... Morgan Threewheeler (Life On Cars car of the year, 2012)
IT'S A new model for the Worcestershire-based sports car builders but not in the conventional sense.
By ditching a rear wheel Morgan are revisiting territory they first trod a century ago, when the company appealed to the newfangled worlds of motoring and biking by fitting tiny little two-seaters with V-twin engines and minimal bodywork. Think of the new Threewheeler, then, as a remake of one of Britain’s oldest automotive adventures.
You’d think that’d make the Threewheeler a frantic bit of fun and it is - but only when you’re happy for it come out to play. Admittedly, it’s not a car you’d ever want to take to Waitrose and if it rains you WILL get wet but for such an outlandish and overt bit of automotive engineering it’s remarkably civil, and it’ll dawdle along as long as you like.
But plant your foot to the floor in just about any gear and the so-bonkers-it’s-brilliant Threewheeler unleashes its considerable firepower in an explosion of noise and speed, which you’re all the more aware of because the wind’s hitting you straight in the face and because absolutely everyone for miles around is looking at you. If they aren’t, they’ll definitely hear you coming.
Despite being friendlier and more manageable than I could’ve have hoped for - at first you’ll wonder where those beautiful wire wheels at the front are, but you get used to it - it is completely unlike anything I’ve driven before. It is a sort of cross between the open-air buzz of a microlight and the vintage style of a Sopwith Camel fighter plane with the deep-throated roar of an old TVR and the sheer punch of a motorbike thrown in.
So it’s my kind of car and - at £30,000 - actually cheaper than the more conventional four-wheelers Morgan fans already know and love.
...Citroen DS3 Racing (Life On Cars car of the year, 2011)
THE chap from Citroen's press department, it turns out, was right. Step from a Citroen DS3 into this and you realise it's a completely different beast.
Not that this is necessarily a good thing. Last year I drove two different versions of the company's then new luxury hatch - the petrol and the diesel - and concluded it was a corker. Good looking, fun to drive and frugal to boot, the DS3 was one of the best drives of 2010, feeling like a true hot hatch without the added engineering weaponry. Of the all the cars I clambered into last year, this was one of my favourites.
Making something markedly different, like this range-topping DS3 Racing, runs the risk of diluting the original's appeal in the pursuit of going faster, harder and noiser than before. It is, without doubt, much lairier in the styling department, with plenty in the way of yoof-pleasing go faster stripes and multispoke alloy wheels. Then again, this is the spiritual successor to hot hatch icons like the AX GT and the Saxo VTS.
But where they were all about keeping things lightweight and the simple, the Racing's a much more luxurious affair. You'll love the leather bucket seats, for instance, which not only look the part but also keep you comfortable whether you're cruising along the motorway or - more likely - coursing down the country lanes. The quality of the materials and switchgear, apart from the “RACING” motifs, is also good news for drivers of the normal DS3, because the cabin's a refreshing and solid sort of place to be.
Not that you'll spend much time looking at it, because out on the road the £23,000 Racing's revvy 1.6 turbo engine is forever recommending you give it the beans. Plant your foot down and its whiff of torque steer will catch out the unwary driver, but learn how well it goes and handles and you quickly appreciate it for what it is; a very, very quick and capable car.
Loud, lairy and a little bit scary, the DS3 Racing might be better trimmed than some of its ancestors but it shows Citroen can still come up with a cracking hot hatch when they want to. It might not be to everyone's taste but it's seriously good fun.
So the Citroen DS3 Racing is completely different from its slower siblings, but it's also better.
...Honda CR-Z (Life On Cars car of the year, 2010)
...Honda CR-Z (Life On Cars car of the year, 2010)
HONDA'S latest hybrid might get you seeing red when you're hurtling it around your nearest city centre, but it's for all the right reasons.
The dials on the CR-Z, the Japanese firm's first truly tiny coupe in more than a decade, have a fantastic feature which allows them to glow blue, green and red depending on how economically you're driving it, which works both ways. You CAN go green if you're on a bid to beat the taxman by using the power of prudence, but I find it's much more fun to get glowing red by driving as furiously as possible.
It's an invitation to sample two extremes of driving and quite possibly a first in motoring; a hybrid car someone interested in driving might actually want to buy.
Obviously, Honda are hyping up the ‘H' word as much as possible, but not nearly as much as the really rather obvious links to the sporty little CR-X of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which the new model clearly mimics. So it's an eco activist which chooses to wear running shoes instead of sandals.
You'll find the CR-Z has the same dinky stance as its petrol-powered predecessor, but it's carried over a few nods to the original a little more quietly, like trimming the back seats in a different colour to the fronts, although most people won't notice because they won't get into them. I know it's a coupe, but it's still a bit of squeeze back there!
Normally getting just 122bhp from a car costing £20,000 would have me worried, but Honda's blend of petrol and electricity will impress even the most heavy-footed drivers, while appeasing the eco-minded ones. The fact it still manages to make a fantastic noise is a handy bonus.
If you've got lots of kids and dogs the CR-Z is simply too small, but for fun while keeping your conscience in check the little Honda's nailed it. I'm not sure whether Honda has realised the impossible dream its adverts are always going on about with the CR-Z, but they have made a hybrid to hanker after in the process.
As published in The Champion on June 30, 2010
...Ford Fiesta (Life On Cars car of the year, 2009)
A version of this review appeared in the Daily Post in June 2009
FORD’S big seller has gone from chunky to funky in its latest iteration, which sees the sixth model in the Fiesta family opt for swoopy curves.
The car it replaces did a job in a sensible but stodgy way, being fun to drive but boring to behold, giving the prettier Punto and Corsa the edge in the style stakes. This new model comes not a moment too soon.
What it does take on from the last few Fiestas is the same reassuringly brilliant driving feel, which encourages you to push on without getting things wrong. It’s a great base for creating a hot hatch along the lines of the outgoing ST150 or the old XR2s of Fiestas gone by. It’s a shame that Ford currently has no plans for a go-faster version.
Yet it'll also impress go-slower drivers with its ample improvements to the space and quality in the cabin. The cowled dashboard is a big improvement, although it could prove a pain for driving instructors hoping to check their pupils' pace. The zany control system for most of the car's features are also bound to annoy more than impress.
The Fiesta’s a car that not only improves dramatically on its dull predecessor, but also has the measure of its rivals in the supermini market.
Can we have a faster version now, please?
For the Life On Cars verdict on everyting from the AC Cobra to the Toyota IQ check out the road test archive.