Archive | June, 2014

Automotive Facts You Probably Don’t Know

If you love cars then you probably know a fair bit about them, one way or another. Even so, the car had been with us for well over a century now and there are many facts associated with it that have disappeared into the mists of time. A mystery history, you might say.

Did you know, for example, that the first car accident occurred in 1769. Now, I know what you’re thinking and you would be right, because it was not a car as we know it but it very much was an auto-mobile.

A Frenchman, one Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot by name, was an inventor and he is known (although it is disputed) to have built the first working self-propelled mechanical vehicle – the world’s first automobile in fact. He took a big cart called a fardier and successfully built and fitted a device that converted the reciprocating motion of a steam piston into rotary motion by means of a ratchet arrangement. A small version of his three-wheeled ‘steam dray’ ran in 1769. The second one crashed into the wall of the Paris Arsenal. It is not known if he got a ticket. Amazingly, that cart still exists in a Paris museum.

The facts keep on coming: There’s nothing new about hybrid cars; Porsche built one in 1902. It was called, cunningly, the ‘Mixte’. Do you see what they did there? Also, and unbelievably when you consider how long CDs have been with us, the last car to come with a cassette player was the Ford Crown Victoria in the USA, which offered the option up until 2011. You can buy this as a used car now. Still time to dig out those old Carpenters’ tapes!

And – to paraphrase a famous actor – not a lot of people know that the world’s first speeding ticket was issued in 1902. Presumably the issuer wrote it out whilst walking alongside the offending motor. Additionally, there is no point in blaming foreigners when you get stuck on a red light because the first traffic lights were launched in 1927 in Wolverhampton, so we‘ve only got ourselves to blame.

The Chinese have invented a solution to traffic jams. If you contact the right people they will send along a motorbike to take you to your destination whilst the arriving pillion passenger gets in your car and waits it out until he can ferry the motor to your destination. Now that’s enterprise.

There is reckon to be around a billion cars on the planet now so it’s just as well that the car is the most recycled product on earth.

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Experience The SEAT X-Perience

The new SEAT Leon X-PERIENCE is the latest offering from the popular Spanish manufacturer. It has permanent four-wheel drive and all-road equipment for general all round ability. The Leon X-PERIENCE is offered with a 2.0L Turbo-diesel with two power options of 150PS and 184PS outputs.

Alongside the latest-generation TDI engines and permanent all-wheel drive with intelligent electronic control (there‘s a differential on each axle), this new car boasts all-road suspension with extra ground clearance. A distinctive off-road look and individual interior offering an added dimension for family motoring fun.  As you would expect these days there is also an electronic stability programme and a multi-collision brake system for maximum safety.

seat2 Experience The SEAT X PerienceFurther options include full LED headlights, ACC Adaptive Cruise Control with City Emergency Brake function, a drowsiness detection and lane-keeping assistant for sleepy-heads.

It’s a car for all reasons. The luggage compartment offers a carrying capacity of 587 litres, which extends to as much as 1,470 litres with the rear-seats folded down which would appear to make it very practical. The Leon X-PERIENCE has robust protection moulding on the door sills and wheel arches. The sleek front end is adorned with substantial air intakes and integrated fog lamps with cornering light function, plus the front spoiler with its aluminium-look – as can be seen in the images.

The rear end, too, is distinguished by its new bumper with an aluminium-look insert and by the chrome tailpipes, which are standard on the 2.0 TDI 184 PS. The large wheel arches can accommodate 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels in a dedicated five-twin-spoke design. The roof rails are finished in black.

Inside, new materials, attention to detail and a combination of strong colours give this car more personality. It offers the black and grey sporty elegance of high-quality fabric upholstery, as well as the option of brown Alcantara or all-black leather seats.

We’ve driven the regular Leon with the diesel engine and found it to be an excellent car although we feel the design is a tad conservative. Whether there is a need for a car like this when there are many, many crossover or SUV vehicles available with 4WD and a similar spec remains to be seen. We let you know the final verdict when we drive it for real.

seat3 Experience The SEAT X Perience

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Super Suzuki Swift Sport

Every so often a car comes along that, apart from meeting expectations, has a certain something extra. At first sight of the Suzuki Swift Sport it looks like fun. From the chunky rear end with its big spoiler and twin exhausts right through to the sleek front end, it ticks all the boxes for a small hot hatch. If indeed it was a small hot hatch but it isn’t. No matter, it remains a highly entertaining motor. 136bhp from the willing 1.6L engine isn’t really at the cutting edge of blistering performance but, curiously, it doesn’t matter.

This is one of the best-handling superminis you can buy. Despite only having 136bhp from the willing 1.6L engine, out on the road it is great to drive, sounds throaty and delivers plenty of smiles per hour. Twisting turning B roads are it’s stamping ground. The naturally aspirated engine is only a modest performer when you compare it to the opposition but that is part of the enjoyment as the driver needs to work at the six-speed gearbox and keep those revs spinning. The steering is accurate and direct, the brakes are more than capable and sporty dampers keep the handling flat and supple.sw2 Super Suzuki Swift Sport

Safe too, and possibly the ideal starting point for the keen new driver with deeper pockets. As you’d expect the car features ABS, EBD and ESP and there’s plenty of airbags. The back seats are, as you’d expect, a bit tight for adults but better than you might think just by looking. Plenty of room for the kids though.

In fact, everything comes as standard. This five-door version has a list price of £14,499 ( there are deals around though) and includes, well, everything really. In other words, all the options you want are standard fit. Cruise, Bluetooth, Sat-Nav, connectivity, 17” alloys, keyless entry, a cracking steering wheel with controls to name a few. Some of the plastics are bit on the cheap side but, crucially, there is no scrimping on the very well bolstered seats. Basically, everything is stylish and well bolted together. The Suzuki Swift Sport is a bit of a bargain, I reckon, and with up to 44mpg on the combined figure it should be pretty economical too.

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Buying A Car Gets More Complex

In these times of advanced technology, buying a car has become much easier. Or so you’d think. Back in the dark days before the internet the process was basic. For a new car you went to the nearest main dealer of your choice. For a used car you trawled the local press or the venerable Auto Trader until you found you heart’s desire and went to view it.

Now though, the internet has become so sophisticated that you can do it all sitting at your monitor; but wait – is it really that straightforward? It is reckoned now that there are possibly more than twenty ways we approach the process of finding our new wheels.

If uncertain about which brand or model the process starts at the dealer and/or manufacturer or OEM websites, accessed via search engines. We might listen to dealer ads on local radio or on the television. Most car makers and many, many magazines, bloggers and other third party sites offer videos of varying quality showing the cars in action. We might even follow relevant information or people on social platforms.

We look at reviews and consumer advice; we share with friends or like-minded individuals. To secure our dream we must locate and contact dealers, compare prices and specifications and all of this happens before we get up off of our backsides to go and view the things live.

Finally, there’s the essential test drive and inevitable negotiation. So, back in the pre-pc era it was, frankly, simple and easy to buy a car – it just involved more shoe-leather. Now we jump through virtual hoops and the real joke is that we think it is easier!

There is another way. We are seeing the rise of the one-stop motor car shop. There are now websites and great apps like I Want A Car where prospective buyers can trawl their local area – or even further afield – to find that special motor. Surely there can be no better way of finding a car than by getting someone else to do all the work. Perhaps there’s something in this internet car search stuff after all.

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Take The Safe Route To Europe

From time to time we at Motor Blogger like to offer some hints and tips to help you on your automotive way. We don’t profess to know better – we’re just trying to help. This time, because we know that some of you will be driving in foreign countries, possibly for the first time, we politely offer some tips for driving abroad. Remember, they do things differently over there.

The weather in the UK hasn’t been great but at the time of writing this piece it seems like British Summer has finally arrived. This is probably too late for you if you have booked to head for somewhere with guaranteed sun.

roam1 Take The Safe Route To EuropeFirst off – prepare your car beforehand. An easy way to do this is by taking your car in for a service, if it’s due, but there are also checks you can make yourself. Obviously you should be doing this routinely anyway but always check tyre pressures – you never know what tyre gauges will be like at your destination – and tread, as well as topping up oil and coolant.

Going on a touring holiday means that you will be using your vehicle for long periods of time, that’s a given; therefore there will be attendant additional wear and tear, as well as a build-up of dirt. Make sure you make daily checks of the tyres, windscreen, mirrors and lights.

Be sure to take a comfort break after every two hours of driving to combat fatigue. This is especially true because the changes in driving conditions and rules will increase your levels of concentration especially as you will be driving on the wrong (that is the right) side of the road.

You’ll need to take appropriate documentation to comply with requirements of immigration and customs: driving licence, driving licence counterpart, vehicle registration document (V5), insurance certificate and passports (for all those travelling). You must display a GB sign on your vehicle unless your number plates include the GB Euro-symbol, assuming you remain in the Union.

Most countries require drivers to carry reflective jackets and warning triangles. Don’t forget, if you’re driving through France you are obligated to carry not one but two breathalysers. The word is that French authorities are not enforcing this but you never can tell. If in doubt about what to take, have a trawl around the ‘net and see what is required for the countries you are visiting or just passing through. Also, don’t forget to reset your headlights or risk the wrath of continental drivers!

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Civilised Civic

At Motor Blogger we get to drive some great cars and that means when the chance to drive what you might think of as an everyday motor comes along there’s sometimes a sense of being a bit disinterested. So it is great to report that, despite misgivings, the 2014 Honda Civic is in fact a cracking car.

It has been refreshed – apparently after customer feedback was considered – and the original rather angular design has had the edges softened off a bit. Mostly though the changes are under the skin; specifically to the Civic’s steering and suspension. The result, thanks to lower spring rates and more sophisticated damping, means the hatchback has sharper handling and more stability at speed – and it works. The Civic is a very good drive.MB1 Civilised Civic

The model featured in our snaps has the Honda 1.6L turbo-diesel motor with 120PS and torque of 300Nm (221lb/ft). CO² emissions of just 94g/km make the combination very desirable with a mix of frugality and decent performance. It’s by no means a fast car but progress is sufficiently sprightly to make driving a pleasure.

There’s also the option of a large ECON button when economy is the watchword. When pressed it optimizes the vehicle’s operation to maximize fuel efficiency. It also provides a driver feedback system to encourage more efficient driving.

Inside the design follows the company’s theme but now also now has improved comfort. The seats are very supportive and easily adjusted to find that ideal position. There’s new seat stitching, piano-black highlights on the dashboard and steering wheel plus a thoughtful driver’s kneepad on the central console. Passenger space is perhaps a tad snug but the boot is large.

MB21 Civilised CivicThe layout of the centre console is straightforward and there was no problems working the navigation, heating and ‘infotainment’. The car is offered with climate, cruise etc and there’s a host of safety equipment some of which are standard like ABS and so on, whilst there’s also an optional safety pack that includes seven different safety features activated via cameras and radars. This adds nearly £800 to the price but would be money well spent. N fact, the Honda Civic I-DTEC in SR trim like this one costs £24,860 including the rather fetching pearlescent paint.

The new Civic then is a true contender in the family hatchback market. Now in its ninth incarnation it is refined, well packaged and well built. It meets all the standards expected these days and is very worthy of your consideration.

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And You Thought It Was Just A Piece Of Glass

The late 19th Century and all of the 20th Century saw the motor car develop from a clever contraption to an object of desire. For much of that period the car had some form of windscreen. In the 21st Century it is technology that has been at the forefront of car design and it has crept quietly into most aspects of the cars we drive today.

We’ve got hybrids and EVs, connectivity and something called ‘infotainment’. Gizmos abound. Now the high-tech future has made it into the that plain old sheet of glass that protects us from the wind and rain as we drive.

Right now, Low E glass technology is being developed for windscreens. This is apparently an insulating technology designed to control temperature variations within the car, allowing the interior to remain cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

Already we have heads-up displays, increasingly being found on in modern cars. Information such as speed, routes, pedestrian alerts and warning signals can all be projected onto the windscreen, directly in line with the driver’s field of vision. OK, this is just projection but it gets better.

All kinds of sensors are now being implemented into windscreens to make it easier for drivers to concentrate on the road. Rain sensors allow for automatic detection of rain and snow and the like, activating and adjusting the speed of the wipers accordingly. Other new sensors being implemented include light sensors that can automatically turn on headlights once external lighting conditions start to become dim, and humidity sensors which detect humidity levels and adjust temperatures to prevent misting of the windscreen.

Some windscreens are now featuring an advanced lane departure warning system. A camera, mounted at the top centre of the windscreen can automatically detect when the vehicle is straying from its lane and an alert will sound to notify the driver. Certainly, this technology is incorporated into wind shields but, as above, it continues to get better still.

Companies have now developed ways to incorporate antennas into glass, replacing the old telescoping or shark-fin design. Noise can also be reduced through a special glass laminating process. This is designed to reduce engine and road noise as well as wind noise and vibration. Driver and passenger comfort levels should improve with better acoustic performance of the windscreen.

New technologies in the windscreen wipers will also eliminate frozen and uneven wipers. A special wiper heater should see the wiper blades remain pliable and fully functional, even in sub-zero conditions, with some models even activating while the car is switched off. This stuff would have been considered science-fiction not so many years ago.

The windscreen is something we take for granted but it is now becoming more than just a piece of glass. These improvements to windscreen design will only make it easier and safer to be on our roads, but with car technology advancing in such leaps and bounds, one has to wonder, how long before the glass does our ‘seeing’ for us? The mind boggles.

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Challenge that Ticket!

Parking is the motoring issue that seems to get drivers most worked up. Certainly, there are people who park badly or inconsiderately but – and this happens a lot despite the recent parking rule changes – many drivers have a feeling of injustice or being cheated or ripped off when they’ve parked somewhere without knowing there were restrictions in place.

These days, thankfully, the 2012 Protection of Freedoms Act has made it a criminal offence for private land owners or their agents to clamp or tow a vehicle with lawful authority. This has put paid to cowboy clampers, what about the ones issuing unscrupulous tickets? This has recently been highlighted in the news and on TV programmes like Watchdog. If you feel you’ve been unfairly ticketed whilst parking on private land it pays to know where you stand regarding the law.

P1 Challenge that Ticket!Broadly speaking, there are three main types of parking ticket: The police issued fixed penalty notices, Councils penalty charge notices and PPCs or private parking company notices. PPCs are for breach of contract or trespass. With a PPC ticket, you are being issued with a charge, imposed under civil law, for breaching a contract or trespass to property.

The contract – where signage is clearly visible which sets out the charges for parking on private land it is implied that parking on that land forms a contract between the driver of the vehicle and the landowner. Therefore, you can be charged for breaching the terms of the contract. Trespass to property – If a party enters private land without permission the land owner is entitled to compensation.

So take this issue really carefully and make sure you read signage when you enter a private car park because it outlines the terms of the contract that you could well end up breaching if you are not careful. The terms may include, for example, free parking being limited to two hours, and being charged for overstaying your welcome.

It is in your own interests to examine the area closely to make sure the signage is visible and clearly laid out. If you can’t find it or it is, in your opinion, inadequate in some way, then it may be prudent to take a photo of the area and where your car is parked and so on.

If you do feel unjustly treated then the most important factor to consider when appealing a private parking ticket is whether the company that is seeking to fine you is a member of the British Parking Association (BPA) which has a code of practice for control and enforcement. Car owners can contest private parking tickets with the independent body POPLA (parking on private land appeals) bearing in mind the following: You must first appeal to the PPC within 30 days or be barred from appealing to POPLA and that the appeals organisation only applies to BPA members.

When challenging private parking fines from non-BPA members you can refuse to pay and wait and see if court papers follow for breach of contract or trespass. To enforce a ticket the private parking firm would have to take you to court. Remember, you haven’t committed a criminal offence: rather, it’s a contract dispute between you and the private parking firm.

If it were to take you to court it would be a civil matter, and it is by no means certain that the company would win – which is where your photo evidence and the like comes in. Gather as much evidence as possible. The Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 helps to provide protection for you from unscrupulous companies. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied. The law is on your side.

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Budget Buys

We all have dreams. Some are harmless fantasies others shouldn’t be written down at all. In the real world life shows us that dreams are just that and most of us have to live with the reality.

So it is with cars. If your unattainable object of desire is a Bugatti, or Maserati or, indeed, any car ending in ‘i’, don’t despair, because you can still enjoy your motoring in cars costing £500 or less.

There comes a point in a car’s life when it ceases to depreciate in value. Provided it is in generally good order there is no real reason why it shouldn’t go on providing reliable service. There’s plenty for sale on well known auction sites and apps like I Want A Car and there are even car sales sites specifically aimed at cars priced under £500.

How about the Audi 80? Built until 1996 with all the aero-dynamics of a house brick, it proved to be a reliable servant until superseded by the legendary A4. In fact, you can find early A4’s within this budget. Then there’s the Peugeot 306, which has always been the choice for people looking for an excellent car on a budget. Don’t forget the ubiquitous Clio and Corsa, the Fiesta and so many more. There’s loads of these little gems around. These compact cars have already developed a huge cult following due to their cheap-to-buy-and-run nature; and they are decent drivers too, once you get used to their peculiarities. With their cost-effective engines they are all decent economical choices. Be careful with your purchase and any of these, or similar, cars will do the job.

There are drawbacks of course. Aren’t there always? If you buy a cheap car don’t necessarily think the insurance will be cheap, so shop around. Undoubtedly, any car you buy for little money will have some niggles so it helps to have a bit of mechanical knowledge; but there is a lot an amateur can do with some borrowed tools, a Haynes manual and a bit of patience.

The point is that it is still possible to have the pleasure of car ownership when money’s tight. If you search diligently then hopefully you’ll find a clean example that you can wash and polish and take some pride in. You can of course, carry on dreaming but one day you are going to have to wake up.


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The Citroen DS3 – Fun In The Sun

The Citroen DS3 has been with us for a while now and very popular it is too. There’s one thing the French company has done well over the years – with one or two notable exceptions – and that’s car design. The funky and fun DS3 is proof of that and the design has percolated up through the entire DS range.

MB2 The Citroen DS3   Fun In The SunFull marks then for the DS3 hatchback; but our featured car is the cabriolet which has a simple and effective folding roof reminiscent of the less effective Pluriel and, of course, the legendary 2CV, beloved of hippies everywhere. Because of the soft top boot access is tricky. The lid slides neatly upwards and out of the way but the revealed opening is constrained by the design. You have to stoop to see what you’re doing.

Fortunately, the gripes stop there. This is a very good car. The version in the images is the lively DSport THP155 (HP) turbo-petrol model. On paper the rush to 62mph isn’t especially frantic at 8.2 seconds but, through the gears, the performance belies that figure.

Performance is punchy low down and this really excellent engine demands you keep the revs up and avoid the slight initial turbo lag. CO² is commendable at 137g/km and Citroen claim 47mpg. We saw numbers in the high thirties in mixed driving. More economical and less powerful engines are available and less power would not, I suspect, detract from the fun of driving this car. This model though is loaded with goodies and with the extra power would be hard to resist in the showroom.

Space in the front is impressive and three people can get cosy in the back although it would help if they familiar with each other. With the roof up headroom is limited for taller folk but the point of this car is have it open.

Wind noise is minor with the roof up, and with it down, buffeting isn’t too bad up to 70mph, a standard pop-up wind deflector at the top of the windscreen ensuring conversation volumes can remain at normal volume.

The roof can be opened or closed in sixteen seconds and at speeds of up to 75mph, although frankly we preferred to slow right down. It’s good that it worked so quickly because it was opened and closed more than a lift door, thanks to the Great British weather but we were determined to have some fun in sun – however fleetingly.MB3 The Citroen DS3   Fun In The Sun

It’s easy to get comfortable in the supportive driver’s seat and the dashboard is accessible and well laid out. All the connectivity buyers expect these days is on board as are the usual safety kit; ABS, EBA and EBD and airbags all round etc. The dramatic 17” Bellone Black alloys are standard fit on this model. The Cabriolet has poor rear visibility with the roof all the way back but the good news is that parking sensors are standard.

Out on the road it is a blast to drive. Citroen have got the suspension just right; stiff enough for handling, soft enough for comfort. The steering doesn’t impart much feedback but it is accurate. If provoked, the DS3 DSport THP155 will under-steer but in the real world nobody is going to notice this. Overall the DS3 Cabriolet is refined, fully featured and a cracking drive. All this for under £22k.

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