21 Nov 2014

Battle Of The Hot Hatches

Hot hatches are back with a vengeance. After years in the doldrums we're now awash with them.  Here are my fave five.

Hot hatches

If you're in the market for a hot hatch here are my thoughts on my favourites. The links take you to the written reviews and the video reviews are below. They are the Volkswagen Golf R, Vauxhall Astra VXR, Audi S1, Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo and Volvo V40 T5.

Volkswagen Golf R - Crushingly capable

Audi S1 - By god it's quick

Vauxhall Astra VXR - Manically insane

Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo - Frantic and fun, deserves a better press than it has

Volvo V40 T5 - Proof that you can have speed as well as comfort

By Matt Hubbard

20 Nov 2014

2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Review

Matt Hubbard reviews the Rolls Royce Ghost Series II

2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase
Five minutes into my drive in the Rolls Royce Ghost, with the rain pouring down and the sky a slate grey, I sighed a deep sigh of contentment.

As I accelerated down a straight length of road a shower of raindrops, previously lodged atop the grille, formed around the Spirit of Ecstasy and headed towards me like stretching stars as the Millennium Falcon hits hyperdrive.

The water hit the windscreen and was swept away and into the ether by the wipers. Meanwhile I was insulated from the rain, the cold, the dire state of the road by the most luxurious, magnificent machine it is possible to buy.

The Ghost is long, wide, heavy, fast and crafted by hand from the finest materials available. It is also built to be driven in, rather than be driven, but to own one and merely ride in it would be a shame.

The Ghost was introduced in 2010. A long wheel base version arrived in 2011, a two-tone Ghost was revealed in 2012 and the Ghost Series II was launched in 2014. The test car was a two-tone (Salamanca Blue and Silver) Extended Wheelbase Series II.

It is made on the same production line as the Wraith, with which it shares a platform and takes the same amount of time to build, at the Goodwood factory in Sussex.  It is 5,569mm long, which allows for lots of interior space, a huge boot and a long bonnet under which resides a 6.6 litre V12 engine.
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase

That engine produces 570bhp and 780Nm/575lb ft of torque. Even though it weighs a hefty 2,495kg the Ghost is incredibly fast. 0-60mph takes 5 seconds and the top speed is limited to 155mph.

I'd imagine that even at 155mph the car would remain as refined as it did at legal speeds in Sussex.

It is a handsome car. It doesn't come with curved, swooping bodywork, instead the Corinthian columns up front orchestrate a grandly sweeping expanse of metalwork with no jarring lines to detract from its elegance.

The front door opens in the standard fashion, hinged at the front, but the rear door bucks the trend and hinges at the back. When open the pair welcome occupants on board equally, as if to ask, "would you like to drive or be driven?"

Choose either option and you'll be welcomed by plenty of space. The rear in particular has enough leg room that a six footer can cross his or her legs, whilst watching TV, sipping on champagne and ordering the chauffeur to put his foot down.

The interior of the test car is unlikely to be the same as any other Ghost. Just like the infinite options available for the paint colour the choice of leather, trim, veneer (or not as the case may be) are many, and can be individually ordered if the customer chooses.

Your family crest or favourite bird of prey (a frequent request from middle-east buyers) can be hand stitched into the leather, the climate controls can all be located on one particular side at the rear, indeed almost anything is possible.
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase

But whatever you order, and as long as you don't make a hash of it (which has been known to happen) your Ghost will be just about the best car available on the planet.

The air suspension makes for a smooth ride on whatever surface, the driving position is ideal without the need for too much adjustment, although it can be adjusted to fit just about any body, the steering and controls are light to the touch and the controls are delicately damped.

The Ghost comes laden with all the tech you need but it is hidden away until such point you choose to use it. Adaptive cruise, auto wipers and lights, adaptive main beam, satnav, digital radio, bluetooth are all standard.

It is a quiet car but it is not silent. The glass is thick and does a good job of keeping most sounds out but you do hear the world around you, albeit muffled. The engine, though, is almost silent unless it is pressed into action and, as it's a V12, the noise is smooth and deep.

The Ghost is a car that is more than the sum of its parts. It costs twice as much as an S-Class and for some people that is enough reason to buy the Mercedes, but to judge it based on its specs, space, looks or even exclusivity is to miss the point.

The Rolls Royce Ghost has a gravitas, a bearing that elevates it above any other luxury car apart, that is, from the Phantom. The Wraith is a Rolls Royce for those who want their luxury a bit sharper, a bit faster and a bit more youthful.
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase

I have no concept of one-upmanship, I would never buy a car for the benefit of others opinion of me, to make people judge me as a person, to show off in. I don't care what car the neighbours own, I just like cars that drive great, make me feel good and that have a personality. This car has a presence that I've not felt before in the hundreds of cars I've driven.

It is a special car. For that alone it is worth the price, which is a not insubstantial £216,684.


Price - £216,684
Engine - 6.6 litre, V12, twin-turbo, petrol
Transmission - 8-speed ZF automatic
0-60mph - 5 seconds
Top Speed - 155mph (limited)
Power - 570bhp
Torque - 575lb ft/780Nm
Economy - 20mpg
CO2 - 329g/km
Kerb Weight - 2,495kg
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase

2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase

2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase
The Spirit of Ecstasy 

2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase
2014 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II Extended Wheelbase

19 Nov 2014

Has Jenson Button Already Signed To Race For Audi At Le Mans/WEC?

Three interesting pieces of information came out today:

2 - Tom Kristensen will retire from endurance racing, his last race with Audi is 30 Nov in Brazil
3 - McLaren is having a sale on replica team wear

Put two and two together and Jenson has been told he's leaving McLaren, and Audi have signed him. In order for the focus to be on Kristensen in Brazil Audi has requested Jenson and McLaren that they delay the announcement until Monday 1st December.

McLaren know this will filter out so are flogging Jenson teamwear cheap in order to get a load of it sold before nobody wants it anymore.

The timing of these announcements is too perfect for it to be anything else, isn't it?

Best book the Le Man tickets. It's going to be a humdinger. Webber in a Porsche and Button in an Audi?

By Matt Hubbard

2014 Range Rover Sport On The Road

I'm running a Range Rover SDV6 Autobiography for a week and seeing as I've just bought a GoPro Hero3 thought it was time for an on the road video review

Here are the stats for the test car.

Price - £74,995 
Engine - 3 litre, V6, turbocharged, diesel 
Transmission - 8-speed automatic 
0-60mph - 6.8 seconds 
Top speed - 130 mph 
Power - 288 bhp 
Torque - 443 lb ft 
Economy - 37.7 mpg 
CO2 - 199 g/km 
Kerb weight - 2,144 kg

By Matt Hubbard

2014 Range Rover Sport SDV6 First Drive Review

I'm running a Range Rover Sport SDV6 Autobiography for a week. Here are my first impressions.

2014 Range Rover Sport SDV6
2014 Range Rover Sport SDV6
Good looking car isn't it. In photos the Range Rover Sport looks great, in the metal it's even more fabulous. The old Sport was a bit too square, a bit too squat and a bit too chunky - in physical weight as well as visual weight.

The new one carries over only the name. Instead of being based on the old Discovery the new Sport shares the aluminium chassis of the Range Rover, which means it's been on a diet. Instead of two and a half tonnes it weighs a 'mere' 2,144kg.

That makes a load of difference. I've driven the V8 petrol and the V8 diesel but for this car I needed a V6 diesel as I'll be putting a lot of miles on it so range and economy are vital.

You could say putting a more economical engine in a £75k SUV is daft but it really isn't. Less than 10% of Rangie Sports will be powered by the petrol V8, and the majority of the balance will be V6 diesels. If you have enough money for a £75k car you 'aint daft. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

And, besides, the SDV6 in the test car returns 37.7mpg and emits 199g/km of CO2. That slaughters the SDV8 on eco-stats and therefore running costs.

This one comes with Scotia Grey paintwork and Ivory leather seats. The combination of dark exterior and light interior works well. Subtle but classy.
2014 Range Rover Sport SDV6
2014 Range Rover Sport SDV6

The spec is to die for. The seats and most of the dash and doors is leather, trimmed to perfection. The ebony interior highlights and aluminium panelling look rather wonderful.  The Jaguar Land Rover touchscreen is a delight (even if some journalists don't like it) and controls several key systems such as the sound system and infotainment, heated and cooled seats (front and back), satnav etc.

The test car has a bunch of options, which will be handy as four of us will be driving to Germany and back over the course of a weekend. They include:

Dual View Touchscreen - £600
Super Premium Audio System 1700w - £5,000
Park Assist - £450
Privacy Glass - £300
Adaptive Xenon Headlamps - £300
Rear Seat Entertainment - £1,500
On Board Television - £800
Cooled and Heated Front and Rear Seats - £500

I've driven the car in the dark and the adaptive main beam is a bit basic compared to Volvo's as it switches on or off with no middle ground, but the light is clear and bright.

The engine is something of a peach. It's so quiet you'd hardly know it's a diesel but it has plenty of punch from low down in the rev range. The 8-speed automatic gearbox is well suited to the engine with ratios that suit its torque band and kick-down at a sensible pressure on the throttle. With some cars you have to firmly plant the throttle to overcome the car's inherent need to preserve fuel, which makes for often jerky progress.
2014 Range Rover Sport SDV6

It's also worthy of it's Sport moniker, well sort of. This is an SUV after all but it's a sprightly one that corners better than you'd imagine. Compare it to a ten year old 4x4 and it's light years ahead in terms of dynamics and performance for a given amount of power extracted from a litre of fuel.

I'll write a full review once the car's gone back. This week I'll be putting over 1,000 miles on it so will have plenty to say about it.

So far, after a few miles, it's proving to be worth every penny of its not insubstantial asking price.


Price - £74,995 
Engine - 3 litre, V6, turbocharged, diesel 
Transmission - 8-speed automatic 
0-60mph - 6.8 seconds 
Top speed - 130 mph 
Power - 288 bhp 
Torque - 443 lb ft 
Economy - 37.7 mpg 
CO2 - 199 g/km 
Kerb weight - 2,144 kg
2014 Range Rover Sport SDV6

2014 Range Rover Sport SDV6

2014 Range Rover Sport SDV6

2014 Range Rover Sport SDV6

By Matt Hubbard

18 Nov 2014

Guy Martin, Carl Fogarty On Reality TV And The Brands Hatch Invader

Motorcycle racing has a low profile in the mainstream media, but in recent weeks it's been given a massive boost.

For those of us who've followed road racing for a while Guy Martin's success on mainstream TV has been no surprise. Guy has a strong, interesting personality which shone through in the movie TT:3D. 

After that his increasing fame could only be reigned in by his reluctance to do too much telly, on top of all his other commitments. Happily, Guy seems to have found the time and made some great TV programmes.

Speed with Guy Martin saw our erstwhile hero set various records, including a fantastic episode where he became the fastest rookie at Pikes Peak on his homebuilt motorcycle.  You can watch some short films he recorded with C4 here.

Guy has never managed to win a TT but Carl Fogarty has - King Carlos of Blackburn has won 3 TTs.

And now he's on ITV every night for three weeks on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.  Carl said he went on the show because he wanted a new challenge.

Appearing alongside idiotic reality TV stars and a footballer who's scared of his own shadow Carl won the first challenge of the series with ease, spending 12 minutes in an underground box full of snakes.

When the challenge finished he said, to himself, "Yes. Victory." To Foggy, who retired due to injury in 2000, a win is a win and he's won some races in his time.

World Superbike titles in 1994, 1995, 1998 and 1999 and 59 wins from 219 starts is the headline but what shows the true mettle of the man is his three TT victories. In 1992 Steve Hislop and Foggy fought one of the best TT battles of all time, which you can see below.

It's brilliant having road racing stars on mainstream TV. The sport attracts extreme personalities because you need to have a screw loose to take the risks required to win - unlike football - and it's good that some of them are getting the exposure they deserve.

Finally, the news has just come in that Jack Cottle, the blithering idiot who drove his VW Polo on to the track at Brands Hatch during a race, has been jailed for 8 months.

Great. He deserved it. Racers take enough risks, they don't need some half-wit moron adding to the danger on track, although Maldonado fills that role in F1.

By Matt Hubbard

How Does The Ford Mondeo Stack Up Against The Vauxhall Insignia?

Mark Turner of Blacktopmedia recently tested the Vauxhall Insignia and thought it would be appropriate to throw it in the ring with a couple of its usual suspect sparing partners.

Let’s start with the Mondeo.

Since god was a boy the Mondeo has been the staple diet of reps up and down the country.
Why? Because it does what it says on the tin and does it well.

From the first drive of the Mondeo Titanium X Business Edition, I felt completely at home, familiar, comfortable in each other’s company.

I don’t know how Ford do it but it just fits. Everything worked, it made sense, I didn’t need a degree from NASA to work it and I didn’t need to add 20 minutes to each journey to allow me time to figure out how to start it, set the seat position, work out the stereo controls and so on.

Ironically, the only criticism I had of the Mondeo was that it was a little unremarkable to look at.
The styling is a little unexciting. It is undoubtedly a handsome car but the styling, on the outside at least, is reserved. Oh, and the driver’s seat wasn’t fully electric on this £25k model, so what.

The fit and finish is flawless and exudes quality befitting a more prestige marque. The bluetooth integration was a piece of cake, sat nav worked perfectly and the interior is such an agreeable place to be you won’t mind sitting on the M25 all day.
The controls are very well organized and felt familiar and there are enough toys to fulfil your needs but the car still feels balanced. The tech complements the car and doesn’t feel intrusive. You feel like you are in control but the electronics are quietly working away in the background.

So, it looks good, works well and feels right. That’s all fine but if it drives like a dogs dinner it’s all been a waste of time. Well, nothing to worry about there.

The 2014 Mondeo doesn’t disappoint. The driving dynamics are great. The car rides well, taking on our degrading and crumbling city streets without breaking in to a sweat.
The gearbox is near perfect with 6 well-spaced ratios making good use of the power available.
The engine is a gem. The 2.0 TDCi is a great power plant that offers a solid spread of power and torque from low revs. There is little or no turbo lag and the engine is very refined and quiet for a diesel.

In summary, the 2014 Mondeo is a hard act to follow. It sets the bar pretty high. It drives really well, is built well, looks good and is well priced. You could say it does exactly what it says on the tin……and does it well.

17 Nov 2014

What Makes The Toyota GT86 Such A Good Car?

The Toyota GT86 is acknowledged to be quite a special car. Journalists and petrolheads rave about them, forums chat about them. If you haven't driven one and don't quite understand what all the fuss is about then let me explain.

I had a GT86 for a week in the summer. It's a devastatingly capable machine at an affordable price. But what makes it such a good car? In this video I explain about all the small details that come together to make it one of the classic sports cars of this era.

You can read my written review of the GT86 here and watch my video walkaround/review below.

By Matt Hubbard

14 Nov 2014

Bernie Ecclestone - F1 Is For Pensioners, Not Youngsters

He's 84 himself and Bernie Ecclestone reckons F1 is only for people who've got lots of money to spend, which doesn't include youngsters

Bernie Ecclestone was interviewed by Campaign Asia-Pacific (nope, never heard of it) and pretty much compounded most fan's belief that he's a geriatric idiot who sold F1 down the river for a few (billion) quid in his pocket.

In the interview he says:

"I’m not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is. I tried to find out but in any case I’m too old-fashioned. I couldn’t see any value in it. And, I don’t know what the so-called ‘young generation’ of today really wants. What is it? You ask a 15 or 16-year-old kid, ‘What do you want?’ and they don’t know."


"If you have a brand that you want to put in front of a few hundred million people, I can do that easily for you on television. Now, you’re telling me I need to find a channel to get this 15-year-old to watch Formula One because somebody wants to put out a new brand in front of them? They are not going to be interested in the slightest bit. Young kids will see the Rolex brand, but are they going to go and buy one? They can’t afford it. Or our other sponsor, UBS—these kids don’t care about banking. They haven’t got enough money to put in the bloody banks anyway. That’s what I think. 


I don’t know why people want to get to the so-called ‘young generation’. Why do they want to do that? Is it to sell them something? Most of these kids haven’t got any money. I’d rather get to the 70-year-old guy who’s got plenty of cash. So, there’s no point trying to reach these kids because they won’t buy any of the products here and if marketers are aiming at this audience, then maybe they should advertise with Disney."


"They say the kids watch things on [tablets and phones], but it doesn’t mean they’re watching Formula One. And even if they are today, will they still watch it when they are 40? The world has changed so much in the last few years, and I doubt that’s going to stop. But with all the technology out there are limits to what we can do and the amount of time people can watch something."

So, even if you started watching F1 in your teens Bernie doesn't care. It's only when you got much older and had some spending money that he cared about you.

Bernie Ecclestone cares nothing about F1, that is obvious. He doesn't want to grow it, he doesn't want it to appeal to a wider audience, he doesn't want you watching it if you are young.

I'd argue that F1 'belongs' as much to the audience, those of us who've watched it all our lives, than it does to him and his partners in crime, CVC.

What a jerk. Let's all laugh at him failing to walk through a door properly.

By Matt Hubbard

Has The Audi TT Mk1 Finally Become Acceptable To Petrolheads?

For too long the Audi TT has been maligned as a hairdressers car or a Mk4 Golf in fancy clothes but it finally seems to have come of age

Audi TT Mk1 3.2 V6

Clarkson did one of his typical hatchet jobs when he reviewed the TT V6. If he doesn't like a car he'll find some reason to trash it, and this he did with the TT, understeering it round the Top Gear test track and spending half the review deciding what to wear.

And in typical fashion that set the standard. Car enthusiasts said the TT was rubbish. So it was, wasn't it?

Well, no it wasn't. OK in standard form with 150bhp and front wheel drive it didn't have a great deal going for it aside from its looks (which still look fresh 16 years later) but with quattro four wheel drive and either 225bhp 1.8T or 250bhp V6 the TT is a fantastic car. And any car will understeer at the TGTT if the driver wants it to - I know I've driven it.

But nobody knew because Uncle Jezza said it was a car for people who don't like cars.

The TT has several things going for it.

It was launched in 1998 but looks great inside and out even today, in fact the design influenced Audi for years and some Audis still carry design cues from the Mk1 TT. The engines are all good, even that 150bhp 1.8T is reasonably lively.  The interior is practical, it has +2 rear seats and a large hatchback boot. It has four wheel drive which makes for supreme grip in all weathers.

It has all the toys you'd expect from a premium car. It is so well built it doesn't often go wrong and it has no (OK, well one*) inherent faults. It is based on a VW chassis and has VW engines so parts are cheap. And it's bloody fast.

The TT doesn't have the steering feel of a Porsche Boxster of the same era but then again it doesn't have the same catastrophic engine problems the Boxster does.

So why is the TT coming back into fashion? Why are people saying they secretly liked TTs all along?

Nowadays you can buy a TT 225 for £2,000. That is within the budget of a motoring journalist, amongst the least well paid of professions. But a very influential bunch of people.

I've seen at least five car journos openly discussing Mk1 TTs on social media or magazine blogs, talking about how they'd like the special edition TT Sport but can't stretch to that so a 225 will do instead, or even a V6 but you'll need to shell out around £5k for a decent one.

This chatter spreads, to forums, to car enthusiasts on Twitter and Facebook and now everyone likes TTs.

It also helps that the TT Mk3 is getting such good reviews. Good news filters down.

The Audi TT Mk1 has finally come of age. No longer is it for hairdressers and women. People have realised, 16 years after it first went on sale that the Audi TT is a damn fine sports/GT car you can drive every day of the year - and therefore doesn't need to be kept just as a second car for the summer months.

Someone who's known this for years is Speedmonkey's Col - my brother. He had a 225 in 2005 and bought a TT V6 last year.

I liked it so much I bought one myself.  I've written about it several times in my 'fleet' updates.

The moral of the story is that you shouldn't always listen to what others are saying. Some journalists write bullshit reviews and, as they're only human, they are sometimes influenced by what others are saying.

The TT was always a good car, it's just that no-one was brave enough to say so.

Audi TT Shootout – Mk1 3.2 V6 vs Mk2 2.5 RS

* the one inherent fault in the TT Mk1 is the DSG gearbox. Not many last beyond 100,000 miles without some expensive fault. The 6-speed manual is excellent though, and reliable.
@SpeedmonkeyCol with his and my TT V6s

By Matt Hubbard

13 Nov 2014

Speedmonkey's First Video To Hit 100,000 Views!

I've been recording car reviews for just over a year.  The Land Rover Discovery 4 review was one of my first and certainly not one of my best, but it's just surpassed 100,000 views on YouTube.

I had the Discovery for an hour, like quite a lot of the cars I drive. Armed with only my iPhone5 and a heedful of notes (but no script) I parked it up, jumped out and chatted away for 5 minutes whilst pointing the phone at the car.

It's certainly not my best review but for some reason YouTube and Google got a hold of it and it's now achieved 100,000 views - a first for Speedmonkey.

I have a few other videos approaching that figure and the channel itself is nearly at 1 million views. The entire budget for all the videos has been £0. Not bad eh?

Thanks to everyone who's watched this and any of my others.

Here's my written review of the Land Rover Discovery.


Matt Hubbard

12 Nov 2014

Über Luxury Estates - Where Are They?

You can buy a car in almost any niche, but you can't buy an über luxury estate

Everywhere you look there are niche cars, every avenue seems to be filled with sometimes seemingly pointless infill cars in the manufacturer's range.

You want an SUV with a coupe style body you go and buy an X6, you want a front wheel drive convertible but don't want 4 seats go get a Mini Roadster Convertible or if can't decide on a saloon or an estate you trot off and buy an Audi A5.

They're all at it and why not if they sell in suitable numbers? But I think all the car manufacturers have all missed a trick and here's why.

I recently tested a new S Class saloon, the range topping Mercedes dripping with tech and oozing with luxury and the rear seats were a pretty special place to spend some time. The seats themselves featured reclining backrests and hinged heel supports (like you see in the DFS sofa ads) while also featuring side curtains, a real fridge for your bubbly and walk on air ride comfort.

Then I drove the new S Class coupe - 577bhp of twin turbocharged luxury muscle coupe, nicknamed 'The Weapon' by a few on the day.

So this got me thinking, Mercedes has gone luxury in the Coupe direction but not considered the needs of those who own a Labrador or like to walk around a field in daft clothing chasing a little ball. 

Where's the luxury estate?

Okay we have the CLS Shooting brake which is a swoopy, prettier, slightly less practical version of the fine looking CLS saloon but I can't think of a single manufacturer that has gone all out luxury estate.

Now at this point there may be a few people with hands up shouting, "Err hello, what about the Range Rover?" Well, yes, good point, but it is slightly compromised as Rangie owners expect their car to be able to drive across a field (actually kerbs outside schools in Cheshire) so it needs a sophisticated all wheel drive system and good ground clearance to clear all those rocks and streams ( puddles in Wilmslow).

This adds weight and raises the centre of gravity which does compromise the ride quality and ability to react quickly to varying road surfaces so the physics will never let it ride quite the same as say an S Class, A8, XJ or even 7 series could.

In addition SUVs can be considered crass in some circles and their association can be slightly off putting for some. Plus if you're getting on a little then you might not want to have to climb into your luxury vehicle.

There are some frankly awesome estate cars on sale and I have been lucky enough to drive most of them but the emphasis has been placed upon performance over luxury and so they are designed with 21 inch wheels and a hard ride, even if they do have air springs and magnetorheological dampers.

Examples of such are the RS6, XFR-S Sportbrake and both the E Class estate and CLS Shooting brake in AMG 63 format which are estate cars capable of pretty devastating performance but are not super luxury estates in the same way an S Class is to an E Class.

Bentley realised that there is a vast amount of money in a luxury car with a large boot and their SUV is on its way and yes it will have the same potential compromises in ride quality with heavy underpinnings and the ability to rock slide.

So, I would urge the big German three and the bold Brit to fill the luxury car niche. I for one would love to see a 7 series Touring, an S Class Shooting Brake, an A8 Avant or XJ Sportbrake.

These would bring a new alternative to cumbersome SUVs which are the only current luxury cars capable of transporting four adults and four labradors to the races.

They could also develop a new design language and flair with the taller rear end and extra door; maybe even utilise some wood in the design to reflect back to the woodies of old.

In addition it would give the guys at Mercedes S division a new avenue of technology to explore. How about a golf bag holder that disappears into the boot floor like the umbrella in a Phantom's side door, an automatic doggy washer or a folding picnic table out of the end of the side hinged tailgate. The list is endless and potentially very daft but great fun.

On the inside the extra space at the back could be utilsed so the rear seats could recline even further than an S Class's seats can which are restricted by the hard line of the body.

My luxury estate wouldn't be performance orientated and the wheels shouldn't be so big that Dr Dre would want one.

Engine wise it doesn't need a massive powerplant, a smooth V6 twin turbo petrol combined with hybrid power would supply plenty of power to maintain a steady pace and voltage to supply the technology onboard.

The ride and feel of the car should ooze waftiness and feel special in every area.

The boot wouldn't sport a small opening and a feature a teak boot floor where your shopping will turn into an omelette at the first sign of a corner but it would be accessed via a side hinged tailgate where the window can be dropped electrically. Inside the boot would be a shag pile lined cave with segregated compartments and James Bond style draws.

As the owner is probably a dog lover it should feature a Brita filtered dog water bowl and automatic air fresher when it detects a whiff of dog too much. The last essential is the air conditioned boot area powered by a solar roof so Lassie can be left in comfort should the owner need to nip into the shops to replenish champagne in the fridge.

Just take a look at a few of the photos below of one off specials, they all manage to get my automotive juices flowing and I think an Uber Luxury Estate could go be the next big thing.

By Colin Hubbard

11 Nov 2014

Vote For Speedmonkey In The UK Blog Awards! #UKBA15

Speedmonkey has been in existence since June 2012. You can read our story here. Now we're entered in the UK Blog Awards.

The UK Blog Awards recognises industry talent across the UK in various categories, including automotive.

Speedmonkey is truly a blog in that it's not professional, no-one is paid and all work on it is done in our spare time. In just over a couple of years we've reviewed more than 176 cars, written 533 blogs and published a total of 1989 articles.

The site has 2.8 million views, the YouTube channel has nearly 1 million views, the Facebook page has 1,100 likes and the Twitter account has 4,966 followers. All this from nothing, no previous experience or contacts in the motor industry.

Lots of people read Speedmonkey and interact with us on social media every day. Many people have bought cars on our recommendations.

If you've read Speedmonkey please take the time to vote for us in the UK Blog Awards here.

Thank you

Matt Hubbard (Owner, writer, editor, tea boy, driver of cars etc)

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith Review

Matt Hubbard reviews the Rolls Royce Wraith

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith
2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

You don't drive a Rolls Royce, instead the car allows you to drive it. This is how it should be and how it feels to enter the Wraith; door opening the 'wrong' way and closing at the touch of a button, feet sinking into the thick lambswool carpet and fingers wrapping round the surprisingly thin steering wheel.

Of preconceived notions mine were initially conceived in the early 1980s via Car Magazine and stats that merely read 'adequate'. Rolls Royces were mysterious, elegant, unattainable but I would see them hammering along the A556 from my home town in Mid-Cheshire, via Knutsford and on to the spiritual home of Rolls Royce. Charles met Henry at the Midland Hotel in Manchester in 1904. Rolls said to Royce 'you build them and I'll sell them'. A partnership was sealed and a new car company created.

110 years later I drove my first Rolls Royce. A car is a car but a Rolls Royce is a Rolls Royce - different animal. My preconceived notions of quietness, luxury, a deftness of touch, of unflappability and speed were all confirmed within half a mile of setting off.

But by god the Wraith's speed took me aback. It is properly bloody quick. 0-60 in 4.4 seconds shouldn't be possible, the Wraith is huge and weighs 2.4 tonnes but it does have the advantage of being powered by the leviathan 6.6 litre V12 from the Ghost II, which has been engineered to produce a mighty 624bhp and 590b ft of torque.
2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

It's not a pretty car but it is handsome and has oodles of presence. It looks great in certain colour schemes and slightly unsettling in others. The trick is to visit the factory and check out the paint samples in the flesh, same goes for the leather and wood (or carbon fibre or aluminium) trim.

The signature Rolls Royce grille and Spirit of Ecstasy (which you can order in solid silver, gold plate or illuminated) are present and correct as is the elegant and unfussy bodywork.

The Wraith is a two door and the doors open back to front, inviting you in. Sit inside and press the door close button instead of pulling on it yourself.

The interior can be whatever you want it to be in terms of colours, leathers (or non-leather for the vegan multi-millionaires out there) and trim. Wraith has lowered the age of Rolls Royce' customer base by 20 years and the younger buyers tend to prefer carbon fibre, brushed aluminium or piano black over wood veneer.

Having seen it in the flesh the open grain extended Canadel Panelling veneer looks fabulous. Of course most of these choices add to the list price but who's quibbling when the starting price is over a quarter of a million pounds?

The interior is elegantly and simply laid out. The Wraith has all the tech you could want but it is subtly integrated. The controls all feel light to the touch. Some parts may be sourced from BMW but somehow they feel more Rolls Royce than Beemer.
2014 Rolls Royce Wraith
2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

Start the engine and its presence is felt more by a shimmer than anything else. Balanced and quiet it never shrieks or howls.

The dials ahead of you are classic, understated and the indicator (and wipers - it rained the entire test) are lightly damped. The indicator, though, can be a faff to turn off if the turn is not sharp enough to cancel it automatically.

The steering is fingertip light. The Wraith might weigh more than two VW Polos but the driving experience is effortless. As long as you take into account its size you can happily swoosh around all day without breaking a bead of sweat.

Push the throttle into the carpet and it picks itself up and takes off in a linear fashion and at a mighty rate. The gearbox (using the GPS in the satnav) reads the road in front of you and is prepared for whatever lies ahead.  Jerky kickdown is not something needed in the Wraith.

Engage a corner and you can feel the heft of the machine but only through movement of the body. The steering remains light and precise, although without a great deal in the way of feedback. This is a grand tourer rather than a sports car.

The ride is sublime. England's terrible roads are damped in typical Rolls Royce style. On the road exterior noise is barely heard behind the twin bulkhead and thick glass.
2014 Rolls Royce Wraith
2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

Visibility is fine all round when driving, although the rear window appears quite small in the rear view mirror - best to rely on the parking sensors and camera when reversing. The mirrors obstruct visibility when manoeuvring at low speeds and when parking, a result of their placement on the doors.

I've admired the brand for as long as I can remember.  My experience with a Wraith delivered on my expectations, and then some. If you're extremely rich and like to drive, rather than be driven, the Rolls Royce Wraith is the one to have.


Price - £229,128
Engine - 6.6 litre V12, twin turbo, petrol
Transmission - 8 speed ZF gearbox, RWD
Power - 624bhp
Torque - 590lb ft / 800Nm
0-60mph - 4.4 seconds
Top speed - 155mph (limited)
Economy - 20.2mpg
CO2 - 327g/km
Kerb weight - 2,435kg
2014 Rolls Royce Wraith
2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith
2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith
2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

10 Nov 2014

£15 Billion To Be Spent On New Roads In The UK

At long last the government has announced a huge spending programme on our creaking road infrastructure. This can only be a good thing.

Take a look at the papers and the headlines about transport normally speak about trains. Billions being spent on HS2, contracts being awarded for this line and the other, train lines being electrified, a new train line across London.

Who cares. Trains are horrible. Train stations are in cities, where you can't park. You can't control the climate, you have to sit next to strangers, you often have to stand up, you can only take what you can carry, trains smell.

Cars are much better in every way, but cars are seen as not very eco-friendly so politicians ignore them and blather on about trains.

But, good news! The Prime Minister has announced that £15 billion will be spent on 100 major road projects by 2020.

Of course this is blatant appeasement for marginal Tory seats ahead of the 2015 general election but who cares when we overtaxed, forgotten motorists get more and better roads.

Cars are and will remain the transport of choice in the UK. They are increasingly eco-friendly and will, within a few years, be as clean as trains to run.  They're also becoming safer.  They already are cheaper to run than taking the train and they offer a level of choice that trains simply cannot in terms of the car we buy and the route we take.

Technology allows us to by-pass traffic jams, to eke out ever more miles per gallon and to find, and park in, a parking space.

Speaking at the CBI's annual conference David Cameron said, “At its heart (the autumn statement) is the biggest, boldest and most far-reaching road improvement programme in four decades - over 100 improvements to our major roads. 

Hundreds of extra lane miles on our motorways and trunk roads, the green light given to major projects that have been stalled for years. There will be action to improve some of the most important arteries in our country – like the A303, A1 and A27 – which for too long have held parts of our country back, all underpinned by £15 billion worth of spending.”

The one that caught my eye is the A303, because I use it regularly. Some sections are wonderful - smooth, flowing two-lane blacktop with epic views across Wiltshire and Somerset - but some are dreadful with pinch-points and regular traffic black-spots. It's been crying out for upgrades for years.

The A303 is still a better proposition than taking the train as it leads to the south west, where train travel is just not sensible.

The North West is also blighted with a terrible road network. The A556 is the major trunk road from Cheshire and into Manchester, via the M56, but it's a horrible road with queues its entire length on some days.  Similarly the M60, M6, M62, M42, M1, M4 and M25 are all dreadful - overcrowded and underpoliced.

The powers that be have applied a sticking plaster to a wound when they decided the solution to our woes is to infest our motorways with cameras and average speed limits.

It isn't, the answer is to build more roads. There is no better illustrated of this than when you take the M42 (nasty, cameras and queues galore) and then pay a few quid to drive on the M6 Toll (glorious, fast, open).

It doesn't matter why the politicians have finally decided to spend some of the cash that we motorists pay on our roads. What matters is that they have, and for that we should all be joyful.

By Matt Hubbard

2014 Citroën C4 Cactus Video Review And Interior Tour

I recently ran a Citroën C4 Cactus for a week - here are a couple of videos I shot

If you're a regular Speedmonkey reader you'll know my videos are zero budget affairs, but they're honest. I talk about the car in detail and run through its features, and faults.

You can read the written review of the Citroen Cactus here.

Citroen C4 Cactus video review

Citroen C4 Cactus touchscreen and interior tour

By Matt Hubbard

7 Nov 2014

The Perfect Driving Position

When I drive cars and then write about them I tend to bang on about the positioning of the seat and controls more than other reviewers do.  

I don't know why others don't so much because, for me, getting the perfect, or as near as dammit, driving position is hugely important.

My mum was 5 foot 3 and drove around in her yellow Mini Metro with the seat pulled all the way forwards whilst perched on a cushion.  This was great for us kids in the back because we had some legroom.

When I was younger I knew a chap who was six foot 4, and he drove a Rover Mini. He was all bent arms and his knees were up each side of the steering wheel.

Thankfully modern cars are built a bit more for those of differing sizes, but not much better. I'm 5 foot 10 so pretty average and still the driving position on most cars is defective in one way or another.

I blame the short arses.  Most superminis and city cars are designed for women to drive, who are, on average, shorter than men.  Similarly China is a hugely important market for many sports cars and luxury cars, particularly SUVs, and the average Chinese man is 5 foot 5.

Car makers nowadays do their best to build cars to suit a range of heights and as such their cars are a compromise.  Also, safety features such as crash structures impact on some areas.

So we get shallow footwells and pedals quite close to the driver, adjustable seats and steering columns to accommodate everyone, yet they don't perfectly suit anyone.

Take the Toyota Yaris I just drove. I had to push the seat back so my 43 year old legs weren't too bent and my ancient ankle didn't have to sit on the throttle pedal at too acute an angle and therefore start hurting after 5 minutes.

The perfect steering wheel position is when you can rest your wrist on the top of the wheel but this wasn't possible because the steering wheel had about 3 inches of reach adjust.  So I had to push the seat forwards a tad to reach the wheel and the pedals.  Which made my ankle hurt.

My own car is almost perfect. It's a an Audi TT and therefore a coupe and therefore has the best position. The seat is low down, the footwell is nice and deep and the wheel adjustable so it is in just the right place.  But the gearstick is too far forwards and I have to reach to change gear.

Some cars get things almost right then balls it up with some minor issue. The Alfa Giulietta has a  position that's almost spot on. Ideally the brake should sit about one inch higher than the accelerator but in the Giulietta they're the same height which makes everything feel very wrong.

The Mercedes B-Class gets it wrong spectacularly on two fronts.  The brake pedal is far too high above the throttle pedal and the steering wheel comes out of the dash too high up.

My old BMW E36 had a floor hinged accelerator. This is OK if the seat is almost on the floor, as in a coupe, but it wasn't.  Because the foot comes down at the pedal at a higher angle more pressure is required on the pedal and this impacts on the lower part of the thigh as pressure is put on it. If I drove for more than 15 minutes in it I got deep vein thrombosis and my leg went blue.

The Maserati GranTurismo is almost perfect. Almost.  The steering wheel comes out of the dash at too high a position.  The Peugeot 208 has the clocks above the steering wheel so you have to set it too low to see how fast you're going. In the Mitsubishi L200 you need long arms and short legs to drive the thing.  The Honda Civic has nowhere to out your left foot.  The list goes on.

There are only three cars I've ever driven with absolutely perfect driving positions.

The first is the current Range Rover.  The seat is high enough from the floor that your feet sit perfectly on the pedals, the seats adjusts to fit anyone, the steering wheel is just right and there's somewhere to put your left foot.

The second is all Lotuses.  Lotus appreciates driver comfort and provides a perfect seat and perfect controls. Despite being quite firm I could drive all day in a Lotus and not feel a single twinge of pain or discomfort.

The third is the Porsche 924, 944, 968. The steering wheel doesn't even adjust but you sit virtually on the floor with the steering wheel in such a perfect place that anyone get supremely comfortable in one, the footwell is deeper than in almost any other car and the gear lever is just where you want it.

So it can be done, it's just that most modern car makers can't be bothered to give us the perfect driving position.

By Matt Hubbard

6 Nov 2014

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith Video Review

I recently had the opportunity to drive a Rolls Royce Wraith for an hour. In the usual Speedmonkey manner I jumped out and recorded a short video review

The Wraith is an amazing car and Rolls Royce a fabulous company but even they can't control the weather - the heavens opened just as we set off.

That notwithstanding I enjoyed the drive and will publish a written review soon. If you've a spare £250k I'd recommend a Wraith.

By Matt Hubbard

2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet Review

Colin Hubbard reviews the 2014 Audi S3 cabriolet

2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet
2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet

Speedmonkey has driven both the S3 saloon and A3 cabriolet but now Audi has combined the S3 engine and chassis with the S3 cabriolet body to create the S3 cabriolet.

Power comes from the same 296bhp 280lb/ft 2 litre turbocharged 4 as featured in the S3 and Golf R and doesn't fail to impress in this application.

Drive is via a 6 speed twin-clutch gearbox mainly to the front wheels with a Haldex rear diff feeding in power when required. An electronic pseudo limited slip diff brakes individual wheels as and when called for to keep the car in a straight line so forward motion is progressive, not pointlessly spun away.

The suspension has been uprated to cope with the additional power and features Audi's renowned magnetic dampers along with 25mm lower springs.

The chassis is finished off with 19 inch twin-spoke star design alloys finished in two tone anthracite and polished alloy with 235/35 Continental tyres.

Visually the A3 Cabriolet body is already a good looking car with a long, almost saloon style bootlid but it gets more presence in S3 guise. Changes include a deeper front bumper with larger air ducts with the depth continuing down the side with sharp side skirts and extended rear bumper. At the back end a rear diffuser adds some muscle aided by a pair of chrome oval tailpipes either side.

There's plenty of body bling with double chrome bars on the front grille, rather menacing LED headlights, signature S3 aluminium look mirrors and led rear lights.

The fog lights have been removed from the front bumper and replaced with air intake ducts.

Finished off in Sepang Blue pearl effect paint the S3 is one of the most attractive convertibles on the market.
2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet

On the inside the cabin is trimmed in Nappa leather with silver stitching with little to give away sporting pretentions other than a pair of sports seats with S3 embossing and a fat rimmed, flat bottomed steering wheel.

The front seats are fine for adults, hood up or down, as you would expect but the rear seats are a little cramped for adults. Short journeys would be fine if the front seats are moved forward sufficiently but long journeys four up would be uncomfortable after a while.

In the driving seat and all feels very 'Audi', meaning very clean, tidy design in a well trimmed thought out package but not overtly sporty.

The engine ticks over quietly at idle. You'd be fooled into thinking this is a lowly 1.6.

On the go the ride is surprising compliant and, I suspect, aimed at families who want a kiddy chariot for the school run but with the ability to drive like their hair's on fire on the way home.

Given it's not such a harsh ride and combined with quattro drive it grips surprisingly well on country roads whilst bumps and undulations in the road simply do not phase it - it remains planted and stable. You can press on without fear of bouncing around so it only takes a few miles to get an enormous feeling of confidence in the car.

Just as in the Golf R the engine is a cracker, it needs a healthy dose of revs to really get going but when there it's fairly relentless, noticeably more so in dynamic mode when the twin clutch gearbox holds onto lower gears longer to keep you in the optimum rev range for instance acceleration.

The main central screen lets you select from the drive functions offering individual, efficient, comfort, auto and dynamic modes. I tried them all, efficient was extremely slow witted to react to the throttle and changed up at 2,000 rpm so I kept it in dynamic for the rest of my time with the car and found it spot on for my driving style.

At easy throttle settings there is just a deep cough from the back end but as you get more confident and use more revs the exhaust flaps open and it lets you know this is no feeble powered 4 pot.
2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet
2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet

With the roof down your ears are treated to the full turbo range of 'voices', from the down-change throttle blips to the urgent full-throttle gear changes as the fuel supply is cut as the next gear is selected.

Turbo lag is present but controlled, from 1,000 to 2,000rpm there's not much punch but stick with it and get up past 3,500rpm and then it really goes with more than the kick of an early Escort Cosworth.

The brakes work well providing a nice firm pedal feel and good stopping power despite the extra weight over the standard hatch.

While it is a four wheel drive car I did note some front wheel squabble when exiting junctions while the rear takes a millisecond to catch up. Maybe in the next generation Haldex it will automatically feed power to all 4 wheels when the steering wheel isn't straight.

Talking of steering it is electrically assisted and feels a little remote at times through the lovely fat steering wheel. Yes it's accurate enough to judge the position of the car inch perfectly but they could take note from VW as the Golf R's steering is pretty much perfect.

The cabriolet roof is well engineered so it's nice and quiet when up and when down it makes for a great looking car with just a small loss to boot space. There is some chassis flex evidenced through the steering wheel and scuttle shake visible is evidenced in the rear view mirror but I haven't driven another cabriolet that hasn't suffered with flex. Considering it's a 4 seater it's really quite good as the distance the hood has to travel is much greater than in a 2 seater.

In the front and there's very little buffeting, no doubt aided by the wind deflector which is located over the rear seat, but take a seat in the back (with the wind deflector moved to the boot) for any period of time and you will exit the car with hair like Worzel Gummidge.

Overall it's a quality product with very lively performance, great handling and jaw dropping looks.

There is little in the way of competition for the S3 on the market at present. Vauxhall's Cascada and VW's Golf Cabriolet and EOS don't get close to the S3's performance leaving the closest real rival as the BMW 435i convertible which starts at £45k, some £7k more than the S3.

The S3 cabriolet is a unique, fast and enjoyable way to enjoy the sun with your friends.


Price - £38,085 (as tested £43,465)
Engine – 2.0 litre, inline-4, turbocharged, petrol
Transmission - 6-speed twin clutch auto
Drive – 4 wheel drive Quattro with electronic diff lock
0-62mph – 5.4 seconds
Top speed - 155 mph (limited)
Power – 296 bhp
Torque – 280 lb ft
Economy – 39.8mpg (combined)
CO2 - 206 g/km
Kerb weight – 1,666 kg
2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet

2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet

2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet

2014 Audi S3 Cabriolet