Why I’ve ruined 2019’s most exciting new car

IT’S A SLIGHTLY strange child who gives the Ford Puma pride of place on their bedroom wall, beside the Ferrari F355, Lamborghini Diablo and TVR Cerbera.But this isn’t just any old bedroom wall – it’s mine, circa 1996. I mention this curious gallery of petrolhead goodness, where even a Wannabe-era Geri Haliwell didn’t make an appearance because there were so many cars to peruse, since price, fuel economy, MPG and insurance groups didn’t matter one jot. A car just had to look great and have a certain panache about it, so a tiny Fiesta-based coupe which later developed a horrendous reputation for wheelarch rot made it up there.

But were I to have a pint-sized Simister nurturing a passion for cars I’m not sure any of today’s more affordable offerings would qualify for a few inches of bedroom wall real estate. I had a look through some of the new cars due to hit the showrooms later in 2019 and once you dip into the real world realms of cars that aren’t an Aston Martin Valkyrie or Aventador SVJ there’s an endless succession of anonymous crossovers. Even the Polestar 1 – which looks like a posh Volvo, because essentially it is one – is expected to cost upwards of £100,000

But there is one that I’m really, really looking forward to. The Honda Urban EV has a delightfully Ronseal name – it’s an electric city car made by the chaps who brought you the Jazz – but it’s so much more than that. When it struck a pose at the world’s motor shows about 18 months ago it made so many jaws drop that it was promptly named as 2018’s World Concept Car of the Year, and since then Honda has said that it’ll appear, virtually unchanged, in showrooms here as a fully-fledged production model.

Good. There are plenty of electric cars out there that’ll do everything you ask of them (which is why UK sales were up 69 per cent in 2018), but only the endearingly bonkers but utterly impractical Renault Twizy and the lovely-but-pricey Jaguar I-Pace have even registered on the Simister want-one radar. With the Urban EV there might be a third, because it looks like it’s escaped from the set of Ready Player One.

It has that reimagined Eighties look that’s so in vogue at the minute completely nailed; take the ‘H’ badge off it and I’d swear the chunky, bluff-fronted grille, round headlights, skinny window pillars and tight proportions screamed MkI Golf. In fact, I can just imagine the Urban EV with a red stripe around the edges of the grille and a GTI badge on the back! Inside it’s brave too – two benches instead of individual seats, and a huge, touch screen slab rather than a dashboard.

In fact, there’s only one problem – the Renault Wind, Toyota IQ and Nissan Cube were also uncompromisingly brave small cars that won me over, and none of them were exactly sales hits here. So I’ve essentially, if precedent for praising small cars in these pages is anything to go by, just given the Urban EV the kiss of death.

Sorry about that, Honda. I really hope I’m wrong this time!

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There’s one problem with dashcam clips – the people filming them

MY COPY of Ronin on DVD has gathered a bit more dust. The repeats of The Sweeney on ITV4 have missed out on another viewer. Everything but the omnipresent reruns of Top Gear on Dave have been given a miss in the long week between Christmas and New Year – because I’ve discovered dashcam videos on YouTube instead

Which is a shame, because as automotive action goes they’re almost always terrible. There is no Robert De Niro shooting at baddies from the sunroof of a Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 or Steve McQueen looking surly at the helm of a Mustang GT390 – but there is a clip of a chap in an MoT-expired BMW 318i driving the wrong way around a roundabout in Essex and brake-checking the film car because he’s having an industrial bout of road rage.

Then there are the Vauxhall Insignias that sweep across all three lanes of a busy M6 without looking, the dented Peugeots that pull out in front of cyclists and the near-misses on country lanes. A couple of years ago I wrote about how YouTube was overflowing with Russian dashcam clips and that it’d only be a few years before Britain followed suit. Well, now it has, but there’s a key difference between what passes for in-car terror in Moscow and automotive indignation in Maghull.

Watch the Made In Russia clips enough and you wouldn’t be surprised if the Lada in question was taken out by a freak meteorite or an angry farmer branding a Kalashnikov, but I reckon in at least half of the UK clips the driver doing the filming is at least partly responsible. Our not-entirely-thrilling car chase with the BMW started because the 3-series pulled out a junction – but rather than slowing down, the driver with the dashcam puts his foot down, gets dangerously close and then blasts his horn. What happened to just muttering under your breath that he’s a bit of an investment banker and getting on with it instead?

There are plenty of clips involving the camera car ploughing into a roundabout at 40mph and the driver screaming in pent-up rage because someone then pulls out in front of them – surely, you shouldn’t be doing that speed into them anyway? Same goes for all the ones involving a heavy dose of country lane ABS because there just happens to be a tractor on the other side of the bend. In the past you’d be lucky to escape the encounter with a light telling-off, but nowadays you can turn the tables and stick the entire episode on YouTube instead.

Read the comments and the vast majority of the wrong ‘uns get taken to task almost immediately, but I do genuinely wonder whether these clips – which are supposed to be sorting out insurance disputes, anyway – are making the problem worse, not better.

You could spend the £100 a half-decent dashcam costs making your own driving a bit better, but that won’t get you a thumbs up on YouTube. Or a thumbs down, for that matter.

My petrolhead New Year’s resolution for 2019

595A6064 psSPACE, Renault once reckoned in one its old ads for the Espace, is the ultimate luxury.

Nonsense. If the Mini Cooper, increasingly petite smartphones and Rutland – which manages to pack a lot of cracking roads, beautiful countryside and a rather impressive reservoir into England’s smallest county – are anything to go by you can squeeze rather a lot info a something that isn’t exactly abundant in it. In fact it’s time, especially in a Britain of 50mph average speed cameras and cities where anything slower than 5G on your mobile simply isn’t good enough, that’s been really precious throughout 2018.

And I haven’t spent nearly enough of it on my own cars, sulking at me in the garage. I’ve spent plenty of time looking at other people’s prized petrolhead possessions, having visited something in the region of 30 car shows over the past 12 months, but as a result my trusty Mazda Eunos Roadster has chalked up a pitiful 2500 miles in that time. Admittedly most of those were glorious afternoons exploring sun-kissed B-roads – the sort of thing MX-5s were invented for, then – but more often than not it’s been left at home because I’ve been off exploring a show some far-flung corner of Britain instead.

It’s the same story with the Classic Car Weekly Reliant Robin; admittedly it spent most of 2018 sulking at various garages while it was having its rotten undersides remedied, but in the time I’ve had it back it’s barely done 300 miles. Not because I don’t want to drive it – if anything, it’s a right giggle to run about it – but because I’ve invariably been off doing things that require something a bit more sensible than an 850cc three-wheeler. The MGB GT, meanwhile, decided to go on strike, eating through its battery and developing a fuel leak while being sat unloved.

So my New Year’s resolution is a simple one – I love going out and enjoying classic cars, but I really need to spend a bit more time messing about with the ones under my wing.

Including one I’m shopping around for and hoping to finally get behind the wheel of in early 2019. Watch this space…

So a supercharged 4×4 can outdrag a 30-year-old Audi. Excuse me while I look surprised

AS YOU read this week’s Champion two classic festive hits are thundering their way up the charts. With a bit of momentum behind them either Wham!’s lovable Yuletide ballad, Last Christmas, or Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You could finally snatch a UK number one – but I’d understand if Ariana Grande holds the top spot for yet another week.

Sorry for going all Top of the Pops on you, but at least you’ll understand if something released two or three decades ago doesn’t quite match the performance of something that’s brand new. It’s just a shame that Jeep, if its latest publicity stunt is anything to go by, clearly doesn’t.

It lined its Grand Cherokee Trackhawk – an off-roader packing a 710bhp, 6.2-litre V8 – up against a TVR Griffith and an Audi quattro in a quarter-mile drag and then stood back, trying not to look surprised, when the monster-engined SUV won. That’s right – a sports car introduced in the early Nineties and a coupe so old that Gene Hunt used one in Ashes to Ashes went up against a brand-new car with an enormous supercharged engine, and lost.

All of which is about as useful as sticking The Shard next to Liverpool Cathedral and declaring the showroom-fresh skyscraper as the tallest or pointing out that a shiny new iPhone can run rings around a Nokia 3210. Jeep freely admits it’s all a bit of Top Trumps-inspired fun, of course, but I suspect the real reason why it wasn’t put next to something a bit newer is because it would’ve been humiliated.

Had Jeep been able to haul out a can of whup-ass on something from the class of 2018 – an Audi RS6 Avant Performance, for instance – then I suspect the petrolheads in every pub from Crossens to Crosby would’ve sat up and taken notice. That was what made the original Range Rover Overfinch such a big hit – not only could it outrun a contemporary Golf GTI up the straights, but Mr Hot Hatch wouldn’t have been able to shake him off in the corners, either. There is something very lovable about big, chunky off-roaders being made to do daft things – and no, the new Cupra Ateca and Skoda Kodiaq vRS don’t count.

I like the vaguely bonkers premise of the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk – if not the £89,995 price tag – but what this test doesn’t tell you is what it’ll be like on a greasy British B-road. Which is where a proper performance car, like the quattro and Griffith are, really comes to life.

I can’t tell you who’ll bag this year’s Christmas number one but I can reveal, in news that’ll shock precisely no one, is that a 710bhp Jeep costing nearly ninety grand will outdrag a 30-year-old Audi away from the lights. Who knew?

Why I’m sad that the Manchester Classic Car Show is no more

IT’S the most wonderful time of the year. For wandering around exhibition halls looking at old cars, that is, because it’s too cold and miserable to be doing it outdoors.

The big one for anyone into Jaguar E-types, Triumph Stags and the like is the three-day show down at the NEC in Birmingham, but I’ve long advocated doing your homework, booking a budget flight and checking out the foreign ones, because there’s so many of them. A couple of years ago I had a great weekend wandering around Barcelona’s big classic show – and a bit of sightseeing, of course – because it was cheaper to hop on a big silver bird at John Lennon than it was to spend a weekend going to many of Britain’s bigger car shows. Paris’ Retromobile and the big German shows are just around the corner. Top tip if you’re looking for a Christmas present with a difference!

But I’m saddened this week that the North West’s entry in this big round-up of indoor shows is no more. Over the weekend the organisers of the Manchester Classic Car Show, held every September at Event City by the Trafford Centre, said it won’t be returning in 2019 due to rising costs. Or in “the foreseeable future” either, according to the organiser’s official statement. Which is a shame, because it was a proper, petrolhead day out that dialled down the hog roasts and live bands because it knew everyone wanted to look at Triumph Dolomites instead.

The frustrating thing was that, confronted with rising costs at Event City, the organisers had nowhere else to turn to, because no other venue in the North West can stage a big, indoor car show (neither Manchester Central nor the Echo Arena in Liverpool have that sort of floorspace, since you’re asking). Over in Germany virtually every city has a Messe – a trade fair, or in other words a massive indoor venue geared up to holding Crufts-sized mega-shows, so there are loads of options if you want to put on a car show. But in the UK you’ve got the NEC, ExCeL down in London’s Docklands, Event City – and that’s about it. Even rosy old Earl’s Court, which I loved going to as a kid, is under some swish new housing now.

Which is frustrating, because I know from the sheer volume of cars that turn up to the North West’s many outdoor shows that there’s an appetite for at least one decent indoor one, which we can all enjoy when it’s tipping it down with rain.

Maybe it’s time for a new venue altogether. Anyone got a disused aircraft hanger or an unfeasibly large warehouse going spare?

Why the Renault Captur made me learn to love buttons

BUTTONS. Until this week I didn’t realise how fundamentally important they are to my happy, wholesome life – but an outing in a Renault Captur changed all that.

Not only are buttons fairly important in keeping my shirts intact and preventing any unfortunate colleagues from being treated to an Austin Powers-esque helping of unwanted chest hair, they’ve also given their name to one of my favourite chocolate snacks. Buttons also provided the premise for the brilliantly barmy spacefaring children’s show Button Moon – admit it, you watched it too – and allow you to switch everything from calculators to Sony Playstations on and off.

But the Captur – and to be fair, just about every family hatchback on offer these days – doesn’t have nearly enough of them, because it relies on an infotainment system with a touchscreen to manage all the vaguely important stuff. Which is great when you want a screen with satnav directions built into it, but an utter nightmare when you’re trying to do anything remotely complicated.

I was in the passenger seat when a colleague asked me to switch off the Captur’s audible speed camera alert. Its occasional beep is a useful feature to have, but on a stretch of the M1 with a camera seemingly every three feet Radio 2 was being drowned out by what sounded like a drunk communicating in Morse code. Shutting it up should’ve been a simple task, but the Captur’s infotainment system is so complicated that I ended up buried in sub menus of sub menus, desperately tapping every option to stop the incessant beeping.

I opened the glovebox up to find an empty space where the owner’s manual would normally live; it later turned out this would’ve been useless anyway, because while a handbook deciphering the infotainment system’s various modes does exist it wouldn’t have been supplied with our car anyway.

So I ended up looking online, finding the Renault Captur Owners’ Club – no, really – and learning, after scrolling through many pages on its advice forum, the correct way of navigating the system’s labyrinth of options to turn the speed camera alerts off. Success, but it’d taken nearly 20 minutes and every ounce of my concentration to crack it. Had I’d been driving, I’d either be dead or somewhere near Dundee by now.

The other problem is that I have no problem with swiping through the touch screen on my smartphone because it isn’t attached to something that’s jolting its way down a badly surfaced motorway at 70mph. There are lots of different systems plumbed into all sorts of cars nowadays – I drove a Peugeot 308 last weekend for instance, which was fine – but the Captur’s controls made things surprisingly tricky. Not great on a car that has quite a choppy ride to begin with.

The Captur has many things to commend it, but most of all I applaud its ability to make me appreciate buttons. Buttons are underrated, and don’t take 20 minutes to work out. And anyway, can you imagine your kids watching Touchscreen Moon?

I would love the Alpine A110 to be European Car of the Year – but history is against it

ONLY in an age of boss of Nissan-Renault being under arrest, Volkswagen suggesting cable ties as a fix for broken seatbelts and a former Top Gear star vowing to quit TV for good if he wins I’m A Celebrity can European Car of the Year be considered a bit ho-hum.

The seven-strong shortlist was announced on Monday and – from what I could see, at least – seemed to barely register a faint blip on the nation’s motoring radar. Part of me likes to think it’s because fewer of us care what motoring experts in Sweden or Spain make of the continental car choices when we’re busy trying to order a Full English Brexit, but I suspect it’s got rather a lot more to do with history not being in their favour. The Renault 9, the 1982 victor which is all but forgotten now, being a prime example.

There are many, many examples of the 60-strong panel of motoring writers – proper, learned scholars of the profession who fuss over mid-range torque and intuitive infotainment systems in the same way I worry about MGs with dead batteries – getting it right. They called it right on the first Focus, a genuine game-changer among family hatchbacks, for instance, and the Rover P6 that won the contest’s very first outing is fondly remembered as a brilliant bit of British design. But every time I look back at the Peugeot 307 picking up the plaudits in 2002 or the me-too VW Polo beating the radical Toyota IQ to the top spot in 2010, I cringe a bit, because it just smacks of going for the best all-rounder rather than the one that genuinely moves the cause of the car forward.

This year’s contenders are – deep breath – the Alpine A110, Citroen’s C5 Aircross, Ford’s latest Focus, the Jaguar i-Pace, the Kia Cee’d, the Mercedes A-Class and Peugeot’s 508. I would love to see the 60-strong jury devour a crate of wine between them, throw all caution to the wind and go for the sports car, which is what they did 40 years ago when the Porsche 928 won. But I’m happy to bet that won’t happen (and I’ll happily write a column in The Champion eating my words if it does and the Alpine does a Leicester City).

If it were up to me it’d be the I-Pace strutting home with the silverware, because it’s an eco-friendly, on-message electric car that just happens to look and handle like a Jaguar should, and to hell with the fact you need the thick end of £60,000 to afford one. But it isn’t, so I reckon the smart money’s on either the Aircross or the 508, both of which are perfectly worthy but a bit forgettable.

Whatever happens, we’ll have to wait ‘til next March to find out the winner. In a TV special presented by Noel Edmonds, I’d imagine…

The future of motoring is not an electric SEAT scooter

MY FEET have, I reckon, just about recovered. The one thing that always sticks with me after seeing the 3000 cars at the Classic Motor Show every November are the blister plasters. It’s a brilliant show, but it takes a lot of walking to get around it all.

Happily, the boffins at SEAT have been working on a solution (which is weird, because I’ve been to Barcelona’s classic show, and it’s nowhere near as big as ours). Turn up to a big car event – or indeed, any supermarket, school fun day or any other outing that involves a long walk at the end – in one of their cars and you’ll be able to turn to their, ahem, “electric urban mobility solution”.

That’s how SEAT’s top team of engineers have put it, but in Layman’s English it’s a folding electric scooter. Which, as far as I can make out, brilliantly answers a question that nobody’s ever asked.

The eXS KickScooter, to give SEAT’s newest offering its full name, responds to what the Spanish carmaker reckons is a growing demand for people, fed up with being stuck in traffic jams, to ditch their Ibizas and Atecas and do the last mile of their journey on something else. Anything else. Yet surely, if it’s a single, measly mile, you’d just walk?

Aha! SEAT have already thought of that. The KickScooter can, on a full charge, actually crack closer to 25 miles, but if you were going to do the equivalent of Southport to Crosby and back, there’s no way you’re going to do it on anything that looks as ridiculous as this. You’d either do it in the car or, if traffic really were that consistently awful, on any number of Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki or Piaggio scooters designed from the off with that task in mind. Even if you lived in the busiest bits of Central London – which you don’t, because you’re a Champion reader – you’d give all this electric folding scooter stuff a steer, park up at Cockfosters and hop on the Piccadilly Line.

Happily, I realised there is a scenario where the eXS KickScooter makes perfect sense. I was in Edinburgh the other day and needed to get from one part of Scotland’s capital city to the other, minus the use of a car, and it was a long walk from the nearest bus stop. Here I’d have killed to get my hands on a SEAT scooter – because I’d left my car 300 miles away and got the train up instead.

So, it’s a motoring spin-off that only works if you don’t have a car. I’ll stick to the Leon Cupra and the occasional stroll, if you don’t mind…

The Reliant Robin isn’t technically a proper car – but I still love it

I’VE JUST got back from three days of exploring the national classic car show – where one question seemed to be asked more than any other. What’s it like driving a Reliant Robin?

Regular readers might remember earlier this year I snapped one up for £600, and promptly discovered that virtually all of it was broken. It’s taken several months of frustrating repairs to get the little three-wheeler up and running again, but now that it’s through the MoT I can finally reveal the answer.

Or rather, I was about to, but then the radiator decided to drop all of its coolant across a busy dual carriageway, prompting a tail-between-legs phone call to the fourth emergency service and a lengthy roadside repair. Then it needed a boxful of bits and a morning with a timing gun because it was richer than Donald Trump and coughing like Theresa May at a political party conference. So you probably get already that the Reliant Robin is a proper classic car – the sort that people enjoy tinkering with on a Sunday morning. Or in a layby at rush hour.

But then I – by which I mean the talented folk at the Reliant Owners’ Club – finally got my £600 three-wheeler to behave like a car and I could finally go for a proper drive. I’m now happy to report that it’s addictively good fun to buzz around in.

Anyone who’s seen a certain episode of Top Gear would be forgiven for thinking that every corner is a rollover-in-waiting but it just isn’t true. A Robin that’s set up properly will happily flick through roundabouts or through even quite tight bends perfectly happy, and is only going to throw you into a hedge if you really muck about it.

In fact, the bigger problem is Britain’s proliferation of potholes. You end up hitting them a third more of them than you would in a normal car, and if it’s the front wheel that hits one the ride’s particularly unpleasant. So you end up driving it constantly thinking about where the middle of the car is, which is strangely rewarding because it encourages you to really think about your driving to get the best out of it.

But it’s worth it because the steering – which only has the one wheel to control, of course – is light and nimble, the gearchange is wonderfully direct and the engine loves to rev. In fact, it’ll comfortably overtake things on a motorway at seventy, even if the 850cc lump next to your left knee is doing about a million RPM.

It might be noisy and have a habit of breaking down, but it’s a car that’s overflowing with character. Which makes it more than alright in my book.

The Porsche 911 makes no sense – and as a result makes complete sense

There have been many different 911s over the years - and none of them truly make sense

WHO remembers Cheesy Peas?

It was a fictional delicacy popularised on Nineties funny-fest The Fast Show – and, to my mind at least, shorthand for anything that sounds inherently wrong but actually ends up working unexpectedly well. Go on, admit it. Cheesy Peas sounds like a stomach-churning concept but I bet you’d happily wolf it down if it was served with sausage and chips after a cold November night out. It makes about as much sense as Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five being played over a fight scene in Deadpool 2 or Jeremy Clarkson being given Chris Tarrant’s old gig on Who Wants to be a Millionaire – yet all these baffling concepts somehow work.

The Porsche 911 is very Cheesy Peas. Any car nut who knows their stuff is educated from an early age that a sports car has its engine up the front, some wheelspin at the back and a driver grinning childishly somewhere in the middle, yet the chaps in Stuttgart decided to launch one with all the important gubbins at the rear. It’s all out of sync, yet in Porsche’s 70th anniversary year it went so far to refer to the 911 as “our icon” in its own business assessment.

Having now driven one for the first time, I have to agree. There have been all sorts of 911s over the years but the car I was entrusted with was a 1970 model, which represents a sweet spot between Porsche realising it’d cocked up the original car slightly but before it started adding turbos, four-wheel drive, wider bodywork and water-cooled engines into the mix. So it has a 2.2-litre flat six rather than the two-litre, and a slightly longer wheelbase to tame the original’s appetite for lift-off oversteer.

It is the oddest sports car experience, yet it really works. With no mechanicals weighing down the front wheels the steering feels super-light, yet it’s packed with feel, and while it’s a bit weird hearing a boxer engine fire up behind you, it’s hard to deny that it revs beautifully and pulls – sorry, pushes – really well. You also sit far too close to the windscreen, the steering and pedals are offset, the dashboard layout is a complete mess, and yet it all adds up to a package that’s weirdly addictive.

So I’m not even remotely surprised that for all the attempts to replace it with the 928 and decades-long process of little improvements that Porsche’s mainstay is still a car that has a boxer engine slug out miles between some barely usable rear seats. Sometimes things don’t have to make sense to be enjoyable, and long may it continue sticking two fingers up at motoring convention.

Stranger things have happened, after all. Cheesy Peas have been made into a Jamie Oliver-endorsed real-life recipe, for instance…