Archive | October, 2013

Is Your Journey Worth It?

The other day Motor Blogger had to drive to the coast. Fortunately it was in a Jaguar XF (pictured) because the weather was foul. At times the rain was torrential, necessitating a very careful approach to driving.

By the time you read this the UK will have experienced one of those storms we see only about once a decade. Nevertheless, people still have to go about their business but, in severe weather, it is essential to pose the question to yourself – is my journey worth the risk?

If you really have to go out on the roads then there are certain things that can be done to at least counter in a small way the effects of driving under the influences of rain and wind.

First off – it is crucial to plan the journey. Is there a route with less exposure to the weather and less risk of fallen trees? Choose a sheltered route if you have the option. Strong winds are not constant, they are usually gusty so ensure you keep a firmer grip than usual on the steering wheel.

As you may have found in the past when crossing high bridges and the like, there is often the risk of crosswinds. It’s possible to get the same effect from overtaking high-sided vehicles. There can sometimes be a strong gust as you clear the lee of the lorry.

Remember too that others are suffering the same issues. Give cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries and buses more room than usual. They get blown around by side winds easily. It’s not even unheard of for pedestrians to be blown about or even blown into the path of on-coming motors.

Watch trees and bushes on the roadside – their branches can show you how strong the wind is and what direction it is blowing. BY looking well ahead, you don’t need to take your eye off the road and you can see any windy patches before you get to them at which point speed can be lowered until the vehicle is slow enough to cope with the gusts and associated handling issues. Wind can get under a car and reduce its handling and braking significantly. Keep an eye on what is happening to other vehicles – seeing when they are affected will give you advanced warning.

Heavy rain obscures the view, often despite the best efforts of windscreen wipers. As MB found the other day, there comes a point when it becomes prudent to stop at the first safe opportunity.

With wind and rain comes debris. Leaves make a road slippery and branches or even fallen trees are an obvious hazard. The trouble is – a driver doesn’t know they are there. All that can be done is to be aware and anticipate the worst. Or not make the journey at all!

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Understanding Your Car Priorities

These days with the wealth of choice available, choosing the right car for your needs is getting harder and harder. Selection choices must be both rational and emotional. Family commitments combined with an itchy right foot mean that any decision must be properly informed.

There’s a need to get to grips with the options available which must begin with body size and type. Convertibles are fine for young singles or retired lotharios trying to recapture a misspent youth but they don‘t really work with two kids and a dog the size of a Shetland pony. Hatchbacks are easy to use, great as family cars and shoppers but are often, in standard form at least, a bit dull and ubiquitous. The best of all worlds can sometimes be achieved by getting a sporty estate. MPV’s are great but are they, perhaps, just a bit too normal? The decisions are endless but it is a lot of money being spent so selection has to be right first time.

A car purchase must be carefully analysed from various different perspectives. The trick is to prioritise preferences and the first item to raise its head will always be the budget. This is the one that controls all the others and the one that needs the most respect. Nobody wants to spend their entire life paying for an ageing car so if there is a budget it is best to stick religiously to it.

Some people are swayed by style, others by comfort and others still by reliability. Build quality and performance must also be taken into account. Some buyers couldn’t give a fig what a car looks like provided it will carry four people, return in excess of 50mpg and be serviced for under £200. Enthusiasts will want to be performance orientated which means that whilst the drive might be great the chances are that the collective family buttocks will pay the price of stiff suspension.

Then of course we come to the issues of specification: extras like climate control, leather, infotainment and so on whilst still catering for roominess and safety; not necessarily in that order. On and on it goes.

The careful buyer will ensure that not one T is left uncrossed and no I left un-dotted. Make sure that the final decision satisfies all – or at least most – of the many requirements we have for cars these days. Only then can the careful buyer be sure that life with the car will be as near to perfect as possible. Bliss.

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Citroen C4 Cactus – Are We Ready For This?

At Motor Blogger we’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Citroen cars. They may follow the mainstream field mechanically but there is always a certain flair with design that is appealing. They could never be accused of being Euro-boxes.

C4A Citroen C4 Cactus   Are We Ready For This?At some point though designers can get a bit above themselves so it will be interesting to see how the new Citroen C4 ‘Cactus’ will be received when it is launched in the middle of next year. This new model will have protective body cladding and sofa-style front seating as can be seen in the images.

The C4 Cactus will be the first car in Citroen’s new C-Line range, which positions the brand’s mainstream cars as affordable vehicles and emphasizing practicality, fuel efficiency and low ownership costs. The protective cladding, which Citroen calls Airbumps, appeared on the doors of the Cactus concept vehicle unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show last September.

The Airbumps have air capsules inside and are designed to resist scratches and reduce damage caused by small impacts. They will be a practical feature that will save owners the cost of expensive bodywork repairs. We’re not so sure. If the air bumps get damaged then there will still be damage repair needed, surely? Maybe replacing the ‘bumps’ will be cheaper than fixing metal. Also you have to wonder what this cladding will look like after a season or two of British weather.

Before the company gets too prickly (!) we should allow them their say: “The material used for the Airbumps is very resistant and durable. It is similar to what you find in the sole of a Nike Air shoe. The Airbumps will protect the bodywork from small impacts, such as a shopping trolley hitting it in a supermarket parking lot,” a spokesperson said. Apparently these Airbumps can be personalised by ordering black and white or multicolour variations.

The sofa-style seating of the Cactus concept will also appear in the production model. “Putting in a sofa instead of two standard front seats is more expensive but it will create a feeling of comfort,” it was explained.

Citroen’s C-line cars will have simple shapes and plain surfaces unlike many cars currently on the road that have aggressive styling. Citroen believe that customers are looking for simplicity and comfort in their cars. This kind of reinforces the point that our vehicles are becoming more like lifestyle trinkets.

The next C1 city car, the C3 sub-compact and the C5 large saloon will follow the C4 Cactus styling. Every car will have its own design but simplicity will be at the core of the range. We’re really quite looking forward to this although we remain to be convinced. Let us hope that Citroen have not shot themselves in the foot with this design.

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Your Driving Week

Cars are great but what is not so great is, that to be able to afford them, we have to go to work. Going to work means getting up early whatever the weather and heading off into the rush hour traffic.

Rush hour is when the most vulnerable road users are about. Children are walking or cycling to school – sometimes in poor light and adults are doing the same thing on their way to the workplace. They need to be seen and the careful driver needs to be aware of sudden changes in their behaviour. Crossing the road suddenly is a prime example.

During your evening commute, there will be children on their way home or out playing after school. It’s interesting that when people say – and they do – that they ‘know this road like the back of my hand’, it is also probably true that they have become complacent about it. Familiar routes are the ones we get most careless about so it makes sense to keep your attention on the road no matter how well you know it.

At work people are expected to conform to the rules and regulations as they go about their job. It’s about standards. Well, it pays to be as professional about the journey as you are about your work. Commuting is a problem because everyone travels at the same time. People get tired and frustrated and can behave impulsively so it is doubly vital to be ready for and mindful of the actions of road users around you.

If a regular drive is a regularly frustrating experience then how about learning an alternative route or two. This is also helpful in the case of an accident or road closure, for example. Listening to the traffic updates on the radio can help keep you in control of your journey and your patience.

Check the weather before you travel; heavy rain usually slows traffic up, so leave a few minutes earlier, or allow for being a little later getting home. Remember too that using your car to commute to work means you are especially reliant on it being reliable. Regularly check your tyre pressures and condition, washer fluid, lights, oil and so on.

Always leave enough time to get to work so you’re not rushing unnecessarily. Traffic is bad every day – being late on those grounds isn’t an excuse. If you do get held up in traffic on the way to work, don’t rush. Pull over if you need to let anybody know. Remember – better late than never!

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Wow! It’s The Bentley GT Speed

The other day Motor Blogger felt a bit like Mike Brewer, ‘I’ve got meself a Bentley’! I cried; sadly, unlike Mr Brewer, I had to give it back.

Never mind, it was nice while it lasted. The car in the photos is the Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible. In the brief period allowed it made a very big impression on me, right from the moment the 6.0 litre W12 engine was fired up. The rumble of this car at tick-over with the sound insulated hood down is very satisfying in that it portends of wondrous things to come.

Inside, the Continental is like the definitive definition of quality. If you took this car away for a romantic weekend there’d be no need to book a room. The interior will always be nicer than any hotel. This is automotive hand-crafting at its very best. From the sumptuous hide seats to the heritage inspired touches the driver and the passengers are cosseted in comfort. Things get a little tight in the back but once installed most normally proportioned people won’t feel too cramped.

Drive is through an eight speed gearbox that can be controlled via the large, well placed paddles within finger-tip reach of the perfectly proportioned leather Getting inked multiple deals in the last month to supply social gaming choices for those sites of land-based casinos in Arizona, California and Nevada, DoubleDown just signed an identical cope with its first in Vegas. steering wheel. Alternatively stay in auto because on kick-down the gearbox has the uncanny ability of block-shifting to just the right gear suggested by the urgency of the applied right foot.

All 616bhp have to be controlled somehow and, this being a GT Speed, the Bentley engineers have plainly added extra sharpness to the chassis dynamics. The company provided tons of detail about the technology but Motor Blogger took their word for that. All I know is, out on the highway, drive and power is effortless; although on twisting roads the driver is always aware that this is a big car.B21 Wow! It’s The Bentley GT Speed

Outside, the dark tint grill and air intakes set this particular version of the GT apart from its brethren as do the unique 21” Speed alloys, which are also available with the dark tint. It is interesting to note the absence of any obvious form of spoiler. All the downforce this car needs -even in excess of 200mph (apparently) – is provided by the gentle lip on the back of the boot lid. Now that’s design.

Driving, the scenery moves past at warp factor speed and, all to soon, a junction is indicated. The massive brakes are progressive and pull down the speed without drama. With the hood down the full soundtrack is available but sadly this is not the Amalfi Coast; this a dull day somewhere in England and I had to pull over to put the roof on. This action places some minor demands upon the left index finger as the roof slides silently out of its cave and installs itself. Once fitted all is quiet.

The temptation was to keep on going until I came to an ocean but, sadly, it was time to return to base. Despite its size the GT was easy to park thanks to an excellent reverse camera system. In the supermarket car park though, it would probably be best to park in those faraway spaces around the edges.

There is no point talking about the price. You can afford it or you can’t but if ever you get the chance to drive a car like this, grab it with both hands!

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Don’t Ask The Family

Running a car – any car – is an expensive business. These days they are fairly complex too, so the days of DIY car repairs have perhaps lost the appeal they once had and we have lost those basic automotive skills. Obviously, there are still some diehard auto enthusiasts who will tackle pretty much any job but most of us baulk at the prospect. Nevertheless, DIY saves money so maybe it is worth a shot – or you could ask the family; but is this a good idea?

Many of us will have a family member or friend who reckons that he or she knows a thing or two about cars. Often this is an overbearing avuncular who won’t take no for an answer. The danger is, no matter how well intentioned, their assistance could end up being a costly experience.

Figures reveal that motorists and householders pay out an estimated three hundred million pounds a year after being forced to enlist the services of a professional to put things right. It seems that one in six of us is left regretting ever accepting help.

The maintenance blunders, made by well-meaning amateurs, range from elementary mistakes involving car batteries, to more serious errors such as using the wrong oil or fiddling with the electrics or engine parts. As a result almost half of those who subsequently had to employ an expert were left with an additional bill of over one hundred pounds

“What’s the worst that could happen”? Well, here’s some true examples – One in twelve experienced problems starting their cars after a battery change because the leads had been connected wrongly and a further one in six had water added to their screen wash not realising that diluting it reduced its ability to clean effectively and increased the risk of it freezing in winter. Imagine using your screen wash whilst driving at speed and having it freeze on the windscreen! It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Finally, even if all goes well there’s another problem. Many of us will feel obliged to return the favour or at least feel indebted to the person who helped them. This means that we have to return that kindness. Who knows where that could lead? You could find yourself teetering on a high ladder in a gale fixing someone else’s guttering. No – best play safe. If you cannot do it yourself or feel that the job is beyond you then leave it to the professionals. It will cost more but what price do you put on peace of mind?

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Keep Your Virtual Eye On The Road

Most drivers by now will be well aware of the ‘crash for cash’ scams that are rife in some parts of the country. To combat this, thanks to modern technology, motorists are installing video cameras in their cars to combat these fraudulent and dangerous claims. The cameras, popularly known as ‘dash-cams‘, record the view through the windscreen and capture events before, during and after a collision.

The recorded footage can also be used by defendants against accusations of lane-hogging or tailgating on motorways following new fixed penalty legislation which came into force a couple of months ago.‎

Increasingly, retail outlets are beginning to stock these devices as demand increases. This sort of technology has been found for years in police cars and other emergency vehicles. Thanks to the crooks it now seems almost essential that drivers record their journeys for their own protection.

The Insurance Fraud Bureau reckons that some 30,000 ‘crash for cash’ incidents take place every year. That’s an incredible number. The scam costs insurers around £350 million and inflates premiums for honest, innocent drivers by around £44 each.

To counter this, the bandits have a new and even more dangerous tactic that all drivers need to be aware of. They flash their headlights to give victims the impression they are being allowed to join a main road but then accelerate in order to hit the unsuspecting driver side-on. They then claim that the poor victim had pulled out in front of them and it is almost impossible to prove otherwise.

Thanks to the range of devices now on offer, motorists have the means to produce hard, irrefutable evidence as to how an incident occurred and who in truth was to blame.

There is a very wide range of cameras on offer ranging in price from around fifty pounds up to a couple of hundred. Buyers need to inspect the merits of each and decide what is best. A wide angle view would seem best, for example. Also, these days apps are available for smartphones which can be rigged in cradles and can do a similar job for very little money. They won’t be quite as good as a device made for the job but it is better than being held responsible for something that isn’t your fault.

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2015 Toyota May Go Down A Bomb

We hear a lot these days about electric cars and hybrid cars but, coming up on the rails, is the third choice – the hydrogen powered car. On the production front Toyota has indicated that it has cut the cost of the fuel cell system in its next hydrogen-powered car by the equivalent of almost one million dollars. This puts the company on course to launch a mid-sized saloon – which may look something like the experimental vehicle in the image -  in 2015 with a price below £65,000. Whether or not we will see it in the UK remains to be seen as we are way behind on preparing a workable infrastructure for alternative fuels.

The new fuel cell car will first be sold in Japan, the United States and probably Europe, Toyota have said. The news is that the company is set to unveil a concept at the Tokyo auto show in November. This clashes with the Los Angeles Motor Show so maybe it will pop up there too.

The manufacturer says the fuel cell system will cost about 5 million yen (£32,000 approx) compared with prototype costs of more than £650,000. The company’s plans are weighted heavily towards fuel cell cars, which convert hydrogen to electricity, emit only water vapour and have a similar range to conventional cars, as their next-gen alternative fuel vehicle. They have big plans to sell ‘tens of thousands’ fuel cell motors by the 2020’s.

It isn’t widely known but platinum is used in the manufacture of a fuel cell. Toyota have managed to cut the amount needed from an original one hundred grams to as little as thirty grams thus saving even more cash. They believe they can cut it further as the technology is refined. This will bring them in line with the catalytic converters on diesel powered cars which use about twenty grams of the precious metal. Toyota will also use less carbon-fibre in the high-pressure hydrogen tanks and will use cheaper, mass-produced components to cut costs further, they say.

As we are all now well aware, electric cars are range limited and take a long time to refuel. This won’t happen with hydrogen powered vehicles because it takes only minutes to fill the tank and the cars can travel the same sort of distances as cars with combustion engines.

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The Dangers Of Fog

The recent horrific pile-up involving around 130 cars on the A249 Sheppey crossing in Kent is a shocking reminder of the dangers of driving in fog. Some experts have mooted that the design of the bridge may have contributed to the numbers involved in the crash, but the police and eyewitnesses believe that fog was to blame.

We are all given a wake up call by events such as these and should, you would think, learn lessons from it and yet the sight of a car following way too close behind the car in front is an all to frequent occurrence. At this time of year fog could make this sort of stupidity even more unbelievable.

The fact is – we never learn. Hundreds die on our roads each year yet some drivers continue to believe that they are inviolate. Tailgating, the lack of fog lamp use, not slowing down in the rain or leaving much larger gaps in icy conditions – the very basics of safe driving – still occur with alarming frequency.

In their defence for once, successive governments continue to try to educate but it seems to have only a minor effect that soon wears off. A couple of years ago after a particularly nasty crash in the West Country it was suggested that there should be a mandatory reduction in speed limits in adverse conditions. This is law in France and it works.

On our motorways and main arterials digital signage is used to control speeds and this is monitored by cameras but elsewhere no such scheme exists. Governments are wary, quite rightly, of interfering too much but our roads are becoming increasingly crowded. Certainly our cars are much safer than even a few years ago, but who wants to crash regardless?

The solution seems to be in education from the outset. Learners of all ages should really have to go through thorough training on all roads, including motorways. It is at this point the tenets of safe driving should be instilled and become second nature. If drivers were taught correctly in the first place, we would need fewer nannying laws to prevent dangerous driving. At the time of posting this the government is talking about making changes for new drivers. The suggestions include raising the drive age, an extended period of learning that includes day and night driving and a ‘probationary’ period after the test has been passed.

It just makes sense. Making the learning more comprehensive and teaching beginners about the dangers of tailgating and making allowances for the prevailing conditions is the only way forward or we will continue this desperate annual round of road tragedy.

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The Latest Subaru Forester

The Forester has been with us since 1997 and has since gone through four incarnations. Starting life as, effectively, a pumped up estate car beloved of country folk, it has morphed over the years through the early stages of life in the SUV world until finally reaching maturity in 2012. That’s the latest version in the photos and it is now a fully fledged adult SUV.

The car in the pictures is an XC version with a 2.0L turbo-diesel boxer engine developing 147bhp. The punch comes from 350lb/ft of torque which comes in low and easy making for a sprightly turn of pace – the traffic light sprint to 62mph is a perfectly acceptable 10.2 seconds and speed tops out just shy of 120.

The first thing to say is that it is physically big yet doesn’t seem so when driving. This may be due to its Impreza DNA. There’s a huge amount of grip on offer from the 50:50 drive distribution and rear Limited Slip Diff.  The boot is vast and well shaped with an easy load base. It’s an easy car to drive. Subaru reckon the Forester XC diesel will average 47mpg and that’s not far off what can be expected in the real world.

The latest Forester offers lots of space and equipment. It is solidly built with a functional if unexciting interior. It’s a much better looking car than its predecessor with smoother, sleeker lines. As a Subaru it has a certain reputation to uphold; one that suggests ruggedness and reliability rather than trendy design tweaks or urban pretensions.FOR1 The Latest Subaru Forester

On twisting roads the Forester belies its size and cracks along with decent in-gear acceleration. For a car designed to be content to go down green lanes as well as motorways there has always got to be a compromise in handling but overall, body roll is controlled and the ride comfortable.

Inside, the functionality continues. The dashboard is uncluttered and the usual controls make an appearance on the steering wheel. Overall, we liked it. The rear view camera screen is too small and a bit distant. The system works well enough and, curiously for such a big car, the Forester is very easy to park, but I‘d like the bigger picture. The driving position is good. There’s plenty of adjustment and the driver sits, enthroned, with a lofty command of the surroundings.

This is the ideal ride for the outdoorsy family but this car will always be a niche choice. Subaru have taken care to leave the bling to others and stuck to their guns. This is a good thing. There are petrol models and an option for them is a couple of  ‘sport’ modes but we’d suggest that this diesel is the one that buyers will go for. The Forester is worth the money, around £27k, and will, we believe, provide long-term reliable transport. Recommended.

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