1 Jan 2017

Trip of a Lifetime: John O'Groats to Land's End in One Day

Before Christmas I was wondering what on earth I was going to do in the black hole that is the few days between Christmas and New Year apart from drink and eat to excess. I'm really not a fan of winter and short, cold, rainy days make me feel quite miserable. I needed something to take my mind off it all. I needed a challenge!

One disgustingly dark and horrible December morning I was sitting on the 7.25am from Theale to Paddington reading the latest Guy Martin book. Guy is a human dynamo with boundless energy and a need to fill every hour of the day with danger and excitement. I'm not in the same league as him in terms of activity but I had had a pretty action packed 2016 as far as I was concerned and why not finish it with another road trip?

Inspired by Mr Martin and the fact my new car, a 2007 BMW 330i M Sport, was both fast and comfortable I decided to undertake a trip I'd always wanted to do. Land's End to John O'Groats.

That evening I studied the map. I live in the south east of England and the distance from home to Land's End is 276 miles. Land's End to John O'Groats is 837 miles and John O'Groats to home is 675 miles.  The most I'd ever driven in one day was from Dallas, Texas, to Santa Fe, New Mexico via Roswell and that was 704 miles. 704 miles on straight, open, traffic free, speed camera free American highways. In daylight.

Land's End to John O'Groats would be 837 miles on British roads with average speed cameras, road works and festooned with ignorant drivers in MPVs. The trip would take around 14 hours (without any stops), half of which would be in the dark.

Sounded good. I set a date and booked the hotels. My plan was to do the trip backwards and take two days to get to John O'Groats so I would be feeling fresh and unweary for the big day.

Christmas came and went and on boxing day morning I set off for Dunblane in Scotland. The car was freshly serviced and fully fuelled and I had a cardboard box strapped to the passenger seat which contained all the essentials I'd need for the trip.

Day 1 was an enjoyable blast along familiar roads - the A34, M40, M42, M6 and M74. I was surprised at how much traffic was on the road but nonetheless didn't get stuck in any traffic jams.  The hotel was comfortable and the next day I breakfasted well and headed to John O'Groats. This day was much different. The vast majority of the trip was on the A9 which would be a fabulous road but is neutered by average speed cameras along the majority of its length.

Still, there is a certain enjoyment to be found setting the cruse control to 74mph and doing everything in your power to maintain that speed no matter what - including overtaking those doing 68mph (everyone).

The A9 flows through the Cairngorms where the view changes from forest to mountains. It's an achingly lovely place spoiled only by having to constantly overtake other drivers whilst making sure you don't speed. At one point I stopped in a quiet lay-by. There seemed to be no-one else for miles around and was the perfect place for a comfort break. Then a cyclist clad in lycra arrived and stood ten yards away from me, unmoving. It felt like he'd done it on purpose. Still needing a pee I got back in the car and carried on.

The road situation vastly improves north of Inverness where the road gets quieter and twistier and the speed cameras disappear. I would argue this promotes safer driving as one needs to focus on what is going on and one's driving. The further north you get the more corners and elevation changes there are. The sea is to one side and craggy hills to the other. Towns and villages are sprinkled infrequently and traffic is extremely light. Even when you do come up behind someone there are plenty of opportunities to overtake safely.

At a place called Golspie I pulled over and went for a walk along a quite spectacular beach. At Wick I stopped for fuel and some healthy snacks for the journey - carrots, nuts, grapes.

At a shade before 4pm I pulled into John O'Groats. The village is nothing more than a collection of touristy type buildings surrounding a harbour. Shops, cafe, pub. I walked along the harbour and was for that moment the most northerly person on the British mainland.

My hotel was 200 yards away. It was simple and quite cold. Darkness descended totally at 4.15pm and suddenly what had been a welcoming kind of place seemed harsh and unforgiving.

I had arrived early so I could be as ready as possible for the big day ahead. In terms of overall preparation I was as ready as possible. I was travelling alone. I could have dragged someone along but I'm happy with my own company, and often prefer it to inane chattering for the sake of it. I'd also prepared a very long playlist of my favourite music - around 25 hours worth.

I'd been considering audiobooks but couldn't make my mind up - I prefer to read actual books. However when I learned of the sad death of Carrie Fisher I downloaded her new book, The Princess Diarist.

I'd also altered my sleeping pattern. I'm normally a bed late, up late person - a night owl. But I'd been going to bed earlier and earlier and been waking up earlier too. My alarm was set for 5.30am for a 6am start.

At 7pm I ate dinner in the hotel bar, surrounded by drunk Scottish people. I showered and went to bed at 9pm and fell asleep immediately.

At 3.48am I woke up. There was no point going back to sleep. I made a cup of tea, packed my stuff and hit the road at exactly 4.33am. The satnav said it would take 14 hours 26 minutes. I felt fresh and ready for the trip. Heated seat on, climate set to 20°C. Head off into the dark.

The first couple of hours were fantastic fun. Winding, twisting, single carriageway roads. Hands on the wheel, eyes fixed on the road or the next apex. I was carrying a good speed. Manoeuvres were not conducted like I was in a race car - I was in this for the long haul - but I was braking late, hitting apexes, accelerating hard.

I saw lots of wildlife. Deer, foxes, rabbits and the odd something small, furry and fast, scurrying across the road.

The sky was pitch black but the wind was low and there wasn't a hint of mist, even though fog was forecast over parts of the country.

The further south I headed the more traffic I encountered. I continued driving hard. I came across the sections of the A9 with average speed cameras. Cruise control on, overtake slowly, insane politicking affecting safety. Still, at night you can see headlights approaching - or not.

I passed through the Cairngorms in darkness and didn't see the snow spattered mountains

At 7.41am the sun started appearing above the horizon. Then it came suddenly and the day arrived, albeit gloomily.

By Glasgow I had been driving for 4 hours 30 minutes without a break. We had done 280 miles and there was was still a quarter of a tank of fuel left. My average speed had been 64.6mph and fuel consumption had averaged 27.1mpg.

I was ready for a break (busting for a pee) but the electronic sign said the services I had planned to stop at had no fuel. Instead I asked the satnav to find another fuel station. I stopped at Morrisons, Glasgow to fill up with petrol and windscreen washer fluid and a run to the loo. After less than ten minutes we were on the road again.

The next few hundred miles were going to be my opportunity to increase my average speed before hitting the midlands. South of Glasgow and into northern England and the interfering busybodies in government leave the poor motorist alone for a while. There are no fixed cameras and little other traffic. Those hours were glorious. If you've ever driven across Europe you'll know the feeling of driving mile after mile on straight, quiet roads at high speed. This is what the M74 and M6 through the Lakes and Lancashire is like. Pure pleasure.

And then I hit the traffic.

My average speed over 450 miles had been 69.9mph. I was now just over half way there and feeling good. But the M6 had other thoughts. We ground to a halt north of Warrington and my average never reached 70mph. I was using Google maps on my phone for more accurate traffic data and it said the area north of the Thelwall viaduct was totally blocked and that we should turn off and travel 2 miles east down the M62 then head south through Birchwood and back on to the M6 just ahead of the viaduct. Google reckoned this hugely out of the way route would save 20 minutes. I took the diversion.

We continued to crawl and Google came up with another suggestion to avoid 45 minutes worth of queues. This time it involved the M56 west then the A559 south until Crewe. I took this too.

Coincidentally this route passed within half a mile of my brother's house so I called in for a quick pit stop but the house was empty. They were out shopping. It was 12.45pm. I watered his hedge and carried on.

Back on the M6 and I didn't take any more diversions. The traffic shuffled along in fits and starts and ruined my average speed even more. At Birmingham we took the M5 and carried on inexorably south.

Patches of mist came and went. The traffic didn't improve. At several points the fast lane went from 75mph to 0mph whilst the other lanes carried on at 60-70mph. I was surrounded by ignoramuses who refused to drive according to conditions, to any code of conduct, to simple common sense or courtesy.

I regularly dipped into the middle lane if it became free but would then be blocked from getting back into lane three. People would drive close to the car ahead and constantly brake. Others sat for miles in lane three at 65mph, ignoring the massive queue behind and acres of free motorway ahead. Random panic braking would occur frequently. People only seemed to look at the car ahead rather than to the traffic all around and ahead. I was, as I often am, quite appalled at the driving standards on our roads, something that becomes quite dangerous on a busy motorway.

Time and miles wore on. I had stopped again at Hilton Park services in Birmingham. The sun sat low in the sky at Bristol and everyone slammed on their brakes every time the road aligned with it so it sat right on the horizon at 12 o'clock.

The sun set at 4.30pm at Avonmouth. I took stock. I was feeling fine. I'd been driving for 12 hours straight and did not feel weary. The BMW was doing a fine job. I had finished my audiobook and moved on to music. I would open the window occasionally for a blast of cold, fresh air.

I stopped for fuel somewhere on the M5 but cannot remember where. Then we hit Exeter and turned on to the A30 which is a beautiful road, mainly dual carriageway, that passes through some spectacular scenery as it heads through Devon and Cornwall.

There was plenty of traffic but it was better behaved than on the M6 and M5. We all cruised as fast as we felt comfortable with and people would move over if lane one was free. Very civilised.

At Bodmin we hit 12 miles of roadworks, policed by average speed cameras with a limit of 40mph. I was behind some moron in a Hyundai who could not maintain a constant speed so we wavered from 30 to 40mph for what seemed like forever.

Finally free of the roadworks I mashed the pedal and carried on across Cornwall. I stopped for fuel at some point and felt weary and tired for the first time. The dual carriageway lasts a surprisingly long time. It was only after Penzance - just a few miles from Land's End - that the A30 becomes single carriageway.

Those last few miles were conducted in silence. I turned the music off and opened the window and enjoyed the moment. I followed an old Defender for a few minutes. The driver was caning it so it was quite fun.

And then finally I hit Sennen and saw the sign for Land's End. I passed the Last Pub in England and carried on. Along a quiet lane you see a pair of stone signs either side of the road that simply say Land's End. I stopped for a photo. A deer jumped in front of me and bounced off into the night.

Another hundred yards and I had done it. It was 7.39pm. According to my car's trip computer (not accounting for stops) the average speed had been 62.9mph and the average fuel consumption 28.2mpg. I had covered 857 miles.

The overall trip had taken 15 hours and 6 minutes. I had been driving for 14 hours and 12 minutes. Therefore I had stopped for a total of 54 minutes.

I felt elated. I parked in the Land's End car park and looked upwards. It was a crystal clear night and the sky looked spectacular. I could see three or four times more stars than I normally would in the light polluted south east.

Happy with the day I drove two miles to my hotel in Sennen Cove, ate a light dinner, drank a single pint and went to bed.

The next morning I woke an hour before breakfast so went for a walk along the beautiful beach at Sennen Cove. At 9am I drove back to Land's End and walked down to the craggy area behind the tourist buildings. For that moment I was the most southerly human on the British mainland. Then I headed for home and was able to view Cornwall and Devon in daylight - always a delight. I stopped for lunch with a friend in Somerset and finally arrived home at 4pm.

When I mentioned on Twitter I was doing the trip I had lots of support. When I was headed up north and then on the day of the trip itself I was inundated with questions and well wishes. A few people asked why I had done it, some just said I was crazy. Everyone congratulated me. It felt good to have so much positivity from people.

Driving from John O'Groats to Lands End in a day is an ultimately pointless exercise but so is any kind of rally or competition. I can say I did it and the vast majority of people cannot. I feel good that I did it. I ticked a box that would have always remained unticked - unsatisfactorily so. I enjoyed my time behind the wheel but I also enjoyed the preparation and the time afterwards.

I am writing this on 1 January. This year I will ride my motorcycle with a group of friends across Wales, touching the south, east, north and west boundaries, and I'll drive through most of the capital cities in Western Europe. I've developed a taste for road trips but it is so much more satisfying if that trip has a purpose.

By Matt Hubbard



23 Dec 2016

Take The Trip, Buy The Car, Ride The Bike

Someone recently said to me on Twitter that he'd love to take his Alfa Romeo on a trip to Italy. I said he should and he said it would need to be more mechanically sound than it currently is and that he'd probably never do it.

This reminded me of how I once was when turning dreams into reality. I didn't because I was too scared.

Another conversation, this time with the lady who looks after my dog when I'm away. I bumped into her recently and she said something that sounded funny. She said that when she knows she has to go on a long trip she worries about it beforehand but that when she actually goes on the trip it turns out fine. I thought back to the me of a few years ago and realised that I used to do exactly the same.

I used to travel a lot for work - sometimes 800 miles a week - and before those long journeys I'd fret for days. Then, when I hit the motorway it was absolutely fine. When it came to non-necessary trips, i.e. trips to places I might want to go, this worrying prevented me from going. However if someone else organised and led the trip I did go.

I don't know why. I don't even mind travelling alone. In fact I prefer it. I like my own company and driving time is thinking time which, in my mind, is a good thing. I suppose I just had a fear of the unknown and of taking risks.

What I do know is that I was putting barriers in the way of things I wanted to do.

And I did have dreams and desires. I had trips I wanted to do and I had vehicles I wanted to buy. Scratch that - needed to buy.

I had always wanted to go to Le Mans to watch the 24 hour race, to the Isle of Man for the TT and ride the circuit, to the Nurburgring to drive round the track, to America to drive from coast to coast and to drive from the top to the bottom of the UK. The car I always wanted was a Porsche 911. The bike I always wanted was a Yamaha R1.
Dream bike. My 2000 Yamaha R1 before I crashed it

That was then and this is now. Now I have lost my fear of exploration and of the unknown. I've done all but one of the above trips and I've owned a 911 and an R1. But it has cost me.

The 911 cost the most. Good lord it cost. It was a £10k 1998 Carrera 2. It was the worst spec - tiptronic, convertible - but it was dirt cheap and it had a reconditioned engine fitted. The seller was private but he was selling via Brookspeed Porsche, one of the most respected independent Porsche garages in the south.

I thought I had a bargain and I'd scratched my 911 itch. I'd desperately wanted one for at least 25 years but had never been able to justify one practically or afford one financially.

After I bought it I spent another £600 fitting a decent stereo unit and another £150 fixing the recalcitrant alternator. I took it on a good few trips and told everyone how brilliant it was but in reality it gave me cramp in my right leg and the interior creaked like buggery. It didn't handle any better or go any faster than my current car - a BMW 330i M Sport.

But it was a 911 and it was mine and that was what I always wanted. I was happy.

Then I wasn't happy. At 70mph a chunk of cylinder bore lining came adrift and the engine smashed itself to smithereens. After 6 weeks of ownership I sold it for £5k.

Then there was the Yamaha R1. I didn't just want an R1 - I needed one. I had to have one like I have to breathe air. In my late 30s I finally bought one and it was an absolute beauty. It was a 2000 model in red, white and black. It produced 150bhp and weighed 150kg. It went like a rocket and had no traction control or ABS. I went faster on that R1 than I've ever been on or in any other vehicle - and it still had more to give.

But it didn't half give me leg ache, wrist ache and neck ache. And it was far too much bike for me. I'm a skilled rider in city traffic and cutting a line on country roads but the R1's untamed 1,000bhp per tonne was just too much. Nonetheless I stuck with it.

Then after only three months of ownership I killed it in the most embarrassing way possible. I had taken it to my son's primary school's autumn fayre. After the fayre I turned right out of the school, gave it slightly too much throttle and fishtailed twenty yards before high siding. The bike and I slid 50 yards down the road, absolutely destroying the R1's right hand side and my ego.

I actually got two things out of that. The full value from the insurers and the knowledge that I'd owned the best, most fantastic bike I could imagine.
Dream car. My 1998 Porsche 911 Carrera before the engine exploded

After the experiences with the 911 and the R1 I'm now comfortable with every purchase I make. I don't have to buy something for the sake of it because I've already done that.

As for the trips, well they came about in different ways. The first was the trip to the TT in 2009. The only reason I went was that it was organised by someone else and a big group was going. Someone else did the organisation and booking and I just rode along. It was a fabulous week and made me realise it is possible to take long trips and just enjoy them for the sake of it rather than racing to a destination as fast as possible - something I am wont to do.

Then, in 2010, I decided on impulse to go to the Nurburgring to scratch that itch. I'd always wanted to go but the distance, fact it was in a foreign land and total lack of understanding I had of the place had stopped me. Buoyed by the fact my mate Scottie would be coming with me we booked a ferry and set off after work on a Friday and drove through the night.

We arrived at Nurburg at 5am and slept for two hours in the car then found the entrance to the track and had an unbelievably brilliant time. It was a huge eye opener for me. I could do the things I wanted to do. I didn't need to worry. The video below is of us getting stuck behind a BMW on the Karussell.



So Scottie and I went to Le Mans in 2012 and when I got home I created Speedmonkey. In 2013 my brother organised a trip to Scotland on motorcycles. We did 1,400 miles in 4 days. Earlier this year I drove from Miami to San Fransisco with my son in a convertible Mustang. They were the best two weeks of my life.

I often take road trips now and never fret about them beforehand. I do things I would never have done beforehand because my mindset is much more JFDI than 'can't'.

Next summer I'll be taking a huge tour of Europe and in just a few days time I'll undertake the last of my bucket list of trips to take and cars to buy. I'll be driving from John O'Groats to Lands End in one day.

If I can do it so can you. Go on, take that trip, buy that car, ride that bike. You only live once.

By Matt Hubbard


4 Dec 2016

Review - BMW E90 330i M Sport

BMW E90 330i M Sport

This past couple of years have been quite ruinous ones in terms of me and cars. At the start of last year I owned an Audi TT 3.2 V6 coupe but that got sold and I bought an Elise. Now the Elise was a good car but was so ridiculously impractical I quite soon got bored of having to clamber in and out, and having nowhere to put anything in it, and getting 70mph rain in the face whilst on the motorway in a storm.

So I sold that at a four figure loss and bought a 911. The 911 was a 2000 3.2 Carrera 2 with a reconditioned engine. It was everything a 911 shouldn't be - automatic, convertible, 996. The engines in 996s have a habit of exploding but mine had a reconditioned engine fitted two years earlier so was safe.

It lasted 3 weeks before the engine exploded at 60mph and 6,000rpm. 22 litres of coolant and oil were thrown into the air as the engine locked up and we coasted to a halt. In the 3 weeks of ownership I had spent a small fortune on a new battery, alternator and sound system. I sold it for less than half what I had spent on it.

Oh, I bought a new bike too. A brand new Triumph Tiger 800 XCx.

Through all this has been my trusty Volvo XC60 D4 R-Design. It's a car I love for its ride, quality, tech, ease of use and general familiarity and comfort. But it's not exactly a dynamic vehicle. It's not one you'd take for a drive for the sake of it.

The Volvo is leased and the lease comes to an end in early 2017.  I'd been thinking about what to replace it with since...ooh about Easter.

99% of our village owns a new Land Rover Discovery Sport. It's a lovely looking thing, especially in red with black wheels. I've looked at buying and leasing one but the finances just don't stack up for me. I like a discount on a car and Disco Sports are expensive for what they are. Evoques are cheaper but I haven't the urge to start a mobile hairdressing business yet.

So then I started looking at VW Golfs. If lease deals on Golf Rs were dirt cheap I would have signed up for one. But they aren't at the moment. So I started looking at buying a GTi. It's around £27k specced how I'd like it but you can get one discounted to about £23k if you know where to look.

But I had various conversations with my son (who I trust on these kind of things) about buying or leasing new vs buying used. One thing the Volvo has never been is mine. Any new car wouldn't ever be mine. Even if you're buying one it would be on a PCP deal and with that you give it back at the end of the term. And son reckoned owning a car would be better than not. And I agreed with him.

So I started thinking about budgets and monthly payments and decided I would buy a Mk6 Golf GTi. The Mk6 is the best looking Golf, is quick, has all the tech I want - heated seats, cruise control, bluetooth, is practical enough for us and is good to drive.

Decision made I gave myself a couple of months to find and buy the best I could find.

But then one week I thought about BMWs. Now me and BMW don't have the best history. I've had an E36 320i SE, an E36 323i Touring, an E46 318i SE and an E39 525td Touring. I didn't really like any of them. None were quick and the driving position was compromised in all the 3-Series I'd owned. The throttle pedal was too stiff in the 323i. They all annoyed me in some way or other.

The only BMW I ever liked was a 435i M Sport Coupe. That was pretty good.

I need a four or five door car so Kes, my border collie, can ride in the back. I also fancied an auto this time. Given a choice I'd rather have a bigger naturally aspirated engine than a smaller turbocharged one.

I did my research and could afford an early 320i F30 or a later E90 with a higher spec and decent engine. I pored over the online ads. I preferred the shape of the saloon E90 than the F30 which looks big and bloated in comparison.

I narrowed it down to wanting an E90 330i M Sport saloon with the auto gearbox. The M Sport not only offers a higher spec than lower models but looks much better with it's bodykit and 18 inch wheels. I didn't want to buy from a dealer so looked at the private ads only. A few looked good.

One Saturday I was headed to the Motorcycle Live show at the Birmingham NEC. There was a particularly good looking 330i only a few miles away so I went to have a look at it on the way.
BMW E90 330i M Sport

As soon as I saw it I was hooked. Great looking in silver it was a 2007 car with only 53,000 miles on the clock and a full service history. I could have afforded a newer car but this one wanted for nothing and would save me a few quid over a later one. I left a cash deposit and returned the next day with the balance.

I was the owner of a 2007 330i M Sport with auto transmission. Since then I've put a good few miles on it, done some motorway work, driven into London and gone for a couple of drives purely for the sake of it.

I love its looks, its sharp, clean lines and its lack of vulgarity. I also love the fact it feels solid, a quality motor that belies its age. Stick a modern infotainment system in it and it could pass for a much newer car.

The drivetrain is almost perfect. The engine is the N52 3-litre inline 6-cylinder which produces 250hp and 230lb ft of torque. It's a thing of wonder. It sounds fantastic and has a decent spread of torque across the range with none of the lag or low rev weakness of a turbocharged engine. The gearbox is a 6-speed automatic with sport mode for later changes and allies well with the engine.

The car looks good outside and in. Previous BMWs I've owned have had quite slabby and not very supportive seats but the seats in this car are comfortable and supportive, and body figure hugging. They're comfortable on a long drive and sporty when you're pressing on.

The interior is light years ahead of that in older BMWs. With flourishes of aluminium trim and improved design and layout it feels as good as it looks. The steering wheel is chunky and the dials clear - although I would have preferred a digital speed readout.

It has almost all the tech I've got used to in the Volvo and other new cars but falls over in the infotainment area.

My 330i has iDrive. iDrive was an early attempt to remove some functionality from buttons and dials and embed it in a screen based system. Some climate controls, almost all the entertainment and most of the car's dynamic controls are accessed via iDrive. It works from a single rotary knob and a button. It also contains a satnav which, because it's a few years old, is pretty hopeless.

Yes it is easy to use whilst on the move but no it is not intuitive. It does not have DAB radio and it does not have a USB connection (although it was available as an option at the time) or Bluetooth for music, although bizarrely it does have Bluetooth for phone calls.

To play music I either have to play CDs or plug my phone to the Aux in socket, which is OK for longer journeys.
BMW E90 330i M Sport

Those in the front are quite cosseted with plenty of room, a pair of cup holders, decent door pockets, heated seats and individual climate controls. Those in the back have less room but still much more than in older 3-Series. The boot is quite big and the floor surprisingly low for a rear wheel drive car.

Ah yes, rear wheel drive. The 3-Series' dynamic masterstroke. So what is it like to drive?

I've driven everything from a BRZ to a 911 via a Rolls Royce Wraith. I've driven a Lotus Evora around the track at Hethel, I've chucked a Cayman R around the Porsche track at Silverstone and I've wrung the neck of a Radical SR3 RS around the Grand Prix track at Silverstone. I've got to know rear wheel drive cars in front, mid and rear engined forms quite a lot over the years.

The 330i M Sport makes a damn good show of itself. On the motorways and A-roads it's a comfortable cruiser that's quiet and refined. But find somewhere more challenging and it becomes a different beast.

You forget the rear seats and boot. You forget you are in a saloon. You sit low in the car and you drive it like a coupe.  The engine is strong and the gearbox fast moving - as long as you've selected sport.

The front end of the car has slightly less feel than I would have liked but the rear makes up for it. After a bit of practice you can lean on the rear and feel it moving, leaning on the suspension as it powers round a corner.

If the road is slightly unsettled or if you drive it like you have hooves instead of feet the traction control button flashes like a Christmas light. Turn it off and the rear wheels lose grip quickly.

Yet the front never loses grip.

Some cars are more than the sum of their parts and this is one such. When driving you can feel its fluidity, the chassis giving great feedback, allowing you to position it on the road just as you would like.

At high and low speeds and with short and long radius bends it feels superb to drive. And it does this without commotion. Its feathers never feel unruffled. It stays refined even when the driver's eyes are on stalks and his palms sweating.

It does have its faults. The gearbox is a bit hesitant to change down when not in Sport mode and the wheels can follow tracks and ruts in the road.

I set out to buy a car that was both practical and fun to drive, and I succeeded. They say that the sign of a great car is that when you pull into your drive and walk toward your front door you turn and look back at it. I do this every time I drive mine.

By Matt Hubbard

6 May 2016

2016 Ford Mustang 2.3 EcoBoost Review


Ford has just launched the latest version of its iconic Mustang. In recent years the Mustang had lost its way. The 80s and 90s weren't kind to it in terms of looks and dynamics and the 2005 Mustang was still a bit too big and basic for European tastes. And the steering wheel stayed stubbornly on the left.

Enter the sixth generation Mustang. This is the first Mustang designed to be sold the world over. It is the first Mustang with independent rear suspension, the first Mustang available in right hand drive and the first Mustang available with a 4-cylinder engine. 

Unlike most Mustang reviews you'll read I paid for mine (well, rented it) and I drove it 3,800 miles in 11 days.

My son and I decided that over Easter 2016 we'd drive from Miami to San Francisco and that we'd do so in a convertible - hopefully a Mustang. In terms of trips to the US I'd only ever been to New York for a weekend before and had never visited southern America or hired a car in the US before. I had heard stories that the choice available at airport rental centres was often limited to whatever was left at any particular time of day.

I was dreading turning up to find that the only car left was a Pontiac Grand Prix or something similarly dire.

As it turned out American car rental is a huge industry that runs extremely smoothly. The rental place at San Francisco airport is a short (free) train ride from the terminal and is located in a massive multi-storey car park. When we arrived we were greeted by a bunch of men wearing shiny jackets, one of whom looked at our paperwork and said we could pick any car from aisle 32.  

Aisle 32 consisted purely of Chevrolet Camaro convertibles and Ford Mustang convertibles. Result. The bad news was all of them were powered by 4-cylinder engines. Oh well. My son picked out a bright orange Mustang and we headed into downtown Miami.

First impressions were given over to getting used to driving on the wrong right side of the road in a left hand drive car. My left elbow had a door in the way and my right elbow had nowhere to rest.

Day 1 involved driving 300 miles north, in the direction Daytona Beach - whilst stopping over to take some photos in front of a very distant Kennedy Space Centre.

As soon as I got used to the excitement of driving on the left side of the car on the right side of the road I started to focus on the car itself. It was a brand new model with only 3,000 miles on the clock. The 2.3 litre inline-4 is shared with the Focus RS where it has garnered much praise. In the Mustang it produces 310bhp and 300lb ft of torque and does 0-60mph in 5.4 seconds and has a top speed of 154mph.

So it's fast. And it feels it.

Our car was fitted with an automatic gearbox. In the best tradition of the muscle car this is not a high tech flappy paddle 'box but a normal 6-speed automatic transmission. Unlike many old-school auto-boxes the Mustang's unit felt tight and quick and didn't feel like it lost any power in between its cogs. 

Even with the supposedly weedy (and derided in the UK press) 2.3 EcoBoost engine the Mustang is a seriously fast car. Put your foot flat to the floor and it gathers its skirts and takes off down the road in a very dramatic fashion. On more than one occasion the satnav, which sat on the dash on a bean bag type thing, flew off the dash.

The Mustang looks the part too. It helped that ours was orange but its designer (a Scotsman called Moray Callum (brother of famed Jaguar designer Ian Callum)) has a fine eye for this kid of thing and has managed to combine traditional muscle car looks and stance with a finer European finesse. 

UK petrolheads love the Mustang but so too do Americans. We were told at gas stations in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California that our car looked great, or even "purdy".

The interior is pretty good too. I had expectations of horrendous elephant-hide plastic and overly shiny leather but we mustn't forget that this 'stang was designed with Europeans in mind, and the interior lives up to our expectations. The leather is tolerable and the plastic almost of Volvo standards.

The seats are very comfortable. On our longest day we drove 700 miles in 10 hours, from Dallas to Santa Fe, and I had more trouble from sun burn on the back of my neck than the seats.

The twin dials are big and clear with revs in one and speed in the other, although I do prefer a nice big digital speed readout in these days of nasty electronic policing. There is plenty of room for accoutrements in the cabin with a decent sized glove box and a big bin under the arm rest - which is too low and nowhere near your arm or even elbow.

Whilst the front seats are comfortable the rear seats are only any good for small children and legless adults, although they are fine for storage of rucsacs, multipacks of water (in case of breakdown in the desert) and general junk that two people accumulate over two weeks.

The roof is fabric and will only fold up or down whilst stationary. It doesn't take up much room in the boot, which is big enough for two suitcases with plenty of room either side. The interior is quite quiet with the roof up but noisier and windier than many euro cars with the roof down. We often drove for a few hours and then both agreed the roof should go up to give us a rest from the buffeting. 

The new Mustang has to be up to date in terms of electronics and happily it is. There is a USB charger port under the armrest and two 12v points (which are more useful as they charge iPhones much quicker)  - one near the radio and one under the armrest.

The entertainment system features FM and satellite radio in the US and digital radio in the UK. You can also Bluetooth music from your phone or play a CD. We used the Bluetooth streaming option for up to 7 hours a day every day and it worked almost without fault - dropping out about 5 times in 70 hours of driving.

So that's the specs, looks and interior. How is the new Mustang to drive?

Well, it's damn fine. As mentioned previously it is a fast car - but it doesn't really feel like a sports car, more a grand tourer. I once drove 200 miles in a Porsche Cayman 981 and ended the trip feeling tired and sore but in the Mustang we averaged 350 miles a day for nearly two weeks. The Porsche would be the better car round a track but the Mustang is better for day to day distance driving.

It does have a potentially serious problem though. It generates a kind of hum from around 40mph to 60mph. It's not a really vibration and it's not engine related as it doesn't alter with engine speed but it does seems to come and go depending on conditions. It gets worse when the engine is laboured - say on cruise control at 50mph when the gearbox is in top gear and the engine labouring slightly. But, as I say, it doesn't seem to vary with engine speed. Over nearly two weeks it stayed with us, on and off. I never could put my finger on what caused it. It did get annoying at times but sometimes I didn't notice it. It's certainly not something I've encountered in a car before.

Notwithstanding that the Mustang is a seriously smooth driver. The suspension is plush, which means it does allow a certain amount of lean in corners, and the whole droving experience feels laid back.

What the Mustang has, in abundance, is character. Whether shooting down a dead straight highway through the badlands or crawling along the Las Vegas strip it feels like it has star power and charisma. When in Los Angeles we drove it along Mulholland Drive, where many of the old school Hollywood Stars live, and the Mustang felt right at home.

Many reviews conclude that the 2016 Mustang is a fine car but that the 2.3 litre engine should be ditched in favour of the V8. I haven't driven the V8 but I can tell you that even in its own backyard the 4-cylinder performs superbly, even if it doesn't make the right, or indeed any, noise.

If I were to repeat the trip I would definitely choose the Mustang again. It's a fantastic car. As a convertible I'd choose it above many European models such as the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 3-Series.

I couldn't imagine driving any other car through those vast desert vistas, along crowded Dallas freeways, crawling down characterful New Orleans streets or even splashing through huge thunderstorms in Florida. The Mustang looked after us every step of the way and in return we loved it, despite the odd foible.

The Mustang is a relatively cheap proposition. It's also very good looking, fast, practical, comfortable and easy to live with on a day to day basis.

I just hope Ford look into 'the hum' and come up with a solution.






By Matt Hubbard 










5 May 2016

Now You Can Track The Prices Of Classic Cars



Some cars have become a commodity, an investment that can be bought and sold for profit. I'm not particularly keen on buyers squirrelling classics away but plenty are bought by enthusiasts who recognise a car's value in terms of its beauty and how it drives as much as its value.

German website Classic Trader is an alternative to the usual suspects when looking for classics. I spend half my browsing time on eBay and Autotrader but Classic Trader looks pretty good too. You can waste hours looking at old Porsches, Volkswagens, Ferraris and Fords.

The site has just introduced a new feature that will satisfy the casual browsers as well as the serious investors. The new tool tracks the value of the top 100 classic cars over the past six years - and will continue to do so.

So if, like me, you are obsessed with Porsches but if, unlike me, you have a few hundred thousand euros knocking around you can see that in 2010 a Porsche 911 2.7 Carrera RS Touring cost €163,127 and in 2015 was worth €544,591 which is a 233% increase. That's a better return on investment than any bank will give you and is a a more certain return than many shares.

More affordable and almost as good looking is the Mercedes 500SEC. At a 2010 value of €10,860 most petrolheads people could have afforded one. Trouble is they'd have thrown half of that cash away because in 2015 the SEC was only worth €4,531, a 58% loss.

The biggest gain in price in percentage terms on the Classic Trader list is the DeTomaso Mangusta which cost €48,236 in 2010 and rocketed 502% to €290,428 in 2015.

By Matt Hubbard

Photo: copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company



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


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