19 Feb 2016

2003 Mini Cooper S (R53) Review (And How I Came To Buy It)

After an absolute age I sold my Lotus Elise. My reasons for selling it were outlined here and once I'd decided it had to go I got slightly more annoyed with it as each day passed unsold.

One horrible day in early February I went into the garage to load the tumble dryer. My Triumph Tiger is a fair bit longer than the Street Triple which preceded it. The Tiger was at the back of the garage and the Elise in front of it but shuffled really far forwards so there wasn't much room between it and my workbench - and the tumble dryer adjacent. I caught the edge of my kneecap against the Elise's number plate and swore loudly.

After two months on sale it had become just a lump that was in the way. I'd never really bonded with it and its state of unsoldness (someone call Oxford - I invented a new word) was wearing really thin. Four people had viewed it and taken it for extensive test drives and had taken up many hours of my time - and then not bought it. The day before the kneecapping incident a young man had spent two hours poring over every last detail and then proceeded to piss me around with a series of offers with catches attached. He wanted me to take it to a Lotus expert for an independent inspection as well as service it and MOT it. In polite terms I let him know he could Foxtrot Oscar.

"Will the damn thing ever sell?" is not what I was thinking when I received a phone call the next day at 8.30am whilst still asleep. "Yes?" I barked as I answered the unrecognised number. "I'm calling about the Lotus," said the voice. I snapped to attention. We spoke for thirty minutes. I tried to hide my just having woken-upness. He sounded genuine. He sounded sane. He did not sound like your typical Lotus-buying arse-merchant. He would visit the next morning.

They next morning I walked round the car to give it a check over and noticed the front number plate was hanging off.

On an Elise the front plate is stuck on with industrial-spec double sided sticky tape. I did not have any in the house and it was too late to go shopping. 99% of Elise buyers want a car that is 99.9% perfect and a hanging off number plate is reason enough to walk away from a sale - after having spent  five hours asking the seller questions that would flummox even Lotus' longest serving employee.

I tried to stick it on with a piece of normal sellotape folded back on itself but this did not work. Obviously. I was desperately trying to make it stick in place by mind power alone when the prospective buyer turned up.

As it turned out he was a normal person rather than the usual Lotus time-waster buyer and after just half an hour he bought the car. He paid me the money and drove away in it, very happy.

I immediately paid off the loan which I had taken out to buy the Elise - and  which was the over-riding reason for selling it.

However I did want another second car. I love my XC60 but I lease it and I've overshot the allowed mileage by nearly 50% and rather than pay extra for the privilege of driving it more than I should I wanted to buy a second car.

Eagle-eyed Speedmonkey readers will remember that in November last year I declared I needed a "Don't Give A Shit Car," and that that would be a 2004 Mini Cooper S.

I set myself a budget of £2,500, which I could afford without taking out a loan, and spent hours looking at the classifieds for the perfect Cooper S.

I ignored all those sold by dealers who at that budget I consider (through experience) to be cowboys. I found one for sale in Cornwall. I texted a mate and asked if he fancied a trip to Truro that Saturday (yes he'd like that he said) and texted the seller. Unfortunately she was away for the next weekend.

I didn't really like any others. Missing service history, horrible colours, horrible condition, horrible places, horrible sellers.

Then one Friday I was working from home. Whilst making a cup of tea I checked the Autotrader app and a new private ad for a Cooper S popped up. It had done 105,000 miles, had a full service history, one lady had owned it for the past five years and it was only ten miles from home.

I called the seller and asked if I could see it on Saturday. "You'll be lucky," he said, "...the phone's been ringing off the hook."

I knew why. At £1,750 it was around £750 cheaper than anything else of the same spec and condition.  "OK, I'll be there at lunch," I said.

I ignored every one of my own rules for buying a used car, primarily because the seller was obviously a decent bloke (and that counts for a lot when buying used) and because at the price it was a complete steal. After a short inspection and an even shorter test drive I offered the full asking price, paid a deposit and shook hands on the deal. I couldn't afford to haggle or muck him about because the usual second hand dealer ghouls were phoning him every few minutes offering him close to the asking price.

The next morning my mate who was going to come to Cornwall came instead to Wokingham and we picked the car up.

I drove to Halfrauds to buy a Pure DAB digital radio to replace the analogue unit in the dash as well as 5 litres of 5W30, an oil filter and four Bosch spark plugs.

Once home and with a large cup of tea I set about servicing my new (to me) Mini Cooper S. It had only been serviced six months previously but I wanted to get to know it and give it a good start to my ownership of it.

The servicing was ridiculously easy. The engine is well packaged and everything was easy to get at.

Afterwards I filled it up with super unleaded (not necessary but I wanted to treat it) and took it for a proper test drive.

A 2003 Mini Cooper S has a 1.6 litre, 4-cylinder engine and is fitted with a supercharger. For those who don't know this is similar to a turbocharger but instead of being fed by exhaust gases is driven by a belt from the engine.  The supercharger is cooled by an intercooler which sits behind the scoop in the bonnet - so it is there for a reason.

The car has 163bhp, 155b ft of torque, does 0-60mph in 7 seconds and weighs around 1,140kg.

The driving position is great. The bulkhead sits quite far forward so the footwell is relatively deep which means you can sit with your legs out like you would in a rear wheel drive sportscar. The interior is nicely designed but the seats in mine are part cloth (in an eye-watering shade of Smurf blue) and part leather.

The steering wheel feels chunky as does the gear lever. The switchgear is designed for maximum retro effect but looks and feels of a decent quality.

Some people told me the Mini is a girl's car but a) it looks good, b) it's fast, c) I don't care. And it really does look good, inside and out.

My own car misses some options I would have liked, namely full leather seats, heated seats, twin dials (we'll come to those in a minute) and cruise control but it makes up for all those because it has the glass panoramic roof. This is so big it makes the car feel like a Targa. Full epicness (another new word!).

The only real let-down inside the car is the fact the speed readout is in the middle of the dashboard. If the original owner had specced satnav this would have been housed in the centre of the dash and instead of just the rev-counter being located above the steering column two dials (speed and revs) would have sat just below the driver's view of the road. Instead working out the speed means briefly looking down and to the left - which is silly.

Driving the Cooper S is an absolute hoot. The engine has a lot less low-down torque than I imagined and the gearbox is less than smooth. My main driver this past year has been my Volvo XC60 which has one megaton of torque and the smoothest gearchange outside of Madonna's wardrobe.

But once used to these twin foibles I drove the Mini as it should be driven. Hard. And by god it rewards. You'll notice in the photos the overhangs are absolutely tiny. This means you can chuck the car this way and that and it'll comply. It turns like a Jack Russell on carpet and it goes like the proverbial clappers as long as you change gear right in the red zone. And it refuses to understeer no matter what you do.

The ride is less than relaxed but the upside is you feel the road and what is going on with the wheels. The power is linear which means you don't really get torque steer but it's still a good idea to turn the traction control off because it does cut in far too early if, for example, you corner quickly and get the inside front wheel spinning slightly.

For less than two grand I can't think of another car with four seats that'll deliver so much fun. I suppose a Renault Clio 182 might do but once you've bought one you'll realise you have bought a Renault and this will make you annoyed.

By Matt Hubbard





1 Feb 2016

2016 Triumph Tiger 800XCx - 400 Miles On A Motorcycle In January


Modern cars don't need running in. My Volvo XC60 will go in for its first service soon - at 12,000 miles and 12 months old. Modern motorcycles, with their higher revving and higher performing engines, do need running in.

My new Triumph Tiger 800XCx needs running at half revs for the first 600 miles after which it will head to the dealer for an oil and filter change.

For the first couple of weeks after taking delivery I was frustrated that I hadn't ridden the Tiger that much and I was frustrated that when I did I could only use the first 6,000 rpm.

So I decided to take it on a road trip. I called my brother, who lives 200 miles away, to see if he was free for me to pop at the weekend. He was. I prayed for clear weather.

Saturday arrived and the sky was clear. Being late January this also meant all the warmth had escaped from the surface of earth. The bike told me it was 4°C. Very cold for riding a bike.

I had strapped a tail pack to the rear seat and stuffed a change of clothes and my tooth brush in it. I dressed in leathers, rather than full waterproof gear, because my leathers are more comfortable than my ancient waterproofs.

I wore thick socks in my boots and a thick fleece under my jacket. It was 11am and it was damn cold when I fired up the Tiger.

The bike has an electronic display with all sorts of information. You can choose trip 1 or trip 2 and within those you can select miles covered, average mpg, average speed and time on the road. The bike also tells you which gear you are in, what the temperature is, how many miles until the tank is empty and what speed you have set the cruise control.

Yes, cruise control. I had never ridden a bike with cruise control before.

The Tiger is a big bike. I have to really swing my leg over the seat and with a tail pack on this is even more difficult. Once on the bike and rolling it feels much lighter and agile than it actually is. Within a few miles I felt confident in it and in my ability to control it.

I was also feeling pretty cold. The first few miles were 30mph country lanes but then I was on the M4 followed by the A34 it was 80mph cruising.

God I was grateful for the heated grips and hand guards. In the past I've come off a bike and not been able to feel my fingers for half an hour afterwards but on the Tiger my hands will always be toasty. This was something of a revelation.

My feet were also warm, due to the hiking socks I was wearing. Unfortunately the rest of me wasn't quite so warm. In fact the cold air rushing around my neck and into my helmet felt a lot colder than 4°C - that's wind chill for you.

Otherwise the bike was great. Even though I could only use half revs it had plenty of power and the cruise control was amazing. It works just the same as in a car but when you disengage it it does jolt the bike a bit, something I learned to anticipate.

100 miles passed smoothly and I stopped at a service station for fuel for the bike and for me. Due to the bars being wider than I was used to and the fact I wasn't bike-fit I my shoulders were aching. I necked a chocolate cake for calories and a hot chocolate for warmth and set off again.

My core temperature was lower than I would have liked but the second half of the journey passed without event. When I got to my brothers I fell off the bike and drank a gallon of tea.

The next day I headed back home. This time the weather was warmer but wetter. Maybe I should have worn waterproof gear. My brother had an all in one waterproof over-suit but it wasn't quite big enough for me and I felt it would have hindered my riding so I didn't use it.

It was drizzling when I left. I had filled up with fuel at the end of the previous day so had a full tank which would be good for around 150 miles.

The rain didn't stop but with the screen, hand guards and bits and pieces of plastic fairing it was only really my lower legs and shoulders which were wet.

After an hour I realised I was really enjoying the journey. The previous day had been dominated by cold and getting used to the bike. Now, with experience and a slightly higher temperature, I was able to focus on the bike, my riding and all those things a biker enjoys on a ride.

After another hour I stopped for fuel and lunch and chatted with a fellow biker. He was wearing a bin bag under his leathers. He had ridden 200 miles on Friday but his clutch cable had snapped on the journey and he'd been stuck by the side of the M6 in the pouring rain waiting for a recovery truck. All his gear was sodden, even two days later. Poor bugger.

On the rest of the journey I continued to enjoy the bike and the ride and my confidence increased to the extent I was able to ride just as I had on my old Street Triple.

I arrived home three hours after leaving and having covered almost 400 miles in two days. I was exhausted but elated. Riding a motorcycle in January isn't the most sensible thing to do but the Tiger had made it bearable, and even fun.

And now it is run-in. It will be serviced next weekend and then I'll be able to rev it right the way up to the red line and enjoy all that power.

Can't wait.




By Matt Hubbard


A Tale Of Two Triumphs - How I Nearly Bought The Wrong Motorcycle

My mind was set. I was going to sell my Triumph Street Triple and use the proceeds together with some cash I'd squirrelled away to buy a brand new Triumph Street Twin. You see, I'd wanted a Triumph Scrambler for years but when I saw the newly launched Street Twin with Scrambler pack I was smitten.

Triumph Tiger 800 XCx

I found myself with a free day in November so took myself down to the motorcycle show at the Birmingham NEC. I oohed at the Yamahas and aahed at the Hondas and then I arrived at the Triumph stand.

The Street Twin with Scrambler pack with its high-level exhaust sat on a revolving plinth. I watched it for a few minutes and my mind was made up. As soon as possible I'd head down to my Triumph dealer and put down a deposit on one.
Triumph Street Twin with Scrambler pack (note high level exhaust)

Then I sauntered over to the adventure bike section. The new Triumph 800 Tiger looked good. I swung a leg over it and immediately knew I'd fallen for the wrong bike. The Tiger was perfect.

It looked great, and as I was sitting on it it felt great. The seat was the perfect height, the footpegs were in the perfect position, the handlebars were the perfect distance apart and the perfect distance from the seat. If ever a bike had been built to suit me it was the one I was sitting on, a Tiger 800XCx in blue.

I talked to the Triumph lady. The top Tiger XCxwas at least £2k more than the Street Twin. Hmmm.

On my way home and for the next few days I turned the problem over in my mind. I'd always wanted a Scrambler but the Tiger was so much more practical. The Street Twin was affordable but the Tiger was quite expensive. The Street Twin was a simple bike but the Tiger came with all sorts of useful features. The Street Twin would only ever be a summer bike but the Tiger would be a year round proposition, with it's screen, heated grips and hand guards. The Tiger looked great but the Street Twin looked amazing.

I courted opinion and everyone told me the Tiger was the one to go for. I headed to my Triumph dealer to have a chat and look at the Tiger again. The Street Twin was so new it wasn't in the dealers yet. I walked into the dealer with my mind still not yet made up.

There was a Tiger in the showroom in the same spec as that at the show - an 800XCx in blue with heated grips, a sump guard, engine bars, traction control, ABS, cruise control and a centre stand.

It was a 2016 model but was sitting in the showroom in December and Christmas was fast approaching. The dealer was obviously getting a bit nervous about it sitting around so had knocked 10%, a full £1,000, off the price.

That was it. Decision made. I bought the bike there and then and arranged for delivery in January.

The next problem was shifting the Street Triple that was taking up the space in the garage that I needed for the Tiger. Being Christmas the phone didn't ring at all but when January arrived interest picked up.

A few people called but the first to see it was a young chap called Adam. He arranged to travel up from the south coast to my place in Berkshire on a Saturday morning. When he arrived he had two mates with him, one dressed in bike leathers.

The viewing was conducted in fine drizzle. They talked amongst themselves, they drank tea, they stroked chins and then Adam made an offer. I counter offered. He accepted. He gave me the cash then and there and his mate in the leathers rode the Street Triple home.

I immediately headed to the dealer and we finalised the paperwork and arranged a delivery day, the next Friday.

And so it was on fine Friday morning my brand new Triumph Tiger 800 XCx was wheeled from out of a van and into my drive. I was working at the time so had to wait for the next day for a good run on it.

It was taller and heavier than anything I'd ridden before so I was a little nervous at first. But it was also better. Much better. I knew there and then I'd made the right choice. If I had bought the Street Twin I would surely have enjoyed it but at some point I would have known that ultimately it wasn't a bike for keeps, whereas the Tiger is.

By Matt Hubbard






13 Jan 2016

What Car Is Best For Driving In The Winter?


When you think of and admire a car you probably imagine yourself driving it on clear, dry roads with the sun in the sky and little traffic to get between you and driving nirvana.

But the reality, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere is much different. Most of the driving we do is to work and back and for a lot of the year we drive to work and back in the dark. Ugh.

To make matters worse the roads are usually wet and slippery. When it's not been actually raining the mud and rotting leaves that litter the roads during the winter months hold all the moisture they can and offer zero traction. When it's raining you can hardly see out of your grimy windscreen and if the sun does come out it does so at such an angle it blinds you so you still can't see.

And then there's the cold. I know the world holds many and varied horrors but not many can be as bad as getting into a freezing cold car on an utterly miserable morning.  The windscreen is covered in condensation, the steering wheel is cold, any metal in the car (i.e. an Audi TT's gear knob) is literally freezing and you can't afford to breath because it steams up the windows.

Driving in winter is utterly horrible. But your choice of car can make all the difference.

I once commuted for a week in a Jaguar XFR-S. It was rear wheel drive and had so much power if the rear wheels could actually grip the ground they would have altered the speed of the earth's rotation. But the wheels couldn't grip because the week I drove it was in winter and the rear wheels gripped the road at 10% of throttle application only. Above that and they'd spin uselessly.

And to be honest all big, powerful rear wheel drive cars are pretty useless in such conditions.

Lighter rear wheel drive cars can be fun and controllable though. The winter proper has arrived in Sweden and @BuddaPSL is merrily driving his 200bhp rear wheel drive Subaru BRZ around.



One thing you want in winter is a welcoming interior with great ambient lighting and heated seats that warm up quickly. My old Audi TT was heavier than the BRZ but had four wheel drive so it gripped well in any conditions. The interior was lovely and the leather seats heated quickly.

I drove my Lotus Elise to work the other day. The actual driving experience was epic. The chassis is so balanced and composed I was able to slide round corners without fear of losing control. Sadly the power of the heater is puny and I couldn't be bothered putting the roof on so my ears and nose had frozen solid by the time I got to work.

Front wheel drive cars work well in winter as long as they don't torque steer too much. Slippery conditions can aggravate even mild torque steer. My Volvo XC60 is a brilliant winter car but it does have a habit of losing grip at the front as I plant the accelerator coming out of a corner, or even on a grid cover or patch of mud or leaves if in a low gear in a straight line.

But otherwise the XC60 is almost perfect. It has a heated windscreen and heated seats. It has auto wipers and auto lights. In the darkness the interior is lit very subtly but very gorgeously. All the controls fall to hand and the seats are comfortable. You can set most things, including the heated front and rear windows and seats to come on at a certain level when you turn on the car.

Having driven almost every brand of car on sale in the UK today I'd say on balance Volvo makes the best cars for driving in winter, which is no surprise coming from a  Swedish manufacturer. But the XC60 wouldn't be my favourite car for winter driving.

Sure you can get a four wheel drive XC60 which would alleviate the grip issues but it doesn't account for the car's weight - and where that weight is held. It's an SUV which means the car is relatively tall and that can make it a handful to drive in dark, wet, slippery conditions on roads with at least some corners.

It is this which rules out all Land Rovers and Range Rovers which have equally lovely and well lit and warm interiors.

My perfect car for winter driving is the Volvo V60 Polestar. It's got the Volvo interior and is perfectly suited for harsh winters. But the weight is low down, the engine is epic and the drivetrain is a hugely grippy four wheel drive system.

It might cost a fortune but if you have a spare fifty grand I couldn't recommend a better car for driving around in during the winter months.

By Matt Hubbard


8 Jan 2016

Yes I Am Selling My Lotus And Here's Why


Ever since I put my Lotus Elise up for sale people have been asking why I'm selling it. I reckon I've fielded fifty tweets and questions that always say the same thing, "You're selling the Lotus? I thought you liked it?"

I DO BLOODY LIKE IT! But I'm a petrolhead and I'm fickle and impulsive and prone to change my mind every few months. Or days. Or minutes.

I bought the Elise because my garage had space, I fancied the idea of a really quick, light sportscar and it represented a solid investment. The car I bought was in great condition and had a perfect service history and it was priced well. I couldn't lose. The price would rise over three years and then I'd sell it. That was spring 2015.

Then in November 2015 I was made redundant. This isn't a sob story. I got a new job fairly quickly but it did remind me that as well as the regular as clockwork lease payments for my 2015 Volvo XC60 I was paying a not insubstantial monthly amount for the Elise.

That made me think about money and monthly repayments and priorities and fripperies and that kind of thing. And besides I'd spent a chunk of my redundancy payment on a brand new Triumph Tiger 800 XCx, which arrives in a couple of weeks.

I love motorcycles. I like cars a lot but I've never loved one. The Elise is a great car but it does have one major flaw.

It only has two seats. That means I cannot take both my son and the dog anywhere at the same time.

Now you might say, "You knew that when you bought it!" Well, yes, I did. But I thought I could live with the compromise. But I cannot. I am 44 and at my age you are not wiling to compromise - where possible.

Also, I want my garage back. I want my motorbike to have lots of space to itself and I want space for more motorcycles in the future.

So in short I like motorcycles more than cars, I don't want to pay out as much cash, I want more seats and I just changed my mind because I'm like that.

Once it's sold I'll probably buy a Mini Cooper S for a couple of grand which means I can own it outright.

And I'll never buy a two seat car again.

I did enjoy the Lotus though. It was a cracking car. For a few months.

By Matt Hubbard


10 Dec 2015

Depending on your job, car finance can be baffling

For the majority of people, purchasing a car on finance or taking out a lease is a simple process. Simply choose the car you want, from a dealer you trust, fill out a couple of forms, and the car you want is yours. Just agree on a repayment plan you can manage, and it’s as easy as that.

If you’re really savvy, you might even look into ways to make running your car cheaper. Unless you have access to an oil rig and refinery to get around rising petrol prices, for most people this means trying to cut the costs of insurance. If you’re particularly confident in your driving skills, and don’t mind feeling like every day is your driving test, you could have a performance monitoring black box installed. Or, if you’re a first time driver, you might think about adding a (legitimate) second named driver when taking out insurance; mum, say hello to your new car.

However, depending on your job, you can say goodbye to saving money. That’s because depending on what you state your profession as on your insurance forms, you could end up paying over the odds. This Is Money found that those in jobs that require night-time driving – shout out to the DJ’s and Exotic Dancers – are subject to expensive insurance, as they’re assumed to be more at risk of accidents. Racing car drivers also get a raw deal, alongside the rather vague “other sportsmen”. Unsurprisingly, footballers also make the top 10 most expensive list, although it’s perhaps hard to feel sympathetic in this case.

It’s not just insurance that your occupation can affect too, and depending on your career you might end up handing out unexpected amounts of cash at the first hurdle when investing in a new motor.

This is particularly the case for members of the military. Although insurance costs for members of the armed forces are surprisingly low, this is made up for in the amount that many military personnel end up paying on insurance.

Those that have served abroad or for long period in barracks often don’t have the spick and span credit history, that many finance brokers require, not to mention proof of a UK address. Whilst it can be easy to tinker a little with your profession to get cheaper insurance, this isn’t an option when looking at finance. That means that if you’re serving or have served in the forces, one of the only ways to get a decent vehicle has been to take out finance from companies that charge a premium.

Although specialist forces cars dealerships have become more common, the selection of vehicles and brands available from these has traditionally not matched up to the offerings from regular dealerships. It’s only recently that companies like Vertu Military Car Sales, for example, have made used cars available at decent finance rates for members of the military. It seems baffling that it’s taken so long for a military dealership to offer used cars to forces members, and that when it has happened it’s been from Vertu, a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to military car sales.

It’s not just those in the military that have traditionally struggled when financing vehicle purchases, and any UK citizen that works abroad might come across similar difficulties. However, if you’re moving abroad for a short period of time you can generally keep your insurance plan so long as you take your car with you – something that for obvious reasons, isn’t an option for members of the military.

All this goes to show that when it comes to car finance, and insurance, count yourself lucky if you find a good deal simply. Whilst military dealerships like Vertu might be there to make it easier for the armed forces, it’s unlikely that a DJ car insurance company will come along anytime soon.

4 Dec 2015

I've Never Crashed A Car But I've Nearly Crashed Many Times


Think about the times you've lost control of your car. Did you crash into something or did you momentarily think you were going to crash into something then thank your lucky stars when you didn't?

I've either been extraordinarily lucky behind the wheel or I've got amazing reflexes. Or maybe both. I passed my test 27 years ago and not once in that time have I hit another car or any inanimate object with my car in such a way that you could call it a crash.

But I have had lots of nearly crashes.

Mind you I haven't been quite so lucky on my motorcycle. I've had lots of nearly crashes on bikes too but I did have one actual real life crash. It was terribly embarrassing. I only passed my bike test when I was 33. I'd been riding for five years and had owned an old Yamaha Fazer 600 and a new Yamaha FZ6 - both what non-bikers would call sit up and beg bikes. So I bought a Yamaha R1. 150bhp, 150kg, handlebars so low I had to pull my stomach in to ride the thing.

It was beautiful in red and white - mint condition. One soggy day when my Saab 9-3T was in the garage having a new clutch fitted I took the R1 to my son's school's autumn fayre. My dad was visiting and took son in his Jag S-Type.

After the fayre had finished I headed home. Lots of little boys and girls as well as my son and dad watched as I pulled my leather jacket on, strapped my helmet on and fired up the R1. They oohed and aahed as I turned right out of the school gate and eeeeeehed as the rear tyre found no traction and tried to overtake the front swinging the bike right, left, right, left, right. Then it did find grip, abruptly stopped it's fishtail and spewed me off and into the air whereupon I slid down the road for twenty yards with the bike's front wheel on my right leg.

I was fine, the bike was trashed. I've never crashed a bike again, thankfully.

I'd had plenty of 'nearly crashed' moments before that crash on the bike but none since, funnily enough.

In the car, though, I had one earlier today. I took my Elise out for a winter blat. The weather was fine if a little cold and I wanted to let rip for an hour or so. The roads were quiet and the top was off. I had a vague route sketched out in my mind and headed north out of the village and towards a fantastic road nearby.

Hose Hill is a half mile section of steep road that contains three hairpin bends and that is controlled by traffic lights over its entirety which means it is a one way road. I was headed downhill and as I approached saw a white, diesel Audi TT at the lights ahead of me. Knowing the TT would be driven very slowly down the hill I held back and waited a few minutes whilst the lights changed to red and then back to green.

I lit up the rear tyres away from the lights and held a perfect line through the first of the bends, which is a long, constant radius right handler. This is followed by 120 metres of straight road which leads into a first corner left hand hairpin bend - tighter than both the Gooseneck on the Isle of Man TT course or Loews hairpin at the Monaco GP circuit (I've driven both).

I pelted along the 120 metres in second gear and approached the corner. I braked in the right place - not too early or too late - but I pushed the brake pedal too hard, too quickly.

At this point it should be noted the Elise has many qualities. It has a brilliant braking system with huge amounts of feel, and it has great tyres, the discs are drilled and the pads are green EBC units. The trouble is I had failed to warm the brakes and tyres sufficiently and I had pressed the brake pedal too fast, too hard and too clumsily. Oh, and the car doesn't have ABS.

So we arrived in the corner with the front wheels locked, heading towards a vast pile of rotten leaves which had built up over the autumn.

I should know better because I know the car well and I have been trained on track by experts from Lotus, Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Polestar and a very sweary and shouty racing racing driver who's Radical SR3 I was piloting around Silverstone at the time.

Anyway, back to the corner and the locked wheels and the impending doom and the possibly very high insurance bill. As you can probably tell by the title of this article I didn't crash the car but it was a close run thing.

Luckily my reflexes acted before my mind even thought, "Oh shit I'm going to crash the car," which made my right foot momentarily come off the brake pedal and then push it again, once the wheels had unlocked, but this time with more finesse. This enabled me to slow the car sufficiently before I hit the wet leaves and a certain crash.

The day was saved by instantaneous action and and unconscious knowledge of what to do in a given situation. This is a credit to the hours of training I've had, and possibly very good reflexes.

Over the years these reflexes have saved me untold times. I remember driving back from a wedding late at night in the rain with the kids bickering on the back seat and my ex talking at me in the passenger seat. My car at the time, an old Passat 1.9TDi estate, did have ABS but it was pathetic. In slippery conditions it made the car travel further than if it hadn't had ABS.

We were hurtling downhill doing 60mph on an empty dual carriageway. I was being talked to and trying to concentrate on terrible road conditions at the same time. I noticed too late the roundabout ahead and did exactly the same as I did in the Elise. I stabbed at the brake, locked the wheels and felt the horrible grind of the ABS being pathetic. I released the pedal, engaged it again and found more grip and slowed us down just enough to make the roundabout safely.

I've driven many powerful cars on public roads as well as race tracks. One in particular gave me a horrendous moment of, "Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!"

If you're a regular reader then you'll know which car I'm talking about. It cost £95k and had 450bhp and as part of the press loan I'd have to cough up the first £5k if I damaged it.

It was my first EVER press car. I reversed it out of my drive very carefully. I drove it down the road very carefully.  I drove it very fast very carefully. Then, like an idiot, I turned the traction control off and booted the throttle.

The rear tyres instantly kicked left and tried to overtake the front. Oh shit. Amazingly, almost before my mind registered the catastrophe that could quite possibly unfold in the seconds ahead, my right foot jumped straight off the throttle, my hands corrected the slide and my right foot went back on the throttle and brought the car back into line.

Disaster averted. I didn't have to pay 5 grand to anyone. I drove the car for another four days then gave it back, relieved.

I've had plenty more of these moments. They've involved oversteering, understeering, overbearing, a couple more fishtails and driving into the central reservation when the traffic ahead has suddenly stopped. Cars are our every day transport. As such we drive when we're alert and we drive when we're tired and drowsy. I've been lucky. I've saved the car every time.

These things happen less now that I am old and experienced. I like to think I am wise but I am probably just more aware than the younger me was of the potential impact on my licence, body and finances of crashing a car.

I learn from every single moment. I was never reckless but we all drive a bit daft when we're young. Nowadays I rarely drive in such a manner that a policeman would consider the need to give me a talking to.

Fingers crossed and touch wood I have yet to crash a car. Hopefully I never will. I'll try my best to make sure I don't. Hopefully you won't either.

Below the article I've posted pics of my old R1 before I crashed it and a screenshot from Google street view of THAT hairpin.

By Matt Hubbard


The 2000 Yamaha R1 I crashed BEFORE I crashed it

THAT hairpin


27 Nov 2015

What I Need Is A "Don't Give A Shit" Car

Remember that funny clip doing the rounds recently where two Mercedes drivers were facing each other in a tunnel? There's no room for one to pass the other and neither will budge. One car was an S-Class driven by an old fool who reckoned he didn't know how to reverse and the other an SLK driven by a middle aged blonde woman who should've known better.

For forty minutes she cursed and hectored whilst he sat, unmoving. Eventually with help from people who knew how to drive he reversed his old bus out of the way and she drove off, no doubt accompanied by a two fingered salute. He had been in the wrong but she should have read the situation and reversed.

I had one of these moments of my own recently. It was along one of the many single lane country lanes with passing places around and about where I live. It was dark, slightly drizzly and I was in my 10 month old Volvo XC60 which is relatively large and incredibly visible due to the Swedish-spec lights which could be used to bring down a 787 Dreamliner were the runway lights to fail at Heathrow.

My opponent was in a four year old Skoda Fabia estate - a hateful car. The standard issue Fabia looks great but the estate is in the Peugeot 207 SW category for dreariness as far as I'm concerned.

I was driving down the lane and could see his lights in the distance. I passed a passing place but given he was a good third of a mile away didn't stop at it. There would be more.

But I didn't pass another until we met, nose to nose. I know the road well and given the distance from the one I'd passed I knew he would just have passed one.

But he refused to budge. I waved my hands at him, gesticulating for him to reverse. He refused to budge. I flashed my lights. He refused to budge. I became enraged and called him a very rude name from within the confines of my own car. He refused to budge. I honked my horn. He refused to budge. I leaned out of the window and shouted that he'd just passed a passing place and would he reverse back to it please. He refused to budge. I called him another rude name and told him to reverse back to the rude word passing place he'd just rude word driven past. Rude word.

He refused to budge.

It was at this point I wished I wasn't in my almost-new Volvo. I wished I was in a car I didn't give a single shit about. I wished I could have slowly driven up to him and forcibly pushed him all the way back to the passing place where I would have scraped all up the side of his rude word Fabia rude word estate and carried on my merry rude word way.

I was annoyed that the only course of action was for me to reverse a third of a mile to the next passing place and let him through. I didn't care about conceding defeat or any other stupid macho nonsense. I cared that he was both too stubborn and too thick to be able to drive properly and that I had to put myself out purely because he was too stubborn and thick to do so himself. And, yes, there was a passing place twenty yards behind where his car had been.

And then I set about thinking. I thought about the amount of times I'd cursed somebody else's driving, about their obvious lack of skills and the sheer arrogance of many drivers. I reckoned at least half of drivers I meet coming the other way are more than half way over the middle of the road so that I have to scrape along a hedge so they don't have to.

And then I thought, yes, I really do want a 'don't give a shit' car, and being a petrolhead I decided there and then exactly what it would be.

It would obviously have to be cheap and reasonably old, say ten to twelve years. It would also have to be small. A large car would be useful in some circumstances but in this car I'd want to never have to stop or swerve for someone coming the other way. I'd want to carry merrily on and watch as they panic and plunge their brand new Audi A7 into a hedge. I'd want to play chicken and win every single time because I had the nerve to do so because I didn't give a shit about the car I was in.

It would also have to be quick - just because.

I decided my ideal 'don't give a shit' car would be a 2004 Mini Cooper S. You can pick one up for a couple of grand and it'll be in good nick. It's small, has great steering and goes like the proverbial off a shovel.

So one day when the lease on my Volvo is nearing it's end I might buy myself a cheap Mini Cooper S and then you'd better watch out because I really won't give a shit.

By Matt Hubbard


25 Nov 2015

The 80s Called - They Want Their Speed Bumps Back

I live in a lovely village. It has one high school, two primary schools, several shops, a recreation ground, a doctor's surgery and lots of houses. There is virtually no crime and you see a policeman about as frequently as a total solar eclipse.

Yet all of us who drive are treated like criminals. We are subjected to harsh treatment at the hands of spiteful little people every single time we leave our driveways and venture into the scary world of murder and shoplifting beyond the village boundary.

It is impossible to drive from where I live to anywhere else without driving over at least three speed bumps. There are two types in the village and, perversely, all are situated on the whimsically named Hollybush Lane.

The first is placed at a T-junction where a quiet residential street meets Hollybush Lane. It is built from bricks and has only a small elevation from the tarmac surrounding it. This type isn't quite so bad although the fact you go from tarmac to brick means a change in surface and a reduction in grip level just at the point you want the tyres to grip. This means most people slow down to around 0mph before making the turn.

The second is the truly vicious type of bump. An angular lump with steep inclines and sharp creases. There is one in each lane which are just about wide enough that if you straddle them will not be quite so catastrophic on your spine as if you hit it full on.

However these bumps slowly eat away at your car's suspension, pushing it every time you ride them so that one day it will collapse at 60mph on a really dangerous corner. This is the whole point of speed bumps - to mete out damage to car and self until one or the other concedes defeat.

If cars are parked in the road the situation becomes a whole lot worse because then you cannot straddle the bumps unless you head right out onto the other side of the road and play chicken with oncoming traffic.

Motorcyclists and cyclists suffer more than drivers. They normally ride around the bumps but when the weather is wet this is not always very sensible. If the traffic is busy a rider can quite easily find themselves unavoidably and rapidly approaching a bump. Panic braking will cause a crash so you hit the bump and, if you're male, the subsequent impact can mean the testes being pushed into the body. This is horribly painful and makes the eyes water, which isn't very safe.

We have speed bumps because in the 1980s some dreadful people who couldn't be bothered working enjoyed stealing the cars of people who could be bothered working. In their snow washed denim jeans, white socks and and shiny bomber jackets they would break into Peugeot 205 GTIs and tear up and down the roads of our towns and villages whilst smoking Benson and Hedges cigarettes.

This became such a popular pastime that the annual car insurance for people who could be bothered working rose to such ridiculously levels that everyone had to sell their XR3s and buy a Fiesta 1.1 Popular instead.

Town councils got together with highways engineers and decided that the best way to slow down these 'joy riders' was to leave large lumps of tarmac in the road to slow them down.

This didn't work because the driver of a stolen car doesn't care about wear and tear but the councillors, highways engineers and government in general realised that speed bumps perfectly aligned with their victimisation of the driver.

Then as time progressed and the joy riders either died of heroin overdoses or got jobs as estate agents and bought their own Ford Cougars and Vauxhall Astras the need for speed bumps disappeared.

Now in the 2010s people don't speed through villages and towns much anymore. There is no counter culture, the children of the baby boomers are conformists, they don't break the rules. Real police don't exist any more, they just operate ever more clever machines designed to catch the motorist out.

So we don't need speed bumps. Yet they still exist. Why? The reason for their being is no longer valid.

Because, much as with cameras and tickets and red routes and single occupancy lanes and hatched zones and double yellow lines and bus lanes, those who think they are in charge of us do not like us to be truly free. Cars represent freedom, speed bumps represent control.

Tear them all up I say.

By Matt Hubbard


24 Nov 2015

Please Don't Let Me Die Of Boredom Behind The Wheel

Cars can be many things. They can ferry our kids to school, us to work, our groceries back from the shop, our pets to the vets and our entire lives when moving house.

But cars can also carry us spiritually. I don't mean in some horrible hippy-trippy way, I mean we can be driving them when - to steal a phrase from Anchorman - whammy! We're not in the real world, we've transcended normal space and time and the only thing that matters is pure physics and the road ahead of us. Our fingers, toes and eyes are in control. Everything else is just along for the ride.

This is when driving becomes zen. Your mind becomes like the cleanest mirror, reflecting the road, your body reacting and controlling the car perfectly.

OK so this kind of thing doesn't happen every day and most drivers go out of their way to prevent you having a good time behind the wheel. Driving is quite often stressful, annoying and boring. Our roads are full and most people who drive drive only to get from A to B. Most people don't care for the art of driving or driving for pleasure.

Most people drive at the speed limit, or just below. Most people get annoyed when they're overtaken. Some unregistered psychopaths even move over and into us when we're overtaking them because their penis is tiny and this makes them angry with society, especially when people overtake them.

Some people drive just close enough to the idiot in front of them in a train of several idiots that means, despite the entire train of idiots doing 45mph on a 60mph road, you are unable to overtake any of them and so become one of the idiots yourself for a few minutes. And then as some point you decide you've had enough of idiots and overtake one or more on a straight bit when no-one's coming the other way, and have to barge in between the idiots who are maintaining a gap to the car in front slightly smaller than the length of your car, thereby elevating yourself above the level of idiot.

If you are like me then you like to drive and everybody else is the enemy. They are out to persecute and denigrate you. To make you drive slow, to pull away from the green light just slowly enough that you hit the red, to wait until you're approaching and pull out in front of you and then take an absolute age to get up to speed. Their speed - not yours.

The enemy drives past horses with their engines revving whilst you crawl past with the clutch dipped and the engine at idle. The enemy drives past your kid's school at 42mph whilst you stick to 30 all the way through the village just in case some old dear or young sprog should jump out from behind a parked car. The enemy parks with their wheels over the white lines. The enemy gets in your way every time the road gets interesting.

On our congested roads full of idiots you must enjoy driving pleasure when you can. Those ten minutes in a journey of an hour when the road is empty, your right foot heavy and your hands loose and easy on the wheel. When the coppers have gone for coffee and donuts and the idiots have gone shopping for Christmas paraphernalia at the garden centre - in September

Then you find yourself enjoying those precious minutes of freedom. When your mind attunes to the road and nothing interferes save for the occasional suicidal pigeon. That is what driving is for in twenty first century Britain.

Don't allow yourself to be in that situation with a boring car. Make sure you drive something interesting all of the time just in case the magic happens, whilst the idiots are buying garden gnomes and the roads are briefly empty.

In twenty years time self-driving cars will start to become the norm. Insurers will soon realise that fallible humans are the cause of the vast majority of accidents and they'll price us off the roads. They won't differentiate between the zen-merchants and the garden gnome buyers. We'll all be lumped into one category - human - and therefore pathetically incompetent behind the wheel.

Enjoy driving your car while you can.

By Matt Hubbard





3 Oct 2015

What happens if you get caught speeding in your lease car?


Speeding fines are a big issue in the UK, in excess of 100,000 are handed out every year, but the process of dealing with one is generally fairly simple. However, if you lease your car the process can differ slightly.

For example if your vehicle is leased on a personal contract hire (PCH) or business contract hire (BCH) agreement, it actually remains the property of the car leasing company. Despite you being the actual keeper, the chances are any fines that are issued will be sent straight to the company in question.

Of course, this doesn't mean you can simply dodge the fine. Not only will you still be liable to pay for it, you may even be subjected to an admin fee by your car leasing provider.

Surprisingly the process of dealing with a speeding fine incurred whilst travelling in a leased vehicle is seldom talked about. With that in mind I've compiled the following guide to help you better understand what to expect.

Receiving a Notice of Prosecution (NIP)

When you lease a car the registered owner will be the car leasing company, the registered keeper may be the leasing company too, but the day to day keeper will be the driver of the vehicle. This is especially true with company cars and fleets who are rarely the registered keeper.

Because of this, any Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) for a speeding offence is likely to be sent to the car leasing company, at which point they will grass you up, it's nothing personal, just what the law dictates they do. It's worth noting that although initial correspondence is referred to as a NIP, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a prosecution will be undertaken, this depends on several factors.

The issuing of the NIP is something that must be done within 14 days of the offence taking place. That doesn’t mean that you must be notified within 14 days, but simply that it will be issued, if a leasing company is involved it will inevitably take longer for the notice to reach you.

Accepting liability

As mentioned above the car leasing company is the likely recipient of the NIP, they will then respond to the notice with confirmation of your details. Once confirmed, the Police will send you a separate notice asking you to confirm that you were driving at the time of the offence, if you weren’t driving you will be asked to name the offending driver.

You must respond to this letter within 28 days, failure to do so is classed as an offence in its own right. It's also worth noting that simply claiming you are unsure who was driving won't get you off with a slap on the wrist, quite to the contrary as you could be charged with failing to disclose the drivers details.

Fees imposed by the leasing company

The leasing company's involvement in this process takes time and effort, admittedly not very much, but an admin fee is likely to be imposed by them nonetheless. If it's a company car then your employer is likely to be charged the admin fee instead, but may pass it on to you.

In addition, your employer may also charge their own admin fee to cover the administrative costs involved. Both of these fees will likely be deducted straight from your pay packet.

However, if this happens, you'd be wise to check your contract of employment to make sure they have the right to do so. If not, then you may choose to dispute the fees, though it's worth noting that being caught speeding in a vehicle leased and provided by your employer may be interpreted as gross misconduct so you may not wish to rock the boat and risk possible dismissal.

The likely punishment

Once you have accepted liability, the type of punishment you are handed out will depend on the extent of the offence, but also any previous speeding conviction that you may have. The Association of Chief Police Officers has a set of guidelines that suggest when a prosecution should be made, though individual officers do have discretion.

Options available to Police who are dealing with a speeding incident begin with a simple verbal warning or a speed awareness course, something you will have to pay for out of your own pocket.

At the other end of the spectrum there's the issuing of a Fixed Penalty Notice (speeding ticket), with a £100 fine and three penalty points on your licence. The most severe action would be a prosecution, something that requires you to attend court and could see you landed with a fine of up to £1,000 or £2,500 if the offence took place on a motorway. That's in addition to either three or six penalty points and the possibility of a driving ban.


2 Oct 2015

Lotus Elise S2 Review


My day to day car is a 2015 Volvo XC60 which I love dearly. It's comfortable, sips diesel as if from a thimble and has a crystal clear and extremely powerful sound system. But when it comes to thrills n'spills it's only average.

I also have a motorcycle, a Triumph Street Triple, which I bought brand new in 2011 and which has 8,000 miles on the clock. 2,000 miles a year might not seem much but it isn't bad for a bike. I love the Triumph and ride it often, and it provides thrills n'spills in ample quantities.

But I'd been hankering for something else. I'd been hankering for a Porsche 911.

The 911 had always been my dream car. The object of my affection. My ultimate driving machine (to pinch a phrase from another of ze Germans). And 911s of the 90s era are seriously cheap.

You can bag a 996 911 for £8,000. Eight grand! That buys you a dark blue, rear engined speed machine with fried eggs for headlights, no glove box and an interior the colour of baby shit.

I wanted one. But then I remembered that 911s of that era come with a special engine that explodes itself to pieces unless you take it to a Porsche specialist and pay him many thousands of pounds to take the engine apart and build it as Porsche should have done in the first place.

So I didn't want a 911 any more.

And anyway my son said I was stupid if I didn't buy a Lotus Elise. He said the Elise is the best looking car ever made and that Lotus is the best car company ever. My son is 13 and when he was 11 he was driven round the Lotus test track at high speed in an Exige by a man called Darren, who is Lotus's senior engineer. He may be somewhat biased.

But he was right. I bought a Lotus Elise and it is the best car ever made.

The reasons for this are many but can be summarised in just one statistic. If you were to strap my motorcycle on to my Elise the combined weight of the resulting six wheeled monstrosity would be less than one single, measly Mazda MX5.

My 2002 Elise has the bog standard Rover K-Series 1.8 litre engine, manually winding windows, a passenger seat that is bolted to the floor and an accelerator pedal modelled on the head of a pin and as such it weighs 720kg.

The Street Triple weighs 160kg. A Mazda MX5 of any age weighs more than 1,000kg. Fat, lardy bastard thing.

A bog standard £8k Porsche 911 weighs 1,350kg. That's almost double what the Elise weighs.

This lack of weight is felt everywhere. For a start it is felt whilst sitting in it. It is felt in the extremely thinly cushioned seat, which adjusts about 4 inches backwards and forwards - and that's it.

The seat is supportive and lends itself well to spirited driving, which is something the Elise excels at. The cast aluminium Rover 4-pot chucks out a measly 115bhp but this is plenty enough as it hurls the Lotus from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds.

You need to be good at changing gear to match that though. The gearbox is the Elise's worst feature. It doesn't like being hurried. Get it right though and acceleration is supremely swift.

The driving position is snug. The car is essentially an aluminium bathtub chassis on to which a GRP body is glued. The chassis dictates everything about the shape of the car and where you fit in it. The sills are high and wide (which makes getting in and out comically difficult) and the footwell narrows to almost nothing where your feet should go.

You need to be friendly with your passenger as your elbows will overlap, and neither of you had better bring any luggage. The boot (behind the engine) is tiny and the storage space in the cabin pretty much non-existent.

The steering wheel doesn't adjust (did you really think it would?) but it, the pedals, the gearstick and the seat align themselves in such a way you wouldn't want to change any of them - unless you were quite tall or quite short in which case the Elise isn't the car for you. Go buy a lardy old Porsche, freak.

Fire up the engine and you realise it wasn't tuned to make a great noise. It's just there and sounds about as good as  the same unit in a Rover 45.

The first time you pull away you drive like an 89 year old with arthritic feet who's forgotten his glasses. The throttle needs a hefty push, the clutch bite point is hard to find.

Tune yourself to the car some more and getting away from the line becomes easier, but expect a degree of pogoing when in a traffic jam.

The steering has no assistance but doesn't feel like it needs any. The front tyres are quite narrow and did I mention how light the car is? The brakes don't have any assistance either, but you do sometimes wish they did.

Aside from pulling away from a standstill driving the Elise is a doddle - as long as you aren't an 89 year old with arthritis, or aren't freakishly tall or short. Or aren't too fat to fit in it.

The steering is light and wonderfully fluid. The Elise is legendary in this regard and with good reason. Quite simply it is sensational. You feel every undulation of the road yet the compliant suspension irons out irregularities. Darren did an amazing job when he engineered Mr Chapman's legacy.

The engine doesn't make much noise or power but it doesn't need to. The Elise is fast everywhere. Visibility is great and the controls are the most intuitive of any car I've ever driven.

The brakes are wonderfully competent and deliver great feel, although you need to push hard on the pedal to make them work. The discs are drilled and never give up their bite, even after many miles of hard driving.

The roof is a canvas affair that rolls up and lives in the boot when you're not using it. Putting it in place takes around 2 minutes. It is a bit of a pain in the arse. With the roof off the Elise feels light and airy and wonderful and lovely and fun. With the roof on the Elise feels very, very snug. Almost claustrophobic if you suffer from that kind of thing.

You remain dry until it rains. You'll stay dry if you drive at under 50mph. Above that and the roof's limitations are revealed. Water enters at the top of the windscreen - the traitorous roof lifts to expose your dry head - and proceeds to pelt you in the face with water at high speed. This is funny the first time it happens. After that you resolve not to drive your Lotus in the wet.

I bought my Lotus Elise as a plaything. I do drive it whenever I can. It is impractical but it has proved to be reliable. I have as much fun driving it as any car I've driven (quite a lot). I like it a lot and so would you if you bought one, and weren't built in such a way as you couldn't fit in it.


By Matt Hubbard



26 Feb 2015

2015 Vauxhall Insignia SRi 2.0 CDTi Review

Matt Hubbard drives the overly long named Vauxhall Insignia SRi VX-Line Nav 2.0CDTi 16v (140PS) ecoFLEX Start/Stop

2015 Vauxhall Insignia SRi 2.0 CDTi

The Vauxhall Insignia is not a bad looking car. It looks like a saloon but is actually a hatchback, albeit one you wouldn't want to consign your dog to travelling in the boot of. He wouldn't be able to see out.

The upside of that diminished practicality is that the Insignia's profile is a good one. Unfortunately the effect is spoiled somewhat when you look directly at the front or rear of the car and encounter the acres of chrome that embellishes it.

You may be a fan of chrome but I'm not so the sight of a fully chromed grille and chrome lines under the fog lights at the front and a big chrome strip at the rear tend to lead to chrome overkill.

Which is a shame because otherwise the Insignia is a perfectly reasonable car who's only other crime is its ubiquity. When you drive one you notice them everywhere.

The 19" wheels on the test car are standard fit and look pretty snazzy (if a little 'busy').

The Insignia is a long car and has a vast boot and rear seats with plenty of leg room. It uses the space well but a lack of a rear view camera or parking sensors make reverse parking a bit hairy - especially as the rear hatch window, when viewed in the rear view mirror, is tiny.
2015 Vauxhall Insignia SRi 2.0 CDTi

The interior is dark but tasteful. Buttons are few and well laid out and the overall design is easy on the eye with a single line that runs from each door and across the dash (similar to that in the Jaguar XJ). The dials and knobs feel quality and are simple to use, the screens are big enough and feature nice graphics and everything feels more refined and premium than you'd expect in a Vauxhall.

I shot a video the very first time I drove the Insignia and guessed the price would be edging towards £30k.  I was wrong, it costs £23k.

Once you study the specs and drive it for a few days you realise why it's not a £30k car, but the shortfalls between it and a Volvo S60 or Merc C-Class are not obviously apparent from behind the wheel.

It has leather seats that are comfortable and part electrically adjustable. It has sensibly placed and sized storage binnacles, USB points, Bluetooth, digital radio, satnav, cruise control and a screen in front of the the driver.

It's let down by confusing menus on both screens, a digital radio that is sometimes easy to tune but sometimes you cannot find the station you want and a satnav that is found wanting in terms of speed and ease of use. It defaults on top down 2D view and the 3D view just tilts the screen a bit. It doesn't have traffic and instead the traffic reports on the local radio station suddenly cut in on top of whatever you're listening to at maximum volume.

The steering feels good - it's predictable and precise - and the ride is both smooth and reasonably supportive when going round corners. Push hard round a fast bend and you can feel the edge of its limitations. The Insignia is no sports car but it is possible to drive it in a spirited manner and enjoy doing so.

Driving at night is aided by some super bright lights - that automatically come on as dusk arrives. The windscreen wipers aren't automatic though.

The engine is a modern 2-litre diesel that lacks in bhp but makes up for it in torque. Once you get above the point the turbo kicks in it will carry you along on a wave of grunt, which means you can be cack handed with the light and easy to use gearbox and still carry a decent turn of speed.

As with other saloon/hatchbacks in the sub-premium class the Insignia has a bit of an image problem (few will be bought as private purchases) but if you end up with one as a company car you'll not be disappointed when you drive it.

It is spacious, practical, drives well, efficient, costs little to run, has a good sound system and looks good but you will miss a reversing camera, a decent satnav and the image of other saloons. But if you  ignore the lack of a premium badge the Vauxhall Insignia SRi CDTi is a thoroughly good car.

Stats


Price - £23,204
Engine - 4-cylinder, 2.0, turbodiesel
Transmission - 6-speed manual
0-62mph - 10.5 seconds
Top Speed - 127mph
Power - 138bhp
Torque - 258lb ft
Economy - 76.3mpg
CO2 - 98g/km
Kerb Weight - 1,538kg








25 Feb 2015

Driven – Peugeot 108 Allure 1.2

Colin Hubbard reviews the Peugeot 108 Allure


The Peugeot 108 is the second generation of the city car jointly developed by Peugeot, Citroen and Toyota.  The 108, C1 and Aygo are produced by the same factory in the Czech republic.

It's a small, safe, quality car designed for 4 occupants in a tiny package - kind of like the original Mini in concept but with increased height for better packaging.

They share approximately 70% of their components including bodyshell, gearboxes and engines with each other but each model has its own spec, look and trim.

All are available in 3 or 5 door and the 108 has a choice of naturally aspirated 1.0 or 1.2 three cylinder, petrol engines.

The test car was fitted with the larger of the 2 engines - a 1.2 with 82bhp and a useful 86lb/ft torque - and has a 5 speed manual gearbox. The new range of 3-cylinder ‘Pure Tech’ engines are made from aluminium to save weight but are fitted with cast iron cylinder liners for longevity and feature a raft of fuel saving features.

Spec levels start at Access followed by Active then Allure and finally Feline.

The test car came in Allure spec which has many bells and whistles for such a small car and includes but a reversing camera, bluetooth phone connection and music streaming, keyless entry and start, large touchscreen DAB radio along with the usual, but maybe not standard on supermini, electric windows, electric mirrors, air conditioning, rev counter, LED daytime running lights and tyre pressure sensors.

The whole idea behind city cars is motoring on a budget and the 108 puts a tick in this box as even with the largest available engine fitted the CO2 rating is 99 g/km, meaning free road tax, and the combined fuel consumption figure is 65.7mpg. Insurance is group 11E.

In addition to cheap running costs superminis also need agility to manoeuvre around town and park easily. Again the 108 fulfils this role due to its tiny dimensions and light steering.

The packaging is pure genius and every inch of available space has been utilised by something or other. By designing the car around small, three cylinder engines there is no wasted space in the engine bay and so overall length is as short as it possibly can be.

At the front there is a small overhang, just enough to satisfy pedestrian impact and crash tests but also to retain a small overall dimension so it is easily visible to aid parking and manoeuvring in confined spaces.

The 3 door model has quite long doors to aid rear access. They open in staged notches so can be opened in several varying degrees when exiting without fear of knocking the car next to you.

At the rear there is no tailgate to speak of but instead a hinged glass rear screen with integral wiper. This works well in daily use although the small aperture means there is a high boot lip impeding access for getting heavy shopping in.

Styling wise Peugeot has followed Mini in its customisation program. The 108's main visual option is a two tone paint job as seen here in Purple Berry and Zircon Grey.

Lots of other customising kits are available from mirror covers to transfer kits and the theme spreads through to the interior and even the key fob.

The interior packing is where most of the ingenuity lies.

The front seat sits fairly high so the driving position is a little more upright which means rear passengers feet can fit under the front seats comfortably. This also aids visibility when manoeuvring around and especially so when parking. In the front there is plenty of headroom, I am 5'9 and there were a good 4 inches clear above my head so whilst the car is small you don't feel claustrophobic on the inside.

The sports style seats have fairly squashy side supports but are comfortable nevertheless. Leather seat facings are an £650 option.

Rear seat passengers also have good headroom unless they lean backwards intentionally and then the headlining can just be felt. There is only space and belts for 2 in the back so this is a strict 4 seater which meant the car could be designed narrower than 5 seaters which again saves weight and helps drive through tighter gaps.

Whilst on trial I tested out the real world usability of the cabin with a trip to the pub with 3 friends, one of whom is 6'3 and the others 5'10 and everyone had sufficient space to be comfortable. Quite some achievement for such a tiny car.

The boot appeared tiny at first due to the high lip but look further and it is deceptively deep which swallows quite a lot of luggage, certainly enough space for a families weekly shop. Lift the boot carpet and amazingly they have squeezed in a spacesaver spare wheel and tyre under there although this is only standard on Allure and above.

The engine is started with a stop/start button on the centre console and kicks into life with a kind of electrical whirr style noise. As the motor warms and the revs settle the sound softens to a gentle murmur.

Oddly the steering column only adjusts for rake and takes the instruments with it which makes the motion feel heavy but as I only needed to adjust it once this was no issue. This does also mean that the position of the clocks is spot on. There is a large central speedo with the fuel level and trip computer functions in the centre and a vertical digital rev counter off to the left.

The driving position once set is actually pretty good, the wheel could do with coming toward me a little but overall it is comfortable with everything to hand.

All the controls are light, the steering particularly so with easy slow speed manoeuvring meaning quick turns into a parking space are done with ease. There is a self centring action at higher speeds and a more positive motion as it weights up over 40mph.

When on the go the engine is a little belter. Yes it does need revving due to its modest power output and you need to be in the correct gear to keep things moving along nicely but when you do so it is very enjoyable. At higher revs the little three-pot sounds thrummy and toward the red line quite harsh but the odd number of cylinders provides real character in terms of both torque and sound.

The flywheel is offset to balance vibrations from the odd number of cylinders but the buzzy, unbalanced nature is still felt which I liked and made me change up higher up the rev range than I normally would. It is certainly more entertaining than a four pot.

The gearbox is a sweet five speed unit and has a tall and circular gear knob that makes changing gear fun with a positive shift action. Just five gears is enough for the little motor which red-lines at just over 6,000rpm and at 70 mph it is ticking along nicely at just over 2,500 revs.

The clutch has the usual small Peugeot annoyance of being hinged from the left so your left foot fouls the pedal arm when stepping on the clutch pedal from the rest position.

The chassis engineers have got their way over the designers and this 108 wears little 165/60/15 tyres so the suspension only has a small amount of unsprung weight at each corner. Some fairly elastic feeling damping and long travel suspension keeps each wheel firmly on the ground so it can be chucked around with confidence yet also has a surprisingly supple ride quality. It does help that you are doing lower speeds than you would in a larger car but that is part of the appeal as 'normal' trips out can turn out to be rather enjoyable due to the provocative nature of the fizzy engine and engaging, fun chassis.

The brakes are capable with strong positive action from the servo, even four-up they still felt confidence inspiring. Fully loaded with people the performance, however, is dulled as the power to weight ratio is seriously reduced but it's safe and acceptable for one-off trips. The handling is also affected with more bodies on board with more pronounced understeer but again nothing scary.

The rear three quarter view on the 3-door 108 is pretty terrible. If you are on the motorway in lanes two or three and want to move a lane to the left the view over your left shoulder is mostly the tall front passenger seat but also the very wide C pillar. Instead you have to alter your driving style to rely on the large mirrors and plan ahead.

This doesn’t affect parking so much as the test car was fitted with a parking camera as standard, which is viewed on the large central screen. When reverse is selected the camera kicks in to provide a clear rear view and guides you into parking spots with a set of side lines. This negates the need for parking sensors and proved to be more intuitive - being able to see rather than hear if you are about to hit something.

The rest of the tech was also up to scratch with a quality 4 speaker sound system controlled by the 7 inch touchscreen display and wheel mounted controls. This plays either DAB radio or music from your own device via Bluetooth, USB or headphone jack and both inputs worked a treat with excellent quality sound.

It seems strange at first having no CD player but many people now have an iPod or its equivalent so why pay for a CD player that may not get used? Very forward thinking for Peugeot but also disappointing if you haven’t got a music device as a CD player can’t even be optioned.

Another oddity is the lack of satnav. It's only available as an option in the form of a Tom Tom that you stick on the windscreen. This gets a thumbs up from me as I have nothing but praise for the most intuitive and accurately mapped navigation tool on the market but for some the lack of integration could be a turn off.

Tested over a week at freezing temperatures and left outside at night the heater proved to be quick to warm the cabin and then provided a toasty source of heat when on my way.

The interior is filled with little cubby holes, cup holders and bottle holders and real thought has gone into clever use of the available space. There must have been a small void available behind the glovebox as it has been opened out so a 1 litre bottle can be inserted lengthways into it and kept a little cooler than within the cabin on a hot day. Little features like this make it easier to live with and more pleasant to own.

As tested this 108 Allure was just over £12,500 which is good value considering it is near the top of the range and has a huge specification. If you fancy a little wind in your hair motoring the 108 ‘TOP!’ Is available with a fully electric folding fabric roof and is available on most specs for an extra £1,000.

As a whole the 108 is a well-made, superbly packaged little car with a fun chassis and bubbly engine meaning low cost motoring doesn’t have to be low fun motoring.

If you are in the market for a small city car I heartily recommend a test drive in the little Peugeot 108.

Stats


Price - £11,095
Engine – 1.2 litre, inline-3, petrol
Transmission - 5-speed manual
Drive – front wheel drive
0-62mph – 11 seconds
Top speed - 106 mph
Power – 82 bhp
Torque – 86 lb ft
Economy – 65.7mpg (combined)
CO2 - 99 g/km (zero road tax)
Kerb weight – 865 kg