Archive | April, 2014

There’s Just too Much Stuff!

Once, in far-off days, people were satisfied with what they had when it came to material things. They expected things to last. They purchased a car and kept it pretty much until it had reverted to its original organic state. The thought never occurred to those thrifty folk of yore to even consider buying one of those bright baubles of the automotive future. Even the weak of will who may have been swayed to the dark side soon realised that selling a car just for the sake of getting another one was akin to buying a novelty sweater. It seems like a good idea at the time.

These days however there is simply too much stuff. The temptations are too great. Man cannot live by 3G alone, apparently. A fellow who insists that the pair of flares he bought in 1973 still have plenty of wear left in them would be looked at askance. The driver battling to keep a Ford Sierra on the road in 2014 would be thought of as mad. After all, a new car is announced by car makers almost on a daily basis. The mantra now is ‘change is good for you’; whether you want it or not.

Once there was just The Motor Show at Earl’s Court where serious looking men with pipes and leather patches on the elbows of their jackets would discuss cars in a serious manner. There may have been motor shows elsewhere in the world but they were of no consequence to our stoic British buyers. Now, thanks to the miracles of technology, manufacturers flaunt their wares at shows around the world. A day cannot pass without some new development or other.

FM There’s Just too Much Stuff!In the 21st Century, at least in terms of manufacture, when companies see a bandwagon they feel obliged to jump on it. Thus the car has become a lifestyle accessory to be changed as often as individuals change their smartphones. Take the Citroen DS3 or the Vauxhall Adam. Unlike a Ford Model-T you can have these in any colour combination that takes your fancy. The car as trinket. The car as personal ornament.

To have a choice is fine, to have too much choice is dangerous. What is going to happen when these cars come onto the used car market? What is a delicious beef lasagne to one person is just an old nag to another. Mark these words – if a car is too heavily personalised it will lose value not gain it. In the same way that magnolia paint is supposed to give maximum appeal to the majority of house buyers precisely because it is so neutral, so a silver car will always have the most mass appeal when it comes to resale time.

Manufacturers do these things because they can and consumers of the world are falling for it left, right and centre. For true petrol heads the ideal car has rear-wheel drive, a V8 engine and the desirability of Scarlett Johansson (but with lower running costs obviously). When driving, nobody really needs to be connected to the world. They just need to be connected to the road.

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Car Of The Year – The Peugeot 308.

Bet you didn’t see that one coming did you? Peugeot’s lacklustre reputation of recent years – whether deserved or not – may have meant that this brand was only of interest to people who needed a car but couldn‘t care less what it was. That dull. Earlier this year however Motor Blogger had the chance to test a Pug 208 GTI and found it very good. So, thinking that things must be picking up at the venerable French company, it seemed like a good idea to try the COTY.

Thus, we have spent some time with a Peugeot 308 THP 156PS hatchback and the first thing to say is that it is ten times better than any other Peugeot I have ever been in prior to this year. It is such an improvement in fact that it has been awarded the ‘COTY for 2014’ by international motoring journalists – and they should know.

The new 308 is lower, wider and lighter than its predecessor. It sits on a new platform and as a consequence the wheels have been pushed further towards the corners and the front and rear overhangs have thus been reduced, improving handling, and all riding on smart 18” alloys.

308a Car Of The Year   The Peugeot 308.The body styling is subtle but effective with attractive light clusters and I especially liked the detail on the door handles.

The car in the images is furnished in top-of-the-range Feline trim and motivated by a powerful 156bhp four-pot turbo petrol engine that is smooth and likes to rev. Under acceleration, the car makes a satisfying noise. Wind and tyre noise are well within acceptable levels.

The performance of this car is verging on hot hatch territory. It will whisk the occupants to 62mph in an athletic 8.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 132mph. The 308 handles extremely well with an almost perfect blend of comfort and sporting ability. An average of 35.6mpg was achieved during the test, which, to be fair, was more demanding than regular driving, so expect nearer to 40mpg in general use.

The minimalist interior of the 308 is very comfortable. There are few switches as most functions, radio and navigation are controlled through the 9.7 inch touch-screen which I generally found was easy to use. There’s the usual connectivity that buyers expect but I must offer a word of warning: There is no CD player as standard! You have to order it. A sign of the times.

A particular highlight is the panoramic glass sunroof. A rear-seat passenger, with plenty of leg and headroom in the back, mentioned how nice it was to have the feature extend to make the interior light and airy. The sports seats are great with plenty of adjustment and lumbar support. There’s keyless entry, front parking sensors and a very good reversing camera. In Feline trim the 308 comes pretty much fully loaded. With the pearlescent paint at £675 the total price for this Peugeot is £21,345. Very competitive.

Overall, Peugeot can give themselves a corporate pat on the back. They have produced a fine family car.

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Say Goodbye To Driving For Fun

Jeremy Clarkson – love him or loathe him – says what he thinks regardless of the opinion of others. This is one of the reasons why he has risen to the pinnacle of automotive journalism. He also seems to have his finger on the pulse of what many of us think. Referring to ‘safety’ in a recent car review – which I quote here verbatim – he says, “I hate safety. It makes me nervous because when I feel safe I have a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that I can’t really be having much fun. As a general rule, the two things are mutually exclusive”.

Before anyone reaches for a handy and fully loaded blunderbuss, he is – as has to be the case – generalising. He is not saying that safety in cars is bad, only that by saving us from ourselves the people who make the rules are spoiling the very thing we like doing most. OK, the second thing. Car manufacturers cannot be blamed. They are simply providing that which is being called for, but where does it end?

Older drivers who, in their earlier lives, experienced motoring without the benefits of ABS, ESP and a host of other things known only by their initials, will tell you that driving was, quite simply, more fun. Obviously, they were not constrained by anywhere near so many rules and regulations. These were the days when it was assumed that folk had a modicum of common sense and motorists were pretty much left to get on with it. Also, there were fewer cars on the road.

So, whether we like it or not, time, stupendously crass official decisions and crowded highways have eroded the spirit of motoring to a nubbin. Now we have cars that can look after themselves without any input from us. We are swaddled in safety blankets like newborns and not allowed to think for ourselves. Nanny State has long since passed away; your Big Brother is in charge now and he will tell you it is all for your own good.

Modern cars are gradually eroding our decision making. Even the driver is becoming a passenger. The pleasures of driving are consequently disappearing. Not everyone can afford the luxury of track days. A great many cars are becoming boring and as a result driving standards are dropping – as we have pointed out elsewhere on this website – because we come to rely on the auto-gadgets.

Now, if you’ll pardon the cliché, accidents are by their very nature just that. Nobody wants to accidentally hit a child that has run into the road which is why we welcome devices that help prevent such an horrendous occurrence but the fact remains they are acting for us and thus our in-built driving skills begin to atrophy. It’s the end of the road.

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Hands-Free Car Calls On The Rise

Just over ten years after hand-held mobiles were banned at the wheel, there are now demands to ban hands-free kits as well. This stems from a survey finding that reveals that almost half (45%) of drivers admit to chatting when driving.

While the use of hand-held phones by drivers has thankfully dropped (although there are still fools doing it), hands-free use has risen, likely to be linked to the mistaken belief (according to some) that it is a safe alternative. This is one point of view. Another is that it is no different to chatting with the person next to you.

The thinking is that for the past ten years, the lack of a total ban has left many drivers unaware that using a hands-free mobile at the wheel is just as risky as using a hand-held – at least according to those who want to ban it.

It is argued that it is the distraction of the conversation that causes the danger. Studies have apparently shown the risk of being in a crash that causes injury is increased four times for drivers on both hand-held and hands-free phones because reactions are fifty percent slower than under normal conditions.

More obviously, the survey also found that texting at the wheel is a widespread menace, with three in 10 of all drivers admitting sending or reading messages while driving, and an even higher proportion of young drivers (age 18-24) – more than four in 10 – doing so. Smartphone apps are said to be an additional threat, with one in eight drivers using them at the wheel, up from less than one in 10 in 2006.

It is always a worry when this sort of debate goes on. Many will argue the civil liberties case. Others will say that talking hands-free is no different to holding a conversation with other people in the car. Of course, using a handheld phone is stupid – no one can honestly say they can perform two dexterous functions at once. So the question drivers have to ask themselves is how far can they let what they can or can’t do in a car be called into question.

After all – car makers have been fitting highly sophisticated Bluetooth gadgetry into cars for ages now. It is technology that works. How can this now be banned when connectivity plays such a big part in our motoring lives. It’s over to you.

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Why Review Cars At All?

There is a problem with reviews, no matter what for. There is a movie coming out called ‘The Third Person’ which is already being roundly criticised for being dreadful but, if you haven’t seen it, how would you know for sure? Arguments rage throughout the pubs and clubs of Britain about this team or that or which Godfather or Star Trek film was the best. In short, everybody has an opinion and it is their own, alone.

Recently, Motor Blogger drove the Audi Q7 and it was great. What was not so great was the interior, which, although luxurious, is starting to look dated. Although I loved the car overall this was a bit disappointing. The majority of the people who are actually buying this car would probably have a different opinion and, like a dead owl – as far as my views were concerned – couldn’t give a hoot.

So why do we need reviews at all? After all, as the old saying goes, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. What I, or anyone else, thinks is of no relevance when it comes down to it. However, when it comes to cars it is certainly handy to have someone else summarise the facts and figures, but you can get that from car manufacturers websites. You can select colour and options from brochures in the showroom. It is all a matter of personal preference. Who cares what anyone else thinks and, indeed, why is this bloke trying to talk himself out of a job?

I’ll tell you. Over time, some of you will read these pages and generally agree with much of what is written; others will be quietly planning to firebomb my garage. What car reviewers give you, if they are hopefully good at their job, is a reasoned assessment based on experience and knowledge.

If a particular car is under consideration the potential buyer will possibly be ruled by the heart rather than by the head. It is the objective viewpoint that counts. It’s rather like taking along that otherwise irritating uncle who knows about cars to a used car viewing. It’s another pair of eyes.

Modern cars are very good. It is hard to find to a bad one. The budget end of the market will have cars that are lacking in the luxuries but that’s what a buyer will expect. Equally, the buyer of expensive cars will expect much more for the money. Where unbiased reviews come in is that they can tell you how a car performs, what is not so good and so on. The reviewer can say how a vehicle handles under different conditions and how easy it is to drive.

The reviewer should have an understanding of auto mechanics and, basically, know a lemon when he or she sees it. We drive the vehicle in a variety of conditions such as on the A Roads, the back roads, and in stop and go conditions. We take note of the acceleration, braking, handling, road noise, and blind spots. We try as many features as possible.
That’s why we’re here. We are your unbiased uncle – although hopefully not too irritating. We are your eyes and ears. We hear and understand those tell-tale noises you don’t. We can help you decide between make or model. Sure, we get to drive some cool cars but sadly that’s a necessary part of the job. Someone’s got to do it.

 

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Your Easter Tyre Check

As thousands of UK residents start the traditional Easter holiday getaway – one of the busiest times of the year on the roads – it seems like a good time to remind them about the need to check their tyres before setting off.

Those black circles are all that connect the car to the road and failure to make sure they are in tip-top condition could result in a number of tyre related problems which could leave the family stranded by the roadside or even involved in an otherwise completely avoidable accident.

No doubt after the soaking wet winter we’ve just had many families will be looking forward to some time away over the Easter break. But the weather doesn’t turn benign overnight and we can traditionally expect some of those April showers which could leave road surfaces greasy and treacherous.

20p Your Easter Tyre CheckThere will be more cars on the road and more heavily laden commercial vehicles so it really is important to give your tyres a thorough inspection before setting off. The checks are quick and easy to perform but essential as they could make the difference between an enjoyable Easter break or not.

Figures from the AA showed that in 2013, their patrols attended 350,000 tyre-related call-outs, their second most common breakdown cause after batteries. That’s a bit of an amazing figure which clearly demonstrates just how complacent we can get.

These are the things to remember: Pressures should be checked to ensure they are in line with the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations for the load being carried – remember, this can vary and the correct details will be found in the vehicle handbook, inside the fuel filler cap or on a plate on the driver’s door sill.

Correct pressure is important as it helps to reduce the amount of fuel being used, ensures even wear across the tread leading to longer tyre life, and reduces tyre overheating which can cause rapid failures.

It is also worth reminding everybody – and yes we do it every year but with good reason – to ensure their tread depth is above the legal minimum of 1.6mm which can be checked by simply using the knurled edge of a 20p coin. Drivers with insufficient tread depth not only risk fines of up to £2,500 and three penalty points for each illegal tyre, but safety will be reduced on wet roads as the tyre will lose grip with the road surface more easily.

When checking pressures and tread depth, drivers are also being advised to give the rest of the tyre a thorough visual inspection for other signs of damage such as cuts, lumps or bulges in the tyre. If any of these are present then off you go to see the professionals.
You know that tyre safety makes sense so why risk it?

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Car Problems? Take Cover.

One of the great lies perpetuated upon us all is the one that says it is always other people’s cars that break down. The fact is that an automotive breakdown can happen to any of us at anytime, anywhere. Cars have no sense of timing. This is a problem for all of us and can be especially daunting for people who have little or no knowledge of how cars work.

The list of things that can go wrong is something that most of us don’t really want to think about. There’s the usual problems, obviously, but what happens if your battery dies or if – it doesn’t bear thinking about – you put the wrong fuel in the car?

Of course, the stricken driver could call out their local garage but life’s not like that. The chances are that the breakdown will occur miles from home. Thanks to mobile phones it’s straightforward to summon local help and, if necessary, get the car towed in but the car owner doesn‘t know who he is dealing with or how competent they are. It’s all a bit of a lottery. Then of course, there follows the need to get the occupants home or to arrange for onward travel.

Fortunately, it is possible to get the security of breakdown cover at very reasonable rates so that when it happens to you, you know you can get moving again quickly thanks to the efforts of properly trained technicians, without it costing the earth. Of course, some cars never break down but what price peace of mind eh? When it does happen the consequences will not only be inconvenient, the cost of rescue is likely to be expensive.

Luckily, it is easy to match breakdown cover with the driving budget. For example, some policies will even cover issues that occur before the car has even left the driveway. There’s a whole raft of ways to spread coverage from the basics to car hire when something goes wrong.

Not wishing to be alarmist, it gets worse if driving abroad. Language barriers, different currency and simply a different way of doing things all serve to exacerbate the situation. Fortunately, it is also possible to purchase European breakdown cover for when  travelling in on the Continent. This is normally the highest level of cover and will include benefits such as repatriation back to the UK if you car can’t be fixed abroad, and a hire car so that you can continue your holiday.

So, it’s easy to obtain breakdown cover and equally easy to set the terms to suit the budget. One day, someday, you’ll be glad you invested.

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What Cars Are For

The car can be our pride and joy yet equally it can be the bane of our lives. We lavish attention and money upon them in equal measure. They make us happy. The trouble is, happiness is an abstract concept. Curiously, you can feel it but you can’t touch it. Our cars make us happy but this euphoria evaporates almost from the minute you pull out and enter traffic. This is when even the most benign suburban streets can turn into a war zone. This is our driving lives – pleasure and pain; mostly financial. Yet still we strive for more.

We all aspire to better, faster cars because it makes us feel good. The car has long since ceased to be just a method of transport and has become a lifestyle choice. We like to customise our cars and, where possible, make them seem unique to us; a personal statement, if you like; an extension of our personality. Fortunately, there is a wealth of products available to car owners to style and individualise their precious transport.

But it doesn’t just stop there because cars don’t just need goodies and bling, they need love too. Although cars have become increasingly complicated there are still many jobs that we can do ourselves. There’s a wide variety of DIY auto products to make car maintenance a doddle. There’s kit to winterise your car and there’s electronic gadgetry to bring your audio and connectivity bang up to date.

Then, of course, it has got to be kept clean. Sure, you can take it to the supermarket and get the trolley guys to do it but, although it is hard work, that final ‘stand back and admire your handiwork’ moment is worth savouring. When you’ve done detailing your ride then a coffee and a sit-down with a little light reading will be much deserved.

The good news is that all these various aspects of owning and running a car can be found easily. From your high street motor factors, the car dealerships and onto the internet ‘webiverse’ all you need for car joy and is just a phone call or click away. There’s something for every one – from sensible ideas to vintage luxury goodies, silly fripperies to travel essentials; take your pick; you might even get some ideas about buying a second car – something unique – just for fun.

Setting aside all the money issues and nasty surprises that cars can thrust upon us, there’s nothing better than the call of the open road and a fun lifestyle that suits you, the driver. Yes, they drive us up the wall; yes they cost us a fortune but, in the end, they are what gives us our freedom. That’s what cars are for.

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The Business Of Cars

With the wet winter we have just had, most people would be forgiven for thinking twice about attending an outdoor event in the UK. Fortunately, for once, the sun shone upon the wide open spaces of the home of British motor racing, Silverstone, for the annual Fleet Show.

This time though the roar of engines came, not from race cars, but from the cars that we all buy. Manufacturers are always keen to sell their products to the general public but there is also the lucrative commercial side of things for those corporate or small businesses who use cars as part of a company fleet.

So it was that Silverstone opened its gates to business users from around the country. Car makers lined up their choicest selections to be viewed and driven. These days industry requires vehicles that can offer impressive fuel economy, low depreciation and affordable servicing.

That’s not the end of it though. Users expect cars to be stylish, well equipped and to offer the sort of low emissions to help mitigate the effects of the dreaded ‘Benefits In Kind’ tax. Officially, BIK are benefits which employees or directors receive from their employment but which are not included in their salary cheque or wages. To the rest of us these are also called ‘perks’ or ‘fringe benefits’ and they include things like company cars. To HM Government it is called a ‘revenue stream’.

The curiosity of this is that it is not the nature of the car that generates a given BIK rate. The amount is based on CO² emissions. Thus a high performance two seater which gets to sixty two miles per hour in under six seconds from a standstill and goes up the road like a scalded cat only attracts a monthly BIK of £223 for forty percent tax payers. Now this is what we’d all be happy to call a company car but it seems unlikely that British bosses will ever see it that way.

FL2 The Business Of CarsThis is why this annual opportunity is so useful. It gives industry the chance to inspect the multitude of auto offerings across the performance and price range. From the luxury brands through to the more popular fleet choices like Mazda or even Nissan’s funky electric Leaf, the cars are there to be seen and, helpfully, to be driven. It also gives business users the chance to consider, for example, contract hire or leasing deals. More and more companies are offering this, with Motorparks being just one example.

The chance to try and buy – and get to drive down the famous pit lane and around Silverstone’s sensual curves – is crucial if the car maker is serious about the business of cars. The Fleet Show also gives the ancillary suppliers and small businesses a chance to tell the world about their products. From admin and IT solutions, electric vehicle charging and automotive technical innovations, finance and fleet management organisation right down to awnings that allow technicians to work outdoors whatever the weather, are all on show to see and discuss. The coffee’s good too.

The 2014 Fleet Show had everything for managing the business of cars. The exhibition and seminar halls were abuzz and the test drives and hot laps in constant flow. In addition to this, meeting, greeting and the chance to network with like-minded people forms the crucial part of what helps the business world go about its business.

FL1 The Business Of Cars

 

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The Subaru Outback – Sit Back And Enjoy

The Subaru Outback is, essentially, a big, jacked up estate car that seems capable of anything. Take the badges off and the keen-eyed viewer would still say ‘Subaru’. This is a car that wants to be seen as determinedly rugged and outdoorsy and will have no truck (in both senses) with the idea of urban lifestyle.

The surprising thing is the power-train. This is a big, heavy car which you might think would be underpowered with just a 2L four pot Boxer turbo-diesel (148bhp/258lb/ft) mated to Subaru’s own Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). However, throughout the rev-range the Boxer engine delivers immediate, responsive power smoothly, in a refined manner and without effort. Performance is deceptive and this relaxed attitude eventually made itself felt on the way I drove the car.

Kick down hard and, after a moment’s thought, the CVT box downshifts and the big beast takes off up the road; but I only tried this once or twice by way of evaluation because it simply isn’t the way to use the Outback. It is way too laid-back for that. The same goes for the paddles manually operating the seven speed ‘box. You can do it and it works fine, but hey, why bother? Relax.

There is no point in going into the now legendary Subaru symmetrical all-wheel drive because basically the same kit is used across the range, with the obvious exception of the BRZ sports car Motor Blogger reported on a while back.

MB11 The Subaru Outback   Sit Back And EnjoyThe chassis settings are quite firm which makes the Outback a little fidgety over some of our more blighted roads (i.e. most of them) but, considering its bulk, roll on corners is apparent but well contained. I did like the steering which I found to be direct and communicative. This is an easy car to drive.

Inside, the Outback is typically unfussy. The dashboard is neat and uncluttered although the screen is way too small for this day and age and, in this model, lacked any navigation. There’s a perfectly adequate reversing camera although, for such a big vehicle, it is easy to park anyway. The seats were fine although I could have used a little more side-bolster support, otherwise the interior is utilitarian with some leather and soft but robust looking plastics. The boot is huge and usefully shaped.

CO² is, for these days, a just about acceptable 166g/km and Subaru reckon that 44mpg is possible. Well yes, maybe, if you drive like a parsimonious bank manager, but in the real world 35mpg plus ought to be achievable. There’s only the one engine available with either the CVT or a manual gearbox. You want the CVT, absolutely.

The Outback certainly has off-road potential with 200mm of ground clearance available. It will certainly see off the pretend off-roaders and most of the suburban 4×4’s on the market on our muddy tracks and trails but if you want something for when the going gets really gnarly then look elsewhere. This updated 2014 car is dependable, a good drive and is really practical. At just shy of £32k for the model tested it’s good value. Highly recommended.

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