7 Aug 2013

Plating - 200 miles in a 458 Italia, a thirsty Focus ST and a 70s Zafira

Mike Trowsdale is a plater* and as such gets to drive many and varied cars at short notice. Here are more of his cuttingly incisive, and frequently funny, thoughts on a variety of recent cars. 

You will never guess this: what does a VW Transporter (TDI 6 speed) have in common with a similar vintage - 3 year old - Cayman S? Well forget all the well documented familial machinations – these two do 70 in top (6/7 gear) at just over 2000rpm. And such is the variety - and boredom stimulated, unfettered brain game challenge - afforded to the motor trade “plater”.

Apologies for there being no real structure to the following but I must download before I forget – platers don’t do notes.

Real genuine surprise of the last two weeks crept up on me over 300 miles: Micra 1.4 5 door auto – now “old shape” – had very nearly the best steering of any of the past 50 motors. Nice weight, proper feel and I found myself comparing it to Ferraris and Porsches. Bear with me on this: I have done 200 miles in a 458 Italia and literally 1000’s in Porsches for reference and - bloody hell - it’s really good! No wonder my Mum won’t give hers up…

Random shorts: Yaris – rubbish turning circle for a “small” car. I have a cunning test at the top of my road and it was no better than our ex Freelander. Nice gearshift tho’, and the quietest, smoothest idle – thought it had “stop/start”. BMW 116d – totally invisible light switches and very stodgy steering - styling tidied up tho’: I had an original “bendy” one as a demo. DS3 – 4 speed auto (?!): my 190E had one of those in ’87. SLK 200 – literally had to wrestle the steering at low speeds. Honestly, stupidly heavy and no fun. And Merc 4 pots? 

Unless there is an AMG badge involved or you are plying your trade with a heavy oil drinker, best avoided. Scenic - another one that dropped the “you are about to have your whole day ruined by my whimsical fuel guage” bomb. Now I am not Marines grade but dropping the “range” down from 25 miles to nothing in a moment and subsequently issuing visual and aural warnings I deem a cause for concern. Witness illegal U turn. 

A quick £6 later to ensure safe delivery and just 10 miles on and the same scenario. WTF?!! For a moment I tried to calculate whether the Grand Scenic was doing 10mpg or the “computer” was, err, rubbish. Didn’t care – car delivered. Back to the Transporter – fun for a short while with turbo diesel torque and positive hand span close shifter, but relying on two door mirrors a reminder of why we have few excuses in a “proper” car. 

Fuel economy: annoyed by Focus ST that insisted on doing 20 something mpg whether I cared or not therefore costing me 10 minutes in an extra fuel stop. Great car but has to be deemed unacceptable now. Saw 49.9 mpg in a Merc E250 CDi Cab on a 60 mile trip before I knuckled down to get the job done. 

Also worried myself I was in competition with Tim at Autocar who’s declared he is determined to achieve a long term 50mpg+ with his Passat CC. Gets upset when other staffers borrow it and don’t indulge in the same wholly laudable but entirely unrepresentative behaviour of someone buying a £25-30k car. Anyhow - 19mpg in the SLK 200 (!) but real stop-start stuff (mainly stop). 

And the star? 60mpg by Audi A3 TDi Cab driving north to south London with a 7am start. All verified by manufacturer “trip computers” and lazy plater. Maybe deduct 10%.

Remember “turbo lag”? I have enough distinctive provenance - ok, old enough - to remember when turbos were the real bad boy “Q” cars: BMW 2002 Turbo, Saab 99 Turbo and Mitsubishi Lancer Turbo. Now one of these didn’t have a reversed “obrut” announcement on it’s front spoiler for super awesome DRG (“down the road graphic”) in the rear view mirror – and if you don’t know which one you’re not coming in…Anyway ‘70’s right back in my face with a Zafira 1.9 CDTi – to be fair old shape and auto but I had a few “moments” with it and had to recalibrate brain to advance 2 seconds to avoid “advisory” gestures from fellow motorists. Also another strangely “physical” car - steering and gear selector – odd for a yummy mummy motor (disclaimer: I am actually not sexist or indeed anything “ist”. Oh, apart from idiotist…).

Nice to go to a car with no personal “baggage”: Kia Sportage. OK the name is rubbish and I bet dealers call it “Sportidge” a bit like Evoque begat “Evoke”. Anyway no previous with Kia at all and – genuinely – no preconceptions so pleasantly surprised with decent – laggy – turbo diesel, slick shifter… and good a/c and stereo (plater musts…). Slightly curious that both Kia and Zafira were given approving exhalations by badge oblivious ladies. But then I am someone who nearly sold a pink Griffith to a very nice but self confessed colour blind chap ‘til the wife turned up. To be fair that was the selfsame car that a gentleman – standing outside a comely tavern, lager in hand – advised me from a hundred yards that I was, arguably, a “f***ing poof”. Really.

In sum, a largely uninspiring microcosm of a trade that – to be fair – pretends to be nothing other. But, on the other hand, can you imagine a job that makes you want to humbly request- indeed beg for - the keys to your Mum’s Micra?

*Plater - self employed guys armed with "trade plates" that enable them to collect and deliver cars from one place of business to another to grease the wheels of the UK motor trade. Open to all ages, typically from 23-70 the job specification requires a full UK licence (no more than 6 points), a reasonable command of the Queen's English spoken and written, the ability to loosely hang a tie round your neck and a clean - self funded - CRB if you manage to last two months.
Many thanks to Mike.  You'll find his previous column here