17 Apr 2014

Are Car-based Pick-ups Extinct in the UK?

Since the beginning, the motor industry has been endlessly evolving. New concepts arrived and caught on like a drought fuelled wildfire, whilst others dithered and face extinction. Adding substance to Darwin's theory of evolution, albeit in a different context, is a brilliant example by David Ross about the extinction of car-based vans in the UK market. To summarise, a once affluent market sector dwindled and became extinct, with the exception of the novelty Mini Clubvan.

Another sector of the market which faces similar problems is the car-based pick-up. Once upon a time, manufacturers loved to subject their hatchbacks to a Frankenstein style metamorphosis into a hybrid hatchback-come-pick-up truck. These 'Hick-Ups' tended to display great practicality, ideal low-loading ride heights and the driver appeal from the model which it butchered. All of the following were inspired by key American designs, including the Chevrolet El Camino and Ford Ranchero.
Ford P100 Pickup-up
Although sometimes awkward in proportions, Hick-Ups and Sick-Ups (Saloon-based pick-ups) were rather popular among business users. A perfect example of the popularity of these vehicles was the Ford P100. Originally based on a Mk5 Cortina, the later Sierra based design became a sales sensation between 1988 and 1992. Until recent years, many wandered the streets of Britain far-and-wide, however rust and age has finally began to diminish their frequency.
Volkswagen Caddy

Volkswagen also had their own variation based on the legendary Mk1 Golf chassis. Originally a design experiment, also featuring an estate version, the US market demanded the pick-up. Once arriving in Europe with the Caddy nameplate, the handy man´s Golf enjoyed undeniable success. Similarly to Ford's P100, the Caddy has enjoyed a fond modifying following and would later become and outright van model.
Subaru 284
Subaru fans will fondly remember the Subaru 284, an all-wheel-drive saloon/hatchback based pick-up, which exists in ridiculously small numbers to this day. A lesser-known spiritual successor to the Subaru 284 was the short-lived Proton Persona-based Jumbuck.
Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo

Past examples need-not just be mundane and utilitarian, for the recently deceased Vauxhall VXR8 Maloo was enough to blow anyone's mind. Based upon General Motors Australian division's Holden HSV Maloo Ute, Vauxhall's import created what became a final hurrah for this entire genre of Hick-Ups and Sick-Ups. No sensible business user could ever justify 425bhp from a thirsty V8 with a £50,000 price tag. Bonkers as it was, the VXR8 Maloo was certainly iconic in Britain - although extremely rare. Indeed Australia too, whereby the shifting of production of the Commodore to China on a front-wheel drive platform forces global extinction of the Holden Ute.

Many will wonder what caused this species to die out. An asteroid? Disease? A great flood? Similarly to the Honest John article from last August, the development in commercial vehicles is squarely to blame. Nowadays, van design has evolved to be on-par with regular no-commercial models. Interior qualities have increased, driver comfort has become more plush and road handling has become safer and infinitely more enjoyable. As Darwin theorised, it's simply survival of the fittest. Hick-ups and Sick-ups were becoming dodos in a world of eagles.

You might also like: Spotted - BMW 3-Series Pick-up

By Mike Armstrong

16 Apr 2014

Jaguar F-Type V6 S vs Porsche Boxster S

Sports cars are brilliant. Convertible sports cars are also brilliant.  The Jaguar F-Type and Porsche Boxster are the two best convertible sports cars on the market.  Which one is better?  I've driven both extensively. It's the Speedmonkey Convertible Sports Car Face-Off!

Jaguar F-Type V6 S vs Porsche Boxster S

Which one is best for posing in?

This comes down to two factors - rarity and looks.  Simply put the F-Type is the best looking mass market car on the road today. It was designed from a clean sheet of paper whereas the Boxster is in the third stage of its evolution. The Boxster is handsome and one of the best looking Porsches ever made, but the F-Type is just glorious.  The Boxster is also fairly ubiquitous, and most people won't know the difference between a 981, 986 or 987 but the F-Type is still a rarity on the road.

Winner - Jaguar

Which one has the best interior?

The Boxster's interior is more purposeful than luxurious.  It feels well-engineered and put together and everything is where it should be, but it doesn't exhibit much in the way of flair.  The F-Type's interior is other-wordly in comparison.  Where the Porsche has plastic the Jaguar has leather.  Where the Porsche has lovely, tactile materials the Jaguar's are just that bit better.  Both are superb but the F-Type is slightly more so.

Winner - Jaguar

Which one handles the best?

The F-Type is one of my favourite cars to drive.  Its front engined, stiff aluminium chassis gives it almost as much feel and feedback as a Lotus.  The steering is oily smooth and way you can hold it around a corner is thrilling.  The Boxster S has the engine out back, just fore of the rear axle.  The car's balance is ethereal.  The ride over normal roads is more composed than the Jaguar's and around corners it has more grip and even more feel and feedback. Despite the fact the Boxster has electrically assisted steering and the F-Type's is hydraulic the Porsche has better feel, just.  This area is the Boxster's piece de resistance and it is unbeatable.

Winner - Porsche

Which one sounds the best?

The F-Type in V6 supercharged form crackles and pops.  The engine howls and it growls.  The exhaust is engineered to make the best of the car's sound.  The Boxster is naturally aspirated and, despite what you might think about Porsche, they have engineered a lusty engine sound and exhaust note, and the active exhaust can sound disgustingly dirty (in a good way) when coming off throttle.  They both sound good, the Porsche's gunshot gear changes sound fantastic but the exhaust note booms more than the Jaguar, however the Jaguar wins this one by virtue of its almost constant good noise whereas the Porsche sounds really great only when pressing on.

Winner - Jaguar

Which one is the purest sports car convertible?

We've established that the Boxster handles marginally better.  It never (in normal conditions) loses grip by virtue of the engine's weight over the rear whereas the Jaguar will drift whenever it feels like it.  Both cars have a fabric roof that folds up or down at up to 30mph and both cockpits are composed with the roof down.  The Jaguar's engine is perhaps more flexible but the Porsche's PDK and manual gearbox are both better than the F-Type's 8-speed automatic.  The Jag gearbox is great but the Porsche options are better.  The Jaguar might be better for posing but the Porsche is very slightly a better sports car, that happens to be a convertible.

Winner - Porsche

Which one is most practical?

Both have not much in the way of interior space.  The Boxster gets two door pockets per door, a glove box and a tiny space under the armrest.  The F-Type has one pocket in each door, a bigger space under the armrest and a glove box. Both have cup holders (the Porsche's fold out rather elegantly and the Jaguar's are aft of the gear lever).  The Jaguar has one tiny boot but the Porsche has a large boot at the front and one just as big as the Jaguar's at the rear.  The Porsche wins this category by dint of it's extra boot.

Winner - Porsche

Which one is the best value?

The F-Type costs £67,520, returns 31mpg and emits 213g/km of CO2.  The Boxster costs £48,034, returns 35.3mpg and emits 188g/km of CO2.  On paper the Boxster wins by a mile, but the Jaguar is a posher car.  Its interior and exclusivity count for a lot in this market, plus it's almost completely hand built whereas the Porsche is made on a production line (and some in VW factories).  Both manufacturers make a healthy profit on each car sold but I suspect Jaguar makes more.  The Porsche can't fail to win this but only just when everything is considered.

Winner - Porsche

What are the stats?

Jaguar F-Type V6 S - Price - £67,520 (£82,625 as tested), Engine - 3.0 V6 supercharged petrol, Transmission - 8-speed semi-auto, 0-60mph - 4.8 seconds, Top speed - 171, mph Power - 380 bhp, Torque - 338 lb ft, Economy - 31 mpg, CO2 - 213 g/km, Kerb weight - 1614 kg

Porsche Boxster S - Price - £48,034, Engine - 3.4 litre, flat-6 petrol, Transmission - 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, 0-60mph - 5 seconds, Top Speed - 172mph, Power - 315bhp, Torque - 265lb ft, Economy - 35.3mpg, CO2 - 188g/km, Kerb Weight - 1,350kg

As you can see the Porsche is cheaper, weighs less and has less power.  The Jaguar has much more grunt and is marginally faster - but only by a sliver.  The Boxster is perhaps better engineered in that it makes more efficient use of the engine in a lighter chassis. Given the cars each adopt a slightly different philosophy this one is our first draw.

Winner - draw


The Jaguar F-Type V6 S won three rounds whereas the Porsche Boxster S won four.  It's a marginal victory to the Porsche.  If I had to put my hand in my own pocket and buy one I'd struggle to choose. I've run a Boxster and F-Type for a week each.  The F-Type gives more smiles per mile but the Boxster has a purity that the F-Type can't quite match.  Ultimately the price would come into it so the Boxster would probably win, but I'd be forever looking lustfully at F-Types from the comfort of my Porsche.

By Matt Hubbard

15 Apr 2014

Has Land Rover Dropped a B*llock With The Discovery Vision Concept?

This is the Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept which "Showcases the modern design language of the future Discovery family".  

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept

Jaguar Land Rover has been a roaring success since Ford withdrew ownership in 2008.  The company hasn't put a foot wrong with great new models, aluminium architecture, increased reliability, innovative new tech and galloping sales.

One of the aims of Land Rover is to differentiate the luxury Range Rover family from the more utilitarian Land Rover range.  This new concept showcases the direction Land Rover will take.

And it looks like the company may have made a dropped a bollock.  My own opinion was quickly confirmed when I saw saw comments on various social media in reaction to leaked pictures.

Land Rover is rugged, strong, practical and, well, quite square.  This concept looks like a Range Rover designed by Ssangyong.

The shaped is too rounded, the waistline too high, the lines too bland, the grille too mean looking, the wheels too big and delicate looking and the whole thing looks too stylised.  A Land Rover it is not.

The Discovery Vision is just a concept.  Concepts often change when they are turned into reality.  Let's hope this one does.

On the upside the interior looks great.

The car will be shown at the 2014 New York Auto show.
Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept

By Matt Hubbard

The Nonsense Spouted About Electrically Assisted Power Steering

The Boxster S is now back with Porsche after a week at chez Speedmonkey.  The evening before it went back I was going to write the review but ended up buying and watching The Hobbit on DVD instead.  Once that was over I thought I'd browse YouTube for some alternative viewpoints on the Boxster.

One of those I watched was Chris Harris' review for Drive.  As someone who occasionally crosses over into Harris' territory in terms of cars I get to drive I normally avoid his Drive reviews purely because I find myself disagreeing with some of what he says.  This avoidance means I won't leave a comment under the review, which in turn means I won't be abused by the Church Of Latter Day Chris Harris Is A Saint tribe.

That's not to say I think he's normally wrong, well not largely. It's in the detail, the finer points, I often disagree.  And it was in the detail of the Boxster S review I found myself disagreeing.

Specifically in the area of the Boxster's electrically assisted power steering.  If I was to write that sentence three times it would be irritating for you the reader.  But at least three times (it may be more but I can't bear to watch it again) in the eleven minute video review Chris says 'the electric power steering is the weak point in the new Boxster S.'  He then goes on to qualify that statement by saying it is a good system but it is not as good as hydraulically assisted.

I've driven a lot less cars than Chris Harris (around 150 in the past two years) but I have driven a Cayman R, Boxster S, 911 C2 and my own 924S with hydraulic steering and a 911 Turbo, 911 C4, Cayman and Boxster S with electric steering.

And you know what? Anyone other than Chris Harris, Tiff Needell and Henry Catchpole would not notice the difference.

I drove my 924S and the Boxster S side by side for a week.  The difference between hydraulic and electrical assistance is so infinitesimally small as to be almost unnoticeable.  To highlight it to such an extent as some journalists (and their followers who have never even sampled it) do is just nonsensical.

To me the perfect car is a sports car. I love finely-tuned handling, steering feel, a good chassis and great communication and interactivity between car and driver.  This is why the Subaru BRZ is one of my (and most journalists) favourite cars.

And the BRZ has the devil's steering assistance.  Yes, it's electrically assisted.  Oh my goodness.

The car I've driven with the worst ever steering feel was my old Audi S4.  Hydraulically assisted.

I tested the new Audi S3 saloon recently and its only weak point was the steering feel.  It's electric but that has nothing to do with it, Audi just can't seem to get great steering feel in it's four wheel drive cars (the front wheel drive A3 cabriolet's steering felt better).

Then I read Chris Harris' review of the S3 hatch and he didn't mention the electrically assisted steering once, and said he liked it so much it was a car he'd buy for himself.

Poor Porsche gets bashed about by journos who think that moving with the times (electric assistance helps reduce CO2 emissions and therefore tax liability) is wrong.

It isn't. If you buy a modern Porsche you will be amazed at how sharp and responsive the steering is, and you wouldn't notice, or care, if somehow Porsche sneakily engineered hydraulic assistance into it.

Here's the Drive Boxster S review.

By Matt Hubbard

14 Apr 2014

Why Rear Wheel Drive Cars Are Ace

When you first learn to drive you are put in an underpowered front wheel drive car and guided through the machinations of driving, road laws and etiquette by a qualified instructor.  Once you've passed your test you are allowed to buy whatever you can afford.  Most people buy a front wheel drive car.  This is a boring thing to do.  Rear wheel drive is much more fun.

Jaguar XFR-S oversteering

When you first learn to ride a bicycle you will have had stabilisers fitted.  After tearing around in upright, stable safety your dad (probably) will one day have removed the stabilisers and watched your first attempt to ride on only two wheels.

You may have then cycled the length of your garden and crashed into a hedge. It is likely you were put back on the seat and told to try it again. At some point you will have overcome your basic fears and unconsciously used your brain to utilise your own body, with some help from centrifugal force, to overcome the gravitational force that wants to bring your delicate skin and bones crashing down to the ground to damage them.

Once you can cycle without stabilisers you never go back.  Despite the various competing forces acting on you and your bike you are able to cycle for many miles.  You may even come to enjoy the experience.  You can lean over whilst cornering and if you are childish very skilled you may be able to perform wheelies and endos.

Front wheel drive cars are like bicycles with stabilisers and rear wheel drive cars are like bicycles without.

To demonstrate this imagine a drag race between two powerful cars, one front wheel drive and one rear wheel.  Turn off the traction control, dump the clutch and go.

The front wheel drive car will spin its front wheels.  The front end may possibly move slightly sideways.  If so the driver simply needs to steer back towards the direction he intends to travel and will head in a forwards direction.

The rear wheel drive car will spin its rear wheels.  It is then likely the rear end of the car will move to one side or the other.  The driver must then steer against the direction of travel of the rear end in order to counter this effect.  If he oversteers the rear end may then swing around to the opposite direction it was in.  If this continues and the driver is not skilled he may lose control of the car and crash.

Add a bend into this drag race and the effect is magnified.  Remember your Scalextric cars?  If you gave them too much power through a corner they would fly off the road backwards.

All of this is intended to show that front wheel drive cars are predictable and easy to manage in the event of a minor loss of control whereas rear wheel drive cars can be unpredictable and difficult to manage in the same situation.

But controlling a rear wheel drive car is a skill that can be learned, and once it is learned it rewards as much as riding a bike without stabilisers.

It is the requirement on the senses, brain and body to understand how to handle a rear wheel drive car whilst in motion that adds an extra sense of reward to the experience of driving.

Sure some front wheel drive cars can be fun.  Hot hatches are generally front wheel drive but they have to be driven at the limit to be entertaining. At normal speeds they are neutral cars with a decent turn of speed.  Around a fast corner in a hot hatch you can usually keep the throttle pinned but in a rear wheel drive car you always need to understand how much throttle can be applied before the rear breaks traction.

Driving can be a boring experience, with overcrowded roads, awful other drivers, traffic lights, buses, cyclists and Honda Jazzes limiting our exposure to adrenaline but the simple act of pulling out of a junction in a rear wheel drive car and controlling a small drift can add a thrill to an otherwise mundane day.

Unfortunately most cars are front wheel drive.  A front wheel drive car is lighter, cheaper and easier to package than rear wheel drive so even large cars are often front wheel drive.  This is a shame.

We should all be thankful to Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar, Subaru, Toyota and Mazda for making and selling mainstream rear wheel drive cars so those of us who enjoy an immersive and interactive, rather than docile, driving experience can do so.

By Matt Hubbard

11 Apr 2014

The Time Has Come To Sell My Porsche 924S

I've agonised over this decision - long and hard - but I'm selling my Porsche 924S.

It's on eBay with a starting price of £1,000, although I have put a cheeky reserve in there.  I've loved my Porsche and am only selling it to buy another. Again, I agonised long and hard about this but have decided I'm going to buy a Boxster and to do that I'll need to sell the 924S.

I bought the car in March 2013. It was in great condition and I've tracked it's progress over the past 13 months on Speedmonkey.

I got an MoT and a service two weeks ago, and then decided I wasn't going to sell it.  Two weeks of man-car-onomics later and I changed my mind after spending a week with a brand new Boxster S.

The link to the advert is here.  It runs for seven days.

Here are a links to various articles I've written about it:

A Porsche 924S is bought
Getting a handle on the Porsche 924S
How to buy and run a classic Porsche on the cheap
Winter in a rear wheel drive car
500 miles in the old warrior

Yes, I am wearing slippers in the photo!

By Matt Hubbard

Know Thine Enemy - Cyclists

OK it's an inflammatory headline but hey it's Friday and this is a great film.  An anonymous cyclist in York, sick of seeing his fellow cyclists break the rules, decide to film their antics from his head cam.  Check out the video below, and yes the still is of a chap doing a face plant after taking his jacket off whilst on the move.

Whenever a motoring blogger or journalist mentions cyclists behaving in any manner that's less than perfect they are descended on by hordes of yellow jumpered do-gooders.

I know, check out the comments under this article - an account of a lovely summer's evening drive partially spoiled by the attitude of cyclists.

So whenever a cyclist tells you they are right and you (a driver) are wrong point them in the direction of this video.  That'll learn 'em.

Thanks to @SpeedmonkeyCol for sending me the video.

By Matt Hubbard

10 Apr 2014

2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2 Review

Colin Hubbard reviews the Ford Fiesta ST-2

2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

It all came good for the Fiesta in 1981 when the XR2 was launched, a light little hatchback with sporting potential and a sweet, carb-fed 1600cc engine. The Fiesta progressed through various shapes to one of it's most iconic incarnations, the RS Turbo, in Mk3 guise. This 1.6 turbo featured a tidy bodykit, 3 spoke wheels and the all important Recaro seats trimmed in grey velour. Ford didn't make a sporty Mk4 Fiesta as such -  the 1.6 Zetec was the closest they came and that was nothing special. For the Mk5 Ford dropped in a 2 litre engine but this was a little heavy, gutless and didn't handle well.

In 2012 Ford followed the rest of the competition and Fitted it's Mk6 Fiesta with a 1.6 turbocharged engine, not any old turbo engine but one with Ecoboost. This uses variable valve timing to combine decent power levels but also low'ish fuel consumption so it was back to cheap thrills motoring again.

The test car was delivered on a Friday when I was at work.  My Wife described its colour as a kind of red and I couldn't wait to get home to have a go. At exactly 5pm I drove onto our drive and was met with a deep metallic Molten Orange Fiesta ST.

I parked up, gave the kids and wife a kiss then grabbed the keys for a quick drive before tea. I just intended to go the end of the road, around the large roundabout a few times and return home for Cottage Pie. After about half a mile I knew I was going to love this car, it just felt right so quickly. Whereas some cars need to grow on you, this didn't.  It was instant. The intended little ramble turned into a 10 mile run out with some fast A roads, industrial estates and tight country lanes. It was great fun and I couldn't wait to see how it coped over the next week.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

Saturday morning and I woke early, made a cup of tea and strolled around the car soaking in the details. Okay, first off it's a small car, less than 4m long, but packaged well with high a roofline so it feels roomy and spacious inside. That height is obvious from the side profile as the rear three quarter panel is very tall with a shallow glass area which has the look of an early Civic Type-R - no bad thing. There are two horizontal body lines running front to back, one through the door handle and a lower one just above the sill. These, along with some fairly rounded arches, help to break-up the vast expanse of bodywork.

From the front the car could pass for a baby Aston Martin, certainly more so than a Cygnet if you were to remove both car's badges. The headlights are very long and thin and line up nicely with the lines down the side car.

Its stance looks very low at the front and high at the back, a trick done by positioning a small side window just above the front wings with the glass line then constantly rising toward the rear. At the back it isn't that high - it's just a clever illusion. A fairly big rear spoiler sits on top of the tailgate which looks like it could actually add some downforce rather than be just for show.

The only bodywork I don't like is the rear valance. There's a large black cut-out in the back bumper, where many manufacturers have started putting faux diffusers, but Ford have chosen to install a colour coded plastic spoiler which to me looks out of place. This needs a little work to put right, simply painting the spoiler would make it easier on the eye.

The wheels are standard size 17' alloys finished in anthracite. As standard they come in silver but the 'Radio Grey' finish is a £275 option which also includes red calipers and illuminated sill plates. The tyres are surprisingly low profile 205/40/17, which I will pick up on later.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

The interior is a nice place to be, highlighted massively by the standard fit Recaro seats finished in a very unsubtle hue of bright orange cloth and dark grey leather. The moment you sit in the car you know it means business, the heavy side bolstering has a grip like a large baseball glove and clasps you firmly in place

The dash is standard Ford fodder with some flimsy and scratchy plastics and the ST equipped Sony hifi has far too many buttons, I counted 28 individual buttons and also a rotary dial. It's nice to see a modern car with both a proper hand brake and a manual gearlever and the ST is so equipped. The steering wheel could be lifted straight from a Mondeo with it's fairly ugly boss but whilst it is fairly large the rim has a chunky feel and is a good fit in your palms.

In the back there's room for 2 adults even with the driver's seat adjusted for me at 5'9. The driving position is excellent, the wheel has long reach and rake adjustment so can be set up just right for a rally style position with arms bent and close to the body but legs stretched out.

On start up and it has a light rasp of induction noise which gets bassier the higher it revs. On paper the engine is down on power compared to its rivals but it has the highest torque levels and lowest kerb weight in its class so remains a strong contender.

On the road it's supremely confident, it does have a hard ride but the damping and bushing have been perfected by Ford's chassis engineers so is really chuckable and confidence inspiring. I don't use the term 'handles like a go kart' lightly but this really does feel like a grown-up sized 4 seater go-kart. 

Ford didn't need to resort to flashy names for its chassis components to achieve this excellent handling, they just selected the right off-the-shelf components, geometries and tyre sizes until they were happy with the results. This is very much like the Ferrari engineers who were seconded to Fiat to develop the Panda 100 HP into such an entertaining little car, just experience, trial and error and an eye for detail.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

I noted the tyres were very low profile at 205/40/17 and I think the 40 side profile over most of its rivals 45 profiles helps with the agility, yes its ride is hard but the shorter profile seems easier to damp and control hence it is so forgiving.

When really going for it I was thankful for the support afforded by the Recaros, their vice like grip holds you in place during hard cornering and the depth of the side support is obvious in the pictures. The headrests sit forward and you can always feel them on the back of your head like they are sat up ready for an impact to protect your neck from too much movement.
The clutch is light but apparent that it has the same fault as the 208 GTI in that it doesn't have enough clearance to manouvre your left foot in between gear changes. It's not the alloy pedal covers but the actual clutch arm which juts out by about an inch to the left. It's not as bad the 208 but still annoying considering these are mass market cars.

The gear change is springy and positive in action and one that you will enjoy on a daily basis.  A manual gearbox being quintessential to the hot hatch, it has to be involving as well as fun and an auto just doesn't give you that satisfaction. The likes of RenaultSport and VAG should drive an ST to see how it's done, no boring double clutch gearboxes here just a fun, involving gearchange experience.

The engine is the ST's ace card, the EcoBoost unit features variable valve timing and is tuned for power and economy which equates to a very strong midrange so you rarely need to rev it to get the most out of it. At just past tickover there's a slight lull when you plant your foot but it rapidly builds torque and there's a very healthy surge from 3,000rpm which tapers off toward its redline just south of 7,000rpm. That torque is key to the experience and contributes towards the claimed high fuel economy as you can make good progress using the sweet spot from 2,500 and change up at 5,000rpm. Whilst it is down on power next to its key rivals the torque more than makes up for it and pulls stronger and cleaner than its rivals. It would be interesting to put the ST on a rolling road as the claimed 179bhp feels under estimated.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

The power is put down cleanly on the road thanks to a torque vectoring system.  The modest power output doesn't warrant a mechanical LSD. The system works by braking the inside front wheel so it effectively pulls the car round out of junctions and works with surprising results. The systems shines particularly in the wet when wheels would otherwise scrabble out of slow speed corners.  Instead they pull through cleanly with limited spin and in the direction you want to go.

As a package the Fiesta ST comes together brilliantly.  The engine's tirelessly torquey and the slug of midrange at 3,000 quite addictive. The engine has been allowed to sing a little in the ST, there's some healthy induction noise and a little exhaust rasp, nothing too much but enough for you to appreciate it. The chassis is exceptionally controlled and so much fun. It is just so chuckable and entirely predictable and if you could drive blindfolded on a track it could be a hatchback with a Lotus badge on the boot. The hard ride feels right in a hot hatch, like it means business and the steering offers some delicate feedback, again I put this down partly to those 40 profile tyres.

Considering there's no special names in the brake department and it doesn't have massive discs it has good stopping power to keep you out of trouble and fade free on some demanding country roads on test.

I personally found the ST to be an exceptional driver's car and one where its performance can be accessed on a daily basis, but there was someone who wasn't a fan - my wife. She liked the little touches like the illuminated sills which glow red at night and the fillerless fuel cap (why don't all manufacturers fit them?) but as a passenger the hard and bumpy ride agitated her motion sickness and she complained the headrest constantly banged her head. She did have a point, especially in the headrest positioning but as a driver you can ignore these trivialities and concentrate on enjoying your driving.

The ST starts at just under £18k and comes with a range of standard fit features such as heated half leather Recaros, Sony hifi with ipod control and DAB radio, two cupholders and obligatory electric windows, remote central locking etc. You really could drive away the standard car without any options and be perfectly happy and not need to worry about resale for not picking certain options.

There's a raft of competition in this segment, so much so that for ease I have listed them in a table below.

For me a hot hatch must have a manual gearbox, this is not supercar territory where shaving 0.1 seconds of the acceleration figures helps sell a few more cars, we want the broad driving experience and an auto can't deliver that. That takes out three cars from the competition. Next out is the D3S - it's a little down on power and the weight is up over the others, plus it looks a little childish with bright graphics and flashy wheels. Next I would rule out the Mini, yes its starting price is competitive but a few 'essential' options will see that rise considerably. The final three are the Fiesta, Corsa VXR and 208 GTI. The Corsa needs more work in the chassis department to shine in this company, a hard ride is no good without control.

This just leaves the 208GTi and Fiesta ST, both excellent hot hatches and if it were down to looks alone the 208 would get the nod, but it does have some flaws such as its wheel control, slightly squashy seats and the engine isn't as perky as the Ecoboost unit.

For me the Fiesta ST is the best in class, not quite the best looking but such an engulfing drive, a delectable chassis and a well equipped interior. It also happens to be the best value.


Car - Ford Fiesta ST-2 1.6 EcoBoost SCTI
Price - £17,995 (£18,995 as tested)
Engine – 1.6 litre, turbocharged inLine 4 cylinder, petrol
Transmission – 6 Speed Manual
0-62mph – 6.9 seconds
Top speed - 139 mph
Power - 179bhp
Torque - 214lb ft
Economy - 47.9mpg combined
CO2 - 138 g/km
Kerb weight - 1163kg unladen
2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

2014 Ford Fiesta ST-2

Review by Colin Hubbard

9 Apr 2014

BMW's Range Now Seems To Make Sense - And It's Seriously Good

In years gone by BMW's model range was simple to understand and explain, then it seemed to go awry.  But now it all makes sense - sort of.

In the 90s it was easy to work out which BMW you wanted to buy. The 3-series came as a saloon, estate, coupe, convertible and a strange truncated hatchback.  Whatever you needed from your car BMW could provide it.

The 5-series offered those higher up the corporate ladder a choice of estate for those with dogs and saloon for those without, and the chairman of the board parked his 7-series right outside the front door.

For niche enthusiasts a sports car, the Z3, based on the 3-series was available and an off-roader, the X5, based on the 5-series for those who couldn't afford a Range Rover.

Then into the 2000s and 2010s BMW's range expanded.  As models were added series names were plucked from the existing range and forced to do their bidding alongside new series numbers which were inserted in between current ones.

So the smaller than 3-series hatchback became the 1-series and the 1-series with a boot was the 1-series saloon or coupe, the Z3's replacement was the Z4 and the large and luxurious coupe was the 6-series.

It all seemed to make sense.  Then things got weird.

The 3-series, happily making a living as a saloon, estate, convertible, coupe and off-roader was divided.  4-series was created and became the old 3-series coupe, even if one version has four doors.  Not only that but 4-series still has a sports car, and, soon, a coupe version of the X3 off-roader.

1-series was also torn asunder and the coupe version rebranded as the 2-series.  So 2-series is sporty, except the new 2-series Active Tourer is a front wheel drive MPV.

Oh, and the 3 and 5-series moniker, which are meant to be for boring old saloons and estates now get  hatchback versions, known as the GT, which could almost be seen as sporty.

Then the range was topped and tailed with super-futuristic electric cars, one small and practical hatchback and the other outright sports car.  Their names are the i8 (makes sense, top of the range) and i3 (not quite so much sense, surely should be i1).

BMW's model range used to be bewildering, now it is almost legible.  But it has achieved what it set out to do in the first place - increase sales.

Aside from a blip during the worldwide recession BMW's sales have increased every year over the past few years. They now sell more than 1.5 million units annually.

But for us consumers the BMW range is now seriously tasty.  There are cars for everyone, too many to look at in detail.  BMW makes SUVs, sports cars, hatchback grand tourers, saloons, saloon grand tourers, estates, coupes, convertibles and variations on these themes.

In that range are some fantastic cars, especially for driving enthusiasts.  Let's take a look at the core range that would be of interest to Speedmonkey readers.

BMW M4 - 2 door coupe
BMW M4 - 2 door coupe

BMW M235i - 2 door coupe
BMW M235i - 2 door coupe

BMW i8 - 2 door electric sports car
BMW i8 - 2 door electric sports car

BMW M3 - 4 door saloon
BMW M3 - 4 door saloon

BMW M135i - 3 door hatchback
BMW M135i - 3 door hatchback

BMW i3 - hatchback electric car
BMW i3 - hatchback electric car

Pretty appealing, huh?

BMW 435i M Sport Coupe first drive review

By Matt Hubbard

8 Apr 2014

Five Brands Scraping By In Britain

In a world dominated by multinational corporations and global business models, smaller businesses are often overlooked. Sometimes, these smaller businesses are new start-ups which have yet to find a foothold in the competitive market, whilst others simply cater to a niche market outside the realms of the mainstream. Unfortunately the third classification of smaller businesses is a diminishing demand of the product provided.

The motor industry breaks no moulds in this aspect, with some manufacturers hidden in the shadows. Obviously, the UK market has its own elusive members. Here we have compiled five manufacturers dangerously lurking in the shadows of the British market.

5 – Perodua

Malaysia’s second largest car maker, behind Proton, made little impact on the British market. Whilst Britain was one of only four markets within the European Union, as well as Cyprus, Malta and the Republic of Ireland, the brand’s products sold very few over the years. Products were often sold via registered Proton dealerships, with the most popular models consisting of the Nippa, Kelisa and Myvi. Aimed as a budget entry-level alternative to the already spartan Proton range, sales never exceeded more than a disappointing 761 units per annum. Based on outdated Toyota and Daihatsu technology, Peroduas are still somehow on sale in the UK as of right now.

4 – Proton

As with Perodua, Protons are still amazingly available to buy in the UK. Malaysia’s largest car manufacturer has largely introduced badge engineered Mitsubishi models since 1989. Sales became comparatively more promising in the early 90’s, with the Saga becoming one of the Top 20 Best Selling cars in the UK, and also classifying Proton as one of the fastest selling makes of new car. Since then, sales have dwindled, with only 208 vehicles registered in 2012. Buyers seeking something against the grain can still purchase some of their latest products, including the Gen-2, Satria Neo and Savvy from one of the few remaining dealerships.

3 - Great Wall

The age of the Chinese motorcar has finally arrived in Britain in the form of the Great Wall Steed. A pick-up truck, offering decent quality for an extremely low price, the Steed has sold over 1,000 units since its launch in April 2012. Certainly not bad figures for an unknown brand in Europe. Prices are kept low due to construction from knock-down kits in Bulgaria, hence offering superb value for money for commercial customers. Great Wall's potential for growth is fairly realistic, but at this time they are considered one of the little fish in the big pond of the British market.

2 – MG

Those following the motor industry closely will already know about MG’s triumphant return to the British market, however casual buyers may be blissfully unaware. Indeed, those aware would presumably prefer to not be reminded of the current MG 6 or newly launched MG 3. Both cars are neither ground-breaking, recommended purchases over competitors nor representative of the brand’s colourful legacy. In the 2012 financial year, only 782 MG 6’s were sold in the UK, falling short of the expected 2000-3000 levels of demand. Nonetheless, the MG brand is still actively available in the UK and is certainly under the radar amongst many British folk.

1 - Lada

Of course, the official Lada outlets disappeared in the 90's, with a change in European air pollution legislation causing the withdrawal from the market. However, an unofficial importer actually still offers the classic Niva off-roader as a basic retro utility vehicle. Clearly, the outdated technology and looks have little appeal amongst casual soft-roading British buyers. Right hand-drive tooling is not an option, however the off-road ability and mechanical simplicity makes the Niva a worthwhile investment amongst agricultural customers. At the price of a second-hand Land Rover Defender, the Niva certainly has a case in its favour. Obviously, sales are low and will never amount to a runaway success, but the fact that British motorists can still order a brand new Lada is news to many.

By Mike Armstrong

7 Apr 2014

Since When Did We Think Low Profile Tyres Were Cool?

Not that long ago cars came with small wheels and big fat tyres, and we all thought they were OK.  At some point 18 inch rims became popular, and then 20, 21, 22 inch.  Why do we think skinny tyres are cool, and fat ones aren't?

These two photos show my 1987 Porsche 924S and its equivalent 2013 model, the Porsche Cayman Cayman.  The 924S has 15 inch wheels and fat tyres and the Cayman has 20 inch wheels with skinny strips of rubber.
2013 Porsche Cayman front wheel and tyre
2013 Porsche Cayman front wheel and tyre

1987 Porsche 924S front wheel and tyre
1987 Porsche 924S front wheel and tyre

The 924S's wheels are the iconic tele-dials whereas the Cayman's in the photo could be interchangeable with almost anything in the current range.  They look nice but aren't exactly classic.

Yet in modern times big wheels and skinny tyres are considered better.  Performance cannot be the reason or else this Williams FW36, and all other F1 cars, would have massive wheels and skinny tyres.
Williams FW36
Williams FW36
Even the latest Le Mans cars don't have little strips of rubber, they have proper, meaty tyres on sensible sized rims.  This is the 2014 Audi R18 e-tron quattro.
Audi R18 e-tron quattro
Audi R18 e-tron quattro
The reason must be purely aesthetic then.  So check out these photos of the latest Range Rover and an original 3-door Classic.  Both are damn fine looking cars and the Classic doesn't look any less fine for having tiny steelies and chunky rubber.
2013 Range Rover
2013 Range Rover

Range Rover Classic three door
Range Rover Classic three door
Cars in 2014 are the best they've ever been, in most areas.  But we suffer engineered-in suspension travel to make up for the stiffer ride that low profile tyres give.

Why?  Fat tyres look cool, don't they?

One last image - The General Lee.  Damn cool, fat tyres.
The General Lee

By Matt Hubbard

6 Apr 2014

F1 2014 Is Brilliant - Despite What The Naysayers Say

For years we've seen a lack of racing and domination by one team or driver in F1.  We also had noisy engines.  This year we're seeing quieter engines, and a new team and driver dominate - yet F1 2014 is better than it has been for a long time.

Image: BBC

The Bahrain Grand Prix, despite taking place at a soulless track, was one of the best Formula 1 races in years.  One team dominated but that team, Mercedes, allowed its drivers to race right 'til the end, and neither Lewis nor Nico suffered a mysterious engine problem or fluffed pit stop.

In recent times Vettel has been dominant in his Red Bull, and the real fans all cheered when Mark Webber scored a win because we knew Mark could only win despite, not because of, the car he was in.  Vettel was number 1 and Mark had to put up with it.  Multi 21.

Ferrari's attitude was similar with Michael Schumacher and his long suffering sidekick Rubens Barrichello, then with Alonso and Felipe Massa.

Mercedes, though, have opted to hire two top level drivers and let them race.  This shows a respect to the sport and to the fans from a manufacturer that has been racing in Formula 1 since 1932 that Red Bull and Ferrari have both failed to achieve.  Mercedes could quite easily have soured everybody's day by telling their drivers to hold station after the late safety car in Bahrain but they didn't, and all credit to them for that.

So it is of no surprise that the two teams complaining about F1's new engine regulations turn out to be Red Bull (powered by Renault) and Ferrari. Both are hindered for the entire year by power units that are not as good as the Mercedes one and both are complaining like hell about it.

The Mercedes engine is more reliable, more powerful and more frugal than the Ferrari and Renault units.  Mercedes has simply done a better job.  So what do Ferrari and Red Bull want to do?  Make the races shorter so they don't have to conserve fuel and change their engines to make them more equal with the Mercedes'.

What a bunch of whinging, idiotic, bad losers.

F1's new engines use less fuel and take engine technology into new and exciting areas.  For the first time in years F1 tech can lead to better engines for our road cars.  F1 is looking forwards rather than backwards.

The V8 era may have given us louder engines but it gave us worse racing than we've seen so far in 2014.  The more complex, and torquey, cars this year have also allowed some fantastic young drivers to flourish (Bottas, Hulkenberg, Ricciardio, Magnussen) as well as letting the experienced drivers show us their skills with more complex and hard to handle machinery.

F1 2014 is in great shape.  Only the losers are complaining.  Bernie Ecclestone reckons two more teams want to join F1.  The sport won't worry too much if a couple of the existing teams get out of the kitchen because they can't stand the heat.

By Matt Hubbard

4 Apr 2014

2014 Porsche Boxster S First Drive Review

I've driven the Porsche Boxster S for a day so far, covering 150 miles.  Here are my first impressions.

2014 Porsche Boxster S 981

The Porsche Boxster has been around since 1996. It was face lifted in 2009 and in 2012 an all new model, the 981, was launched.  The Boxster comes in two main specs; the standard Boxster and the Boxster S, and you can spec a 6-speed manual or double-clutch 7-speed automatic, known as a PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe).

The test car is a 981 Boxster S with PDK gearbox. It's painted Guard's Red and has a red hood.  The interior is Platinum Grey and it's got optional sports seats.

The car's stats are pretty impressive, although being naturally aspirated the engine has less torque than you might expect.  The Boxster S, though, is a car for which stats are just a small part of the appeal.

It might be German but it has as much soul as any other sports car.  The looks are bang up to date Porsche.  That dropping Porsche nose, the rear end similar to the front, but not as much as on the first generation, the tiny spoiler bisecting the rear lights.

You sit right in the middle of the wheelbase.  The engine's behind the occupants, ahead of the rear axle unlike in the 911 where it sits out back. The interior is more business-like than luxurious.  The driving position is absolutely spot on - legs out, arms slightly bent (although the wheel is adjustable any which way) and the controls all in just the right places.
2014 Porsche Boxster S 981

There's not much in the way of storage space. Twin door pockets, a small space under the armrest and the govebox are it, although the rather snazzy fold-out cupholders are handy.  The Boxster has two boots though, a deep one up front and a wide one at the back - and it's just as large as the F-Type's only boot.

The touchscreen operates media (CD, DAB, analogue radio, Bluetooth, iPod), satnav (Porsche's is one of the best) and all sorts of trip and other functions.

Buttons aft of the gearstick let you select suspension, traction, gearbox and sports exhaust options.

The engine is started with Porsche's stubby key.  Turn on, select active exhaust, select sport, select drive, go...

...and enter automotive perfection.  The steering is light, but weighting and feedback is exquisitely exact.  It doesn't quite transmit every single individual stone in the road's surface, as in Porsche's of old, but nothing else on sale today comes close.

The engine revs high - peak power comes at 6,700rpm - and needs to be used to extract every last ounce of horsepower from it, and does so with a beautifully flat spread of power.
2014 Porsche Boxster S 981

It sounds fine too.  At the lower end of the rev range the 6-cylinder boxer engine booms but increase the revs and it screams.  Hit Sport Plus and the exhaust crackles with unburnt fuel, just like a Jaguar.

Who said Porsches were clinical?

The PDK gearbox has a Jekyll and Hyde personality.  It's bleeding obvious it is a dual-clutch affair, with gearchanges taking an instant.  In normal mode the 'box is fairly lazy, changing up super-early. Press Sport and it really is a sports 'box, agile and active throughout the rev range and at differing speeds but it'll change down multiple gears in an instant if the final inch of throttle travel is used.

Enter Sport Plus mode and it becomes an angry, rev-hungry monster of a thing. It hangs on to 1st gear for as long as possible, crackling and spitting off-throttle, changing up only on the red line.  And when it does change gear it's like a shotgun recoil in your back. In Sport Plus on open, flowing roads the Boxster S feels as fast, noisy and manic as anything else.

Driving the car in almost all conditions and speeds is an absolute doddle.  Grip is phenomenal and the controls are so easy to use.  Drop the hood (at anything up to 30mph) and noise and turbulence barely increase.  I spoke to a friend on the phone (bluetooth, hands-free of course) at 70mph without any issues.

Push-on in a straight line and the Boxster S simply goes fast, but push-on in a corner and the engine's location, and the car's low weight, come into play.  You can feel the rear end leaning on the tyres - never slipping.
2014 Porsche Boxster S 981

It feels agile, communicative and nimble but also safe.  The rears don't let-go, the fronts scrub ever so gently.  The driver is invigorated.

The Porsche Boxster S is a better car than any of its rivals, including the Cayman.  It's slightly less stiff than the Cayman, slightly more joyful - with it's exposed cabin - has slightly more joie de vivre and exuberance than it's serious sports car coupĂ© sibling.

I'll publish a full review once the car has gone back to Porsche.  In the meantime I'm going to enjoy using it.


Price - £48,034
Engine - 3.4 litre flat-6
Transmission - 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
0-60mph - 5 seconds
Top Speed - 172mph
Power - 315bhp
Torque - 265lb ft
Economy - 35.3mpg
CO2 - 188g/km
Kerb Weight - 1,350kg

2014 Porsche Boxster S 981

2014 Porsche Boxster S 981

2014 Porsche Boxster S 981

2014 Porsche Boxster S 981

2014 Porsche Boxster S 981

2014 Porsche Boxster S 981

Review by Matt Hubbard