Wednesday, 27 January 2010
EVEN if you answered the final question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire correctly, you still wouldn’t have enough to get behind the wheel of 2010’s most exciting motor.
Aston Martin’s One-77 might be the most exciting and energetic supercar ever launched by the British firm, but at a cool £1.2 million, it’s so eye-wateringly expensive that only the most successful of The X Factor’s judges will ever get behind the wheel.
Yet you won’t mind, because 2010 is set to be a bumper year for great cars...
1. Aston Martin Cygnet
Mere mortals can still get behind a steering wheel adorned with those evocative Aston Martin wings, because for the first time ever the company has moved away from making James Bond’s motors and brought out a city slicker.
The Cygnet, Aston’s unlikely urban runabout, is a Toyota IQ with English trimmings, which at first sounds about as appetising as serving sushi and roast beef on the same plate, but the Japanese tot is a surprisingly fun little car to drive and the one to beat when it comes to clever engineering. It’s a great place for the sports car makers to start, and it’s just a shame you’ll have to be an existing Aston owner to buy one.
2. MINI Countryman
The Cygnet will also have to take on another iconic British brand, because MINI are offering not one but two tempting takes on their revival of a motoring legend, one of the Noughties’ biggest success stories.
The original Mini Countryman, introduced in the 1960s, was a cute estate version of the plucky small car but the new one throws extra doors and off-roader styling cues into the mix, and I’m not entirely sure whether existing MINI fans are going to like it. More likely to impress MINI moguls is the Coupe, which despite its love-it-or-loathe-it looks is bound to build on the Cooper’s longstanding reputation of being great fun to drive and could prove a hot hatch hit.
3. Peugeot 308RC Z
One of the MINI Coupe's sure-fire competitors, Peugeot’s surprisingly stylish 308RC Z, should be one of 2010’s memorable machines. It might be derived from the dowdy 308 hatchback but thanks to a slinky sports car body and a distinctive “bubble” roof it’s easily the prettiest Pug for at least a decade. Think of it as a cut-price Audi TT and you won’t be far off.
4. Citroen DS3
Another French contender for your cash is Citroen’s first attempt to bring a little luxury to its line-up. The DS3 might be based on the next version of the C3 supermini, which isn’t due out until next year, but it’s exactly the sort of image-conscious little car you might consider if you think the Fiat 500 is a little last season.
5. Saab 9-5
One car maker which could definitely do with a little continental know-how is Saab, and it got it earlier this year when Dutch supercar specialists Spyker took the reins at the troubled Swedish firm. The new 9-5, due out later this year, is one of a few cars I’m really aching to get behind the wheel of, just to see whether behind its bold styling is the luxury car comeback of the decade.
6. Jaguar XJ
The last company to pull that trick off was Jaguar, after the sporty XF wowed critics by showing it can still do saloons properly. Its big brother, the XJ, is proving a little more controversial by taking the big cat’s best known car and replacing it with something which looks a little awkward from most angles, but Jaguar don’t take risks lightly. It could be the cat that gets the cream!
7. Ferrari 458 Italia
You know it’s going to be a good year if there’s a new Ferrari on offer, and for 2010 we’ve got the first truly beautiful Ferrari for a generation on the way. The chances of me actually driving the 458 Italia are slim to non-existent, but I’m not bothered because that would mean having to be inside it, the one place you can’t take in that gorgeous riot of Rosso Red curves. There really isn’t a line out of place.
8 and 9. Rolls Royce Ghost and Bentley Mulsanne
The 458 should make the perfect companion in any millionaire’s garage for either the Rolls-Royce Ghost or the Bentley Mulsanne, both of which go on sale to Alan Sugar types later in the year. Whether you’re swayed by the Bentley’s sporty charm or the Roller’s definition of luxury is really a matter of taste, but both look likely to offer a blend of indomitable British style with a hint of German engineering prowess. Any offers of test drives to the usual Life On Cars address, please.
10. Ford Focus
The great thing about the single car I’m looking forward to driving most is that you don’t need to be a millionaire at all. You might not get excited by a new Ford Focus because it’s Britain’s best-selling car, but both of its first two generations proved you don’t have to be a car bore to appreciate something that drives brilliantly.
It doesn’t matter what size your wallet is when it comes to splashing out on a car this year, because there’s so much out there that’ll impress and inspire even the least enthusiast of drivers.
I’d still quite like a go in that Aston, though…
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
ANSWER the following question honestly: would you buy a Saab?
Yep, I probably would as well, but today a Dutch businessman has taken his enthusiasm for the beleaguered luxury car brand to new extremes. He didn’t buy a Saab. He bought Saab. The whole company.
Victor Muller’s successful bid to snatch a Swedish icon from General Motors is no guarantee that the guys from Gothenburg are any safer in their jobs, but it does at last mean that Saab is no longer constrained by a bigger carmaker which is crippled by losses. It’s constrained by a smaller carmaker which is crippled by losses.
Spyker, Mr Muller’s other car company, is one of those boutique supercar brands which sells to a select few connoisseurs every year; it’s not a BMW competitor with more than 3,000 employees on its books.
It’s about as mad as Morgan putting in a bid for Mercedes-Benz, but already I’m hoping those crazy, sexy Dutch can make Saab work where America’s biggest car firm couldn’t. Even if the odds of one of motoring’s minnows succeeding is slim to ridiculous, I get the feeling Spyker understands what makes Saab buyers tick (and it isn’t thinly-disguised Vauxhall Vectras with “jet fighter” styling).
The new 9-5 looks hugely promising, but in order to buy one you’d have to overlook anything not only from homegrown rivals Volvo, but the finest from Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguar and Lexus too. Would you buy one over an XF? That’s a trickier question.
Saab should be about as attractively Swedish as IKEA tables or Agnetha from ABBA, but it hasn’t produced anything genuinely Scandinavian since it stopped making the original 900. It has so many icons and so much heritage it can draw on – some of which is genuinely linked to jet fighters – that it really ought to rise again.
My money’s on a retro revisit of the quirky and rally-winningly quick 96 from the ‘60s; can you imagine picking a Volvo C30 over that? Or how about a proper Saab Turbo for once? The possibilities are endless.
I think Mr Muller’s probably a little bit mad, but he’s exactly what Saab needs. That and a tasty grant from a generous backer, of course…
Monday, 25 January 2010
A version of this review appeared in the Daily Post in May 2009
CHARLIE CROKER is going to have a job “blowing the bloody doors” off this latest Mini – it’s solid and safe in a way its 50-year-old predecessor never was.
This Cooper Convertible is one of the most popular of the Noughties Minis, and brings modern safety features to a car whose styling still owes a lot to its rather smaller ancestor.
Anyone who’s just jumped from a Focus or Astra – both cars available for this open top’s £13k price tag – is in for a shock, because there’s not a slab of grey plastic in sight. In fact, with the swathes of silver and red surrounding you, you could convince yourself this is a cut-price Audi TT.
It’s just a shame about the speedo; you won’t mind it being cartoonishly large, but having to look at where the CD player lives to check your pace takes a while to get used to.
You’ll also have to get used to the extra pace of the Cooper and Cooper S versions, as there’s currently no One version for cheaper thrills.
Yet that’s a small beef on a car that makes driving fun, still looks like it’s escaped from Swinging London and - despite the retro charm - is reassuringly 2009 in all the places you’d want it to be.
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
AN expensive shirt, a half-decent hi-fi system, an iPod Nano, a bottle of single malt or a really good night out in any big city.
If you had the princely sum of £100 you could blow it on any of these and still be smiling about it this time next week, but I've got a much better idea. Why not spend it on a set of wheels instead?
That's how a Renault 5 for the price of a first class rail ticket has ended up outside my house, and despite costing almost nothing in car terms it's still smoking its way around Southport more than fifteen years after rolling out of a car showroom in Birkdale. Commuting really doesn't come much cheaper.
What did I get for my fistful of dollars? A 15-year-old hatchback with a slightly wonky driver's door, 116,000 alleged miles on the clock, an interior lined with cheap seat covers and suspicious amounts of hay and loose screws, and door mirrors tinted green with a thin layer of moss. It has literally some service history. I was also pleased to discover that it's red, although I only found this out recently because I bought it without even going to look at it first.
But its ancient engine still pulls you out of junctions not only quickly, and very quietly too for such a cheap car, while absolutely everything still works on it. I can also boast - and I didn't spend hours looking this up, I promise - that my £100 steed was designed by the same chap who did the Lamborghini Diablo. How many M-registered Ford Fiestas can you say that about?
It's amazing how many cars are out there for next to nothing, as long as you're not being choosy and know where to look. My girlfriend, the car's co-owner, is also impressed, as you can find out here.
For the price of Britain's most expensive rail ticket - that's £1000 between Newquay and the Kyle of Lochalsh - you could have bought a whole fleet of these, and still have enough left over for fuel and road tax.
Now that's what I call motoring.
Monday, 18 January 2010
HOW do you stop your car skidding on a snowy road? Just how many times should you wash your pride and joy? And what motoring mishap is like putting down a puppy?
All these questions and more can be answered by listening to my latest visit to Dune FM, now posted above for your enjoyment and amusement.
One thing which hasn't made its way onto this clip is presenter Martin Hovden's choice of song to play out the show - I'd been talking about cars and the snow, so no prizes for guessing the tune of choice!
The two radio shows have gone so well I've been approached to bring Life On Cars to the airwaves in a whole new show of its own, an idea which I'm currently toying with.
Should I go for it? Would it work? Let me know what you think by adding your own comments below...
ONE of the region's MPs has called on motorists from across Sefton and West Lancashire to cash in their old banger for up to £2,000 off their new motor - before it's too late.
Life On Cars has featured views from those opposed to the scrappage scheme, who argue that it often leads to valuable classic cars being destroyed instead of the "bangers" it is intended to target.
But David Borrow, MP for South Ribble, said he was calling on motorists to take part in the Government's scrappage scheme, which allows motorists to trade in older motors for scrap in return for a discount on new cars, before the programme runs out of the funding allocated to it.
“Time is running out for you to get a great deal. If youve thought about trading in your old car now is the time to do it. The scheme is their to help so make the most of it now before the funding runs out,” he said.
“The Government's scrappage scheme has boosted our car industry at a time when it needs it most. Its a great example of how the Government's schemes are helping protect people and business through the recession. I'm very proud we didnt leave the industry to sink or swim as the Tories did in 1990s and would do today.”
The scrappage scheme was instigated by the Government last March to boost new car sales, including those built in the North West such as the Vauxhall Astra, Jaguar X-Type and Land Rover Freelander.
Under the scheme motorists are encouraged to trade in their cars, which can be any model registered before November 2000 on a 'V' registration, to be scrapped, and in return receive a discount of £2,000 off a brand new model.
Although the Government only pledges £1,000 to each scrappage deal, with the rest of the initial £2,000 being match-funded by the manufacturer, some car makers have been offering discounts of up to £6,000.
Mr Borrow said that as of last Thursday (January 14) 320,000 new vehicle orders were taken under the scheme since it was announced, and that there is now there is only funding for 82,000 new vehicles left.
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
LIFE On Cars is returning to the airwaves!
Some of you may be unfortunate enough to remember my first visit to Dune FM, where all things motoring got a good griling from Martin Hovden, presenter of the Live From Studio One Show.
I thought I went a bit too Northern and might have said "You know" one too many times, but I needn't worry because I've been invited back on again.
If you've got an unusually quiet evening in the Southport or West Lancashire areas this Friday, tune in on 107.9FM between 6pm and 7pm and enjoy the show. Anyone not in the North West can catch up by listening online here.
The original interview, in case you missed it, can be found here.
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
A SOUTHPORT motorist who was hoping to get into gear for the New Year has been told he can't - because the DVLA says his car doesn't exist.
Birkdale resident Howard Skelton has been trying to register a vehicle he bought from his son but so far his efforts have failed, because the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency, responsible for keeping track of the country's cars, have issued a Certificate of Destruction by mistake.
“It's incredibly frustrating when you try to do something by the book and get embroiled in this sort of nightmare,” he told Life On Cars.
“It should not be up to me to sort out their inefficiency. Hopefully they will see sense soon.”
Mr Skelton wanted to register the Ford Mondeo as his own but when he contacted the agency, based in Swansea, he was told the car no longer existed because it had been issued with a Certificate of Destruction, meaning it cannot be legally driven on the road.
He said that the DVLA have instructed him to take the car to one of its assessment centres, based in Preston, to rectify the mistake, but due to the car no longer being officially recognised it would be illegal to drive it there.
Mr Skelton has since got in touch with Southport MP and Life On Cars reader John Pugh to take the case further, who described the DVLA's stance on the issue as “Kafkaesque bureaucracy”.
“We wrote several letters on Mr Skelton's behalf to try and sort the situation out. We were told that Certificates of Destruction are issued by Authorised Treatment Facilities, and that the error was probably down to mistaken paperwork. Amazingly the DVLA showed no interest in getting to the bottom of what had happened,” he said.
“This exposes shocking bureaucracy, and a complete absence of common sense at the heart of this department. That the certificate had clearly been issued in error, yet expect a pensioner to have a car towed to Preston to verify its existence is beyond crazy. There is also a complete lack of communication between bodies that is inexcusable,” he said.
The DVLA responded by saying it could not it could not comment on individual cases, but a spokesman for the organisation did say:
“A Certificate of Destruction (CoD) is issued when a vehicle is presented to an Authorised Treatment Facility (ATF) for destruction. It is proof that the vehicle has, or will be, destroyed to strict environmental standards and it is a legal requirement that once a CoD has been issued no further changes of keeper can be recorded.
"In rare cases where a CoD may have been issued in error, DVLA will investigate further. In exceptional circumstances we will allow the car to be taxed to enable the car to be driven for an inspection. If the inspection is satisfactory, a V5C can then be issued.”
Have you had any motoring mishaps? Share your motoring stories with me by emailing email@example.com
Monday, 11 January 2010
“WE know it isn’t a Mini. It’s a Mini Metro.”
I don’t know how many times I said that line last weekend, mainly to middle-aged men with hi-vis jackets and hi-vis frowns. The Metro has Mini subframes and Mini switches; BMW’s MINI isn’t even a Mini in name only, if you’re being geeky and case sensitive. Yet taking a Metro on a Mini-only run to North Wales is a cardinal sin.
Not that my friend and I – both Mini owners – cared, because we were still part of a 90 mile, 150-strong convoy that celebrates Britain’s bestselling car on a yearly basis. If you own an original Mini, you need to do this drive.
The Wirral to Llandudno Mini Run does exactly what it says on the tin; arrive under a steely grey sky at a car park on the Wirral at some unpleasantly early time in the morning, park next to every size and shape of Mini you can think of, and then follow them onto the A55. Even if you’re driving something which the organisers argue is emphatically not a Mini.
Who cares? Our contingent on the event, the Southport and Ormskirk District of seemingly millions of Mini clubs, didn’t, and once we’d decided to ignore pretty much all of the organisers’ rules we had a great time.
I’ll never forget watching a duo of the plucky machines drifting on the ice on the Great Orme’s car park – it was open to the public but off-limits to the Minis for “safety” reasons, but we went anyway. I’ll never forget lining up four of the tiny machines outside Britain’s smallest house, in Conwy, for a photo and a giggle. And I won’t forget putting a fiver’s worth of petrol into the Metro, but that’s because it runs on diesel.
Owning a classic car and not taking it on a run is like having a passport without going abroad. You’ve got to go, even if it’s just once, because you’ll never forget it.
Why didn’t I take the Life On Cars Mini? Simple – it’s in hibernation during the big freeze, and I’ve got a second set of wheels to join it.
What is it? Tune in next week and find out…
Friday, 8 January 2010
BLIZZARDS giving Britain's roads a battering is snow joke but it seems our continental neighbours have been having the last laugh throughout the big freeze.
I've just got back from a New Year's party in Solingen, near Cologne, and I'm amazed that while our German friends have had to cope with just as much snow as we have, they've just gritted their teeth and got on with life.
That's right, no tabloid-style ROAD CHAOS whatsoever, and not a single story of cancelled buses, councils warning they're running low on supplies, or multiple car pile-ups on the autobahns. In fact, mein host just got into his BMW, backed out onto a stunningly snow-free road, and floored it. No drama whatsoever.
I love the German attitude to motoring, which dictates that every motorway, regional route and town thorougfare must be kept completely spotless at all times, even if it's minus 16 outside and snowing the sort of snow which causes politicians to go all frosty. I'd be lying if I said every Wolfgang and his dog were out powersliding Porsche Caymans, but at least people were still getting to work.
Even the pavements got the gritting treatment; it seems an alien idea in Britain but if Uwe slips on snow outside your house, he can call in the lawyers and have you sued. So it's a second nature to buy your own grit, keep it handy when things get icy, and keep the German equivalent of Claims Direct at bay.
I've been lucky enough not to get behind the wheel of anything during the worst of the winter weather but I know if I did, I'd rather be piloting something on roads that haven't been turned into ice rinks. Even if it's a rear wheel drive executive express that's doing a completely legal 120mph.
Given it was New Year's I was expecting a little too much Currywurst and continental ale but the real holiday was from the chaos a bit of snow had plunged panicky Brits into.
I don't think it's a case of there being wildly political failings over here, but that over there they just know more about coping when things get slippy. They did give us the Audi Quattro, after all.
Thursday, 7 January 2010
IT’S time to begin 2010 with something car manufacturers love - one of those awful teaser shots which tell you absolutely nothing!
This is the new Nissan Juke, apparently, but the really rather rubbish picture they’ve just sent me says almost nothing about it. You can see it’s got a rakish roofline and a quirky set of lights up front, but what about the bottom half? Does it have wheels or skis? Until it’s officially unveiled, nobody knows for sure.
Teaser shots are hugely annoying because they do exactly what they say on the tin; they tease. Among my favourites was a series of badly drawn lines which TVR once pretended gave a glimpse of the T350C, and a slightly Dali-esque image which Bentley released shortly before it launched the Continental GT.
But Nissan seems particularly good at it; several years ago a teaser of the 350Z showing a mysterious metallic stripe had the motoring mags stumped. Only when the car came to light a year later did they work out the strange shape was…a door handle.
Cars, no matter how secretive they are, should get shown in their full glory. Unless it’s a Porsche Cayenne.