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.