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.

Fuck Me, It’s Orange!

Not this one, silly

I have documented my weakness for orange cars before in this blog, when I was talking about the McLaren MP4-12C. I think I might have mentioned it when the BMW M3 was up for discussion. I definitely talked about it in Men Are Weak which was mostly about kittens and breasts but mentioned the 1-Series M Coupe in passing. Today I have a new object of for my orangey affections: the C63 AMG Black edition featured in this week’s Autocar.

It really does look like as menacing as a satsuma covered in razor blades. You would not leave a small child in its company. It can’t be trusted with the hamster for the school holidays. It will call your pint a poof. It’s as hard as Biffa Bacon’s Ma. It’s even harder than the CLK63 Black and the Mk1 RS Focus, the two previous holders of The Muttering Rotter’s Hardest Car in the World title. It’s fucking heroically orange. Check the pictures out on the link above if you haven’t yet seen them. It’s just so orange. I can’t get over that. The example Matt Saunders drove must have all the performance options fitted including the one which gives you the two little dive planes on each front corner. My boring red one above doesn’t have them. I want the orange one with all the added AMG Aerodynamics Pack goodness. It’s just so ridiculously, gloriously orange. Autocar says it’s also going to cost £110,000 which is a shed-load for even a lottery winner to drop on a small coupe. Don’t care. Just want.

The Consolations Of Philosophy

It's green. Really.

According to Siobhan Ni, the philosopher William Godwin conceived of a “a politically and socially reformed society populated by a people who had perfected their rational minds to the point where the mental process had gained supremacy over physiological nature.” I’m not at all sure of the mental processes involved in the creation of the new Mercedes Benz ML63 AMG except that most of them ought to be prefixed with “utterly.”

The AMG version of the new ML uses the twin-turbocharged V8 with a mental 525hp. Just to put that in context, the supercharged V8s eased gently under the bonnets of Range Rovers and Range Rover Sports have but 510hp. Poor things. So, you can kick sand in the windscreen and sparkly headlights of the two and a half ton weakling Range Rovers in your muscly new ML. That’s just the mental version. The utterly mental version, the one with the optional Performance Pack, has 557hp. Five hundred and fifty seven horse power. That sort of power deserves to be written out in full. It comes from turning up the boost on the turbos, chargecooling the air entering the engine and burning not quite as much fuel as you might have thought. Clever engine management can do a lot these days and Mercedes claims fuel consumption of 23.9mpg and 276g/km of carbon dioxide.

In the politically and socially reformed society of 2011, a twin-turbo petrol V8, hot rodded Chelsea tractor isn’t the wisest of purchases. Philosophy is literally the love of wisdom. What is wise about endowing a school run chariot with as much power as a supercar ad then pretending that it’s acceptable because you’ve given it some stop-start tech? It’s not exactly utilitarian, this one. Russian writers in the Nineteenth Century came up with the idea of the superfluous man and in the Twenty-first Century Russian oligarchs can roll around cities from Petersburg to Paris in superfluous cars like this.

There is still something to admire in this daft car. Getting one of these things to accelerate from 0-62mph in less than five seconds is worth cheering because fundamentally it is a silly thing to do and we need silliness in our lives as much as wisdom. Mercedes has sold 13,000 ML AMGs worldwide. I’d be surprised if there were more than a couple of hundred in the UK, most of which go nowhere at all. They do nothing much other than depreciate and make their owners look silly. They also act as a hate magnet for environ-mentalists. That in turn means that the rest of us can get on with sensible discussions, like who would win in a fight between the Hulk and pre-menstrual Wonderwoman?

Moderation in all things, especially moderation.

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*‘Why may not man one day be immortal?’ Population, perfectibility, and the immortality question in Godwin’s political justice (The History of European Ideas 33, 2007) **
** I’ve been practicing my academic referencing.

It’s All Just A Little Bit Of History Repeating

A car as white as a tootful of cocaine

The Mercedes Benz SLS AMG coupe has the same gullwing doors as the old 300SL. Obviously, the unusual door style and the three-pointed star badge are about the only things the two cars share. The 300SL was a landmark car. Andrew Frankel has argued quite persuasively that it was the first supercar. I’m not about to gainsay the great man. He’s driven it and the AMG SLS coupe and I – sadly – haven’t.

Maybe now is the time to talk about what makes a supercar. I’m going to give you a definition which is entirely subjective. A supercar exists for no other purpose than to be itself. It shouldn’t pay much attention to practicalities like seating a family or room for shopping larger than a small pot of caviar. It should be monstrously, bombastically fast. It really ought to be loud enough to drown out the screams of your passenger and your conscience. If it comes in comedy colours, so much the better. If you think you can afford one without the aid of an oil well or a multiple rollover lottery win, then it’s probably not a supercar. It’s certainly not a supercar if you can imagine taking your cat to the vet in it. A supercar makes small boys point and shout and drag their mums off their feet. It can lead to arguments between loving couples especially when one party runs off in the middle of a birthday outing because he hears a Lamborghini starting up. Going quickly in a supercar can be a little like running round an obstacle course carrying scissors.

Bearing all that in mind, while the old Gullwing might have been a supercar in its time I don’t think the new one is. It’s too sensible. The silly doors just aren’t enough. It’s stupidly quick enough to impress the stupid. It has a boot large enough to swallow not only a small tin of caviar, but also a couple of weekend bags. I haven’t been able to find out whether you could fit a set of golf clubs in there. I really hope you can’t. It really would be the kiss of death. While I don’t think it’s a supercar, I do think it’s outrageously glamorous. The demonstrator at Robinson’s in Cambridge is that pearlescent white colour. You know, the one that costs just under three grand. They have a black one too and I’ve seen a red one at the Mercedes dealer in Glasgow. That one is the exact shade of red Gillian Anderson wears on her lips in that dream I wish would recur.

Moving on.

Now Mercedes has launched the roadster version of the SLS AMG. They did something similar with the 300SL and in the process kicked off the line of cars which continues to this day as the SL-class. In fact, one of the SLS roadster’s rivals is the SL63 AMG. It’s lardier than the new alu-tastic SLS and its version of the 6.2l AMG V8 is less powerful but it’s still going to be on some people’s shopping lists at the same time as the new car. It has a folding hardtop rather than the SLS’s canvas roof and it’s getting on a bit now. Its facelift left it with slightly unfortunate looks which is a shame. Just like Joan Rivers, it was a thing of talent aging gracefully and now it has people pointing and laughing for all the wrong reasons.

The glamour thing is important. Back when the 300SL was launched in the Fifties, Mercedes wasn’t a builder of glamorous cars any more. All its pre-war 540K stylishness had gone and was replaced by dull, rational, necessary cars for responsible, quietly wealthy, middle-class citizens of the new Germany. The 300SL blew through the Mercedes image and revitalised it. Mercedes re-entered F1 and sports car racing before leaving again in the aftermath of the 1955 Le Mans accident. Today, the SLS joins the SL and SLK roadters in the showrooms as two-seater sportscars. There are coupes in all sizes from C-class, through E- and CLS-class up to the large CL. Some are more glamorous than others. The point is that Mercedes no longer just makes dull, worthy cars for dull, worthy, quiet citizens. The SLS roadster will probably find it even more difficult to make an impact when the new SL appears in the showrooms in the next 18 months. In the meantime, I think I’d rather have the coupe, silly doors and all. No point in having a Gullwing without gullwing doors, is there?

Dramatic lighting, dramatic car