Thursday, 3 July 2008

What's outside today 45 - 1915 Ford Model T

Outside Ford's Dunton Technical Centre last weekend, that is. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Ford Model T and Ford offered us the chance to use it for the Verdict, albeit on private roads. This is the car with Ivan Bartholomeusz, one of the people who looks after Ford's UK Heritage Collection, which is kept in a big warehouse in Dagenham, rather than in a museum.

This car is a lot of fun, once you get used to the bizarre pedal arrangement shown below. The left-hand pedal engages first gear in the depressed position and second gear (there are only two forward gears) in the raised position. Between the two is neutral. The centre pedal is reverse, and the right-hand pedal is the footbrake. The lever is a transmission brake - when applied, it also puts the car into neutral. The throttle is operated by a stalk on the steering wheel, rather than any of the pedals. It sounds absolutely impossible, but it's not too difficult to grasp with a bit of practice.

One interesting fact I picked up from the chaps at Ford; while these cars are very old and exceptionally appealing, they are in fact not worth very much. Ford simply made too many of them for them to be particularly valuable.

Glorious Goodwood (II)

Just been looking at the Goodwood website and it appears that the Airbus A380, which is even bigger than the 747, will be making an appearance on the Saturday 'in low speed action'.

I just hope the display will be a bit more ambitious than that low-key description suggests.

Glorious Goodwood

Counting down the days until the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which starts at the end of next week. As usual, I'm looking forward to it enormously but this year I'm also feeling slightly nervous about the whole thing as I've invited one of my car-mad German friends to come along too; I've been telling him for years what a fantastic event this is and he's finally decided to take the plunge, so I'm really hoping it doesn't rain like last year, which could turn the whole thing into an enormous disappointment.

Just about everyone I've spoken to about the Festival of Speed has the same favourite memory as I do, which isn't strictly car-related at all; back in 2004, I think it was, the organisers lined up a South African Airways Boeing 747 to do an aerobatic display.

Exactly. That's what I'd have thought if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, but it is possible for a jumbo to put on a spectacular show, as the very capable crew of that SAA plane showed. I don't think they quite got it to loop the loop but more than once I was convinced the thing was going to fall out of the sky. I suspect that there may have been some complaints from the Earl of March's neighbours as I don't think the 747 has appeared at Goodwood since. I suppose it's too much to hope for a repeat performance this year!

Reinventing the wheelchair

Back in the saddle, or perhaps that should be back at the wheel, after a long busy period dealing with other stuff.

Lots of catching up to do but one thing I'd like to mention straight away is my small role in spreading the story of the revolutionary new Trekinetic wheelchair. I first encountered the wheelchair's appropriately named inventor, Mike Spindle, when he took part in the Verdict test a month or two back. We got chatting about his work and in particular the wheelchair; the chair itself is fascinating, but so is the story of its development. I thought it deserved a wider audience and when I outlined it to the powers-that-be at the Independent, they obviously agreed because they immediately commissioned me to get it into the paper. This appeared yesterday and you can read it online if you click the title link for this post.

I don't think I even began to do justice to the product, the designer or the story with all its twists and turns - that would have required a book, rather than a double-page feature - but I hope some of the flavour comes across.

The Trekinetic chair embodies a wide range of innovations but probably the most obvious of these is its 'monocoque' design in which the main components are attached to a very strong and stiff carbon fibre seat. Traditional wheelchairs, which haven't changed much since the thirties use a steel tubular frame with a canvas seat stretched across it. The change is analogous to that made by the car manufacturers when they abandoned separate chassis and bodywork in favour of lighter, stronger all-in-one body shells.

The functional advantages of the Trekinetic chair for wheelchair users are very clear, but what's difficult to get across to anyone who hasn't seen it in the metal, is that it is also an exceptionally beautiful object, especially in the recently introduced GT-3 version, which is optimised for street use and finished in white.

The other thing that is difficult to convey on the page is Mike Spindle's enthusiasm and his commitment to the project over the last eight years or so. If every British fifteen year old could hear Mike tell the story of how he developed the chair, we'd be a nation of engineers within a generation. That said, it's important not to underestimate the quality of what we've already got; Mike has a background in the highly successful UK Formula 1 industry (seems strange to refer to it as that, but that's what it is) and can source most of the work and parts he requires for his high-tech product here in the UK.

The Trekinetic website is at

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Honda's marvellous new diesel Accord

At last a chance to post after a busy few weeks.

In Austria at the launch of the new Honda Accord. As usual with Honda, while the car is pretty good, this is really all about engines. Just spent the afternoon trying the 2.2 litre diesel unit, which according to Honda is all, or nearly all new. It really is staggeringly good - it feels five or ten years ahead of most other four cylinder diesel engines out there. I'll be particularly interested to see how Subaru's new boxer diesel stacks up against it; that's turning up in the Legacy in a few weeks' time.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Terminal 5 - what's all the fuss?

Came through Terminal 5 today on my annual trip to the Techno-Classica classic car show in Essen and encountered none of the problems that have been so widely reported over the last two days - although I had checked in online in advance and was carrying only hand baggage, which probably helped. My flight to Duesseldorf was almost bang on time.

The new terminal itself is magnificent, although it does suffer from the usual BAA problem that the vast, lavishly appointed retail outlets take precedence over the operational side of the airport; even with the relatively low traffic levels going through T5 at the moment, the wait at security was fairly long.

On the plus side, the vast glass frontage gives a great view of the airport and plane movements from the main section of the terminal, and the overall tone is very classy - budget conscious families looking for something cheap, quick and straightforward to eat are going to be disappointed. KFC, BK and McD appear to be completely absent at the moment; I reckon they'll be in within a year when some of the fancy shops don't make it.

BAA probably deserves to be broken up and I find BA's smug, complacent style deeply annoying but I have to say that today, the two companies combined, against all the odds, to give me one of my best flying experiences in recent memory.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

What's outside today 44 - Vauxhall VXR8

Tear-stained hankies today when the man from Vauxhall came to take this one away - it's brilliant.

The VXR8 is the successor to the much-loved Vauxhall Monaro, and like the Monaro, it's really an Australian Holden, in this case the sportiest version of the latest Commodore.

This car is aimed at BMW's M cars, Mercedes AMG models, the RS Audis and the 'R' Jaguars but it's a lot cheaper and a lot less intimidating - you can just get in and drive the thing.

Much of the VXR8's appeal derives from this, its 6.0 litre Corvette-derived V8 engine; you might expect this to be a slow-revving, lazy affair, but it's actually quite zingy. The same goes for the automatic transmission fitted to our test car which was a quick-shifting six speeder, rather than a slushy, slurry four-speeder of the sort usually associated with US cars.

I haven't driven any of the less powerful Australian Commodores, but the VXR8 is so good, I wonder whether Vauxhall has considered bringing these cars over as a delayed replacement for the Senators and Omegas that were so popular with users such as the police.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

What's outside today 43 - Mercedes R280 CDI

Actually, this has just gone back, but I forgot to take the usual shots of it outside my house. I have to admit, my previously negative feelings towards this rather oddball car have mellowed a bit, but I still have difficulty seeing who would actually buy one.

A lot of good kit under the rather unusual styling - in particular the V6 diesel engine and the Mercedes seven-speed automatic transmission.

What's outside today 42 - Subaru Impreza WRX STI

This is a good car coveted by bad people, so I'd better be a bit circumspect about locations and dates - these were taken a few days ago outside a budget chain hotel in the South of England.

Of course the STI is faster than the 1.5R we tested a few weeks ago, but the family resemblance is unmistakable, despite the vast difference in power and the STI's body mods.

The STI is surprisingly docile when driven gently and it isn't noisy or harsh at all.

The interior isn't much fancier than that of the 1.5R, but that's because all of the money has been spent under the bonnet, as this shot shows.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

What's outside today 41 - Mercedes C Class estate

Actually, this one went back today.

It's the new estate version of the latest C Class - the C220CDI Sport estate automatic, to be precise. Normally I'm not a fan of bodykits, but this AMG effort works pretty well - although I'm not convinced that switching the Mercedes star from the traditional location on the top of the bonnet to the middle of the grille is a great idea.

In the past, the idea of fast bodywork like this on a humble 220 diesel Mercedes would have been a bit of a joke, but this one really is fast enought to live up to the looks.

Overall this is a good effort, but I wish Mercedes could get back to producing the classy sorts of interiors it offered in the past. This is an area in which the company has lagged behind in the last few years - it's getting better again but the problem is that the competition isn't standing still.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

BMW MINI v Fiat 500 - some more thoughts

I've now had a chance to drive the 500 and I was pleasantly surprised, although I think the MINI will still be the driver's choice among the retro small cars if only because of the availability of the sporty Cooper and Cooper S versions which don't (yet) have any direct counterparts in the 500 range. Did someone mention the word Abarth?

On the other hand, for some time to come, it's the rarer 500 that's going to be getting the admiring glances. But the Fiat's strong suit is this; at the moment, the 500 is at least as cool as the MINI but it's much cheaper. In price terms, the 500 range tops out at about the same level as the cheapest stripped out MINI One without essential options such as air con. Against that, of course, though, the MINI has a fantastic depreciation performance and very good multi-year servicing packages.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

What's outside today 40 - Fiat 500

Excellent service from Fiat's press department, which got this to me this morning after I contacted them about a booking for the 500 on Monday afternoon. Normally, our press car bookings involve a lead time of several weeks, so Fiat's performance was especially impressive given that the 500 is one of those cars everyone is trying to get their hands on at the moment. Although I'm quite booked up at the moment, I thought I'd better grab the chance to slot this one in when I could.

I haven't had a chance to drive this yet, but I'm sure that looks alone are going to carry the reinvented 500 a long way.

In styling terms, it's much more convincing than some other retro efforts such as the VW New Beetle and Chrysler PT Cruiser - in particular, Fiat has done well to keep the proportions and general look of the original 500 when the new car has a front-mounted engine instead of the rear engine of the old car.

Of course, the car Fiat will be hoping to emulate with the 500 isn't the New Beetle but the BMW MINI - that will be a tougher nut to crack but I think Fiat may be able to do it if the dealer back-up and so on is as good as the car.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Ken changes his mind - again?

Ken Livingstone has confirmed that the London Congestion Charge will in future exempt cars emitting less than 120g/km of C02. Although this is in line with the original thinking for revising the scheme, most recent reports had suggested that the proposed exemption would be dropped because of the large numbers of cars that were expected to sneak in under the limit.

Lots of the car-makers have put out press releases trumpeting which models in their ranges will be exempt. Renault claims that 31 models in its range will be CC free. Apart from Lexus' hybrids, which continue to enjoy the exemption as well, I think the classiest car to slip through is BMW's 118d - not the last word in prestige and luxury, but hardly the sort of hair-shirted economy motor Ken probably had in mind when he first thought of the exemption either.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Anorak Corner 9 - horsepower: metric and imperial

A minor change to the layout of the Verdict means a few more pieces of data are now being included in the small specification table that appears at the top of the test. For example, we are now listing each test car's power output, and the chosen measure is imperial bhp (brake horsepower) rather than the very similar metric horsepower, usually referred to as DIN PS = Deutsches Institut für Normung (the relevant German standards body) and Pferdestaerke (German for horsepower). Where the manufacturer issues a figure in terms of PS, we are turning into an imperial bhp number by applying the relevant conversion factor.

Lots of carmakers like to use DIN PS because it looks impressively techy and German, but the irony is that in Germany itself, in advertising material and so on, the PS measure has now almost completely died out. Power outputs are now normally given in terms of kW (kilowatts), and the PS figure can only be shown in brackets after the main kW figure.

Friday, 8 February 2008

What's outside today 39 - Subaru Impreza 1.5R

This is the new Subaru Impreza - not the nutty 300 horsepower WRX STI variant, although that will be turning up before too long as well - but the basic 1.5 litre version.

Now I may end up changing my mind about this once I get my hands on the WRX STI, but at the moment, I'm in what I'm sure is the minority in thinking that this is probably the more interesting car. The WRX STI is a performance bargain at £24,995 but what about the 1.5R, which comes in at only half of that, £12,495?

Of course, it doesn't have the outright power of the WRX STI, but it still has the same all-wheel drive system and boxer engine layout as well as lots of standard equipment.

Oh - and I've said it before - white is back. I know the new Impreza has had a bit of stick for its styling but I actually quite like it, especially in white.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Aston Martin linking up with Mercedes?

Yesterday's Financial Times Deutschland reports that Aston Martin is exploring a possible cooperation with Mercedes, with engines being the most likely area for any joint efforts. I must say my initial reaction was that this is a bizarre and unlikely pairing but I suppose it does make some sort of sense. Aston is still relying, I believe, on dedicated cells or facilities within Ford plants for its engines (at Cologne of all places, for at least some of them, I think); I suppose this would allow it to break free from that arrangement.

Perhaps Aston engine production could even be repatriated to the UK if Mercedes' specialised racing engine operations here could be used, although I've no idea whether they are remotely suitable for the purpose.

Once again, proof that it's worth monitoring the German press for motor industry news that can sometimes escape the attention of UK publications.

Anorak corner 8 - Kia cee'd indicator stalk

This is the indicator stalk of the Kia cee'd SW I was testing recently. The hatchback version of the cee'd that appeared on the Verdict last year had a right-hand indicator stalk. Now, as the photos shows, it has migrated to the left.

In fact I think this is the second or third change since I first tried a pre-production cee'd at the original launch in late 2006, I believe it was. Although I think there's much to be said for a right-hand stalk on an RHD car, I hope Kia's now finally made up its mind!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Blast from the past 11 - Fiat 500

The proper Fiat 500, that is, not the 2008 model. Spotted this on a trailer in Surrey when I was down there a week or two back for the Verdict test of the Kia Picanto.

I think Fiat has captured the spirit of the original very well with the new car but we're still no nearer knowing which precedent for retro models it will follow; will it be a flash in the pan like the New Beetle, or will it endure like the BMW Mini? I hope it succeeds, but it depends quite a lot on boring stuff like resale values and customer service, as well as the buzz generated by the new 500's excellent styling. This is a great chance for Fiat to build its market position - let's hope it doesn't mess it up.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

What's outside today 38 - Kia cee'd SW

This is the Kia cee'd SW - a welcome visitor to my drive, although it did overstay that welcome slightly when there was a glitch in the arrangements for returning it to Kia.

Just in case you thought Kia's very busy Department for Silly Names hadn't got its hands on this one, perhaps I should mention that in some countries, this estate version of the cee'd isn't called the SW but the Sporty Wagon. Actually, the more I think about the name Sporty Wagon the more I like it - it just sounds so cheerful.

Anyway, I'm a fan of the cee'd and in particular the value for money it offers and the SW has done nothing to dent my enthusiasm for it, offering, as it does, generous rear seat room and luggage space.

This test car has a petrol engine, but the sweet 1.6 diesel that's available is better; I notice Kia still has a special offer that means you can get a diesel cee'd for the same price as the equivalent petrol model. That deal's a steal.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Overfinch - still going strong, apparently

Years ago, Overfinch used to produce drastically modified versions of the original Range Rover. If I remember correctly, a typical change involved the replacement of Rover's own Buick-derived 3.5 litre V8 engine with a 5.7 litre small-block GM V8 combined with suitably uprated brakes and suspension. These cars cropped up regularly in Autocar and other motoring mags where they got a lot of favourable coverage.

I hadn't noticed any reporting on Overfinch for ages, and to the extent that I thought about it at all, I'd assumed that the Overfinch concept had probably been overtaken by Land Rover's policy of producing its own performance derivatives of the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models.

So I was interested to see that Overfinch still seems to be in business, a fact I discovered when I popped into Tesco near Farnham during my recent Verdict testing with readers in Surrey for the Kia Picanto, and discovered the company's smart modern office next door.

Perhaps there's a way of getting our hands on one of these for the Verdict. We shall see.

What's outside today 37 - Vauxhall Antara

This is Vauxhall's newish SUV, the Antara. It looks remarkably similar to the Chevrolet Captiva which is hardly surprising given that they are more or less the same car.

Unlike the Captiva we tested for the Verdict last year, this car has a diesel engine, a much better choice for a heavy 4x4.

Where the Antara disappoints a bit, perhaps because it tries a bit too hard, is with its interior; our top-end SE spec test car was fitted with lashings of leather and wood which didn't quite come off - looked a bit over the top IMHO. I suspect the less expensive versions may actually have nicer interiors.

The Antara isn't bad to drive though - flat, fairly car-like handling and a high driving position make for a relaxing drive on long journeys.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

What's outside today 36 - Kia Picanto Ice

Actually, this went back yesterday but I've only just had a chance to post these pics.

I'm not sure the facelift the Picanto recently underwent did its looks any favours but apart from that I was pretty impressed.

What's best about the Picanto is that it offers four doors, lots of equipment and enough space, at a pinch, for four adults. That's pretty remarkable when you consider it's a whole class - at least in terms of price - below mainstream European cars such as the Polo and Clio.

It's not a bad drive either - more evidence that Kia is on the up.

Monday, 28 January 2008

That explains a lot

Today's FT has an interview with Jaguar's design boss Ian Callum about the prospect of the company being taken over by the Indian group Tata. While he is not particularly critical of Jaguar's current owner, Ford, he does let slip a real gem:

"Offering a rare insight into events at the British luxury carmaker following its purchase by Ford for $1.4bn in 1989, Mr Callum indicated that there had frequently been tensions in the relationship. He disclosed that, in spite of Jaguar management denials at the time, the X-Type small Jaguar – sales of which have fallen far below expectations – was essentially designed in Detroit and presented as close to a fait accompli to reluctant designers and engineers at Jaguar’s Whitley design centre, near the Midlands city of Coventry."

It will be interesting to see what happens to the X-Type once the links to Ford have been cut. It's no secret that sales have been far lower than the company had originally hoped for but I recall reading that the X-Type's financial numbers don't look anything like as bad as they used to now capacity utilisation at the Halewood plant is much higher following the decision to switch Freelander production there with the introduction of the latest model.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

What's outside today 35 - Volvo C30 F

This one went back today. It's the bioethanol-capable version of the C30 - it uses the same 1.8 litre engine as the Ford Fusion FFV that featured on the Verdict last autumn. The fuel itself is called E85 because it's 85% bioethanol and 15% petrol (the petrol is required for cold starting in northern Europe, apparently).

I had a chance to do the standard C30 about a year ago and I think its a fairly nice machine - and a good-looking one as well. I have to say I'm a bit surprised there aren't more on the roads, although pricing that's a little bit on the high side may be holding it back.

Unusual colour scheme - it's a sort of off-white pearlescent paint. More evidence, I suppose that the manufacturers are trying to find, if not the new black, then the new silver metallic.

Anyway, I've been testing and reporting on E85 capable cars since they first appeared in the UK about two and a half years ago and progress has been painfully slow - the car manufacturers and the supermarkets are often held up as the bad guys when it comes to environmental matters but in this case they've done their bit by making the cars and the fuel available. It's the government that's let the side down by not providing bigger tax incentives for renewable fuels, along with us, the car-buying public, for not buying the cars or the E85.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Saturn - what planet is GM living on?

An interesting report today by the UK Newspress service from the Detroit motor show about the GM Saturn brand. Apparently, GM has decided that Saturn is now going to be its 'green' brand, and launched three eco-friendly models at the show.

Two of these cars are supposedly environmentally friendly versions of a clumpy SUV called the Vue, which looks suspiciously like the Chevrolet Captiva and Vauxhall Antara to me. One is a hybrid due to appear late this year, and the other is a plug-in hybrid that's expected to appear in 2010.

That's all very well as far as it goes, but why doesn't GM just make a bit of an effort to get its US buyers off SUVs and US-market bloatmobiles and into something a bit more like its much more fuel efficient (and much better) European cars. A more fundamental objection is this; if we're going to crack climate change, I think GM needs to do a bit more than just offer greenery (or what passes for it) as a bit of a gimmick for one of its smaller brands - it really needs to do something across its whole operations.

Anyway, I find all this chopping and changing when it comes to the Saturn brand a bit depressing. I can remember following closely what GM did with Saturn from the time it was founded as the group's sixth North American brand (next to Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac) in 1985, through to the launch of the first Saturn car in 1990. It was a fascinating story; at the beginning, Saturn was kept entirely separate from the rest of GM, and had its own plants and models. The idea was to get out from under the burden of legacy plants and practices and reproduce some of the conditions that allowed the Japanese 'transplant' factories built on greenfield sites to flourish. At least in the early years, GM's efforts and the products themselves got a fairly good press but Saturn has never, apparently, been that successful in financial terms, which is no doubt why it has lost much of its independence in the last few years, and AFAICT, its cars no longer seem to be produced in separate plants.

Monday, 14 January 2008

RIP The Independent's motoring section - long live The Independent's motoring coverage

Tomorrow is the first Tuesday in many years that no motoring supplement will appear with The Independent. The good news is that in future, you will still be able to read some of the regular long-running motoring features at the weekend; the Verdict will be published as part of the Save & Spend section in the Saturday paper while other favourites such as the great John Simister's road tests and launch coverage will appear in the Independent on Sunday.

What will be lost are the Indy's one-off motoring features, often on off-beat subjects, which gave the section its quirky, distinctive character. Over the years, a number of big-name writers were persuaded to write for the motoring section, including the late, great, LJK Setright, Alexei Sayle and Brian Sewell. The Independent's coverage of the motoring scene was also well regarded by our colleagues in the motoring press. These achievements are all the more remarkable when you consider that Sean O'Grady and Carl Reader, who edited the section during its four-year life, had to get by on an editorial budget that was probably only a fraction of the size of those enjoyed by rival publications.

I will be doing my best to ensure that the Verdict continues to justify its presence in the paper by, in particular, upholding the test's two greatest strengths - the wide range of vehicles tested and the enormous lengths we go to to involve readers from every corner of the country, an effort that is probably unmatched anywhere else in the overwhelmingly London-centric national press.

Tata's 1 lakh car

Tata's new cheap car caused a bit of a stir last week. It was originally touted as the first 1 lakh car, a slightly obscure description for an international audience (1 lakh is an Indian counting unit of 100,000 and this is a reference to the car's target price in local currency), so at the launch it was described as the Nano, which I think is a pretty good name if Tata can secure the rights to use it in its main markets.

In its press releases, Tata also referred to its new baby as the People's Car and said that it was part of a 'blitzkrieg' of new product announcements. I assume this unfortunate echo of Nazi language is unintentional, although if the Nano does as well as the Beetle, I'm sure Tata will be very happy.

Anyway, to the car itself - I haven't driven it and I haven't even seen it in the metal but I like what I've been able to find out about the Nano very much. A few observations. The Nano's mechanical layout - a small rear-mounted engine in a five-door hatchback body - is broadly similar to that of Mitsubishi's 'i' car, and the Smart For Two, two of the more interesting small cars on the market today. The other thing I found interesting about the Nano is that it is recognisable as what you might call a 'complete car'. By that I mean that every element that anyone would consider essential in a proper car is present, even if in pared down form. The Nano has four road wheels, a steering wheel, and space for a full complement of passengers. I had feared that in its efforts to cut costs, Tata might have been forced to produce, say, a three-wheeler or something with motorbike-style handlebars, or without full bodywork.

Although it doesn't seem to be everyone's cup of tea, I also quite like the Nano's styling, which, at the rear, is similar to that of Tata's larger Indica, the car that was briefly sold in the UK in modified form as the City Rover. That was sneered at by some reviewers because it had a few rough edges by western standards, and Rover probably pitched its price a bit too high, but its industrial significance - that Tata was capable of producing a car that was broadly competitive in international markets - was completely underestimated.

I'll be very interested to see whether Tata really can deliver the car for INR1 lakh, which, according to my calculations, is almost exactly £1,300. From the coverage I've seen, Tata seems to be conceding that this is the target for a very stripped down version (something like the red car in the second photo above with unpainted bumpers), but nevertheless, the Nano is still going to be a lot cheaper even than other bare-bones specials aimed at developing countries, such as the Renault/Dacia Logan or the Fiat Palio.

There seems to be a certain amount of angst out there about the prospect of large numbers of Nanos flooding onto the roads in the hands of India's growing middle class, and the consequences that may have for climate change. I have to say I don't particularly share that concern; I think it's just impossible - as well as wrong - to insist that Indians shouldn't be allowed to get onto the lowest rung of the motoring ladder when we ourselves in the west drive far heavier and thirstier cars. A better idea might be to ask whether our big, heavy European motors shouldn't look a bit more like the Nano. Most of the car journeys we make on this small and crowded island are short and are undertaken at fairly low speeds - a suitably adapted Nano would probably be able to do the job in the overwhelming majority of cases.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

What's outside today 34 - Skoda Fabia

This is a bit of a cheat - the Fab, as I like to call it, was actually a visitor to my drive shortly before Christmas but I've had a lot of non-car stuff to deal with lately, so I've only just got around to posting this.

Liked this one quite a bit - it's very big inside and very easy to get in and out of for a small car. The other thing I liked about this particular car was its three cylinder diesel engine. Not everyone likes the slightly raggedy beat these engines have but I'm a fan.

One or two things I wasn't so keen on where our particular test car was concerned. The rather drab green metallic paint didn't really show off the Fabia's styling to its best advantage - this model looks a lot better in lighter and brighter colours as these show up, for example, the black roof pillars better. Also, the mid-level '2' trim on the test car features a lot of light grey plastic; the cheaper '1' and more expensive '3' have an all dark-grey set-up that is a lot more tasteful.

The only real drawback of the Fabia, though, as I mentioned in my piece for The Verdict is that the larger Octavia - also an attractive car - is not much more expensive.