Plugged

Nissan Leaf

So, the Nissan Leaf. The price has come down a bit since it was first launched. It was too expensive then and I think it’s still too expensive now but I’m glad it’s here. It was a courageous move to launch a proper electrically-powered family hatch when it did. Apart from assorted Renaults, I don’t think there have been very many other pure electric-drive cars launched.

There’s a Focus which is even more expensive than the Nissan. There are also assorted Germans coming from Audi, Volkswagen and Mercedes, none of which are going to be cheap. Better men than I have done sums which show that the cost of running a Renault Zoe including the battery lease offers marginal savings over a diesel hatch like a Clio. I don’t know about that. Diesels have their own issues in the form of their particulate emissions of course and as someone whose nicotine-kippered lungs don’t function quite as well as they should, I am grateful for every reduction in PM10 levels.

BMW i3BMW got in there ahead of the other Germans. Unlike the others, BMW chose to develop unique vehicles to carry their electric drivetrains. Audi, Mercedes and Volkswagen have developed electric versions of the A3, B-Class and Golf respectively and Mercedes has borrowed tech from Tesla. It’s also a bit expensive but it’s a BMW so we sort of expect that. In fact, it’s less expensive than the Focus Electric in its basic spec. The Focus is very well equipped but so is the i3 and just look at it. The Focus is the facelifted version so it looks a little like an Aston Martin but the i3 looks like the future.

I’m smitten with it, very smitten. It’s made from carbon fibre and has suicide rear doors and the interior is probably the most gorgeous I’ve seen on a car in several yonks. It’s odd-looking on the outside, but good-odd. It’s much more to my taste than the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf looks like it’s on its way to a geography lesson. The BMW on the other hand is definitely on its way to a BDSM masterclass.

Shhhhhhhhzzzzzzzzzoooooooooooommmmmmm

Meanwhile the Tesla Model S is on its way to mug an XFR, and then steal an M5’s lunch money and sneak up behind an S-Class. I’ve seen a few of these out and about and they glide. It’s a shame that the rumbliest, grumbliest V-twin motorcycles in the world are knows as Electraglides because if ever a product deserved that name, it’s this one. There is a new one which has a second motor driving the front wheels giving it 690hp in total. It’s such a Q-car that it’s really a q-car. It doesn’t even shout about not shouting about its performance. It even has a reasonable range. You can’t get a green one any more which seems a little ironic, but still.

I don’t think electric cars have been this sexy since the days of the Jamais Contente. (The world landspeed record holder in 1899, look it up. It was driven by a famous Belgian and everything.)

There are still people insisting that the power for personal mobility be produced locally using fuel cells and maybe that’s true but I think it’s adding an extra layer of unnecessary complexity to the system. You need to produce the hydrogen, distribute it and then process it on board the car before you generate your electricity. It all seems inefficient compared to plugging in like you do your mobile phone or your laptop.

 Anyway, I’ll have an i3 in orange. You know how I feel about orange cars.

Raging Bullshit

When you are three years old and you like cars, someone is going to try to get you to say “Ferrari.” They think it’s funny. They think it’s adorable to hear you mangling the Italian equivalent of Smith. Nowadays, they’ll even film it and put it onto YouTube because that’s what loving family members do: they humiliate you and then make your humiliation just as public as it can possibly be.

Those same people would look at the picture above and think “What sort of Ferrari is that?” If it looks exotic and it makes a silly, loud noise and they can’t pronounce the name on the badge then it’s a Ferrari. You and I know that they’re just about as wrong as they can be without calling it a Vespa. This is the new Lamborghini Huracan, the successor to my favourite not-a-Ferrari-at-all-even-slightly, the Gallardo. There is a selection of numbers and letters after the name. LP stands for longitudinale posteriore (the engine is mounted in-line, behind the driver) and not lumbar puncture which is what the seat might do to you when you drop the hammer on this thing. 610 refers to the power output of the new V10 engine in PS and 4 to the number of driven wheels.

It is quite gorgeous, though. I thought that the Gallardo was almost the archetypal supercar, a cleanly-styled wedge of wonder. The Huracan has taken the Gallardo’s themes and played with them. The designers have increased the level of aggression. It’s almost as if they’ve left it to be smoothed off in a river of testosterone and grappa. It’s a more sophisticated shape then the Gallardo and quite, quite different from the clean-edged prettiness of the Ferrari 458. It’s still a wedge and it still has the huge vents in the nose and quad drainpipes for exhausts out the back but the wedge has been reworked and honed more than Peter Stevens reworked Giugiaro’s Esprit back in the day.

The new 5.2l V1o is quite a piece of kit. It’s more powerful than the old one, more economical and has a stop-and-go thingie just like my Venga’s. A small, chubby MPV deserves one of those stop and start functions. If the Huracan were mine, I’d permanently disable the stop=and-go doobrie and sit and rev it until the tank went dry. I’m so mature. The engine does some technical things with its direct fuel injection system which sound brilliant in Italian and incomprehensible in English but they aid the fuel economy. Even Lamborghini has to be seen to be sensible from time to time. The engine drives all four wheels through a new, seven-speed, dual clutch gearbox which they call Lamborghini Doppia Frizione. Calling it LDF is a missed opportunity to sing a little opera with music by Verdi not Wagner even though some of you might think that a seven-speed DCT sounds a lot like the one in the new Audi R8. It has carbon brakes as standard and you can have magneto-rheological dampers and variable ratio steering. The dampers will be epic in Italian but I’m not sure about the steering. You have a switch on the steering wheel which isn’t in any way like Ferrari’s manettino. No, signore. It’s marked Strada, Sport and Corsa for Road, ummm, Sport and Track and you will be able to use it to change the traction control, gearbox, steering and damper settings. So, nothing like the manettino in a Ferrari, then.

Lamborghinis really aren’t like Ferraris though. Ferraris are all about speed and heritage and motorsport and selling as many cuddly toys and red cagoules as they possibly can. Lamborghinis are of course about speed but they’re also about drama and shoutiness and being three years old and thinking that this is the single most wonderful thing you’ve ever seen. You can probably buy key fobs and little cuddly bulls from Lamborghini dealerships but I get the feeling that they’re not terribly important. Big lumps of raw beef seem more Lamborghini anyway.

So, the Lamborghini Huracan, for your inner, raw meat eating, three year old. With lots and lots of money.

The Rotties 2012

In line with everyone else at this time of year, I’m going to be handing out awards to my favourite cars. The Rotties have to be the least prestigious awards in the automotive world and I can’t imagine that terribly many Rottie laureates are going to be all that chuffed to be on the winners’ list. I have absolutely no budget for hosting a posh dinner anywhere and we all know that drinking and driving don’t mix in any case. I’d hate for an award winner to get a ban on the way home from the Rotties awards ceremony down the Dog and Sprocket. On the other hand, it might be something to put into a press release on a quiet day in Ulan Bator, so here goes.

Least Memorable Car of the Year

The shortlist for this award was quite long. There is stiff competition among the forgettable cars on sale in Britain in 2012. There’s the Thingie, you know, the Thingie. You know it. You must. You go past enough of them on the way to pick up some more Cornflakes on a Saturday morning. It looks quite nice in that anonymous dark blue shade. Then there’s the Whatumacallit. You must know that one. It has a very nice handbrake button. It’s driven by genial people. You’ve never seen one cut anyone up because it’s quite slow and the drivers are too amiable. Neither the Thingie nor the Whatumacallit is the winner tonight. Each has at least one feature which brings it to mind. No. This year’s Least Memorable Car is… Nope. It’s gone. Can’t remember. We’ll come back to it later.

Dysfunctional Family Car of the Year

For the man who thinks he has everything.

The dysfunctional family has very particular needs. Mum and Dad, (or Dad and Dad, or Mum and Mum – this is 2012 after all) are not going to be talking to one another. The children are going to be bored, hate one another and on the point of pre-pubescent violence pretty much all the time. Had the Rotties been around in 1995, the Renault Espace F1 would have been a shoe-in to win. Everyone wears a crash helmet and it’s incredibly noisy so communication would be impossible. The four seats each have multipoint harnesses so the children would be restrained from striking each other in the few brief moments when the terror generated by its acceleration subsides. An 800bhp V10 engine from a Formula 1 car will cause enough acceleration to subdue the belligerence of even the stroppiest 10 year old and drown out their screams anyway.

And the award for Dysfunctional Family Car of the Year goes to...

My arbitrary rules have excluded the otherwise perfect Renault Espace F1. It’s too old, too singular and has too much black paint on its otherwise acceptably yellow bodywork. Instead, the Rottie for Dysfunctional Family Car of the Year goes to the remarkable new Land Rover Discovery. The parents up front can avoid talking to one another. This new one has the screen which allows the front passenger to watch a movie (The Witches of Eastwick or The Wars of the Roses for example) while the driver uses the sat-nav on the same screen. There would be no point in asking the front seat passenger to help with directions. They’d only point out where you’re going wrong in your life. You know exactly where it all started to go wrong in any case: getting involved with them. You can have it with a rear seat entertainment package which allows the passengers to watch films instead of scream at one another. The seat backs are durable enough to cope with the most inisistent of rhythmic kicking. The 3.0-litre diesel engine is joined to an 8-speed automatic gearbox as used in the Range Rover and assorted Jags so while the family may be dysfunctional, the car itself does everything one could possibly reasonably ask of it.

Least Memorable Car of the Year – Take 2

It’s on the tip of my tongue.

Wait…

No, sorry it’s gone. We’ll have to come back to it again.

Sports Car of the Year

Sports Car of the Year? Really?

2011 was a good year for sports cars. We’ve had the Porsche Boxster Spyder (almost like a Boxster S, just a little more powerful, slightly lighter and with a tent thing instead of the powered folding roof) and the really rather smashing Morgan +4 Supersports about which I have really been dreaming. I talk in my sleep fairly often. Her Indoors says that she is sometimes bamboozled by my nocturnal mutterings. I may have been mumbling about leather bonnet straps in the night.

So, why is there is a photograph of a Transit minibus at the top of this section? You’ll have to bear with me a little on this explanation. If you actually play any real sports at all, you’re not going to be able to use your Boxster or Morgan. If you play darts or snooker, you could. A set of ‘arras’ or a snooker cue would fit into either one easily. If, God forbid, you commit golf you’d have to put the clubs and their stupid, stupid bag onto the passenger seat so you couldn’t carry a passenger. That would be all right though because people who commit golf don’t really have friends. Real sports get you sweaty though and no darts player has ever got sweaty playing darts except just before his heart attack.

I’m a skinny runner and I can carry a pair of cross-country spikes in a very small canvas bag which would fit on my equally skinny friend’s lap. I could get away with the Porsche and or the Morgan. If you play another real sport like rugby and have any friends then you need a Transit minibus to take you and your friends to matches. Rugby players can be largish chaps (or chapesses, 2012 again) and they have lots of kit including all that poncy body armour. Dysfunctional Dad could use his Discovery, I suppose but he’s probably not allowed to play sports any more. He needs to take the boy or girl to their Saturday morning misery session instead. Some of my friends used a Transit minibus for their Three Peaks Challenge during the summer and found it an admirable way to get from one mountain to the next.

So, because sports cars are of limited use to anyone who actually plays sports, the Rottie for Sports Car of the Year goes to the Ford Transit minibus. It sort of makes sense.

Least Memorable Car of the Year – Take 3

Nope, still can’t remember. Moving on.

Most Over-engineered Shopping Car of the Year

In case Knightsbridge gets flooded.

I have no idea whether Keira Knightley has a sister, nor do I care. If she does, she’s probably nearly as gorgeous as Keira but not quite. In the same way, the five door version of the Range Rover Evoque isn’t quite as gorgeous as the three door. I’m not going to give in to the marketing people and call it a coupe because it’s not. Neither am I going to cut off my own nose just to spite my face and ignore the smallest Range Rover. Every time I see one of these things, it acts like an attention-hoover. It just looks right. The proportions are unusual so that it looks bigger than it really is. That those same marketing people are quite clever is a given. This very wonderful car is going to be badly parked in the better shopping areas of the world’s costlier cities. It’s capable of doing so much more but like Keira – and her sister – nobody is going to be interested in it for anything other than it’s looks and that’s a crying shame.

Least Memorable Car of the Year – Take 4

Ummm… Oh, forget it.

Repmobile of the Year

Because even muttering rotters can be sensible too

This is the only car I have driven of all the ones I’m handing out awards to. I’ve racked up over 30,000 miles this year in my Octavia Elegance. It’s done everything I’ve asked of it without complaint and with only a couple of small faults. Last winter, on the coldest of cold days, the windscreen washers froze on a motorway journey and I had to stop on the hard shoulder to wash the salt and grime off the screen myself. It was -12 Centigrade and the wind chill would have been horrendous so I’ll forgive it that. Rather more inexplicably, just last week I came out of the house to find all four windows wound down. The car was locked and the ignition was off. My step-son is not a practical joker so I have ruled out one particular reason why this might have happened. I’m slightly worried that it will happen again in a less safe area or on a wet and wild night but so far it all seems normal. No more ghosts in the machine. Oh, and the headlamp doesn’t want to come out so that I can replace a blown bulb but that might be my cack-handedness. I’m not good at things like that.

Those are the only faults or frustrations I’ve registered in 18 months and 52,000 miles. I have driven from Darkest Aberdeenshire to the Fens in a day with no backache, no ringing in my ears and on much less than a tank of diesel. The 1.6-litre common rail engine is powerful and torquey enough in this car to let me get on with driving without beimg stuck in a queue of slow moving traffic unless I have one of those nervous passengers. The dark upholstery even hides chocolate stains admirably. It has plenty of stowage space round the cabin for the little bits and bobs of a rep’s life on the road. The boot is gigundous and easily swallows everything I throw in there. I love this car and I’m already dreading the day I have to replace it because it may have been replaced itself by then.

The Muttering Rotter’s Car of the Year

Car of the Year, 1932

You know that this is a car blog of uninformed opinion, don’t you? So my Car of the Year is not based on long exposure in road tests. Sadly. My Car of the Year is the one which I have most wanted to spend time with. The Morgan 3 Wheeler is that car. I’ve read every word written about it. This is the car I’d have in my garage while the Audi A7 and McLaren MP4-12C – the other cars on the shortlist – sat alone, cold, unloved and lightly vandalised on the pavement outside. The A7 is beautiful and beautifully appointed and the McLaren is scandalously fast. The thing is that while I can imagine either of them taking me to my happy place quite quickly, my happy place is the driver’s seat of a Morgan 3 Wheeler.

A Moment Of Relief For Audi Drivers

A while back, I blogged about how each time I first saw an example of a new Audi, it was being driven by a monumental tosser. You can read the post again here. Well, I’ve seen my first A6 and A7 in the past few days and I’m happy to say that each was being driven in an exemplary fashion. The A7 almost didn’t count because it was being driven off the forecourt by its new owner for the first time. He was a man more in thrall to his hairdresser than I think is wise, judging by the amount of product in his hair but he still managed to leave the scene without causing traffic on the Haverhill road to come to a screeching halt. I was able to admire his restrained good taste in motor vehicles. His A7 was a dark metallic on big, big wheels and had the little, tell-tale red flash of the S-Line badge which says the owner cares more for appearance than comfort but it was still a very, very nice way to blow in excess of £50,000. The V6 diesel engine sounded quiet and nothing at all like a Transit van or a Massey Ferguson when it started. I was deeply impressed.

The A6 was actually moving on a dual carriageway. I didn’t recognise the tail lights ahead of me as I came up behind it. I was gaining gently on it and it pulled into the inside lane to allow me past before pulling back out to follow me past a queue of slower moving traffic. That always impresses me. I do the same myself when there is someone moving much more quickly than me but few others seem to bother. I recognised the front of the car quickly enough in my mirrors as I drew away from him. The LED headlights looked very elaborate but the rest of the car’s detailing was quiet, sober and restrained. Again, I was impressed with the way the car was conducted. We both left the A14 at the Stow-cum-Quy turning. The Audi headed off the roundabout towards Quy and I went round to the Cambridge exit. I was impressed once more by decorum of a new Audi.

I like Audis. I always have. They are the automotive expression of German middle class respectability. Everything is in order at all times. It’s good to know that this time that includes first impressions.

Quiet, sober, dignified and not driven like it's stolen

Evoquing Some Emotions

Or maybe provoquing them. Not sure yet. I wrote about the Evoque’s launch last year on my other blog. I said some quite nice things about it, some nasty things about a Land Rover employee and I expressed some fond wishes and worries about the future of Land Rover.

I’m still a little worried by the Evoque. The three door version has been branded the Coupé. I’ll say that again for the sake of the massed ranks of the Land Rover Owners’ Club who have just passed out. The three door version of the new small Range Rover is called the Coupé. Any moment now, the bearded ones will have stopped frothing at the mouth. We’ll give them a chance to catch us up. They’ll have more to rage at when they get to us.

The prices of this small car will not have helped them calm down. The Coupé is of course more expensive than the five door. I wonder what happened to the idea that the more practical version of the car could also be the more prestigious? Anyway, prices start at £27,955 for a five door Pure with a 150bhp diesel engine, two wheel drive and a manual transmission. Somebody give that frothing, bearded man some smelling salts, please. They go all the way up to £44,320 for a three door Coupé in Dynamic trim with a 240bhp petrol engine, four wheel drive, a LUX pack and an obligatory automatic transmission. That’s quite a lot of money. It’s more than the basic price of a middle of the range Land Rover Discovery XS, for example. It’s also a lot more than even the most outrageously over-specified Mini Cooper JCW which Land Rover has mentioned as a rival. An Audi Q5 is less expensive.

It also doesn’t have a whiff of the Beckhams about it. I know I’m being irrational but I still can’t help feeling that Land Rover is somehow letting the side down by giving Victoria Beckham a role as anything other than a motor show dolly. Still, I suppose it will help generate interest among the overpaid and undernourished which will in turn generate profitable sales to fund the development of a proper Land Rover.

Are Useful Things Ugly?

I know this is a car blog, but I wanted to mention my bike today. Go with me for a bit because I’ll get round to the Audi RS3 eventually. I gave up smoking last year and started running. I’m not a jogger. I do not jog. I am a runner and I run. As part of the ‘get fit to stave off imminent death’ thing, I bought myself a rather sexy bicycle. It’s a Ridgeback Flight 02 and it’s a light, all-aluminium thing with flat bars, 18 gears and disc brakes. It goes like stink, even with someone with my pipe-cleaner thighs. What it would be like with a proper cyclist on board terrifies me. It’s a proper hooligan’s machine, as the bloke in Evan’s put it. I have to say that having been told off by an older lady on an older lady’s bike for pulling a zoomie on her on a cycle route on Cambridge’s back roads, I agree with him. As the words “It’s not a race, you know!” faded rather quickly in the slipstream I realised I’d turned into a cyclopath.

That was a few months ago. I’ve indulged in a little customisation since then. It has new, clipless pedals and today I had it fitted with full mudguards and a luggage carrier. I bought the bits to fit myself but I have all the technical ability of a dormouse so I had to take the bike and bits back to the very nice people at Station Cycles in Cambridge for them to fit the accessories for me. I’m so inept. Anyway, what had been a lithe, lissom, little thing has become just a little middle-aged. It won’t now spray my back with mud nor will I have to carry my gear in a backpack when I’m on the bike any more, so that’s all good. Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking that I’ve taken Keira Knightley out of her perfume ad and given her a rucksack and a pair of walking boots. And a kagoule. I’ve certainly slowed it down. I mean, there’s no way Tanni Grey-Thompson would be as quick had her wheelchair been fitted with panniers.

And that brings me to the Audi RS3. As we know, it’s only available as a five-door Sportback. I’ve never liked it. The three-door is fine and proper five-door hatch would be fine too but this abomination is… well, abominable. The profile is of a half-hearted estate, as if the designers suddenly realised that they weren’t supposed to be doing an estate but they were too lazy to rub all the bits off their drawings.It’s a shame because there is little to dislike about the rest of the package. It’s going to be a quick, powerful, beautifully built car with an interior you could probably spend the rest of your life trying to destroy. If you believe the roadtesters, it might have a hard ride and leaden steering. It probably won’t matter to the few hundred people who will buy one. They’ll think they have the hottest hatch around, even if they’ve really bought a rather poorly done small estate with a stupidly powerful engine and nice stitching on the steering wheel. What if they’d all bought TT-RSs instead?

 

Four Rings, Two Bell-Ends

Audi A1I saw my first Audi A1 on the road yesterday. It was beautiful. Seriously. It has a wonderful stance on the road; it’s planted, four-square behind the four rings on its nose. This one was white, had the LED lights at the front and rear which were surprisingly subtle. The surfacing gave it just the right amount of tension, like an athlete who eats cake and can still run 400m in 45 seconds.

It reminded me of the first time I saw an A5 coupe out and about. The LEDs twinkled and the body of the car in motion sat just so. It truly was breathtaking. There is nothing like a handsome, new car moving through traffic to draw the eye. Sadly, while I really admire the looks of these Audis what they had most in common was that they were both being driven by complete tossers.

In each case, the drivers of these wonderfully crafted cars cut me up so badly I was only able to continue after a prolonged and profound bout of vile language. And in each case, the knob-end behind the wheel vanished into the flow of traffic with no apparent awareness of the accident he had narrowly avoided. I’m not going to subscribe to the “all Audi drivers are cocks” school of thought. I will say though that if the first A7 I see is driven with the same lack of regard as the first A1 and A5, I might recommend that Audi early adopters should be followed by traffic policemen at all times just in case they do something more than usually bell-ended.