31 Oct 2014

Vauxhall Creates The World's Largest GPS Drawing (With A Little Help From Speedmonkey)

Speedmonkey recently drove the Vauxhall Corsa at its UK launch and helped draw the largest GPS drawing in the world, a giant Halloween themed mural


Vauxhall has revealed this piece of GPS art, created by a Corsa. It's was dreamt up and largely completed by US artist, Jeremy Wood. GPS art is created by placing a GPS unit in a car, driving and recording the data trail.
The World's Largest GPS Drawing

The previous record was 4,500 miles long but Vauxhall's 6,080 mile GPS drawing was validated by Guinness World Records as a new record.

I drove the Corsa around Gloucestershire with a GPS unit in the test car, so would have created some of the Ls and part of the cobweb.

For the record the new Corsa is a great little car with a brilliant ride and handling to match that of the Fiesta. Check out my Corsa review here.

Here's a video about the drawing:



By Matt Hubbard (Guinness World Record holder)


Save Our Souls With Retro Cars

Mark Turner of BlackTop Media looks at a retro car scene, Southern Old School


S.O.S (Southern Old School) is an underground car gang overflowing with attitude. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is some ordinary car club or group, it’s a retro car gang.

The gang was put together by James ‘Elk’ Ellerker and his brother Tim in 2008, almost by accident.

Back then, running old school cars wasn’t anywhere near as cool as it is now.

There were 15 or so of them who shared the passion and used to meet up from time to time.

As it grew it became more and more of a pain in the arse to make arrangements by text so Elk decided to start a Facebook group to post up the meets. The rest is history.

S.O.S has forged its own furrow, soaking up influences from skate, BMX, surf, graffiti and other urban cultures and has created its own scene.

From humble beginnings on the coast at Torbay in Devon they are now known throughout the UK and have a reputation for having the baddest, lowest cars around.

These guys are overflowing with attitude and character. I feel like I’ve discovered a long lost family.

There’s a passion for cars that stretches back to Elks childhood. His dad built cars and now so do Elk and his brother Tim and you want to see the shit they get up to……

Tim had an old MK1 Fiesta that had seen better days. He was going to scrap the car when a sinister plan was hatched deep inside the dark recesses of their minds.

The motivation was simple, to make this Fiesta as ridiculous and impractical as possible.

It’s been brutally slammed and sits 200mm lower than standard.

That’s an extreme stance but is just scratching the surface with this car.

Just for shits and giggles the brothers thought they’d make the Fiesta pillarless, so out came the angle grinder and off came the door pillars, B pillars and sidewindows.

Enough? Not even close. The boys must have had a big night when they came up with the next stage…..ROOF CHOP, obviously!

The boys headed down to South West Coast Customs for a 4” roof chop where the roof was lengthened and widened so the pillars didn’t need to be laid back.

Hand painted with no windows or wipers, this Fiesta is a rad little car that encapsulates the attitude of Elk, his bro Tim and the whole S.O.S retro car gang.

This is not the end of this cars journey. There are plans to revamp it in the summer and go balls deep. I’m looking forward to see the results of that little adventure.

There is an awesome collection of cars amongst these guys. I’ll show you some more soon.




30 Oct 2014

Have You Bonded With Your Car?

I drive new cars regularly. Sometimes the car has everything I or the consumer would expect it to have, and do everything just as it should. But often, when thinking back and writing the review, I feel a nagging sense of coldness about it. It might have been a great car but I didn't bond with it.


A car is just a collection of metal, plastic and other materials bound together in a package that enables us to whizz around whilst being entertained. Cars interact with us via our senses but many fail to provide all the sensory needs we complex, carbon-based beings require in order to become at one with an inanimate object.

Music comes in many and varied forms. Some provides a pleasant background noise, some pains our ears, some offends our brain and some affects us in such a way it makes us happy.

Cars are the same.

My own car is a 2005 Audi TT and I have bonded with it. We have become one, a symbiosis of man and machinery whilst on the move. The heft and certainty of the controls, the power of the V6 engine, the grip of the quattro four wheel drive, the predictability of response to changing conditions, the clarity of the sound system are all attributes that make it an easier car to bond with but aren't necessarily the ultimate reasons for it to happen.  That requires a dose of je ne sais quoi.

I can overlook it's foibles and faults because of that bond, the gear lever that is an inch too far forwards, the front bias of the power delivery, the lack of storage space. Just like in humans when the magic of a perfect relationship over-reaches the faults in that union we can learn to forgive and forget the niggles and flaws in each other.

So it is with cars. How and why we bond with some cars is impossible to predict.  Some cars are sprinkled with a magic dust that makes us feel good, that brings us closer together.

This is true of all cars, old or new.

I have driven expensive cars that have left me feeling cold and I have driven cheaper cars that made me feel warm and fuzzy, and I didn't want to give it back to their owners.

I have bought cars and sold them shortly after because they gave me nothing other than the ability to transport from location to location. I have regretted selling cars that, in hindsight, I shouldn't have.

I feel for the drivers who spend all day in their car for their job yet dislike it. I could happily drive all day every day in my TT or an F-Type, GT86, Boxster S, Megane 265, S1, Range Rover or Evora but to do the same in an Outlander, Superb, Mondeo or S3 would have me asking my doctor for some happy pills.  Similarly if I was forced to listen to One Direction in perpetuity I'd wish deafness upon myself but a constant soundtrack of Pink Floyd would be extremely pleasing.

To bond with a car is a wonderful thing, to be ambivalent towards it can be hell.

By Matt Hubbard


29 Oct 2014

Fleet - For The First Time In My Life I Have A Garage

I've just moved into a new house and for the first time since I moved out of my mum and dad's place in 1991 I have the use of a garage.


Well, actually, since mum and dad both had a car, this is the first time I've ever had the use of a garage. My previous house, which I'd lived in for ten years, had a garage but it never saw a car. My bike lived in it as did the boiler, a workbench, a mass of shelves and a wardrobe.

But not this time. When I first viewed the property I scooted through the house and mentally ticked every room as being suitable. Then I walked into the garage and paused.  The house was fine, just right, but the garage was perfect.

It's one and a half car lengths long and slightly wider than usual.  At the end are a bunch of workbenches and old kitchen cupboards.  I can fit my Audi TT and Triumph Street Triple in it and there's still room to stand at the workbench and work on...stuff.

It get's better. The garage has it's own pitched roof and loft area. The loft is lit and fully carpeted.  It is, perhaps, the perfect garage.

When I moved in the previous owner had left a load of junk in it - not least some massive steel shelves. The fridge freezer in the house wasn't working either so I bought a new one and the old one was moved into the garage.

For the first few weeks my TT lived outside as I slowly cleared all the detritus out but, only last weekend, the garage was finally free. It was empty and open. It could accommodate the car.

Heaven.

Actually the TT wasn't the first car to live in the garage. My friend's Peugeot needed a touch of paint before it was sold so that spent all day Saturday in the garage - good job too as it rained - getting some Aegean Blue applied to it.

Then, on Sunday, the garage was all mine.

It felt so good to finally drive into the garage, shut the door, walk out of the side door and into the house.

I turned back around and had another look and experienced a frisson of pleasure. Everything fitted perfectly, even the ladder leading up to the loft.

But two things needed sorting. How to stop the TT's door banging on the wall and how to know when  the back of the car was just in the garage? Too far in and I'd knock the bike over, not enough and the door won't shut.

The problem was solved by the application of some old carpet on the garage wall, and a line drawn on the carpet. Line the door edge up with the line and the car is just far enough in the garage.

For a bloke who's into cars and bikes, and tinkering with aforesaid, as well as a spot of DIY, my garage is perfection.

For now the loft is my son and his friend's den. I'm thinking it would make the ideal Scalextric room...

And now thoughts turn to what else I could fit in the garage.

The drive is big enough for three cars.  The TT could live outside, it has done all it's life so far. I could buy a project car although thus far I've yet to decide on a budget or even a car.

A Porsche 944 in need of some attention would be ideal but that'd probably be out of my not yet decreed budget. Maybe an MX5 or something similar could be fun. Or I could even get a project bike.

Whatever, for now I'm enjoying just having a garage. Just having one is a luxury. It's well lit so I can work on the car and bike in the evening and spacious enough to still get around and find and use my tools.

I'm praying for snow this winter so I can be one of those smug commuters with a warm, clean car - for the first time in my life.

Also, a company called DocVision got in touch and said they'd just been made the sole importer for a new product - a screen wash in tablet form - and would I write something about it if they sent a sample?

I said yes and said box of tablets turned up in the post. Now, I don't normally use screen wash as it's so bloody expensive.  DocVision's tablets cost £5.99 for a pack of four. You just pop one in the screen wash bottle and they work well.

The windscreen is smear free and it smells faintly of lemons when I use the wash wipe. The tablets are meant to work at down to -3°C and are 100% biodegradable. So far I'm happy to recommend DocVision - and, no, I wasn't paid, I just got the sample.


By Matt Hubbard


28 Oct 2014

When A Company Car was The Fastest Thing On The Road

Back in the 90s there was no tax penalty on company cars so young chargers such as me could drive whatever we wanted, as long as it was on 'the company car list.' And by god did we mistreat them.


I was having a conversation on twitter recently about the Mk4 Vauxhall Astra. I've forgotten who I was talking with (let me know if it was you!) but I said it was a good car and he said it was a steaming pile of manure.

In hindsight I've remembered that actually it was a pretty rubbish car but my memory of it was clouded by the fact I had a Mk4 Astra 1.8 SXi as a company car in 1999. Back then company cars came with hardly any tax penalty and what you drove was what was in your budget - simple as that.

Some people say hire cars are the fastest cars on the road - but not then. Back in the mists of time when up and coming junior execs in shiny suits ruled the roads a company car was the fastest thing on four wheels.

God I thrashed that Astra.  The company I worked for wasn't very big and as such we weren't subject to the stricture of company car lists. My boss knew someone who owned a Vauxhall dealership and I could have whatever I wanted as long as it was under a certain price.

My work took me all over the place but often to some remote farms and locations in North Wales reachable only by a rally stage.  Oh yes, the rally king in his company Astra hooned around those forest stages with gravel banging and bashing on the underside of the car, brown rooster tails of mud flying from the wheels and hand brake turns flinging the car round hairpins.

This might seem disrespectful to a car owned by someone else but that was how a generation treated company cars - like we'd stolen them.

In the late 80s I worked for a large building company. I didn't have a company car as I was a trainee but my boss had an Orion 1.3LX, his boss had a Sierra GL saloon and his boss had a Scorpio 2.9 Ghia.  The higher up the corporate ladder you climbed the better the Ford or Vauxhall you got.

I drove all three cars but the Scorpio only once. The big boss wanted dropping off at the airport and I was to chauffeur him there and drive the car back to the office.

19 years old and driving a 2.9 V6, this was amazing! Sadly, though, it wasn't the rocketship I'd imagined it to be. Instead it was merely quite quick, but I still gave it my all thrashing the living daylights out of it. My dad's Jaguar XJ6 was a better car by a huge margin.

In the early 90s I was back in the corporate world, in telecoms. There were around 20 of us of similar ages doing a similar job. Company cars were available, indeed compulsory, but were were restricted by a list.

The list was long but our jobs were only allocated so many points which limited our choice. We could have had a loaded Mondeo or Vectra but none of us were interested in those. Almost everyone, me included, ordered a BMW 318i SE.

The BMW only had 115bhp but it was rear wheel drive and had alloy wheels (15 inch!). I drove it everywhere like my trousers were on fire. You could do donuts and drift in it if you tried hard enough.

I still had it the moment my ex-wife told me her waters had broken and our son was shortly due to make his way into the world. That journey from my office in Warrington to home in Northwich has probably never been completed in such a short time.

At one point I hit a hump-backed bridge so fast I got full air as all four wheels left the ground.

Once son was born the company cars got more boring - my next was a Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Titanium estate - and I calmed down a little.  A week before I left that company the Mondeo's engine decided to explode and I spent my final week in a hateful Vectra 1.8LX hire car.

I actually turned down a job because the company car was a Toyota Avensis.

Over the past ten years I've only owned private cars and I treat press cars with care. But those golden years when company cars were a status symbol and a race car all in one were glorious.

Nowadays the Chancellor's meanness means youngsters stepping on to the corporate ladder have to choose an eco machine as their daily wheels because otherwise the tax is crippling.  This is a sad state of affairs. They are missing out.

I'm glad I come from a generation to whom company cars meant a lot more than they do now, and could be easily acquired and caned until the day they went back and we could choose another.

Because, until few years ago, a company car was the fastest car on the road.
A 318i SE similar to mine, but with better wheels

By Matt Hubbard



27 Oct 2014

2015 Vauxhall Corsa Review

Matt Hubbard reviews the new Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 SRi VX-Line

2015 Vauxhall Corsa
2015 Vauxhall Corsa

The Corsa is hugely important to Vauxhall. The company shifted 84,000 Corsas in 2014 and 70,000 so far in the first three quarters of 2015. One third of all Vauxhalls sold are Corsas and it generates the most revenue and profit for the company.

So the new one is a big deal. It had better be good.

It's not a brand new car, Vauxhall describes it as an evolution but that's not being very fair on it. Every body panel is new, the engines and gearboxes are new, in fact everything fore of the A-pillar is new, the interior is new, the steering is new and the chassis is new. Oh, and the centre of gravity is 5mm lower than in the old Corsa.

The Corsa starts at £8,995 and ends at £15,380 but most of the range is around the £12k mark. Prices are £3k lower than the old Corsa, which makes it sensibly priced (finally) and much cheaper than the Fiesta.

Does this mean Vauxhall is not confident in the new Corsa? Not at all, Vauxhall thinks it has a great little car and wants to micturate on Ford's rug.

It comes with a host of standard kit and some reasonably priced options. Of interest to people who want an everyday run-around is the heated windscreen and winter pack which comes with heated seats and steering wheel.  LED DRLs (Daytime Running Lights) are standard on all but the base model. Bi-Xenon lights are a £395 option.

DAB and Bluetooth are standard but satnav is not, you have to buy a £50 app called BringGo which streams it to the info screen. I do not like this - either fit a satnav or not.  Rain sensitive wipers, auto lights and cruise control are fitted as standard on all but the base model.
2015 Vauxhall Corsa
2015 Vauxhall Corsa

Lots of trim levels are available - Life, Sting and Sting R, Design, SRi, Excite, SE, SRi VX Line and Limited Edition - and lots of engines, all new and economical and clean. The newest is the 3-cylinder 1.0 EcoTec in a variety of power outputs.

The green car in the photos is a 1.4T SRi VX-Line. It has a new petrol engine with 98bhp and 148b ft of torque. The gearbox is a new 6-speed manual and the colour is Flaming Green. It costs £14,230 and is right at the top of the Corsa range.

So, does Vauxhall have any right to be confident in the new Corsa? Is it any good? Is it as good as the Fiesta?

Damn right. It's a superb little car.

Let's start with the looks. OK, not everyone likes them. Despite all the panels being new it's visually similar to the outgoing car but with a new front end - similar in appearance to the Adam's.  The C-pillar, by the way, is quite different in the 3-door (sharp) than it is in the 5-door (rounded).

The interior is well designed with buttons and dials well laid out and perfectly placed so you'll find them in the dark. The info screen is functional and easy to use (although I had to look in the manual to find out how to adjust the bass and treble on the stereo) but its buttons are annoyingly vague (press lightly, has it actually registered? Press it hard, I think it has?).

The driving position is great for a small hatchback - deepish footwell, lots of adjustability in the chunky steering wheel, leather clad gear knob close to hand. The twin A-pillar impedes visibility though.
2015 Vauxhall Corsa
2015 Vauxhall Corsa

The seats are comfortable and provide plenty of support but the seat squab (the bit that goes under your thighs) is too short and doesn't provide quite enough support.  The rear seats are fairly spacious, a six footer will fit in but their knees will brush against the back of the front seats.

Fire it up and the 1.4 4-pot is quiet. The gearbox is better than in any Vauxhall I've driven before (better than the 6-speed in the Cascada and Astra VXR) and snicks into gear without notchy encumbrance.  The ratios are sensibly spaced for the roads rather than track, 2nd gear runs out of puff at around 60mph.

The engine produces most of its torque at low and medium revs and feels like it doesn't really want to go past 5,000rpm but nevertheless has plenty of grunt. The car feels quicker than the stats suggest.

On the road is where the Corsa really stands out. The chassis is incredibly good. The Corsa was tuned on UK roads, the theory being if it'd work on our crappy roads it'd work anywhere. The SRi VX-Line had the sports chassis but was not firm at all, in fact it would glide over poorly paved roads in the manner of a bigger, more expensive car.

But turn it into a corner and the Corsa doesn't roll, instead the steering is sharp and precise with good feedback. It's quite the hoot, in fact it's as good as anything else in its class.
2015 Vauxhall Corsa
2015 Vauxhall Corsa

The Corsa weighs about 1,100kg (the test cars were pre-production models so Vauxhall doesn't have a precise figure yet) and with its sharp steering, fantastic ride and decent gearbox and engine it will be enjoyed by anyone seeking some serious thrills. Yes, you heard that right. It's jolly fine to drive.

Turn onto a motorway and it's also a good cruiser. The controls have a light touch (steering weight is adjustable), interior noise is more than tolerable and the sound system is loud and clear.

Over recent years the Vauxhall Corsa has been hiding in the shadows of the competition, particularly arch rival Ford's brilliant Fiesta. This new iteration has proved itself a worthy competitor, and with pricing that seriously undercuts the Fiesta it deserves to do well.

After the 1.4T I drove a 1.0T EcoTec. The new 3-cylinder feels like a bigger engine. It has a balancer shaft which makes it quiet and smooth, it's got plenty of grunt (113bhp and 170Nm/125lb ft) and is just as quick as the 1.4T. It returns 57.6mpg and produces 115g/km of CO2. Up a hill it sounds like it's struggling but it still pulls pretty hard for a little 3-pot. It's a cracking engine.

Stats:


Price - £14,230
Engine - 1.4 litre, inline-4, turbocharged, petrol
Transmission - 6-speed manual
0-60mph - 11 seconds
Top Speed - 115mph
Power - 98bhp
Torque - 200Nm/148lb ft
Economy - 53.3mpg
CO2 - 123g/km
Kerb weight - approx 1,100kg
2015 Vauxhall Corsa
2015 Vauxhall Corsa

2015 Vauxhall Corsa

2015 Vauxhall Corsa
The 2015 Vauxhall Corsa's 1.0 EcoTec engine

By Matt Hubbard



24 Oct 2014

2014 Citroën C4 Cactus Review

Matt Hubbard reviews the innovative new Citroën C4 Cactus

Citroën C4 Cactus
Citroën C4 Cactus

First things first, the Citroën C4 Cactus isn't based on the C4 but the C3. It's been lengthened and heightened but because it sits on the smaller car's platform it's light. Very light. You'd expect a car that counts the Nissan Juke as a rival and that feels as big as a Golf to weigh around 1,300kg but it doesn't - it weighs 965kg.

This is good.

The Cactus is innovative in several ways but the most obvious is on the outside. You can't escape them. They stand out in the photos and in the metal - well, rubber.  Those plastic panels on the flanks are called Airbumps (capital A because Airbump is patented) and they are designed to deflect erroneous doors in supermarket car parks.

Will any other manufacturer want to copy the concept? Well, they might because I've a sneaking feeling the Cactus is going to do rather well.

The looks attract as much admiration as derision. It's certainly not a beige car and tends to arouse passion in people as they comment on it. In a week with the Cactus (admittedly painted in Hello Yellow) I was asked about it by my postman, a bin man and some random bloke at the petrol station.

On social media opinions were divided and those opinions were fierce, on either side of the hate/love divide.

I'll leave it up to you to make up your own mind about its looks, suffice to say I like it. The proportions look and feel good and the design is attractive to the (well, my) naked eye.

Step inside and it feels spacious. The seats are close together but this is because they're really very comfortable sofa chairs. They're not very supportive but they do take the strain of a long journey well.
Citroën C4 Cactus

There are some very sensible storage spaces. Rather than just provide strangely shaped holes with no lip to stop things falling out the Cactus has a recessed space, just a little bigger than a large smartphone, next to the USB port, a similar one that holds a glasses case, very wide door pockets, a single cupholder and an absolutely massive glovebox.

The rear seats are similar to the front but are less comfortable - they're more of a bench than a sofa.  To save weight there's no trick folding system either. There's no 60/40 split and the rear bench doesn't fold flat. There is quite a lot of leg room though.

One weight saving measure can be found in the rear windows - they're pop out rather than wind down and I would question how sensible that is. The Cactus is a family car and your kids deserve wind down windows, even if they're manual.

The boot is large but has a high lip, presumably to preserve structural integrity in such a light chassis.  The parcel shelf is as light as the proverbial wafer thin mint.

The driving position is quite sensible. At this point I'd like to congratulate Citroën's designers for not following the trend of raising the roof height. Some cars have stupidly tall roofs which add weight, and in the wrong place - high up.

You sit in the Cactus and feel snug. Yes the cabin is airy, with sensibly designed pillars that provide good visibility, but the roofline sits low compared to other cars. You can, if you want, option a full size panoramic roof.
Citroën C4 Cactus
Citroën C4 Cactus

Back to the driving position. Everything sits to hand (and foot) except for the steering wheel which is not adjustable for reach. This is another weight saving measure that's a step too far.

The dash is digital, simple and straightforward. The speed readout is clear but the omission of a rev-counter is silly.

Move to the centre console and there is only one row of buttons. Almost everything is controlled by the touchscreen. Climate, sound system, satnav, trip computer - everything. And it works well. Watch this video for a full tour of the info screen.



The Cactus has three petrol and two diesel engines available. That in the test car was a 1.2 litre turbocharged petrol with 82bhp and 87lb ft of torque. This is a puny amount of power but in such a lightweight car it feels surprisingly sprightly.

The gearbox was a 5-speed manual. I hadn't driven a 5-speed since 1987, but it was a good one - nice and light, like all the other controls.  The ratios seem sensibly spaced but this was hard to fathom accurately without a rev-counter

Pulling away smoothly is tough due to the small engine and initial turbo lag but once past that the engine pulls well enough.

The ride is brilliantly smooth. Rough roads and potholes are evened out and the car, despite its light weight, feels straight and true on the road.

The handling isn't half bad either. It barrels round corners perfectly well, although with not a vast amount of precision or feedback. It is fun for a run on country roads though.

On the motorway it's comfortable and easy going, although you do need to stir the gearbox to get the most out of the little engine.

It feels like a light car when you're driving it through corners - you can sense a litheness - but it also feels quite substantial. Slam the doors and instead of a tinny bang they make a satisfying thunk. The choose of materials inside (a mix of soft and comfortable and harsh and scratchy) don't give away the lightness either.
Citroën C4 Cactus boot
Citroën C4 Cactus

It really is a clever overall design that achieves the Cactus' low weight which, aside from the aforementioned issues, does not pervade itself in any negative way - only positive.

The C4 Cactus test car cost £14,590 and had automatic lights and windscreen wipers, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth streaming, cruise control and a satnav that works very well.  Add in the comfort levels, space and genuinely innovative aspects to the design and it's good value.

As well as this the running costs will be lower than equivalent cars. CO2 and mpg figures are competitive and consumables such as brakes and tyres will last longer than in the competition due to its weight.

I enjoyed my week with the Cactus. It's a fun, attention seeking car that's practical and spacious and it'll deservedly sell by the bucket load.

Stats:


Price - £14,590 (£16,500 as tested)
Engine - 1.2 litre, 3-cylinder, petrol, turbocharged
Transmission - 5-speed manual
0-62mph - 12.9 seconds
Top Speed - 106mph
Power - 82bhp
Torque - 87lb ft
Economy - 61.4mpg
CO2 - 107g/km
Kerb Weight - 965kg
Citroën C4 Cactus
Citroën C4 Cactus

Citroën C4 Cactus

Citroën C4 Cactus

By Matt Hubbard


23 Oct 2014

2014 Subaru Forester & WRX STI Video Reviews

Matt Hubbard reviews the 2014 Subaru Forester and WRX STI


I recently spent the day with Subaru.  The location was a rather splendid hotel in Hampshire.  My morning was spent driving the Forester, a rather splendid, if not very economical, SUV. It's designed more for general country folk than school run mums. Here's my video review



The afternoon was spent in the WRX STI. It's fast, it's brutal and it looks outrageous.



By Matt Hubbard


22 Oct 2014

2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design Review

Matt Hubbard reviews the Volvo S60 D5 R-Design Lux Nav Optimised by Polestar

2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design
2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design

In Volvo-land the 60 is the BMW 3-Series size car and S means saloon, so the S60 is a mid-size saloon.  D5 is the most powerful diesel engine which is currently a 2.4 litre 5-cylinder. R-Design is the sporty trim level that adds suspension upgrades as well as design touches. Lux Nav add extra kit and satnav. Optimised by Polestar adds a remap with a few more horsepower and torque.

The test car is at the top of the S60 range and the price reflects that, it costs £35k. Add in some serious options (because it's a press car) and the on-the road price is £42k.  That's a whole chunk of change. Is it worth it?

The S60 starts off on the back foot because it's front wheel drive whereas the 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class are rear wheel drive, as will be the latest party crasher the Jaguar XE. The Audi A4, however, is also front wheel drive.

Looks-wise its a winner.  The shape is familiar 3-box saloon but it's svelte with it, with a low looking roof and a shallow rear window line that slopes down all the way to the boot. It pulls this coupé-alike trick off much better than the BMW 3 GT does.

A crease runs along the waist of the car from headlights to rear lights, bulging ever so slightly over the wheels.

In all it's a cracking looking car that really stands out in Rebel Blue. The 18" alloys come as part of the R-Design package.

Step inside and shut the door and you're presented with an interior as comfortable and luxurious feeling as any of the competition. The materials in particular are high quality with a squidgy covering to the upper dash which in other cars is often harsh plastic.

It's not a particularly big car but rear seat occupants have a reasonable amount of space with room for three adults abreast and legroom for 6-footers. The boot too is very long but isn't particularly well packaged - there's a spare wheel and the cover, which is flat, doesn't cover the width of the boot so there are spaces either of side of it.

The seats are monumentally comfortable, and clad in Alcantara and just the softest leather I've experienced. They're supportive and need little adjustment to get comfy.

The driving position is great with a deep footwell and a steering wheel that has lots of adjustment.  

As with any modern, well-specced car there are a lot of things it can do and lots of ways you can control it all, the trick is to make the various inputs feel second nature after a short explore.  If you have to resort to the manual that's a failure as far as I'm concerned.

It's worth explaining in some detail how it all works. If you're not interested then skip the next five paragraphs.

The controls are well placed and after a short while in the car everything feels where it should be. On the steering wheel itself you can control the stereo, phone, speed limiter and (adaptive) cruise control. On the stalks you have the usual lights (automatic if required) and wipers but there's also a dial and button to control the trip computer and display items.

The electronic dash can be set for eco or performance displays. Performance is best as it shows a huge digital speed readout in the centre of the screen with revs surrounding it.  Turn the dial on the left hand stalk and various info is shown such as mpg, average speed, speed in km/h in little windows either side of the speedo.

The central screen has a whole host of menus and options from sound system (loud, clear, DAB, FM, Bluetooth, CD) to elements of the car such as how long the lights stay on after you've turned the car off.  You can, for instance, alter the headlights so they work on European roads without dazzling oncoming drivers.  

Talking of lights Volvo's adaptive headlights are the most effective I've tested. Only once in a week, with the nights drawing in, did they briefly dazzle someone - when I drove down a bumpy road and they didn't dip fast enough.

The only two elements of the screen and tech in the car that are substandard are the fact the screen isn't a touchscreen and has an input system that can sometimes feel clunky, and the satnav's traffic management (and subsequent route redirection and ETA) are based on TMC which is not as good as TomTom's or Google's.
2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design
2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design

The car starts with a push of a button, and the key can go anywhere but Volvo has provided a handy space in the dash for it.

The engine is quiet at idle. The gearbox has a soft, fluid feel and the ratios are well spaced.

On pulling away the engine note rises through the usual diesel clatter to a lovely off-beat thrum when pushed, the result of having five cylinders.

It has lots of power and torque and a flat power curve once the turbo has kicked in at 2,000rpm. It'll pull in all gears as long as you keep the turbo spinning and carries on to a high, for a diesel, 5,000rpm.

In fact it feels faster than the stats show, perhaps because of the Polestar tuning. It really is a quick car that has lots of grip, despite being front wheel drive.  Torque steer can be an issue though in small left, right tugs on the wheel as you accelerate hard in lower gears.

The steering is light and has adequate, if not outstanding, feel and feedback. 

The S60 is good fun on twisting roads. It doesn't understeer much, rather it stays neutral in most conditions.  The R-Design's suspension is slightly firmer than in other trim levels but still soaks up the vast majority of road surfaces with aplomb.

It really comes into its own on flowing A-roads and motorways where its brilliant ride and composure make for a soothing experience. Stick it in top gear and overtake on a swell of torque, turn up the stereo, select adaptive cruise and watch the miles go by as it returns 40 to 50 mpg despite having 347lb ft of torque.

So, is the S60 as good as the German competition?  I think it is.  It has the looks, the driving experience, the tech, the comfort, the style - but does it have the image?  That's up to you.

Stats:


Price - £35,395 (£42,260 as tested)
Engine - 2.4 litre, 5-cylinder, turbocharged diesel 
Transmission - 6-speed manual 
0-62mph - 7.4 seconds 
Top Speed - 143mph 
Power - 230bhp 
Torque - 347lb ft / 470Nm 
Economy - 62.8mpg 
CO2 - 119g/km 
Kerb weight - 1,658kg
2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design

2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design

2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design
2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design

2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design
2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design

2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design

2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design

2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design

2014 Volvo S60 D5 R-Design

By Matt Hubbard


21 Oct 2014

The Most Anticipated Vehicle Releases In The Next 12 Months

For those of us who have a need for speed, or are just thrilled by car technology and gadgetry, the latest car releases are always something that we look forwards to. With ever increasing performance capabilities and new stylistic features, the latest models will be sure to incorporate brand new looks and features. When the time comes for the global motor shows, such as the Paris Motor Show, it’s always a huge talking point for all petrol heads.

We’ve looked at the cars which pack a punch. These are the sports cars, the muscle cars and the speedsters; all powered by the latest turbos and V8s, whilst handling with precision.

Here’s the most anticipated vehicle releases over the next 12 months, starting with the beautiful Alfa Romeo 4C Spider:

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider


The Italians know how to manufacture a fast car, with Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani and Alfa Romeo all rolling out the most beautiful, astonishing and downright impressive supercars that we’ve ever seen. The great news is that Alfa are set to release the new 4C Spider next year, with it expected to hit the road in June.

The Spider is an update on the Coupe which is adored around the world, and for the new model, Alfa have simple turned the car into a convertible. Taking the roof off a coupe doesn’t always breed success, but it seems Alfa really have managed something special here.

A stunning centre mounted exhaust system and dual carbon-titanium pipes, with 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels, come together to create a magnificent looking Italian racing beast. Under the bonnet there is a 1.7-litre four-cylinder engine, which produces huge 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. We can't wait to get behind the wheel of this one when it arrives on British shores next year!
Alfa Romeo 4C Spider

Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe


In 2015, Mercedes is set to unleash its C63 AMG Coupe, with the grand unveiling booked in for the Paris Motor Show this autumn. With prices starting from £96,565, the C63 sees its old 2.6 litre V8 dropped in favour of a fresh, but downsized, turbo engine.

The new compact V8 will benefit drivers who’re looking for a sportier drive with efficiency very much in mind. Initially the C63 will be on offer as a four-door saloon, with an estate accompanying it at the launch in Paris.

Touted as a rival to the BMW M4, it’s expected that Mercedes will also announce an advanced version complete with a 4.0-litre engine and plenty of other additional features.

Mazda MX-5


The Paris Motor Show is set to be quite an event, especially as it’s been announced that Mazda will be unveiling its latest MX-5 model. As the world’s most popular roadster, the update comes equipped with an aggressive new look, with flared side panels and a curved yet strong looking body on offer in the aim to tempt a brand new generation of Mazda fans.

It will be a shorter, wider and lower version of the current model, and in addition to the upgrades in the looks department, it will also shed over 100kg of weight. This car is set to be priced at around £20,000, unfortunately the cabin remains very much the same, albeit a well finished off interior which features a host of SKYACTIV technology.

The soft-top models weigh as little as 1,050kg, which gives you an example of the engineering that Mazda have put into this new sportster.
New Mazda MX-5

Ford Mustang


2015 will be the next chapter in one of America’s favourite cars, the legendary Ford Mustang. With over 9 million of these aggressive muscle cars sold over the past fifty years, and appearances in movies, on television and with many famous owners, Ford are set to deliver what looks to be one of the car releases of the coming 12 months, if not the last decade or so.

Ford are delivering the Mustang to Asia and Europe for the very first time, with customers in the UK able to get their hands on a right-hand drive version. It’s hoped that the new release attracts all different types of driver, especially with a range of engines on offer including a fuel-efficient 4-cylinder, all the way up to a more powerful V8.
2015 Ford Mustang

Audi R8


We are getting very close to the latest Audi release, the R8. We’ve already seen a camouflaged version of the car being tested around the Nurburgring in Germany and it’s expected that it will be launched in the earlier part of 2015.

Audi are looking to balance performance with everyday driving with this latest release. The interior might be minimal but there is enough space to travel in comfort, with the bonus of their being tons of power under the bonnet, ready to be unleashed from the primed R8.

The entry-level 420-horsepower, 4.2-litre V8 will feature plenty of superior updates from the last model, including much more refined and luxurious leather upholstery.

The R8 is geared up to be one of the top releases of 2015, so watch this space!

The next 12 months look to be fantastic for car lovers, especially with the return of the legendary Mustang, the Audi R8 and the simply superb looking Alfa 4C Spider. We have only had time to run over a few of the releases which are set to hit the roads over the next year, but you can bet your bottom dollar that there are plenty more innovative, sleek and superb new cars waiting in the wings, and yet to be unveiled by manufacturers the world over.

This blog was written by Jennifer Smith on behalf of LeaseCar.co.uk, a vehicle leasing company from the UK


This Is Why Kamui Kobayashi Retired From The Russian GP

Kamui Kobayashi retired from the Russian GP. At the time he said there was nothing wrong with the car but that the team wanted to save mileage on parts. Now, it seems he was protecting the team and himself - he thought his suspension would collapse following a botched repair.


The BBC has seen Kamui's personal Facebook page, which is only visible to friends of the Japanese driver, where he posted this photo and several updates on the car.

On the Friday of the Russian GP Kamui posted: "Scary! Last night a suspension defect was found. There's no spare so it was repaired by wrapping it in carbon. It's checked all the time but, even so, being asked to race like this is too scary! I want to go home already. From here on there are still practices and the race to go. I'm seriously troubled. As a racing driver, should I drive? Should I safely decline? I drive again in 15 minutes…"

Caterham told the BBC Kobayashi was, "...kept informed at all times and at no time did he have any reason to believe it was not safe," and, "It was extensively evaluated at Sochi and Leafield and ultimately a carbon-fibre wrap was applied to provide additional reinforcement - a normal procedure. The component was signed off as safe and re-checked between each subsequent session, to be absolutely sure there was no issue." 

Scary stuff, especially following Jules Bianchi's accident in Japan the week before.

By Matt Hubbard




Fleet - The Triumph Street Triple's First MoT

I never buy new cars but the Triumph Street Triple is the third brand new motorcycle I've bought.  This is daft because I drive cars every day but the bike comes out of the garage much more infrequently.

The Triumph - aged 3

I bought the Triumph in October 2011, chocked a knackered Bandit in as part-ex against it and paid the balance on the never-never.  The finance ended this month so I now own it outright. Being three years old means it needed its first ever MoT.

After a summer of fantastic weather, which extended right through to September, autumn arrived with a vengeance in early October.

I used to ride all year round, in fact I commuted into central Reading for three years on a Yamaha FZ6, but since I hit 40 I've turned into a fair weather rider.

So it was that the morning of the MoT it had rained all night and was drizzling at 9am when I set off.  The dealer, Bulldog Triumph, is 13 miles from home. The roads were wet and the traffic was busy.

I wasn't looking forward to it. Motorcycling is all about confidence and the last time I rode in the wet was in August 2013.

Togged up in my winter riding kit I headed out - and found it perfectly fine. The visor misted up when I slowed down but otherwise the Street Triple's light weight and supreme balance helped no end. It was a cinch.

Brake earlier and smoother, corner slower, lean less, accelerate with a lighter touch and riding in the rain is fine. Avoiding slippery manhole covers, puddles and painted lines the journey was great fun, if a little cold.

It took 40 minutes for Bulldog to pronounce the bike fit to be ridden, with no advisories.  Whilst waiting I looked at the bikes in the showroom, persuading myself I didn't need a new bike, but when faced with such gloriously presented, brand new stock my resolve crumbled.

I've no allegiance to any car manufacturer but am happy that Triumph make the only bikes I'll ever need.  I'd love a Scrambler but there wasn't one in the showroom. There were, however, a trio of gleaming Tiger 800s.  I sat on them, I looked them over and I did the man-maths in my head.

I asked for a valuation of the Street Triple. £3800 said the man. What??? Surely my three year old bike is worth more than that? A Tiger is £8k so I'd end up paying out over £4k for a new bike.  No way Hosé.

In fact the Street Triple is worth more than that, more like £4,500 in a private sale.  But that shocker was enough to put me off.

I've bonded with my bike, I love it in a way that only a man and a machine can do (obviously not in any kind of perverted way).  I'm not getting rid of it, I'm sorry to it that I even thought I would.

One day I'll be one of those old blokes who own a classic bike, and bought it brand new.  Yep, that'll be me and the Triumph. It's a keeper.
The palace of glittering delights

A Triumph Tiger 800

A custom Bonneville

One of the new Bonneville T124s

By Matt Hubbard