28 Jan 2015

Help - I Think I'm Becoming A Car Snob

It must be something to do with frequently driving new cars instead of the old bangers I'm used to...

I get a test car, jump in and scan a professional eye over its interior. I make mental notes. Tsk, no satnav. Hmph, the leather is a bit firmer than I was expecting.

I'm testing and ultimately reviewing the car for my readers and viewers. I have to assess how it compares to those in its class and, because this is Speedmonkey, those that aren't in it's class. I have, after all, just announced to everyone I was going to buy a Mk5 Golf GTi and then straight away went and ordered a brand new Volvo XC60.

I'm no fan of buying a car purely for what it tells the world about me or, heaven forbid, as an investment. It's a crying bloody shame to buy a gorgeous old motor only to stick it in a barn until it's increased in value by 100%.

No, what I like about cars is their ability to comfort me, to excite me, to thrill me, to assuage the outside elements whilst causing my adrenalin gland to squirt with glee and enliven my brain.

And when a test car arrives and it falls short in some small area I mentally place a VERY LARGE cross in that particular box in my head.

The Citroen C4 Cactus - lovely car, comfy seats, bit slow but ultimately fine, however it has no bloody rev counter. This is a travesty. I shall have to place a curse on the engineers in Saint Ouen who decided not to fit such a simple yet essential device.

And multiple Mercedes-Benzes have leather trim on their dash tops and seats that isn't actually leather. It's fake! Oh my god the world is going to collapse. More travesty, more curses. How could they do this to us?

Peugeots and Citroens with satnavs that don't allow full postcode input, the fact you've got to pay £2k even to have satnav in a new VW Golf, no DAB (even as an option) on some Nissans - I put a great big cross in all their boxes.

I'm becoming finicky, obsessive about the details. I expect more.

I expect every single car on sale, no matter how much it costs, to have heated seats, satnav, adaptive cruise control, electric windows, automatic lights, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive main beam, bluetooth, digital radio and a steering wheel which adjusts for reach as well as rake.

I expect all of this because, because... Because I've got used to these features. I like them and they make life easier. I think they are as essential as water, air and the right to a free education and F1 on terrestrial TV.

But, on the other hand, maybe I'm not becoming a snob.  Most of these things don't cost much, and don't weigh much either. A smartphone weighs just a few grams but can run a satnav. Why should satnav cause an increase in emissions or price. To charge for it is pure greed.

Maybe by expecting car manufacturers to include these basics and pointing out when they haven't I'm doing my readers and viewers a service.

Maybe I'm not a snob. Maybe I've just realised this is 2015 and certain 'options' should be included gratis when a consumer purchases his or her shiny new motor.

Yes, that's it. I'm not a snob - car companies are just being slack. They should and could do better.

When you buy your next new car check that it has the essentials, and if it doesn't buy something else.

By Matt Hubbard

27 Jan 2015

Matt's Diary - Supercars, Busted Bearings And Dirty Hands

Since my last diary blog I've said farewell to a Jaguar XFR-S, hello to a Volvo V60 Hybrid, taken a passenger ride in an Audi R8, serviced a motoring journalist's Audi A3 V6 and discovered that my own car has a knackered wheel bearing.

Speedmonkey's Colin filling the Audi R8 with super unleaded

The Jag went back as the Volvo arrived. Driving two such expensive yet unique cars back to back gave me the opportunity to assess the strengths, and weaknesses of each. The 5-litre engine in the XFR-S is an absolute peach. It's so powerful you have to treat the throttle with absolute respect, and you'll never see much more than 15mpg.

On the other hand the Volvo has a bit of an old lag of an oil burner up front and a smooth electric motor in the rear.  The 2.4 litre diesel unit under the bonnet can also be found in the old XC90 and isn't very efficient or quiet in that - by modern standards, however the electric motor has enough go and the battery enough capacity that if you charge it up overnight you can treat it almost entirely as an electric car if you do under 30 miles a day.

In electric mode it obviously doesn't use any diesel but use both engines for max power and you'll see 35mpg. It's bloody quick in full hybrid mode though.

The Volvo is four wheel drive but the Jaguar rear wheel drive. With so much power the Jag's back end is overly lively whereas the Volvo is rock solid. In sub-zero temperatures and with ice on the roads I felt much happier driving the hybrid than I did the 550bhp super saloon. Who'd have thought that?!

My brother and co-writer, Colin, has an Audi R8 for the week and he came down from Cheshire to see me for the weekend in it.  He reported a super smooth cruise on the motorways and an average 26mpg. Not too bad.

It is possible that I was insured for it but we weren't willing to take the risk so I merely sat in the passenger seat for a few runs. It felt supremely well put together and the interior (with optional full leather pack) was rather sumptuous for a supercar.

Indeed the interior is all very sensible although the tech is getting on a bit now - the satnav doesn't take full UK postcodes for example.
The R8's interior

Still it was a wonderful experience cruising around my locale in the R8.

We then strapped a GoPro to the Volvo and went to shoot some video of the R8. Its V8 singing whilst he overtook me sounded awesome.

Once Colin had gone back to Cheshire I was visited by Graham King from OnlyMotors.  Graham has an Audi A3 with the 3.2 V6. He wants to sell it and had asked if I could service it beforehand. He wanted to observe the procedure so he could learn how to do it himself.

My drive is block paved and spacious and I enjoy getting my hands dirty so we arranged for him to bring the car over Sunday afternoon.

Graham arrived with all the parts I told him to buy - oil, sump plug with washer and oil filter and we set to it.  Car jacked up and on axle stands, cup of tea made, tools brought out from the garage.

It was a straightforward job - Audi uses quality components and materials which makes such jobs so much easier than if the manufacturer decides to make life awkward, like hiding the filter deep in the bowels of the engine.

The only faff was removing the large sump guard, which has about 12 fixings. The rearward ones had perished and a bolt twisted clean off when I removed it so I had to zip tie that part in place once I'd finished.
Tools ready to service Graham's A3 V6

After we'd finished I decided to take the TT for a spin as it'd been sat in the garage for 10 days. It was an absolute pleasure to drive and reminded me why I love it.

That was until the front left wheel made a hell of a racket and felt like it was going to fall off whilst flying through a hard right corner.  That reminded me that it'd been making some odd noises under heavy cornering last time I'd driven it.

Back then I'd suspected the bearing was on its way out, something now confirmed in my mind. Luckily I've got the Volvo for a few more days. My mate the mechanic will replace the Audi's bearing this week, hopefully before the Volvo goes back.

Last week's diary column turned out to be pretty controversial, but it was well read. I'll stay away from upsetting anyone for a while but if this is read by enough people I'll turn it into a semi-regular thing.



26 Jan 2015

2015 Volvo V60 D6 Hybrid First Drive Review

V60 Polestar or V60 Hybrid? Which should I request when getting in touch with Volvo? Despite it being closest to my heart in terms of speed and handling I'd already spent a day with the Polestar. I asked for a V60 D6 Hybrid.

Volvo V60 D6 Hybrid
Volvo V60 D6 Hybrid

So a Volvo V60 in Passion Red, visually the same as any other V60 R-Design, rocked up at chez Speedmonkey. Parked alongside the Jaguar XFR-S, which was going back to Jag the day the V60 arrived, it held its own in terms of looks.

Volvo got it right with the S60 and V60. It's a cracking looking car. The interior is better than those from the Germans and the new D4 engine is one of the best new diesels on the market.

But this didn't have the D4. It had the old 215bhp, 2.4 diesel, found in a few other Volvos and known as the D5, plus a 70bhp electric motor.

The diesel engine powers the front axle and the electric motor powers the rear. It can be a four wheel drive, front wheel drive or rear wheel drive car depending on what setting you select.

The settings are Pure, Hybrid or Power. You can also select Save, which saves electricity in the battery, and AWD.

In Power mode you get the full 285bhp and a massive 660Nm/471lb ft of torque. This makes the V60 Hybrid a fast wagon - it'll do 0-60mph in 6.1 seconds. Take-off from 0mph is instant, thanks to the electric motor, and top speed is 143mph.

You don't get anywhere near the claimed 155mpg in Power. The old D5 was never the most refined nor economical engine and in the V60 Hybrid in Power I've averaged 35mpg.
Volvo V60 D6 Hybrid
Volvo V60 D6 Hybrid

Pure is more intriguing. It causes the car to run purely on electricity although the diesel engine kicks in if you apply too much throttle. Despite having driven around a hundred cars a year the only other hybrid I'd driven was the Range Rover and the only electric car was the Renault Zoe.

The V60 is attractive as it has a 30 mile range on the battery and a 500(ish) range on diesel. Despite overnight temperatures dropping to -5℃ the electric range I've seen has been 25 miles. Not too bad.

The driving experience is not too bad either. I can see a whole generation of young drivers learning in cars like this and driving just as I have been doing - easy on the accelerator, try not to brake too much, keep it smooth and flowing. Preserve electricity at all cost and see it as a failure if the diesel engine kicks in.

It's intriguing and it's fun and in real world driving conditions it's entirely relevant.

The V60 Hybrid is a year or so old now. Updated with a D4 and a slightly bigger battery it'd be even better than it is, but the one I'm running right now will do for the moment. I'm enjoying driving it far more than I thought I would.

The only downsides I can see are the price, which at a £47k without options is too expensive, and the 'old' engine.

If this is the future I'll be pretty happy.


Price - £46,675 (£54,075 as tested)
Engine - 2.4 litre diesel plus electric motor
Transmission - 6-speed automatic
0-60mph - 6.1 seconds
Top speed - 143mph
Power - 215bhp diesel, 70bhp electric - 275bhp
Torque - 324lb ft diesel, 147lb ft electric - 471lb ft/640Nm
Economy - 155mpg
CO2 - 48g/km
Kerb weight - 2058kg
Volvo V60 D6 Hybrid
Volvo V60 D6 Hybrid

Can you guess where the battery is located?

Volvo V60 D6 Hybrid

Volvo V60 D6 Hybrid

By Matt Hubbard

23 Jan 2015

Driven – Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Colin Hubbard reviews the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG, a sort of super hot hatch/crossover.

Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Typically Mercedes' have been bought by the more mature driver but when the new A Class was launched it appealed to a whole new and younger market. It has been a huge success, not only because it's great looking in base spec but also because it's a very capable front wheel drive car. The market is constantly evolving and now SUVs and more importantly mini-SUVs and crossovers are selling like hot cakes.

The Evoque, Kuga and Q3 have stolen many sales from the hatchback market, even with their inflated list prices, and Mercedes has hit back hard with the GLA, a mini SUV based on the A class.

At a first glance it looks like an A Class on raised springs and fitted with bigger wheels but have a good look at the body and you will notice they are completely different.

Starting at the front the headlights dip into a deeper front bumper and the front side air intakes are enlarged to highlight the taller front end. The bonnet features an extra pair of ridges running equidistance to the outside ridges, a nod to the 300SL Gullwing of old, which give an aggressive stance when viewed in a rear view mirror.
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

At the sides the wheel arches are widened and increased in diameter to be able to the swallow larger wheels and tyres fitted to GLAs. The side profile appears to be bulked out like an A Class on steroids.

Black plastic wheel arch trims are fitted along with some black nobbly effect side skirts to create the impression of an off roader's extended wheel arches.

The A Class's lower body crease that kicks up from the front door to the rear light is now more restrained and runs a lower line to the top of the wheel level. The rear door window line kicks up at the rear to highlight the more curvaceous body.

At the rear the lights are much deeper and are split in half by the tailgate but add to the aggression in the bodywork.

The GLA45 AMG is fitted with the attention grabbing aero pack consisting of 'flics' on the front bumper, a deep front splitter and a rear aerofoil which give it a look like it's after a fight with something exotic.

The test car is not front wheel drive, instead all wheels are driven, not because it wants to go off road but because this is the range topping GLA45AMG. This means the car is fitted with the same rip-snorting 4 pot motor from the A45AMG, a 2 litre 4 cylinder unit but with a weapons-grade turbo-charger and some very special AMG engineering. The little 4 pot creates a staggering 177bhp per litre giving a total output of 355bhp.

It is a very special engine and an in AMG tradition is built by just one man and fitted with a plaque on top of the engine cover signed off in this case by Tobias Rohler. This restores confidence in the highly tuned motor in that is isn't simply a highly boosted, small capacity engine but a hand built unit designed to operate under extreme pressure but with everyday reliability.
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Front wheel drive wouldn't cut it with all that power and 332 ft/lb torque so it is fitted with a Haldex all wheel drive system. It's front wheel drive until it detects slip then a clutch in the rear axle engages and up to 50% of the power is sent to the back wheels. Sounds complicated, it is, but it works effortlessly and so quickly you just don't know it is anything other than all wheel drive.

The gearbox is a 7 speed twin clutch unit. Sadly there's no manual option but it is all is forgiven when you experience the full power upshifts and rev matched downshifts. The ratios are well stepped for hard acceleration but 7th is a good cruising gear keeping the engine revs low.

The suspensions is fixed rate, there is no adjustability but this works just fine, the set up is fairly hard but perfectly damped with the larger tyres helping go soak up bumps in the road. It is extremely well balanced so B road stability is fantastic and will give a supercar a hard time in these conditions.

Tested back to back with the A45 AMG and on the same roundabout the GLA is actually the more stable car. I found it gripped and controlled itself better than the lower car. This is strange as the higher centre of gravity should have the opposite effect but the larger alloys and taller tyres with a longer rolling radius and a wider track offer greater balance and control.

What it gains in traction it loses slightly in outright agility as the A45 can dart about changing direction quickly and easily whereas the GLA takes that nano second longer to register your inputs.

Inside and the cabin shares only the dash with the A class and the whole interior feels that little more elevated. The front seats look amazing with fixed headrests and flashes of red and polished alloy detailing but also hold you in really well without feeling too tight. A little like a baseball glove in that they are comfortable but hold you in place millimetre perfect.
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

The dash is a quality affair with a stitched leather top section and real carbon fibre panelling on the front with Mercedes' tablet style multifunction display in the centre. I wasn't a fan of the tablet protruding from dash design when it was launched in the A Class but with time it grows on you, like a Bangle 5 series or the Audi A4 (B7) with the large chromed front grille, now they look great and completely natural.

The steering wheel is a thick and feelsome, and nicely trimmed with leather and Alcantara but with polished alloy on the base so through corners as the wheel moves in your hands you feel the cool sensation of the aluminium between fingers and thumbs.

In the back and it feels about the same size as the A Class but the tall front seats and deep doors with rising rear edges make it feel quite claustrophobic. The additional height means a bigger boot area so it has a useful 140 litres over the A Class's 341 litres.

On the road the GLA45 is a bit of an animal, but not in the same way as the A45 is; they are quite different cars altogether. The A45's perfect habitat would be a race track or some deserted roundabouts in Milton Keynes where it can go dart around flat - it's a little headbanger of a car. The GLA is the more car refined car and would be as happy outside Selfridges as it would be on a gravel rally stage.

The shells are structurally different and it is obvious when driving the two cars back to back as they  have identical power trains and engines with the sports exhausts fitted but the GLA is a little more muted and stable than the A45.
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

When I say muted I don't mean Prius quiet, there's still the same smile-generating snap, crackle and pop from the rear end like, Mercedes have fitted a popping candy dispenser in the backboxes but it is less manic. Part of this could be the GLA's higher ground clearance but I also suspect there is additional sound deadening fitted.

The performance is only marginally dulled over the A45 with 0-62mph taking only 4.8 seconds and stopping only at 155mph on the limiter. That's only part of the picture as the engine is a real gem, not a laggy unit like highly-tuned 4-pots of old but a reliable, smooth, tractable powerhouse that feels like a much bigger capacity lump.

The gearbox keeps the engine nicely on the boil when in sport mode by keeping the revs high and bounces off the rev limiter with ease at full throttle which in turn releases quite an explosion from the exhausts. Gear changes are snappily quick as the second clutch has the next gear pre-selected.

The other modes on the gearbox are Manual, for use with the wheel mounted paddles, and Controlled Efficiency for everyday driving, which helps achieve the combined 37.7mpg. It's much more relaxed in efficiency mode and just the hard ride reminds you of the true potential of the car.

It is telling that manufacturers are now producing smaller cars with big car rivalling performance and interior quality so no longer do you need to buy a big car to get glorious performance and a luxurious cabin. Cars like the GLA and Audi A1 are showing what's in store for the future when there will less room to park and less fuel to use so nobody actually needs that big car anymore.

As a package it's a great all rounder, just high enough to satisfy the types who want something more of an elevated driving position for security yet small enough to be able manoeuvre around and park easily. Combined with that brutal engine and well set up chassis it is a really entertaining and enjoyable car to drive.

In 45 AMG guise the GLA is a stunning piece of kit combining aggressive rally car style looks, touring car performance but with a stylish functional interior. If you get the opportunity you should try one.


Price - £44,250 (as tested -  £53,080)
Engine – 2.0 litre, inline 4, turbocharged, petrol
Transmission - 7-speed dual clutch auto
0-62mph – 4.8 seconds
Top speed - 155 mph (limited)
Power – 355 bhp
Torque – 332 lb ft
Economy – 37.7mpg (combined)
CO2 - 175 g/km
Kerb weight – 1,585 kg
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

22 Jan 2015

The Great Motorcycle Battery Kerfuffle

It was the middle of winter but for once it wasn't raining, so I decide to take my Triumph Street Triple out for a spin

The Triumph in its lair

I keep the bike in the garage. Motorcycle batteries are quite small and lose charge quite quickly, especially when it's cold. They need hooking up to an electrical umbilical, or an optimiser, which maintains a constant trickle charge to keep the battery topped up.

Perfect for when you want to take the bike for a spin in mid-winter.

I had the time, it wasn't too cold, the roads were dry. Yes, I decided, I will go for a 10 or 20 mile spin to blow the cobwebs out of the bike and out of me.

In order to make sure everything would be fine I checked the bike over. It had an MoT (its first ever) in November and I'd changed the oil and filter at the same time. The Triumph never uses any oil between services so predictably the oil level on the stupidly designed screw-in dipstick was fine.

The tiny water reservoir for the cooling system is located under the seat. That was fine too.  I checked the tyres for pressure and they were fine.

Aside from a light sprinkling of sawdust (I've been making bird boxes out of off-cuts of wood in the garage) the bike was in fine fettle.

With one exception.  The battery was flat. Hmmm. I checked the optimiser. 2.3V and 0 amps. Despite the bike being only three years old it was on its third battery.

Bike batteries might not last long but the Street Triple seems to abuse its batteries particularly harshly, with the result that they don't last long. There are plenty of complaints on on-line forums about them. It just kills them.

I've previously had to bump start the bike (which can only be done with someone else pushing - I know, I tried doing it by myself for about 60 minutes). My old Yamaha Fazer could be bump started just by me pushing it along in gear and closing the clutch. The Triumph needs more speed than the rider alone can muster.

Anyway, back to the present. The battery was flat and was obviously dead. Bollocks.

I tried it another 24 hours on the optimiser but alone this time, out of the bike. Nothing. Not a single amp - or fraction thereof. Knackers.

So I bought the bike's fourth battery. Fortunately my local motor factors had one in and fortunately it didn't cost a great deal - £40.

Motorcycle battery manufacturers don't do 'elf n'safety. Take a look at the photos and you'll see that what you get in the box is the battery itself...and six tubes of a clear fluid.
The sulphuric acid is in the box

On closer inspection the fluid is sulphuric acid. A look at Wikipedia suggests sulphuric acid can cause severe burns, readily decomposes skin and other bodily bits, causes irreversible internal organ damage if ingested and induces permanent blindness if splashed into the eye.
And here it is in its full glory - eek, acid!

You know that girly screech Richard Hammond makes when he's mildly scared. That's the noise I made when I read the above.

Anyway, not wanting to be a girl (sorry, girls) and being a motorcyclist and therefore extremely tough and manly I got to it.

You have to rip the cap off the tubes of acid and turn them upside down, pierce the seal on the battery then leave the acid to pour down into the battery. Once that's done you have to remove the tubes and push a black cap on to the holes in order to seal the battery.

The operation proved to be a success. The actual pouring of the acid into the battery was straightforward but the cap seals very tight and just pushing it in place with your hands isn't enough so I had to gently push it in place with a hammer. It is during this phase that you are most at risk of death, blindness or both.
Pouring the acid into the battery is thankfully quite straightforward

Anyway the battery was now complete, acid and all. I put it in the bike and left it on the optimiser overnight.

The next day was a work day but at lunchtime the weather was reasonably dry and cold but not freezing so I thought I'd take the bike for a run.

Hoorah! It started first time!

I left it warming for five minutes whilst donning my jacket, gloves and helmet, cocked a leg over the seat and set off on a 15 minute dawdle round the local lanes.

It felt like heaven. A small taster of heaven but heaven nonetheless.

Yet again I have vowed to ride the bike more this year. Let's hope I do, it is a wonderful way to travel and just to experience and enjoy life.

By Matt Hubbard

20 Jan 2015

Jaguar XFR-S First Drive Review

I'm running a Jaguar XFR-S for a week. Here's my first drive review

Jaguar XFR-S
Jaguar XFR-S

The Jaguar XFR-S introduces itself like the bloke in a whacky tie at the office party. Bright blue, bodykit, deep chin spoiler, mahoosive rear spoiler, big wheels, exhaust note like a bull elephant in mating season.

Inside it's the usual XF fare but with accruements such as R-S logos in the seat headrests, dash and on the infoscreen, a carbon effect leather and blue piping (although you can spec red or ivory) in the seats and swathes of aluminium throughout.

You can buy an XF for a shade over £30k but this XFR-S costs £80k. It needs to be an awful lot better than the base 2.2 Diesel Luxury to justify that price tag, especially when you bear in mind the batty XFR, with the same 5-litre supercharged V8, costs just £65k.

Whilst the XFR looks quite a lot like the Diesel Luxury and has the same range of paint schemes available to it the XFR-S can only be ordered in Ultra Blue (garish), Italian Racing Red (garish), white, silver or black. If you order one in anything other than red or blue you are daft.

The whole point of this car is that it stands out. You can spec a much more subtle rear spoiler but why would you? That huge spoiler tells the world you've spent more money on your car than most people earn in three years - which is the point of a car like this.
Jaguar XFR-S
Jaguar XFR-S

So once you've told the world you've ordered a big, brash, fast Jag you want it to be an enjoyable experience, right? It had better deliver.

The XFR-S gets suspension that is 30% stiffer than the XFR's, huge brakes, 20 inch wheels, a firmer, more finely tuned steering rack, and that engine, whilst being the same 5-litre lump, has 550bhp - 47bhp more than in the XFR.

It also gets a unique rear subframe which is meant to improve grip and handling.

As long as you only use 10% of the throttle it goes and drives just like any other XF, which is to say it is very smooth and refined, very comfortable and it steers better than a 2 tonne saloon should.

But give it the beans and the XFR-S turns into the slavering monster that bright blue paint and huge spoiler suggest it is. It is insanely powerful.

On a dry, wide, flowing road it is fun, safe and brutally fast - and it'll spin the rear wheels at anything up to 60mph without trying particularly hard.

In anything other than perfect conditions you have to treat it with kid gloves or else it will catch you out again and again. Traction overcomes grip with such ease even Pastor Maldonado could drift it like a pro.
Jaguar XFR-S
Jaguar XFR-S

The fact the feedback, steering and brakes are as good as they are mean at least you can correct the frequent tail waggling episodes you'll encounter.  At 40mph on a wet road I pressed the throttle just a tiny bit more than I should have which induced a tank slapper that only experience gained from driving many powerful rear wheel drive cars saved me from a backwards excursion into a ditch. And probably the hedge and field beyond that.

If you're from the north of England you'll know what I mean when I say the Jaguar XFR-S will put hairs on your chest.

It does justify the additional expense over the XFR, and it does justify the £50k hike over the standard 2.2 Diesel Premium by dint of how it looks, how it drives and how it makes you feel.


Price - £79,995 
Engine - 5 litre, V8, supercharged, petrol 
Transmission - 8-speed automatic 
0-60mph - 4.4 seconds 
Top speed - 186 mph 
Power - 550 bhp 
Torque - 502 lb ft 
Economy - 24.4 mpg 
CO2 - 270 g/km 
Kerb weight - 1,987 kg
Jaguar XFR-S

Jaguar XFR-S

Jaguar XFR-S

By Matt Hubbard

19 Jan 2015

Jaguar XFR-S 20 Second Review

The Jaguar XFR-S is an £80k, 550bhp, 2 tonne, bright blue, brutal beast of a car. Here's my 20 second video review which focusses on, well...the sheer power of the thing.

The normal review will be about 10 minutes long and will focus on more than the just the brutality of the thing.

The stats are below.

Price - £79,995
Engine - 5 litre, V8, supercharged, petrol 
Transmission - 8-speed automatic 
0-60mph - 4.4 seconds 
Top speed - 186 mph 
Power - 550 bhp 
Torque - 502 lb ft 
Economy - 24.4 mpg 
CO2 - 270 g/km 
Kerb weight - 1,987 kg

By Matt Hubbard

The Ball-O-Matic, The Carpet And The Perfect Garage

Having a garage means you can make it just right for your vehicles

The Ball-O-Matic of Perfect Placement doing a grand job

I moved into my house in September. It was the first time I'd ever had a garage into which I could fit a car.

Not only that I could fit my bike in it too, as well as a work bench and a bunch of cupboards, space for all those half empty bottles of oil that come in handy, as well as many, many cans of WD40, paint and, oddly, flea treatment.

Since I moved in I've personalised the garage. If you think about it a garage is just a big, cold space in which a man (or woman if she's so disposed) can put his stuff. It's very easy to fill it with junk so that the original purpose it was designed for, parking a car inside, becomes impossible.

So, with that in mind, I decided from day one I would make sure it was suitable to house the car and bike and that the workbench, which was in place when I bought the house, would remain clutter free and would be surrounded by all my tools.

The workbench, tools and bottles of oil and stuff

Once I'd cleared out all the junk left behind by the previous occupants (you wouldn't believe how much they left) and fitted the tumble dryer (with the hose poking out of the window) I rode the bike in and parked it near a plug point so I could leave it on an optimiser to keep the battery charged.

Then I drove the car in.

Three problems presented themselves. One was that the only way the car and bike would fit was with the front bumper of the TT touching the bike's rear tyre. This was not a good state of affairs - a slight nudge and the bike would go crashing down.

The solution was to get the jigsaw out and cut away a section of old kitchen worktop, which was pushing the bike toward the car, the previous owner had left, and on which I'd dumped a load of stuff. Having found the 'stuff' a new home and chopped the worktop the bike and car fitted grandly.

But the bike's front tyre then stopped me getting to the tumble drier. Bugger. I moved the old bedroom drawers in which I keep all my nails and screws from behind the bike and relocated it under the main workbench. 

Yes, that seemed to work. 
The bike now fits perfectly

Then came the matter of parking the car in the perfect position without having to get out and check it was far enough in and not too far forwards.

The solution to that was the Ball-O-Matic of Perfect Placement ™, which consists of a tennis ball attached to a length of string, hanging from the ceiling. I drive the car into the garage and stop at precisely the point the Ball-O-Matic touches the windscreen. I derive enormous satisfaction every time I use it. Hurrah!

Next up was the matter of the driver's door banging on the painted brick wall. The solution to that was a section of off-cut carpet cut to size and spray-glued (you should buy some, it's amazing stuff) to the wall.

Hey presto I can bump the door against the wall any number of times and it won't be dented, scratched or marked. More hurrah!
Hurrah for carpet!

The workbench is generally clutter free and the tools are usually where they are meant to be. Others might say it looks a mess but I know where everything is.

I recently made some bird-boxes for the garden on the bench and covered everything in the garage in a light dusting of sawdust. No matter, such are the travails of a man happy in his work.

Two things will happen this year that will throw the garage into disarray. One is that I have decided to learn to weld and will buy a welder. Two is that I'm selling the TT and will take delivery of a Volvo XC60 - which won't fit in the garage.

This could be seen as a disaster but no matter, I'm planning on buying a cheapo Mazda MX5 so the Ball-O-Matic will continue to be put to use, although its position will need to be fine tuned.

The garage might be out in the cold but it has good lighting and in the warmer weather of spring and summer I plan on spending many happy hours in it.
Garages are great

Tools, organised(ish)

By Matt Hubbard

16 Jan 2015

Car Scrappage – There Is A Better Way

Want to scrap your car but don't know how? Read on to find out

The environment is a hot topic these days. We are all expected to do more about cleaning up the planet and that includes getting rid of that poor excuse for what remains of your last motor, languishing in your drive. Fortunately there are various ways open to all for getting rid of old cars whose best days are behind them.

You could, for example, drive or tow it to the cliffs at Beachy Head. Release the handbrake and let it roll towards the edge. There is a tipping point by the way when it is best to throw yourself clear. Over it goes, consigned to the deep. If all else fails and the sea fails to claim it, the council will clear it up. The trouble is of course that you will forget to remove the VIN numbers. Maybe there is a better way.

Thinking of councils, what about abandoning your trusty, rusty old stager in the council car park? You never know, it might be that the town hall loves this sort of thing because most old cars will retain some value that could be set against your council tax. It's a win/win situation – you save money and get rid of that annoying old vehicle that has become home to some feral cats. On the other hand of course, councils are not noted for their sense of humour so maybe there's a better way.

The trouble is, old, damaged or unreliable motors have few uses. They'd be hopeless as getaway wheels because they would break down outside the bank or drop a tell-tale trail of oil all the way to your hideout. This is an issue because remember, cars do not grow on trees or by other organic means. They contain pollutants. They cause environmental pollution when they are built and when they reach end of life. They are also unsightly and could even be a danger to others, especially children.

They also contain oils, lubricants, batteries, unspent fuel and the like all of which can harm our green and pleasant land. The action of leaving your beloved old banger out in a distant and remote lay-by, like an unwanted pet tied to a lamppost, and walking away will, like an unwanted pet that wasn't tied properly to a lamppost, come back to bite you. At best, expect retribution from the authorities; at worst expect your garage to be fire-bombed by Greenpeace. There has got to be a better way.

Fortunately there is, especially if you live in East Anglia. If your car has been damaged in an accident and is not repairable or road worthy, or has expired because of old age and rust or because of a serious mechanical failure, there is an ethical and legal service that will be of value to you. Call and let the experts in car scrappage, who will recycle and de-pollute, take the strain. That has to be the best way.

So, if you are asking yourself the question how do I scrap my car the right way then companies like scrapcarslegally.com would be a great option and you can price your vehicle here or contact them here.

15 Jan 2015

Let There Be Light! Fitting Aftermarket LED Lights To Your Car

Phil Millar has a Jeep Cherokee 4L Limited. Phil likes lights - lots of lights! But they've got to be LEDs.

New year, new start and all that type of new year nonsense. On the subject of new, why not embrace some 'new' technology ? In the big picture, this is new technology, although in some circles it's been around, known about, and used for some years now. Seat, and now Ford have production models with full LED headlights.

Let's talk LEDs. I first saw LED light bars on US Jeeps, they just looked the dogs bollox! My interest was piqued, and a few months was spent prodding, poking and researching. After that, more time was spent searching on eBay for best prices/bargains. Then some spending began, MUCH spending actually, to the stage that 'enough' has long since passed, and I'm now at the 'bloody ridiculous' level !

To be specific, 1x 20" bar, 1x 30" bar, 1x 40" bar and full LED headlights. The numbers. 20" = 120w, 30" = 150w, 40" = 180w, headlights =12.5/30w. Total of 510w giving 55,500 lumens @6500K. The 450w of bars are on a single switch through a 30A fuse.

So, after all those numbers, why go LED?

A few reasons, A) LEDs have a much lower amp draw per watt than halogen lights, B) more light output per watt, C) LED lightbars are built to withstand more physical punishment than 'standard' lights, D) lifespan of anything between 30-50,000 hours continuous use, and lastly, LEDs are waterproofed to a much higher level than anything else currently on the market.

There are several types of LED emitters, but lightbars use two different types, Epistar and Cree.

Cree are THE world market leaders in LEDs, with THE most efficient chip available at present, so, more lumens per watt than Epistar chips. This doesn't mean Epistar are pants, they still have retina melting light output, but Cree will burn your eyes out faster! You will pay a few more pounds per inch for Cree, and in reality seeing either coming towards you, you'll struggle to see the difference (you'll struggle to see ANYTHING TBH). I've rapidly become very anal about LEDs, so I'm willing to pay the extra for Cree.

LEDs can, at first, seem expensive. Try looking at prices in the USA, I've seen 4" Rugged Industries LEDs on sale on eBay at $ 245!! They are built to the same standards as the bars I have fitted. 50" bars in the States can retail at around the $1,000+ mark, and the Americans WILL pay this without a second thought because they will buy US goods to support their economy and US manufacturers.

This is what you can expect your bar to stand up to.

There are two layout types, single row and double row, double row will have a higher watt per inch rating than single, and slightly more ££ per inch over single row, there's not a huge difference so which you go for is personal choice.

The numbers.

Watts, colour temp and IP rating.

Watts, don't think we need to cover that, suffice to say, more is better.

Colour temperature is the 'colour' of the light output, what you want is a figure of 6-6,500 Kelvin, that's not gonna give much trouble, as any bars I've seen are at that level. What do those numbers mean in the real world ? The 'colour' of daylight is classed as 6,500K. You can actually see the road and hedges light up as soon as you flick THE switch, WAY before you would even think about daylight starting to fade. On a personal note, I've noticed less strain on my eyes with LEDs.

IP rating. Again, no biggy getting it right, IP67 is where most bars are at. What does it mean? Easy, anything with an IP67 rating can safely be fully submerged in water, there are some Cree bars that now have an IP68 rating, so can stay fully submerged for longer with no adverse effect.

One thing to be aware of with LED headlights - the latest lighting regs state an 1800Lm Max output. I discovered this just after buying my Cree headlights (with 2K Lm output per side.) Like everything else in the UK rules are set, and the police have to try to play catch up. At this time, I'm unaware of just how your local plod can actually check these output limits, and in all honesty, they're probably much too busy to be arsed with small potatoes like this. If your headlights are correctly aligned, there shouldn't be an issue.

So, they say a picture can paint a thousand words, so, some pictures.

This was taken around mid day

A before/after of headlights.

Headlights & 60" of bars. (Another 30" has been added since)

A short word of warning, lumens become VERY addictive ! I have new Cree headlight units on order, purely due to having an extra 2000Lm over the current units fitted.

You have been warned !

By Phil Millar (@PhilXJ4L)

14 Jan 2015

Not Many Miles Then Lots And Lots Of Miles In The Audi TT V6

Christmas was a real test for my Audi TT 3.2 V6. It had hardly any miles put on it, and then lots all in one go.

Audi TT 3.2 V6
The TT in its garage

I moved house in September. Two benefits of moving are that the new house has a garage and it is close enough to my son's school that he can walk.

Which means a) the TT is nice and cosy at night and b) it doesn't get taken out on the school run. In fact because the old house was nowhere near anything and the new house is in a village I hardly drive the car out of necessity at all.

As well as the school I've two take-aways and two local shops within half a mile. Also, because 1,500 acres of woodland is a 10 minute walk I don't even have to drive to take the dog for a walk.

Until very recently I've worked from home so I haven't even had a commute.

Either I have to come up with an excuse to drive the car or it stays snug in its garage, keeping the bike company.

Sometimes if I can't be arsed walking I drive to the shop. This means two 560 metre journeys on a cold engine. The heater doesn't throw out any heat but the seat heats up just as I arrive at the Co-Op.

The TT's heated seats are lightning-quick in their efficacy. Set them to 2 and your bum is toasty in seconds, set them to 3 and you start to feel a little uncomfortable, turn them all the way up to 7 and your butt is on fire.

But lots of short journeys doesn't do a car any good so I try and walk as much as possible. The oil takes a while to get going and lubricate the engine, and it doesn't operate properly until it's hot. The 3.2 V6 in the TT has a chain driven cam so constant running cold doesn't do that much good either.

However, the car exhibited no signs of stress despite me not being arsed to walk many times. It's a great design and is solidly put together, and the V6 is pretty much unburstable - compare that with the potential self detonation that could happen at any time in a 986 Porsche Boxster S and I'm glad I plumped for the Audi.

One funny habit it has is as a result of its quattro four wheel drive system.

My driveway is at right angles to the road (obviously) and starts with a steep incline which then levels out as you hit the drive itself. This means to enter you slow to a crawl and turn hard left into it.

As I turn the tyres scrub a little. The diff mustn't be able to cope with the difference in distance (and therefore speed) of the front wheels and tyres so, because the outside wheel is travelling further than the inside and the differential isn't allowing enough difference in movement between them, they skid a little. It's tiny but noticeable, and is only perceptible on the front wheels.

The TT's four wheel drive is a Haldex unit. The front wheels are permanently engaged whilst a driveshaft to the rear diff is permanently rotating in time with the fronts'. The rear diff contains a clutch which locks on when the front wheels slip thus engaging the rear wheels.

It's a system that functions without you noticing. Despite having 250bhp the TT V6 never torque steers and will slide nicely from the rear if I bang the throttle down on a slippery surface. ESP isn't worth having as the quattro system tidies up any cack-handed driving.

Anyway, the car doesn't deserve to be driven just on short journeys so, happily enough, I took it for a long drive over Christmas.
Audi TT 3.2 V6
There may be a teensy weensy amount of filter on this picture

My brother lives in Cheshire and I live in West Berkshire. My dad lives in south Wales.  In 48 hours I drove to my brothers house, partied then slept, then drove to my dad's to say hello then home again. Day 1 saw 189 miles in 5 and a half hours. The A34 was terrible, the M40 was dreadful, the M42 was absolute shite, the M6 Toll was absolute bliss and the M6 was a sheer bloody nightmare.

But through it all the car was a pleasure to drive.

Day 2 saw 320 miles from Cheshire to Laleston and back to West Berkshire. I was in a bit of a state but, again, the car was perfect. It returned an average of 29.6mpg despite day 1's stop/start traffic, which isn't bad from a V6.

It helps that the driving position is spot on. Also, the suspension is pretty good at speed, although it crashes over speed bumps.

Before and after the trip I checked all the car's fluids. It didn't use any oil at all, and never does outside of oil change time.

It's funny, I'm selling the TT soon, and replacing it with a new Volvo XC60 (I know - how different!?), and I don't miss modern driver aids in it yet when speccing my Volvo I'm glad it's got a decent screen with bluetooth, DAB, cruise control and parking sensors.

I can forgive a car for not having modern tech if it didn't have it fitted in the first place because it wasn't available when it was built, but for any car built in 2015 I would expect the aforesaid cruise control, DAB, bluetooth, parking sensors and all the modern safety features we've come to expect. But that's another subject for another blog.

Thanks for reading, have a great 2015 and happy motoring.

By Matt Hubbard

13 Jan 2015

What Is It With New SUVs With Stupid Names And Horrible Designs?

The SUV as a concept has been around a long time. Range Rover invented it and still makes the best one, with the best name, but some newcomers look daft and have awful names.

Range Rover Evoque convertible (photoshop)

A pure SUV remains a reasonably sensible car but generally one that is compromised if it isn't actually used off road, although for sheer presence as well as cruising capability, refinement and luxury the Range Rover still beats an S-Class, A8, 7-Series or even XJ.

What was once a niche is now mainstream and has spliced into various niches - the crossover is not quite SUV/not quite car but a combination of the two. I'm tended not to like the concept but a) I'm buying one (a Volvo XC60) and b) the Porsche Macan is a crossover and it's brilliant.

The SUV coupe is an SUV with a fastback rear end and is thoroughly horrible. They drive well enough but the very idea is just wrong. Car enthusiasts with taste hate them but rich, tasteless customers buy them in their droves - along with chunky gold jewellery, bejewelled bum bags (fanny packs if you're American) and white trousers.

And then we come to the SUV convertible and the forthcoming Range Rover Evoque cabriolet. Oh dear me. The Evoque is a tidy little car, I'd have leased one but the XC60 deals were much cheaper, but as a cabriolet? No way, Hosé.

Just recently a splurge of SUVs have been announced and each one has something stupid about it.

A Bentley SUV was always going to be inevitable and its looks were always going to be big, brash, brazen and not exactly subtle but why, oh why has Bentley called it the Bentayga? (They have, it's official). It takes only a little imagination and the mind of a child (99% of the male population) to work out the unfortunate anagrams available from Bentayga. The pic, by the way, is a photoshop but a pretty accurate one.
Bentley Bentayga - photoshop

Maserati has given its new SUV a pretty stupid name too - it's called the Levante. Levante is East in Spanish - really, Maserati? It will be based on the Kubang concept, which was a nasty looking SUV/crossover/coupe.
Maserati Kubang concept

Jaguar's crossover is called the F-Pace. It looks great but what the hell is that name all about?

And then we get the the grand-daddy of stupid SUVs, the BMW X6, an idiotic leviathan of a thing that has spawned both the horrible X4 and the dreadful Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé.
Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé - this is a press photo, not a photoshop
Hyundai has also joined the fray. At the Detroit Motor Show they've just revealed the Santa Cruz, a five seat SUV pickup. Yep, another niche.
Hyundai Santa Cruz concept

Amidst all this stupid nomenclature, obnoxious design and general buffoonery Volvo flies the flag for sensible naming and classy lines. Thank goodness for that. The new XC90 is fab. Well done, Volvo.
2015 Volvo XC90

By Matt Hubbard

12 Jan 2015

Jaguar's 2016 Crossover Will Be Called The F-Pace

We've seen the concept, we know the new Jaguar crossover will be powered by the new Ingenium 4-cylinder engines, what we didn't know was its name - until now.

Someone has leaked something. Not a fluid but some information. The new Jaguar SUV/crosssover will be called the F-Pace.

Check out the official image leaked by Jaguar (these things get very confusing, is it an official leak or an unofficial leak and if it is an unofficial leak is the official photo official? Whatever, someone really should think about mopping up the leak with some kitchen paper), with its name emblazoned underneath the F-Type-alike rear light.

Apparently it is categorically not an SUV (that is official, not unofficial because it was said by JLR boss, Ralf Speth) but a crossover, a term beloved of car manufacturers to mean a car that is not good as an SUV off-road but not as good as a saloon on-road. Instead, a crossover is a half-way house which gives an SUV-style drive position and space with saloon-style handling. Got that? Land Rovers are SUVs, Jaguar is not allowed to make an SUV, it has to be a crossover.

Whatever, the Porsche Macan is also a crossover and that is very good at being a car but not quite so good at being an SUV (it cannot, for example, make it round Porsche's off-road course at Silverstone).

The F-Pace will be very similar to the C-X17 concept, which was fantastically good looking inside and out. And seeing as Jaguar hasn't put a foot wrong since the X-Type all the signs are good.

Except the name is awful.  It's really horrible. Some poor old geezer called Fred Pace will be wondering why Jaguar decided to name its new not-an-SUV after him whilst I wonder who on earth came up with the daftest name since Ferrari LaFerrari.

Maybe the name was approved by Monty Python's Silly Party candidate, Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F'tang-F'tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel. Yes, I think Mr Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F'tang-F'tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel would approve of the Jaguar F-Pace.

Hopefully seeing as these are early days, and seeing as the leaking seems to be reasonably unofficial (although it could be officially unofficial), it's not too late to change the name to something more sensible.

Stop Press:

After writing the words above the words below were issued by Jaguar. Everything unofficial is now official. The name is officially F-Pace. Damn.

Jaguar has today confirmed it will introduce an all-new model to the Jaguar line-up, to go on-sale in 2016, named the Jaguar F-PACE.

Ian Callum, Director of Design, Jaguar, commented: “We received such an overwhelmingly positive response to the C-X17 concept car last year that we just had to make it a reality.

“The Jaguar F-PACE, inspired by the F-TYPE, represents a perfectly judged balance of performance, style and practicality. It offers a unique combination of Jaguar sports car inspired exterior design, fused beautifully with a thoroughly practical and spacious luxury interior. The F-PACE is our family sports car.”

The Jaguar F-PACE couples class-leading interior space and exceptional on-road dynamics with five-seat usability to produce a true performance crossover. It will encapsulate everything that Jaguar stands for: beautiful design, precise handling, a supple ride, luxurious interior finishes and cutting-edge technology.

Speaking in Detroit, Andy Goss, Jaguar Land Rover Global Sales Director, said: “In 2015 we will celebrate Jaguar’s 80th year. We have started it by announcing our first performance crossover which we consider to be the ultimate practical sports car - a car that builds on the marque’s founding ideals of Grace, Pace and Space to become one of the most innovative Jaguars we’ve ever developed. The F-PACE has now begun its engineering and development testing programme ahead of the new model going on sale in 2016.”

The F-PACE will be manufactured in Solihull, UK.

Further details of Jaguar’s all-new F-PACE will be revealed later this year - #FPACE
 The Jaguar C-X17 concept
 The Jaguar C-X17 concept

 The Jaguar C-X17 concept

 The Jaguar C-X17 concept

By Matt Hubbard