30 Jul 2014

Living With - Vauxhall Insignia Elite Nav TDCi 163

Mark Turner of Blacktop Media reviews his Vauxhall Insignia

I have to be honest - I didn’t take to the Vauxhall Insignia.

When it was revealed in 2008 I was indifferent at best. The shape was generic and the car was forgettable.

I recently saw a press release about one of the ‘new’ Insignia models which caught my eye. A rather naughty, provocative little number.

The wheels had grown in diameter and the old tweed jacket had been replaced with a sharp, Saville row suite.

My curiosity challenged me to look deeper.

The delivered car was an Insignia Elite Nav 2.0TDCi. It is a very handsome car. The elegant, flowing lines are adorned in thick, luxurious, black metallic paint, accentuated by the suave chrome window surrounds.

The Insignia had a plethora of toys, Bluetooth, navigation, leather, electric everything and the list goes on. It really is a well specified car.

Now, I’m not a fan of unnecessary electronic ‘aids’ and like most modern cars, unfortunately the Insignia has plenty.

Everything you want to use seems to need a physics degree to work out and the traction control and ESP make sure you don’t try and enjoy yourself. Fortunately, the Bluetooth is simple and works very well but the Touch-pad controller for the Touch R700 IntelliLink infotainment system is hopeless. It isn’t fluid and the display looks dated.

I’ve seen lots of integrated systems that look almost beautiful. The Insignia's isn’t one of those.

It was functional, but I couldn’t help thinking that in a couple of years it will look like an antique, a bit like those massive TV’s we all laugh at now.

The sat-nav is virtually pointless. It wore me down and I reverted to using my phone it was so dire.

While I’m kicking the old girl, the electrically adjusted seats need a swift kick.

When you turn off the ignition the plush leather drivers seat is supposed to quietly slide back just enough to make exiting the car easier. (I can honestly say I have never needed to slide my chair back to get out of a car. Clearly, the Insignias target audience do).

Upon entry, the chair returns to it’s previous position…….sometimes. In my experience 50% of the time it did what it was supposed to, the other 50% of the time it slid all the way back, trapping the legs of rear seat occupants, then just defiantly stayed there.

The maniacal drivers seat didn’t annoy me as much as I expected, mainly because I was busy playing ‘electronic handbrake roulette’. It’s quite a common game these days and can be played in most executive cars.

You stop and flick the handbrake button, then see what, if anything, happens. If you are lucky the handbrake engages, leaving you wondering if it will randomly release or you will have to burn the clutch out trying to pull off while the ridiculous, pointless, electronic handbrake reluctantly submits.

On the plus side, it drives well. It’s very comfortable, very well appointed, well put together and didn’t falter all weekend.

The cabin does a great impression of a luxury executive car. It’s distinguished, chic and somehow feels familiar, closing the gap between mid-range saloon cars and their revered luxury cousins.

The Insignia performs well, handles well and if I had a slight criticism about the driving dynamics, it would be aimed at the brakes. They are fine, but not great. After a spirited 10 minutes I pulled up at a junction to find the front brakes smoking. There was a hint of fade and vagueness when you put some heat in to them.

I would seriously consider an Insignia if I was a rep with a company car budget around the £25k mark. Mine would be in this exact spec and colour.

Then again, £25k is Mondeo Titanium X Business Edition territory. That’s a tough battle to win.

29 Jul 2014

2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S Review

Matt Hubbard drives the Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

When the Jaguar F-Type was launched in 2013 it was as a convertible only.  It looked good, drove superbly and was powered by either a V6 or V8 engine.  The car's only real let downs were its tiny boot and slightly harsh ride.

It is made in the same factory as the XK.  The F-Type is the smaller, more sporty car and the XK the grand tourer which you can sling a pair of bags of golf sticks in the boot and your luggage on the back seat.  Jaguar told us at the time that if the F-Type did well then space in the factory would have to be made at the expense of the older XK.

Then in November 2013 the F-Type Coupe was revealed.  This was not good news for the XK.  The new coupe looked even better than the convertible and it had a useable boot.  The F-Type Coupe made its way into Jaguar dealers in April and shortly afterwards Jag announced the XK would be phased out in 2015.

As mentioned above the XK is a grand tourer and, in XKR and XKR-S form, is stupendously fast. It's never been a Porsche botherer but it was popular and sold well.

Jaguar had wanted to scratch the E-Type itch. They wanted a proper sports car successor to the iconic E-Type, and the F-Type was it.  Now, as a coupe and convertible the F-Type is a car for those who want to replace their XK but also those who might have bought a Cayman, Boxster, 911, SL, M4 or even a GranTurismo.

Jaguar needs the F-Type Coupe to reach a wider market than the XK did in order to be truly successful.  It needs to compete on an even footing with the very best sports cars and it needs it to ditch the faint 'old-man' whiff that Jaguar still carries.
2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

The V6 S costs £60,235 and the test car came with a number of options, most of which I'd spec. It looks fantastic in Salsa Red.  The £950 Black Pack turns all the exterior chrome into black.  Add in the £2k, 20 inch Black Tornado Wheels and £1,250 panoramic roof and you get the F-Type Coupe V6 S you see in the photos.  And everyone seems to love it.

Over the course of a week with the car I was stopped by at least a dozen people asking about it, and telling me how nice 'my' car was. The postman spent 20 minutes talking about how it was his lottery win car, a Toyota driver nearly crashed because he was staring at, boys walking home from school pointed at it and when I drove past a pub garden full of well heeled types half the people there turned to look at it. Three of them went, "Oooh".

The interior is spacious for a two seater. There's plenty of head and elbow room and a decent amount of storage space.  The £250 optional steel pedals (with rubber inserts) are a must-have. The standard rubber pedals look pretty horrid.

Another option worth having is the £1,850 extended leather pack.  Everything that can be leather is leather - even the headlining.  This is a good thing.

The electrically adjustable seats are comfortable and have good side support and decent, adjustable lumbar support.  The steering wheel is chunky and clad in soft leather.

The dials and infoscreen are all positioned well and function intuitively.  The infoscreen's software has been criticised by some but I love its simplicity, usability and the small features that make it easy to use.
2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

Press the Take Me Home button on the home page and the satnav immediately tells you how to get home.  In other satnavs this is buried deep within the software.  Likewise the volume button for the (excellent) sound system is located on its own next to the gear lever so you don't end up jabbing at the wrong buttons to change volume.

The rear hatch door swings up (by itself if you spec the £450 powered tailgate) to reveal a boot that's still quite shallow but is much wider and deeper than in the convertible.

These features, as well as the overall grandness of the F-Type Coupe's interior, make it less of a hardcore sports car to inhabit than you might imagine. It is after all a Jaaaag.  It might be fast and powerful but it's got to be comfortable too because most people who can afford one will be middle aged and appreciate a bit of comfort.

The engine is started with a button.  The key stays in your pocket.  The revs rise and the engine snarls.

Press the active sports exhaust button (a worthwhile £350 option) and the volume increases - and you get extra snap, crackle and pop. Take a look at the video below for a taste.

The V6 S has 380bhp and does 0-60mph in 4.8 seconds.  It feels mighty fast and has a more useable power to weight ratio than the V8 S which has so much power it loses traction the moment you tickle the throttle pedal.

With the V6 S you get a great spread of power from low revs thanks to its supercharger.  You don't get lag with a supercharger so there's no step in power, just great big lumps of it all the way to the screaming 7,000rpm red line.

The gearbox is an 8-speed ZF unit.  It's never hesitant in changing up or down a gear, indeed when travelling at speed you only need to dab the accelerator a little for it to dip down a gear or two and then change back up as soon as you come off the power.

The paddles on the steering wheel are too close to the edge of the wheel so you can't grip in the normal position with thumbs around the spokes.  Having said that the steering is quite light so you don't exactly need to hold on to it.

Using the paddles is great fun and can be addictive. With the dynamic exhaust selected changing down and trailing the throttle makes for a decent, spittling soundtrack.  Changing up when the gearbox is in dynamic mode (a £400 option) and the exhaust makes a noise like you're quickly slurping the last of the milkshake through a straw.
2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

Dynamic mode allows you to alter the steering's weight (along with throttle response, damper stiffness and gear change frequency) but I left it on the lighter setting mostly.  The steering doesn't have the same feel or feedback from the road as in a Cayman but it's better than everything else.  

Having said that it's communicative enough when driving on fast, sweeping roads. This is where its power, accuracy and huge amounts of grip are highlighted. It's a decent B-road hustler too as it isn't a big car so you don't have to come to a complete halt when an SUV rounds a bend ahead of you down some hedge lined lane.

On poorly surfaced roads the ride at low speeds can be stiff and slightly jarring.  Speed up a little and this smooths out.  The ride is fine over larger objects such as dips or lumps in the road (it handles speed bumps well) but it gets caught out when the finer road surface is rough.

On the motorway you can cruise for hours and step out at the end feeling fresh.  The stereo has DAB and easy to use Bluetooth and iPod integration and a £1,700 770W Meridian 12 speaker audio system  that sounds crisp and clear. Subwoofers are installed in the bulkhead immediately behind the seats so you feel the music through your seat - a strange experience at first but quite pleasant.

The only thing to concern you on the motorway is the ease and smoothness with which the V6 S accesses silly speeds.  Best to set and leave the cruise control on if at all possible.

The coupe takes the F-Type into new markets for Jaguar. It is now a genuine match for Porsche in several areas - refinement, luxury, exclusivity (for now) and a dynamic and fulfilling chassis and driving experience.  The Cayman, Boxster and 911 are more sports focussed and have a harder ride than the Jaguar but the differences to most buyers will be minimal.

The Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S is a fabulous car and it appeals to all ages without a hint of 'old man' about it.


Price - £60,235 (£73,945 as tested)
Engine - 3.0 V6 supercharged, petrol 
Transmission - 8-speed ZF automatic 
0-60mph - 4.8 seconds 
Top Speed - 171mph 
Power - 380bhp 
Torque - 339lb ft 
Economy - 32.1mpg 
CO2 - 213g/km 
Kerb Weight - 1,614kg
2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S

By Matt Hubbard

28 Jul 2014

Jaguar Land Rover Buys 543 Classic British Cars In One Go

Jaguar Land Rover is on a roll. The current cars are good, the future cars look good and they've just taken care of the old cars by buying the largest privately held collection of classic British cars.

The collection was owned by James Hull, who founded a chain of dentists.  Mr Hull kept the cars in warehouses in Herefordshire and decided to sell for an asking price of £100 million.

Jaguar Land Rover's Special Vehicle Operations stepped in and bought the lot for an undisclosed sum. 130 of the 543 cars in the collection are Jaguars.

Harry Metcalfe, ex Evo and now with SVO said this on twitter:

It looks like the collection will be in good hands.

By Matt Hubbard

25 Jul 2014

2014 Goodwood Festival Of Speed Mega Gallery Part 10

Sean Ward attended the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed. Armed with his camera and a media pass he snapped away during all three days of the festival to create an extraordinary collection of photos.

There are almost two hundred images so Speedmonkey is serialising them all over several days.

Check out Sean's own website New Motoring. You'll also find him on Twitter and Facebook.

I'm Just Not Impressed With The Technology Of Modern Cars

Modern cars are technologically advanced wonder-boxes.  But the vast majority simply don't impress me.

I don't mean in terms of their luxury, refinement, efficiency, reliability (although a lot aren't that reliable) or relative cheapness I mean that modern cars aren't a great deal different from those of the 70s when you think about it.

Yes a 2014 Ford Focus is all of the above to the nth degree over and above a 1974 Ford Escort but they are both constructed as a steel unibody with an internal combustion engine and have a boot, four seats, the engine at the front, a plastic interior, air-filled tyres and some wiring which connects all the electrical bits.

So a modern Focus has electric windows - whoop-de-doo. That's an electric motor and some more wiring which is hardly futuristic.  50% of new cars are sold with FM/AM radios - no progress there then.  

Independent suspension, heated seats and steering wheels and massively improved fuel economy are good things but these are just the result of a rather slow evolution in car technology in general.  They're nothing amazing, just the product of legislation, customer demand,  and many, many hours of R&D and testing.

If I'm to be impressed I want to see massive leaps and bounds in materials, tyres, drivetrains and, ooh some kind of je ne said quoi.  I want to be blown away by something I don't even know exists.

When was the last time that happened?

I suppose electronics has been the big step in automotive terms.  I suppose I'm impressed with digital radio, CAN bus wiring and engine management software.  

I am massively impressed with satellite navigation but that wasn't even invented by the car industry, and its adoption has been incredibly slow, and some systems (Peugeot Citroen to name one) are absolute rubbish.

Some things are beyond my ken and I'm impressed by them because I don't understand them. I mean how the hell do tyre pressure sensors work? That's impressive because it's black magic to me.

But not a lot else is.  It's all just basic engineering and electronics with not much in the way of true, knockout innovation with a big dollop of pazzazz.

To my mind all cars should be built the way a Volkswagen XL1 is as a bare minimum. Carbon fibre is brilliant and futuristic but it should be affordable and right now it isn't.

The XL1 costs £98,000, and it has 27bhp. That's expensive and rather pathetic. It weighs less than 800kg. The Citroen C4 Cactus weighs less than 1,000kg and that's much bigger and has more interior space.  Aside from lightness the Cactus' innovation is some plastic bubbles on the doors.

The XL1 may be innovative in some areas (280mpg isn't too bad I suppose) but it is a still just a hybrid with a diesel and electric engine.  That's not so innovative. It's just taking today's engineering to the nth degree.

To really impress me I expect to see, within a few years, a car that weighs 800kg, has at least 150bhp, returns 300mpg if hydrogen powered or if electric to do 500 miles on a charge and be capable of fully recharging in 10 minutes.

This car will also need adaptive cruise as standard and full phone integration with voice recognition that actually works.  It'll run on something more advanced than mere rubber tyres with air in them.  I don't expect punctures in the future. It won't need a service until it's at least three years old and it'll have integrated solar PV to run everything except the engine.

If car makers can sell me a car that does all of the above, and add a few more features that no-one outside of some lab has thought of yet, at a cost of £15,000 then I'll be impressed.

But until then I'll be underwhelmed.

By Matt Hubbard

24 Jul 2014

2014 Goodwood Festival Of Speed Mega Gallery Part 9

Sean Ward attended the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed. Armed with his camera and a media pass he snapped away during all three days of the festival to create an extraordinary collection of photos.

There are almost two hundred images so Speedmonkey is serialising them all over several days.

Check out Sean's own website New Motoring. You'll also find him on Twitter and Facebook.