Archive | June, 2013

Cars in the Middle of the Road

Not literally, obviously. That would be dangerous. Yet there are cars that are there, just like the sort of inoffensive music played in elevators, but not really noticeable. Motors that are broadly popular but not really what you’d call avant-garde, either technically or aesthetically.

The problem seems to be that manufacturers – in their quest to shift more product – have to some extent forgotten to make their family cars exciting and great to drive. Remember the original Ford Focus? Now there’s an MOR car if ever there was one and yet it had a driving dynamism that put it way ahead of the competition in the ride and handling department. Sadly, subsequent models have somehow slowly lost that magical ‘something’ as the pursuit of comfort and lifestyle modifications have added weight and lost interest in those performance values, like a lardy athlete.

Make no mistake. The Focus is still a great car. It remains one of the best handling cars in its class and Ford really seems to have cracked that ideal compromise. Nevertheless, the spark seems to have gone out of not just the Focus but also all the similar competition. Certainly, if a driver wants a really shouty car for a true driving experience then Ford oblige with the outstanding ST but otherwise…where’s the fun?

All car makers building for the MOR market are guilty of this whether they are based in Europe or the Far East. There’s no such thing as a bad car anymore and most are reliable, well made and pretty good value. It’s just that car design has changed. No doubt we’d call it progress but those early motor engineers who strived to squeeze out that extra mph and make a car that goes around corners as if it was on rails have been replaced by designers and IT consultants who want to engineer our lifestyle. The magic of motoring has, to a large extent, gone.

What’s needed perhaps is for some enlightened individual to re-think what sort of car we want. Given the amount of restrictions placed on drivers – both good or bad – out and out speed cannot be in the equation, so it comes down to cars that handle well and put a bit of fun back into our driving routine. Some have still got what it takes. The rest are just motoring musak.

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New Nissan Note Strikes The Right Chord

Now that’s a bit more like it. The car in the images is the new Nissan Note. It is available to order now for delivery around October time. It will set buyers back a minimum of £11,900. A few styling refreshments make all the difference and the new look Note now seems worthy of a serious challenge in the packed B-Sector, where it will be up against Ford’s mighty Fiesta and the like.

The current model has always been well made, easy to drive and with a roomy and versatile interior. It has been very popular within a certain portion of the car buying public who want good reliable transport above all else. Image means nothing, which, if we’re frank, is just as well because the present car is like a dutiful school swot – a bit dull and never any trouble.Nissan2 New Nissan Note Strikes The Right Chord

The new four door Note will be built at the all-conquering Sunderland plant right here in the UK. Safety first seems to be the watch-words. Under the heading ‘Safety Shield’ buyers will find a system that links three different safety devices under one comprehensive protection package.

This system is monitored by a unique self-cleaning camera which keeps the driver fully informed. Additionally, Nissan’s ‘Around View Monitor’ is making its first appearance in this sector and offers a full 360° birds-eye view for all round reversing security.

There’ll be a choice of three engines at launch. A 1.2L three cylinder job, a 1.2L supercharged DIG-S version (which also offers a CVT transmission) and the now ubiquitous 1.5L diesel. The DIG-S (Direct Injection) has a more sporting appearance as might be suggested by the supercharger; but this is a family car so don’t expect brutal performance or any of that nonsense. The ‘charger in this car is more about emissions than power with a tax-busting 99g/km on offer with the manual gearbox.

As ever, there will be various trim levels and a host of standard features and alternative options which will include all that we expect these days in any car. As a compact family car with the emphasis absolutely on economy and versatility the Nissan Note scores well. It even looks the part now too. Whether or not it succeeds against the more dynamic alternatives in the sector remains to be seen; but with Nissan’s terrific track record recently (as the number of Juke’s and Qashqai’s on the road attests) then this car is almost certain to strike the right Note.

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Used Car Mileage Lottery

Once, a lot of fuss was made about shady, medallion toting used car dealers with dubious moustaches who would leave a Gideon Bible on the back seat and swear the car had been owned by a nun. Those days are long gone. Today, the crooks are way more professional than the spivs of old and the average car buyer really needs to stay on the ball.

According to HPI, the long established worldwide car data company, one in three cars have what is described as a ‘hidden history’. Potential buyers of used cars, they say, should ensure they establish their legal rights before buying a used car. Obviously the company wants more people to use their services but it is surprising the number of people who do not employ a data checker before they buy. It’s not as if it costs a lot of money. Buy a car that has been stolen, for instance, and you’ll have to give it back to the original owner. You won’t get your money back.

Regardless of whether you buy through a dealer or a private seller you’ve got to do your homework. There are some tempting bargains and some very plausible vendors, especially in the private sector. As we always say on Motor Blogger, if something looks too good to be true then it probably is. The only rule that governs private sellers is that ‘the car must not be mis-described’. So, as they say in all the best Latin textbooks – caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.

You could try suing of course; that’s if you can find the bloke you bought it from. Some say that he might be in Marbella, but you can never be sure. Recourse to the law could also be expensive, leaving you out of pocket. Better then to play safe.

It doesn’t take a minute to enter a registration online, pay the fee, and get the information you need. You can even do it over the phone, as you view the vehicle. These checks will tell you if the car has been reported stolen, if there is outstanding finance or if it has been in an accident or written off. HPI also owns the National Mileage Register which holds records on over 150 million motors, so it is easy to check if the odometer seems right.

The car should come with a full set of paperwork. The V5 registration document, ideally a full service history and an MOT, if appropriate. If buying from a dealer and you really feel like pushing the boat out you can check on the history of the business as well. A good dealer should have conducted their own checks. It helps a buyer’s peace of mind if the dealer is a member of the Retail Motor Industry Federation or have signed up to the Motor Codes Scheme. Research these for more detail. The Office of Fair Trading or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau have plenty of free consumer advice available. There’s really no need to buy a lemon.

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Hot Wheels From Kia

In the crowded hot hatch sector, enthusiastic drivers have never had so much choice. All the usual suspects are there sporting GTI badges or something similar. Some are better than others; most are pretty good. So why, it is fair to wonder, would Kia try to elbow their way into this testosterone filled motoring mosh pit.

Let’s be frank here. When Kia first appeared on the market they were not, to be charitable, very good cars. Those days are now gone and their automotive offerings are very good indeed; excellent value and a decent drive have meant that the brand has burgeoned in popularity with their range of good value family cars of which the Cee’d stands out. Add to that an impressive seven year warranty across the range and business is looking sweet.

So why then has the company decided to enter the fray up against some mighty and established competition? The Kia pro_cee’d GT goes on sale in three-door form next month and will cost around £20,000. A little more if the buyer opts for the three or five year all inclusive service and care package which looks to be good value. A five door is expected next year.KIA2 Hot Wheels From Kia

OK; so it’s a good looking hot hatch, competitively priced but what makes it special? 0-60mph is achieved in a decent, but not class leading, 7.4 seconds – achieved by flooring the 1.6L T-GDi engine. (Don’t worry – it’s not a diesel, it’s a Turbocharged Gasoline Direct Injection). This develops 201bhp at 6,000rpm. This is the first problem.

Just as an example the refined SEAT Ibiza Cupra produces less brake horse power but is actually faster, as are most of the opposition. Buyers select these flyers because they deliver great performance for relatively low cost and it is hard to see how Kia can make any inroads into the sector. The GT has a six-speed ’box and there is no paddle option which seems like an oversight.

That said, this car is very well priced and has the Kia seven year warranty which helps to make it a more attractive proposition. Also, it could well appeal to the keen driver who wants a sporty drive but still expects comfort and practicality; something, it has to be said, that is not available on some of the more hairy-chested hot hatches. Insurance is likely to be more keenly priced as well, so maybe KIA are on to something after all. Let’s hope the car is well received upon release.

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Three Million Mile Volvo

Just once in a while it is nice to come across a story that demonstrates in this hurly-burly disposable world that some relationships are built to last. Such is the case with 73 year old Irv Gordon and his 1966 Volvo P1800.

Fans of ancient creaking TV shows will know that this is the car similar to that driven by Roger Moore as The Saint. Fans of the P1800 know that this programme formed the basis of, in the UK at least, the popularity of this car which remains an eminently collectible classic today.

Forty seven years ago, on a Friday, Irv went to his local Volvo dealer and purchased his brand new, shiny red P1800; and he’s lovingly kept it ever since. The real beauty of this story is that he didn’t hide the car away for posterity, it was his daily driver. In the first weekend of ownership he put 1500 miles on the clock.IRV2 Three Million Mile Volvo

The retired science teacher hails from Patchogue N.Y., and he holds the Guinness Book of Records recognition for the most miles driven by one owner in a non-commercial vehicle. When working, he had a daily round trip that covered 125 miles which meant he clocked up a not inconsiderable 500,000 miles in just ten years. Most car owners would be happy with that.

Not Irv. He has devoted absolutely total dedication to his car. It has been meticulously serviced and maintained. His dealer reckons that Mr Gordon takes better care of his car than his own person. To date the car has reached 2.99 million miles and is still in regular use. The owner thinks he’ll achieve the magic number by September.

What is really good about this story is Irv’s attitude to the whole thing. To him it is not so much about the car and his dedication but rather what the car has done. To quote him, “The best way to explore America is by car. I challenge everyone to go out and see as much as possible. No matter how many roads I’ve been on, there’s always one I haven’t taken. That’s what makes it exciting.”

Irv believes that the magic number will be reached when he is visiting Alaska later this year – in his Volvo obviously. It is one of only two States he has yet to see. Both the American media and Volvo are taking a great interest in this story and why not. It just goes to show that real motoring doesn’t have to always be about performance or the latest thing. It can be about the pleasure of driving. From the great cities and plains of America through to the small town diners so beloved of writers, Irv has been there. He says that if you live in America and send him an ‘invite’, he will be happy to meet up for a coffee. Irv Gordon – a true petrol head.

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More Motorway Misery

It is the view of the pessimist that, just when you think that life can’t get any worse, it does. It would not be unreasonable therefore for the average motorist to be pessimistic about the state of our roads. Thought they couldn’t get any worse? Read on:

In order to save money the Highways Agency – subject to a shrinking budget just like the rest of us – has decided that road maintenance will be reduced and that works that have previously be undertaken at night when the roads are quieter will now be done during the day as a cost-cutting measure.

To be fair, it has rather been forced upon them by swingeing cuts to funding. For the period 2014-15 their budget has been slashed by twenty percent, down from £883m to £663m. A new government spending review is due out shortly which is believed to contain further cuts for the year following. Presumably the Chancellor comes up with these ideas whilst wiping succulent grease from his chin after another slap-up feast at the Mansion House at our expense.

Contractors will be asked to make substantial savings and they in turn will have greater freedom to do the work when and how they please. The word ‘how’ is the worry here because tightening budgets could lead to inferior work and materials as contractors strive to maintain profits.

This is also likely to mean a return to large scale traffic jams as road lanes are closed at peak times. Motoring organisations say that this could cost the economy millions. Essentially, the approach will be to lower all standards to the barest minimum of safe levels.

This means that works that needs doing now will be put off until when and if ‘it is most cost effective’ to fix them. These measures are being put in place despite the fact that our major roads and motorways are already causing problems. Speed restrictions are being introduced on some main roads because of the poor condition of surfaces.

There is talk that, where work is essential on a three lane highway, that only the inner (where wear and tear is greatest) and middle lanes will be repaired. Outer lanes may not be touched whilst there is ‘any residual life’ left in them.

Thanks to the lobbying of car-hating organisations and views of the latest Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLaughlin – which differ so much from his predecessor – the government has put the notion of an 80mph motorway limit on the back burner.

As it turns out, this might probably be just as well if our major routes are going to continue to deteriorate. So enjoy the coming Summers, trapped in mighty tailbacks with squalling, overheated kids whilst some workmen apply loose chippings and a bit of spit to the road surface. This is your driving future. Sorry to be so pessimistic.

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Used Car Buyers Are Playing Safe

Everybody likes an exciting car and most people, given the appropriate funds, would no doubt plump for something exotic and desirable. Alfa Romeo, for example, continually design exquisite cars; sadly though there is always a ‘but’ at the end of the purchase.

With AR there is always that reliability issue at the back of a buyers mind. They say – and can be believed – that their cars have never been better at not breaking down or succumbing to electrical gremlins BUT, if you know the company’s sketchy history in this regard, it will always be a mental niggle and cause for concern.

They are by no means the only car maker with long-standing reputations for unreliability and, in these shaky financial times, what most ordinary motorists want and need is peace of mind. Rising motoring costs coupled with the general astronomic cost of living means that drivers are starting to become wary about used cars and used car dealers are beginning to understand this.

Buyers are often surprised these days by the difference in what they would like against what they can actually afford. Car dealers are now representing what some would say to be rather ordinary cars as having a sort of ‘new credibility’ when it comes to a buying choice.

Gone are the days when the heart could rule the head. Instead, today’s prospective car buyer is looking for very well maintained stock with full service histories, suitable warranties, simple economic servicing schedules and, crucially, a real reputation for being reliable over time. In short – a vehicle they know they can trust.

It’s a sign of the times. Only the well-to-do can afford to take chance on car choice these days. The rest of us will have to make do with the best that we can afford. What you buy may not set your pulses racing but at least you be confident that there’ll not be any nasty surprises around the corner.

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Service Your Car Before It Goes For Service

Just lately, as we have reported on Motor Blogger, car dealers are having a tough time of it and are cutting their profit margins right down to the bone. This is particularly hard on them because, in reality, they don’t make that a great deal of money on a new or used car sale anyway, such is the competitive nature of the market. In fact, they make much of their coin from selling ‘add-ons’ at the point of sale or, later, on servicing, parts and the like.

Anyone who has owned a car for a while knows that the annual service is usually a costly exercise – and these days something that many drivers are postponing to try and save cash. Nevertheless, correct servicing is vital to the longevity and resale value of the car so it has got to be done; but you can help mitigate the cost by giving your vehicle the once-over before you take down to the service bay.

For example: If you make sure the windscreen washer bottle is completely full then the garage won’t have to top it up, will they? They charge more than the average owner might think for this very simple job. A bottle of neat screen wash from your local supermarket will cost pennies by comparison.

If the car tyres are looking a bit threadbare and need changing – it’s a straightforward job to check tread depth and sidewalls – take the trouble to find a cracking deal at your local fitters or online and get it done first. If the garage ‘phones up and informs you that tyres need replacing they are very likely to charge maximum retail for the product and may not even consult about brand or type.

This is the problem. In order to make a living, main dealer garages will charge the absolute maximum price for any item fitted or replaced. Have a good hard look at the servicing schedule for your car. Is there any aspect to it where money can be saved? It’s a bit of a cheek but if you’ve got the front for it, perhaps you could try asking the dealer to let you supply your own consumables, like the correct type of oil, on the basis that it can be purchased cheaper elsewhere. They will probably be a bit offended but hey, it’s your money. Maybe you could quote a bone fide price you’ve seen and ask them to match it. Yes, it’s come to that.

Alternatively you could go to an independent garage that definitely will be cheaper – making sure they have a good reputation first, obviously. If a car is under warranty it doesn’t matter where you have the job done as long as it’s done properly. It has been known for manufacturers to refuse to honour a warranty because of this – citing things like unapproved parts being fitted. Once the warranty has expired maybe an independent is the way to go.

If in doubt, ask the garage to supply a schedule of work before the job is done and ask for an itemised bill afterwards. It may at least prove to be of benefit next time.

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Driving In France

Just across the Narrow Sea we call the English Channel (and rightly so) is a foreign land. It is called France and they do things differently there. Considering that they are so nearby it is amazing that there are so many cultural differences. Some are well known: they can’t play football, for example and they insist on eating the limbs of amphibians. The casual observer, standing aloft on the White Cliffs of Dover, will, if the wind is on-shore, catch a whiff of garlic.

So it is with some trepidation that the average motoring holiday maker drives onto the ferry or into the belly of the railroad beast. It is another country and when you arrive everything is different. The road signs, if you can believe this, are in a foreign language. What’s that all about?

The wary driver will also notice that the popular hearsay that they drive on the other side of the road is actually true. More worryingly, they have their own rules of the road and woe betide any UK resident who transgresses. Imagine being banged up over night! Who likes jail food that moves about the plate in a shell? For the benefit of newbies at this foreign travel lark here are some facts from the land that brought you Audrey Tautou and noxious cheese.

All drivers and motorcyclists must carry a breathalyser kit that contains not one but two disposable breathalysers that must conform to French NF Standards. They sell them cheap at the ferry terminals. In the manner of all governments around Europe, the French have decided that for now any penalty issued will be postponed. Why? If you’re going to have a rule, have a rule. What’s the French for ‘fudge the issue’? Drivers still have to carry the kit though. Also, the drink drive limit is lower than here so if in doubt, don’t.

In France the cops can issue on-the-spot fines or, as they are amusingly referred to, ‘deposits’. So non-returnable then? They should issue a receipt but you’ll probably find that it’s not tax deductible unless your accountant is really good in which case he lives in the Cayman Islands. Exceed the speed limit by 40kph and your licence is taken from you. Comedy French accents don’t help, incidentally, when dealing with les flics.

Children under ten can’t sit in the front passenger seat, or, indeed drive. Your headlights must be set up to point the other way. You must carry a warning triangle, reflective jackets and a picture of Jean Reno. Worst of all, speed camera detectors are illegal and you must turn off static speed camera information if your satellite navigation system shows it. Not very sporting is it? Not the British way at all.

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FIAT Gets Fatter

Last March, Motor Blogger told you about the new FIAT 500L, a sort of small MPV based on the iconic design original. We suggested there was likely to be a family of them and so it is proving. Like an overfed Italian child, the original diminutive 500 has grown and grown until it is now reached its corpulent maturity in the form of the FIAT 500L MPW.

MPW stands for Multi-Purpose Wagon, presumably to differentiate the car from its MPV sibling. In most of Europe it will be called ‘Living’ and the interior is referred to as the ‘living space’, because, say FIAT, the car is ‘for living life to the full’.

Anyone who is not yet convinced that cars are turning from proper automobiles into lifestyle accessories must finally see the light. The trouble is, cars have become so well built and reliable these days that manufacturers are having trouble making their products seem different from the rest. This sort of thing is the result, alas.

Enough of this carping – let’s review the car. It’s wider than the 500L and is a seven seater. The rear seats fold flat as is usual. FIAT reckon it is the most compact car in this segment yet they haven’t stinted on space or generous boot capacity.500MPW2 FIAT Gets Fatter

The 500L MPW will be built in Serbia and launched in Italy in July. It will gradually spread across Europe subsequently. If you like the look of it then check with your dealer. At launch it will be powered by a choice of 2 petrol engines, a 1.4L of 95hp and the 0.9L Twin-Air turbo with a sprightly 105hp. Two turbo-diesels complete the line-up.

The ‘Living’ will offer two trim levels, ‘Pop-Star’ and ‘Lounge’ (ye gods). With a choice of nineteen body colours (11 of which can be two-tone). A collection of interior trims that include leather and a big choice of alloy wheels. In short, 282 combinations are available. Cameras and navigation are amongst the options available. No word on price yet.

It seems like the FIAT 500L MPW is trying to be all things to all men. They allege that the car is as agile as a city car, has the comforts of a station-wagon and the versatility of an MPV. Let’s hope it is a decent driver because other than the young and impressionable who might think it‘s funky, it is hard to get past the silly names. Let’s hope also that the car is otherwise as versatile as they are saying because there is certainly a place these days for the all-purpose vehicle when running more than one car is beyond the means of many.

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