first car, an absolute priority should be comfort and safety. They need to feel in control of the car and be able to manoeuvre it with ease. So there’s no need to go for something big. Unless there are specific reasons not to, stick to something that is going to be easy to park and that won’t be overpowering.

You’ll want to get decent fuel efficiency out of the vehicle so go for an engine size between 1.6 and 1.9 litres. An engine in this size range will be efficient on the motorway, as long as the driver isn’t exceeding the speed limit. Bear in mind that a smaller car will be cheaper to insure, so this may also be a consideration.

Then there is the question of whether you should go for an automatic or manual gearbox. Any new driver in the UK will have learnt on a manual gearbox, and this is a really good skill to keep up. Driving a manual car discourages complacency in young drivers and avoids any sense that some of the responsibility around driving has been lifted. Learning how to control the car using the gears instead of always relying on the brakes for non-emergency slowing is also a really key skill. It is likely that they will have to drive other manual cars in the future so it is worth getting a really solid grounding on manual before possibly moving on to an automatic.

Should you go for new or second hand?
Going for a new car has the obvious benefits that you can be sure of the car’s history, and get the full warranty and service from the dealer. However, it is also going to be the most expensive option, and it creates demand for brand new cars when there are lots of great second hand cars with plenty of life left in them.

It is worth looking around for second hand car dealers, or someone selling a car in your area which you can go and check out. Be absolutely sure to test drive the car and get all the relevant paperwork before handing over any money – and always negotiate on the price. Make sure the car has been serviced recently and that you are given all the information about any potential issues.
If the seller is pushing you for a decision, try not to let the pressure get to you. It would be better to miss out than rush into something and then find that there are problems with the engine, tyres or brake pads (for example) that you weren’t aware of.

When you are choosing the right car for a first time driver it’s also really important to consider insurance. The cost of insurance will be affected by the age and experience of the driver, as well as the age of the car, safety features and engine size. This is another reason to consider a smaller car, and to think about adding features such as an immobiliser. This will help protect the car from theft and may also make decrease the cost of insurance.

When you take out that first insurance policy, ensure your son or daughter knows how important it is to build up their no claims. This is another incentive for safe driving to be their number one priority, and it makes the roads a safer place for everybody.

Whichever car you choose, make sure safety and efficiency are at the top of the list and you will have a happy and successful driver to go the supermarket for you.

This article was written by Caz Adlington on behalf of The opinions expressed are those of the author and any data provided does not originate from More Than.

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Life At The Crossroads

Driving is a bit like life. You move forwards for a bit and then are forced to stop. Sometimes you go backwards and sometimes you have to go in for repair. Occasionally you need servicing, but let’s not go there just now.

Just as on the road, in life there are signs and usually many of them. You are told what to do and where to go – sometimes literally; sometimes you need a bit of direction. It’s all very confusing. We do not come with built in satellite navigation.

How often have you sat at the traffic lights adrift in your own personal reverie? Had you been more alert you will have noticed other people watching you; that’s real people, not the spying Cyclops eyes.  This is because we are fascinated by other people’s behaviour and when we are cocooned in our cars we feel safe from life’s distractions and, just maybe, do things that are best left at home.

You know who you are. The nose pickers and the make-up retouchers; the orchestra conductors, the air-guitarists and the telephonists – remember the world is watching and it is talking about you. This is why certain people or groups of people become associated with various brands or types of cars.

The Ford Mondeo has always been a good car and each new version seems to improve greatly on the one before and yet the spectre of Mondeo Man still hangs over it like the Sword of Damocles. The driver is assumed to be a middle-manager or rep who gets drunk in anonymous chain hotels instead of going home to the family. It isn’t true (mostly) but that doesn’t stop the urban myth.

The person in the white van may be a priest and not a builder and the person in the Audi TT or Mercedes SL is not necessarily a hairdresser – although in fact they probably are. We are judged rightly or wrongly by what we drive, what we wear and how we choose to behave. If you buy a Cayman it is assumed that you cannot afford a 911; if you buy an electric car you are assumed to be a sandal-wearing tree-hugger and so on.

Just like being at the crossroads we read the signs and make our decisions, assuming them to be correct; but life, just like driving, is littered with potholes and cul-de-sacs. On the plus side it is the same for all of us, so we just put our foot down and see what’s around the next corner. One thing, though, that is absolutely the same for everyone is the fact that the thing that you most urgently need to find is always at the wrong end of a one-way street. That’s life.

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Tesla Perseverance Might Pay Off

Here we go again. Another electric car that is said to move the technology forward by another couple of notches. It’s from the American manufacturer Tesla who have, to be fair, persevered with electricity – even when most car makers worldwide are showing EV sales that are flatter than the West Siberian Plain – and are producing a new vehicle which goes on sale over the pond this year. The really irritating thing is that they might just have cracked the basic problem – a bit.

As ever, it’s range anxiety that puts British buyers off. That and the prices. Nevertheless, Tesla in America have received 13000 advance orders for their new Model S premium four door saloon. In the USA the asking price is expected to be priced from around $85000 (depending on the model) which in real money is about £54000, although you can bet your life that in the UK we will actually pay the dollar equivalent in pounds when the time comes.

The Model S is marketed to rival the BMW 5 Series or the Mercedes E-Class so it’s no shrinking violet. It certainly looks the part – it is a very nice design. The platform is laid out like a skateboard with a flat lithium-ion battery under the floor. In the top-of-the-range model this powers the 416bhp electric motor between the rear wheels.

Tesla reckon that this car will go for an impressive 300 miles between charges and shoots it to 60mph in a mere 4.4 seconds. It is probable though that those two figures aren’t really compatible and it is be expected that to achieve 300 miles will require some frugal driving without lights or air-con. We’ll see.

Because there is no proper engine there is masses of boot space front and rear. The principal feature inside is the massive 17-inch tablet style computer in the dash which drivers can use for the popular media functions as well as some car controls. There are few switches.

Early testers report that this physically big car handles well thanks to its low-slung ride on air suspension. The only drawback seems to be the amount of lateral grip provided by the seats. Apparently they could do with more bolstering when cornering. This oversight is probably because the Americans don’t really understand the concept of corners.

The overall impression is so far pretty favourable. To cater for all tastes the company will be produce a less powerful model that will have a more restricted range but it’s likely that the top version will be the one to buy. Does this car finally raise the EV bar or is it another false dawn of hope? No doubt all will become clear in the next couple of years.

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Bucking The Trend

As motoring costs spiral and economies crumble so drivers are turning to more and more frugal ways of getting around. Small cars that run on nothing more than fumes are the order of the day. Although motorists bemoan the fact that personal circumstance rather than personal preference now rule the forecourts of Britain, at least we can all take heart in the fact that, for some manufacturers, nothing ever changes. These are the dream factories; and there are few more dreamy than the one at Modena which bears the legendary name of Maserati.

They make two cars: a GT and the Quattroporte. As you all well know, the latter just means ‘four door’, but it’s in Italian. It’s a well known fact that an ardent suitor could read the Italian version of the Maserati specification catalogue to a beautiful woman and she would swoon into his manly arms convinced of his undying amore.

Maserati is an historic name with a bit of a reputation for being unreliable. Things are changing in the mechanical efficiency department but what hasn’t changed is their exquisite eye for automotive beauty. Somehow, amongst all the glossy futuristic offerings from the supercar brands, Maserati have retained a certain ageless elegance in their designs.

Take a look at the image. That’s the new Quattroporte and the company are going to introduce it at the Detroit Motor Show in January next year. Presumably, they’ve chosen the USA because the brand is mighty popular amongst more wealthy Americans.

Maserati are a bit cagey about the details but it is expected that the car will be considerably lighter thanks to aluminium body panels and a platform built from a steel/ali combination. Power is expected to come from a Ferrari 4.7L V8 punching out a healthy 500+ bhp. There’s a suggestion that there might also be a tamer V6 and even – whisper it quietly – a diesel. There’s been a big advance in fuel efficiency with this power plant, apparently.

With their continued success not only in America but also in the burgeoning Chinese market the company are at long last looking successful. So much so that they hope to be building some 50,000 units by 2015. Following on from this new prestige auto will be the baby brother, the Ghibli and there is also talk of an SUV presently named the Levante.

It is always a pleasure when a great name re-emerges into the light even if the price is out of reach to most buyers. Never mind – who knows what’s around the corner and what Lady Luck has in store for any of us. In the meantime we can just watch from afar like lovelorn teenagers. That’s amore.

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Top cars driven by British prime ministers

We’re all used to seeing images of the prime minister pulling up to meetings and other events in a swish car. This isn’t a new phenomenon either; British PMs have been chauffeured around in some of the best home-manufactured vehicles since they first started being made.

As such, it’s a bit difficult to pick just three of the most notable PM cars, but I’ve done my best with the below:

1) Humber Pullman (Winston Churchill)
Now, Mr Churchill used quite a few cars worthy of inclusion in this list, even the humble Austin 10hp (which he had during the war and was only able to reach a maximum speed of 60 mph!). But the Humber Pullman was perhaps the stateliest of the lot. The luxury limousine began being manufactured before the outbreak of World War II, but sales were restricted to the government and military officials once the conflict started.

Mr Churchill wasted no time in making the car his own by having an extra large ashtray installed to accommodate the ashes from his undoubtedly marathon cigar-smoking sessions (something that seems to have been a trend among British PMs, as I’ll describe later on). Humber Pullmans are a bit of a rarity now, unfortunately, due to production ending in 1954, but one of the last models to have been made can be seen at the Louwman Museum in The Hague.

2) Jaguar XJ (David Cameron)
It stands to reason that the most modern of the PMs’ cars should be in a list of the best, if only for the mind-boggling array of high-tech features it has. Mr Cameron’s Jaguar XJ, which was acquired last year, raised a few eyebrows due to its extremely high cost (£200,000, apparently), but it’s reported to have pretty much everything you can think of and more to ensure the PM, his fellow passengers and the driver can be as safe as possible, as the threat of terrorist attacks remains potent.

I do like the sleek lines of the XJ a lot, but I can’t help but feel that Jaguar isn’t quite as British a brand as it used to be now it’s owned by an Asian company. However, with the PM still a firm fan of the marque and the manufacturer apparently remaining true to the design ethos of the company when it was in British hands, I’ll let that go this one time!

3) Rover P5B (Harold Wilson)
Harold Wilson followed the example set by Mr Churchill by having massive ashtrays fitted in his powerful Rover P5B, a car so well liked that the next PM, Margaret Thatcher, decided to keep it for a time, too. The Queen also has more than a few P5Bs in her own fleet, so I think I can safely say that this particular set of wheels is hard to beat as a top choice for Britain’s high-ranking officials!

What I like about the P5B is the fact it very definitely looks like a car fit for a prime minister, even if it does look dated now when compared with the likes of the Jaguar XJ. It was also a bit of a beast on the road, as the engine’s technology came from US powerhouse Buick, hence the ‘B’ tacked on to the original P5 name. This is certainly what PMs should be looking for when it comes to an official car, in my opinion – something that looks slightly imposing and can outpace pretty much anything else on the roads!

Are you a civil servant looking for a new set of wheels? Money-off deals for Prospect members are available through associations like CSMA Club.

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Tempting Adam

We mentioned the forthcoming Vauxhall Adam last month on Motor Blogger; now we’re pleased to say that it has been road tested by the experts and jolly well it’s done too. This small funky car comes in three trim levels amusingly named Glam, Jam and Slam. It seems a shame that a rumoured fourth option – the Spam – isn’t to be made available as it was said to be a bit meatier than the others. The idea got canned, apparently.

In a field of very attractive small cars the Adam more than holds its own in the looks department. That’s it in the picture. Road testers are reporting that it is an excellent drive, with a choice of three engines to choose from. Unfortunately at this point in time the company have missed a trick by not including a road tax busting motor emitting less than 99g/km. That seems like an oversight which maybe they‘ll rectify in due course.

The competition online casino in the small car sector is fierce indeed. Citroen‘s DS3, the Fiat 500, the ubiquitous Mini and the virtuous Audi A1 are also vying for the popularity prize; not to mention the plethora of city cars on the market just now.

The car’s design has a family resemblance – something that most manufacturers are doing these days. There are so many options that no two Adam’s need look the same. Anyone not especially interested in personalisation to that degree will be pleased to note that some of the most desirable kit is built in as standard. Alloy wheels, cruise, Bluetooth and air-conditioning all make onto even the base model. For many buyers that’s possibly enough.

All the versions drive through a five speed gearbox with stop-start as an option, and should deliver a healthy fifty plus miles for every hard-earned gallon. On the road it provides lively if not dramatic performance from the small engines but it’s real joy is in the handling department. The steering is perfectly weighted and the brakes strong. Ride is firm, as you might expect, but never uncomfortable.

A highlight is apparently the IntelliLink infotainment centre. This is a reasonable cost option that brings with it a high level of connectivity delivered through a big touch screen. Indispensable in this information age, we should think.

It is clear that, like the other new offerings in the Vauxhall catalogue, the company have invested a lot of thought, time and effort into making this terrific little car and they should have a success on their hands. If though, when you’re out and about, you come across one called the Scam – walk away. Not an option.

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Clamping Down On Clampers

Anyone who has stood arguing with some brainless hulk who has just stuck a big yellow clamp on your car wheel without – as you see it – good cause, will know how frustrated and impotent you can feel. For old folks it can also be a very frightening experience.

What’s worse, if you do have the, how shall we say, skills to deal with the odious ratbag you then become a criminal in the eyes of the law. In short, you can’t win in these situations.

Thankfully and not before time, our MP’s have now made it illegal to clamp a car on private land. That’s right – in case you weren’t aware, as of the 1st October 2012 it is now against the law to immobilise your motor. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to on-road parking.

Here at Motor Blogger we like to keep abreast of the news because it is surprising how many people are unaware of this change. This means that unscrupulous clampers could still take advantage of the unwary. If caught parking illegally (if you remember all the fuss about poor or non-existent signage on private car parks) the landowner can still demand your personal details and require some recompense. Drivers should also be aware that the DVLA is legally obliged (!) to sell vehicle licence information to private parking companies. Over seventy percent of you – the innocent – think this is wrong.

The answer of course is to ensure you are rightfully parked. This latest news is a step in the right direction and it makes sense to know your rights. Did you know, for example, that there will soon be an independent tribunal service to help drivers challenge unfair parking tickets issued on private land? Full marks if you did but most didn’t when asked. Watch this space for news on that.

Parking on private property has always been a risky business as there are many dodgy characters out there all too keen to rip off the motorist. Always check signage and if in doubt take some photos of the location and the signs. Pay your fee, don’t overstay your welcome and know your rights.

In typical fashion there has not been much in the way of government public information issued to let us know about these changes. The new legislation has come out with a whimper rather than a bang. As ever, this leaves it up to us to get the facts. No change there then. Be sure that you do.

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