Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Cool Wall Fridge Magnets (2)

Now had a chance to put my Top Gear Cool Wall fridge magnets up.

In my 'Sub-Zero' category, I've got the Aston Martin V8 Roadster, the Alfa Spider, the Alfa 8C, the Skoda Roomster, the Porsche Cayman and the Ford Focus ST.

There are magnets for the presenters as well in the TG set. I'm afraid that while Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and May are all brilliant at what they do, they are all in the 'Uncool' category on my fridge door. That's because they're all white middle-class, middle-aged men who are obsessed with cars - there's no way anyone who falls into this category (and I'd include myself in this) can regarded as cool. The mysterious Stig? Now that's a different matter - his magnet is in the 'Sub-Zero' section.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Top Gear magazine - 'Cool Wall' fridge magnets!

I'm a big fan of Top Gear the TV programme but I don't often read Top Gear magazine. The August issue is well worth buying, though, because it comes with a set of fridge magnets that allow you to set up your own version of the famous 'Cool Wall'; hours of innocent fun, I'm sure!

Haven't set mine up yet, but I think I agree with the TG assessment that the Aston Vantage is sub-zero.

Great spots 7 - hybrid Ikea company car

A month or two back, Ikea made a bit of a splash in the national press when it announced that it was switching its fleet of company cars from diesels to hybrids.

I spotted one of these recently in the car park at Ikea's store near Leeds - interestingly enough, it's a Honda, rather than the more common Toyota Prius.

I heard a whisper that IKEA's fleet only contains about a dozen cars, so perhaps the impact of this move is going to be limited. However, I did notice that IKEA has switched almost all of the light bulbs on sale in its stores over to the long-life energy-saving type, so perhaps this is more than just corporate greenwash.

Road tips 6 - A170 Sutton Bank

I'm not sure whether the tip should be to avoid Sutton Bank, a steep and winding section of the A170 near Thirsk, like the plague, or to make a point of seeking it out.

One thing's for sure; it's one of the most distinctive features on the UK primary road network, although I don't believe it is actually, as is sometimes claimed, the steepest UK 'A' road. It nevertheless has a fearsome reputation. HGVs regularly get stuck and caravans are banned completely.

I recently drove up Sutton Bank for the first time in a few years when traveling to North Yorkshire for the Verdict test of the Land Rover Freelander 2. I have to admit, this time around, it didn't seem anything like as hairy or dramatic as I remembered it - put that down to the torque of the Freelander's diesel, I suppose - but it's still an enjoyable drive, especially if you can get a clear run unobstructed by slow traffic. Great views from the top of Sutton Bank, as well.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

What's outside today 12 - Chevrolet Captiva

Going back today. A sound, even pleasant, machine but I can't help thinking that the advertising message - 'premium SUV without the premium' - doesn't really strike the right note.

Our test car was the pricey top-of-the-range model but it didn't have the polish of the Freelander 2 that was on the Verdict recently. Going on about it being 'premium' (not sure I like the word anyway) rather draws attention to that, and away from the basics, which are actually done rather well. I'm not sure the renaming of Daewoo as Chevrolet really works either but that's another subject.

These specific grumbles apart though, and looking at the big picture, the Captiva is another piece of evidence for the growing strength of the Korean industry.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Anorak Corner 5 - colour scheme on the sat nav display of the Land Rover Freelander 2

When I entered the North Yorkshire National Park on Saturday, the background of the Freelander 2's sat-nav display turned from the usual light orangey-brown to a vivid shade of green.

Which is about right I think - the North Yorkshire National Park is very green indeed.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Ecologically sound fun at Brands Hatch!

A chance today to meet Lord Drayson at Brands Hatch to talk about his E85-powered Aston Martin DBRS9 racing car. More in the Indy soon, but this was a fascinating day capped by a few exhilarating laps of the GP course passengering Lord Drayson's professional co-driver, Jonny Cocker. I'm not really an expert on racing circuits, but Brands, with its swooping curves and cambers, strikes me as being one of the more exciting tracks around.

Probably the best evidence I've yet come across that big fun needn't mean a big carbon footprint.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

What's outside today 11 - Land Rover Freelander 2

This is the new Freelander. What's interesting is that this latest version looks very similar to the original, but is in fact much larger.

When I took it out for a short spin earlier on, I was surprised to discover that it sometimes feels more like the big Land Rovers such the Discovery and RR than a Toyota RAV-4 or Honda CR-V. That's because of the commanding high driving position (good) but also the difficulty of judging the position of the front nearside corner due to the car's surprising bulk (not so good).

My immediate thought was that this probably leaves room in the Land Rover range for a smaller soft-roader to slot in below the Freelander - occasionally there are rumours of plans for such a car in the motoring press.

I know Land Rover are facing an uncertain future at the moment but you have to admire the company's ability to come up with one hit model after another. I think the last new Landy that met with a less than rapturous response from journalists and the motoring public was the short-lived 2.0 litre four cylinder petrol version of the first Discovery. I never drove one but if I remember correctly it used the 'O' series engine and it was very slooooow. The Freelander 2 (our test car is the 2.2 litre diesel) is anything but.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

VXR8 update

Tried to get a booking for the Vauxhall VXR8 (Holden Monaro successor) this week - nothing doing at the moment, unfortunately! Not surprising, though, given that this must be the car everyone wants to get their hands on this summer.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Great spots 6 - Ssangyong Rodius

A couple of years ago there was a survey, I think carried out by an insurance company, that found the Ssangyong Rodius to be the ugliest car on sale in the UK. I spotted this one in my local Tesco car park, and I'd have to admit it's not a great looker, but on the other hand I don't think it's much worse than, say, the Mercedes R-class or the forthcoming Peugeot 308.

When we had the Rodius on the Verdict back in 2005, one of the readers who tried it rather memorably said that it looked as though someone had stuck a dormer window on the back, and this second shot shows precisely what he meant.

I'm one of the few people who's ever said anything remotely nice about the Rodius in print. It does have a fairly agreeable Mercedes-derived diesel engine and automatic gearbox, after all - and it's utterly enormous inside. I can imagine the Rodius being rather fun as a holiday vehicle for a big family carrying a lot of stuff. Our Verdict test car, like the Rodius shown here, had black paintwork and heavily tinted glass, a combination that tended to minimise the impact of the bodywork's awkward creases.