News

Motoring News

Toyota reckons the future of driving is a box on wheels – and that’s a good thing

The Toyota e-Pallette is quite literally a box on wheels - and a possible vision of our motoring future

TOYOTA seems to have forgotten that it’s a carmaker. Or at least that’s the impression you’d be entirely right for getting if its latest offering is anything to go by.

Just when I was readying myself to find out what it’ll be unveiling at this week’s Detroit Motor Show – a successor to the Supra, perhaps, or a long overdue rework of the C-HR’s rear end – it turns out that it’s gone to the Consumer Electronics Show instead, which is a sort of American tech-fest where everyone excitedly looks at laptops and smartphones.

Obviously it couldn’t unveil a car because that’s old hat, 20th century tech – a box on wheels, if you like. So the world’s biggest automotive giant decided to unveil just that. A box on wheels. And Toyota will thank me for calling it that.

The e-Pallette might look like something you’d attack with an Allan key after a weekend visit to IKEA but that’s exactly the point; it’s meant to be empty, and already there are various big names who are touting this autonomous cube as ideal tools for their business. Amazon likes it because it can be used as an autonomous delivery drone, and Pizza Hut reckon you could fill it up with chefs and ovens and dispatch it to wherever there’s a party packed with peckish students. Uber reckon it’ll take off because you can pack it with people (and not have to pay a driver to take them anywhere), and if you stretch the wheelbase it can even perform the sort of work long-distance lorry drivers are paid to do.

But whether I sign up as a fan depends entirely on whether it can fitted with a towbar, should it ever make production. Toyota has touted the idea of the e-Pallette being used as a hotel room on wheels too, but I’d be much more interested in sticking my MGB GT on a trailer, hitching it to the back and then using it as a sort of autonomous motorhome that transports me and my wheels on petrolhead holidays.

I’d love the idea of taking my pride and joy to, say, the Scottish Highlands without having to spend the first day of my holiday resting because driving up there in a 45-year-old sports car is so tiring. Or opening the door of my autonomously-driven luxury suite to discover I’m in the Alps or some sun-drenched bit of Spain or Italy. I love driving, but I’m sure even the most ardent petrolhead would happily let a machine take care of the M6 on a congested Friday night.

Toyota might actually be onto something with a car that’s a glorified box on wheels. The challenge now is to make sure we’re still allowed to drive all those wonderful cars that aren’t.

Advertisements

RoboRace needs one thing – some human competition

Roborace is a new series for autonomous racing cars - no drivers required!

UNLESS you were fed oversteer with your alphabetti spaghetti from an early age it’s very hard to make it as a professional racing driver.

There are exceptions to the rule but generally to make the grade in top flight motor sport you need to have a sizeable amount of raw talent, a proven track record of working your way up through increasingly scary single-seaters, total fearlessness about losing it on a slippery right-hander and a considerable amount of cash – and even then you might get a politely worded letter of rejection from Sauber.

But it’s going to be even harder with the latest racing series that’s being launched, because it’s so tech-savvy that it dispenses with those pesky human drivers entirely.

I suppose RoboRace was inevitable in an age where you can do your shopping by drone and Donald Trump is forever contemplating ordering a nuclear launch from one of his golf courses. The series has a very cool name and vehicles that can crack 200mph but there won’t be any split-second decisions on whether to take the racing line through chicanes.  It’s not even a remote control affair; all the racing will be done on engineers’ laptops beforehand, programming the cars to strut their stuff autonomously.

The tech itself is a smart move. Back in the 1950s Jaguar made a big deal about its Le Mans-proven disc brakes filtering down to its XK150s and Mk2s and it’s the same story here; if the future of driving really is autonomous, then surely having it honed in the white heat of motor sport is a good idea? I know the Government’s very keen on self-driving cars, but there are still all sorts of logistical headaches to clear up, and sorting it on a race track is safer (and more fun) than doing it on the M57.

But what I’d like to see isn’t a load of autonomous cars racing each other; it’s man versus machine, which is surely what all motor sport is about in the first place. Who wants to see a load of glorified laptops dancing around one another when they can watch one robo-racer set a time around a circuit or up a hillclimb, and then see if any of their human-operated counterparts can beat it?

I bet most kids in a Honda Type-R reckon they could kick a robot’s arse at a track day – and in doing so, they’ll be helping to improve the future of driving for the rest of us. Bring it on.

The new London black cab has an unlikely rival for your cash this Christmas

The new TX black cab uses hybrid technology to cut down on emissions

IT NORMALLY happens somewhere between Wham! and Shakin’ Stevens at the office Christmas do. It’s way past your bedtime, you’ve visited the free bar once too many, and you’re about to regale your boss with that story about how you snuck into the stationary cupboard and did something that’d land you with a police caution anywhere else. In other words, it’s time to fall into a taxi for the ride home.

But it’s almost certain – unless you’ve got an employer generous enough to whisk you down to the capital for your night out – that it won’t be the new TX black cab. It’s a lot smoother and quieter than the old TX4 taxi it’s replacing, and there’s fancy Volvo-sourced switchgear to enjoy, but it’s unlikely to make it anywhere north of the M25 for at least another six months. It’s also unlikely to win many taxi-driving friends up here for the same reason most of us think a three-bed house in London is a stupid idea; it costs an eyewatering amount of money.

£55,000, to be exact. To be fair the new taxi does come with some sophisticated electric motors and a Volvo engine as a range extender, none of which comes cheap, but it’s hard to imagine the fine taxi-faring folk of the North West forking out the price of a Range Rover Velar for something to replace their 08-reg Ford Focus Estate.

Happily, there is an alternative. If you really do want to do the falling into the back of a taxi while slightly hammered after a Christmas party thing properly – and there’ll be opportunities aplenty over the next few weeks – why not persuade a mate to buy the outgoing London Taxi for a laugh?

They are, as it turns out, ridiculously cheap if you know where to look. Go hunting for one – and it doesn’t really matter if it’s the original TX1 or the much later TX4, because if you’re a festive and mildly sloshed partygoer they’ll feel exactly the same – and prices start from just £800 for something a bit battered, and from nearer £1500 for one with some life left in it. And – as Top Gear viewers might remember from an episode earlier this year – these things can hack just about anything.

If you need a roomy diesel chariot and you can’t bear the though of buying a Renault Scenic or Ford C-Max then an old black cab is a much quirkier alternative. You’ll be the envy of your mates too; drive into town to pick them up from their Christmas party on a Friday night and they’ll love you forever.

You could even charge ‘em a few quid for the privilege. That might catch on…

Why the new TVR Griffith is better than it looks

Photos are struggling to do the new TVR Griffith justice

THE CAMERA – contrary to what you might have learned from the late Bob Holness on Catchphrase – almost always lies.

In an age when just about every computer has access to Photoshop there’s a modicum of miracles you can perform when it comes to cropping, colouring and cloning just about every aesthetic evil out. It’s easy to eradicate the power station from the shot of that cute cottage you’re thinking of buying or to banish the blemishes from Kendall Jenner’s face. It happens with cars too; that’s why press shots of anonymous new superminis appear to have been shot on the set of a Doctor Who episode.

But it always baffles me how a set of professional shots can sometimes make a new car look worse. Remember the Alfa GT? In every press shot and road test it always looked a bit bland somehow, but approach one in the metal and it’s a wonderfully sinewy, curvy looker of a car. It’s not something that happens often, but it was only the other day I realised it’s happened with the new TVR too.

Regular readers might recall that I was already getting excited about the new Griffith, but while the engineering (courtesy of McLaren F1 guru Gordon Murray) and the vaguely unpronounceable name of TVR’s new home (courtesy of Wales) ticked all the right boxes plenty of my fellow petrolheads reckoned the looks were nothing to write about.

But having now seen the car for real I can confirm that the car’s biggest problem right now is the utterly rubbish set of press shots being used to publicise it. When I caught sight of the new car TVR had given it the challenge of being parked next to a load of classic Chimaeras, Tasmins and Tuscans, but it passed with flying colours.

The new Griffith might not have any otherworldly angles or strange slashes masquerading as air intakes, but it has proper, Vinnie-Jones-does-nightclub-bouncer presence. It even appears to be slightly peeved that you’re staring at it. Which will you be, because it’s aggressive and hugs the ground in a way that just doesn’t come out in the photos.

It also sounds a bit scary too, if the video of a Cerbera test car fitted with the new car’s engine is anything to go by. But the real question will be what it feels like, because the Griffiths and Chimaeras I’ve driven always have a slightly incendiary demeanour, and there’s only one way to find out if the new one stacks up.

Dear Father Christmas…

SEAT’s safety-conscious Leon – Guardian Angel or gadget overkill?

SEAT is now displaying its new Leon safety car at motor shows

A SEAT Toledo, a sun-kissed dual carriageway and a few generous dollops of over-confidence are all you need. Forget track days; if you want to experience some on-the-edge motoring just hop into a taxi at Barcelona Airport.

Every time I’ve ever taken the journey it’s been exciting and terrifying in equal measure, because the chap behind the wheel drives like a stunt double from one of the Bourne movies. There’s tailgating, brave overtakes, questionable undertakes and last minute manouveres that’d make an F1 driver wince. I’m never sure whether to give the taxi firm’s number to the police or to Red Bull’s talent spotters.

Yet it’s obvious that someone at SEAT’s headquarters – based just up the road from Barcelona, of course – has partaken in a few of these pulse-raising outings too. Because it’s just come up with a car that on the face of it aspires to make all of us safer, but is surely engineered entirely with Mediterranean taxi drivers in mind.

On the outset its new experimental car is ostensibly a Leon hatchback but it has no fewer than 19 safety systems on-hand to make sure you don’t bin it into the central reservation, which when used in conjunction become what SEAT calls its Guardian Angel mode.

Deep breath. It includes a built-in breathalyser that won’t let you start the car if it detects any hints of John Smiths or hears you bigging up some bloke you met two hours earlier as your new best mate; an eye sensor that tracks your peepers to make sure you aren’t about to nod off; a voice assistant that gives you a patronising pep talk if you’re doing more than thirty, and a system that lets your mum set the speed limit remotely when you’re popping to the shops in it. At least that way you can’t be grounded for misbehaving in it. Oh, and of course there are black boxes monitoring your every move.

Obviously if all 19 of these high-tech helping hands do make into every taxi in the whole of Catalunya then I’ll be able to depart the airport a bit more confident that I’ll make it into Barcelona intact, but I worry if SEAT genuinely thinks this is the future of driving. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for safer driving, but festoon a car with this much mumsy gadgetry and I worry the impression it’ll give is that you needn’t bother with sharpening up your own skills. Why bother when your Guardian Angel has got things covered?

Let’s have gadgets later and proper, in-depth driving tuition first. Starting with my taxi-driving chum, naturally…

The Polestar One is a fabulous car – a Volvo, to be precise

Polestar looked at classic Volvo models for inspiration for its new car

IT SOUNDS like something that Gerry Anderson might have conjured up with a couple of string-assisted pilots in mind.

The Polestar One has a name that conjures up images of a machine powered by nuclear reactors and piloted by one of the Tracy family at four times the speed of sound, but in fact this vaguely sci-fi name’s been given to a car, and one that isn’t the normal motor show flight of one-off fancy. It is, according to Volvo, going to be slapped on the back of a fully-fledged production model that’ll be tootling along our streets in about two years’ time.

But it isn’t just the name that’s a bit Blade Runner. This two-door coupe is an electric car backed up by a tiny petrol engine, but with the equivalent of 600bhp on tap it’s easily a match for BMW’s similarly configured i8 supercar. It’ll also only be available to order online and you won’t actually be able to buy it – you subscribe to it, like you would a magazine.

The new arrival also marks the arrival of a new car brand in its own right. To most car nuts Polestar is the Swedes’ answer to what BMW does with its M cars and the magic Mercedes rustles up with its AMG saloons and sports cars, but apparently Polestar is rather more than that. Which is why the new model is going to be followed up by the imaginatively-titled Polestar Two.

Which is a mistake, I reckon. I love the Polestar One’s eco-friendly-yet-exciting take on driving fun and its clever double rear axle. I especially love the way it looks – which is unmistakably like a Volvo.

Specifically, you can tell it borrows plenty of styling cues from the old P1800 so beloved of Simon Templar in The Saint, and beneath those swooping curves it’s based on a Volvo platform too. Yet no matter how hard I peer at the press photos I can’t see the ‘V’ word stamped anywhere on the new arrival, which is a shame. Maybe if they’d launched it when all of Volvo’s cars were styled by toddlers using Etch-A-Sketch toys I’d understand the Swedes being a bit hesitant about launching a Volvo sports car, but these days things are different.

I sincerely hope the Polestar One not only arrives here on time, but does it shouting proudly about its Scandinavian heritage too. It is the coolest car Volvo’s ever made.

The Saab 9000 Turbo is dead. Long live the Kia Stinger

Kia has tough competition from the Germans for its new Stinger sports saloon

MANY have tried, but none have succeeded. Who’d have thought the Saab 9000 Turbo would be such a tricky act to follow?

It’s a curious (and not particularly lucrative) corner of the car market to capture; the people who are in the market for a tarmac-snorting, junior-sized sports saloon that ISN’T a BMW, AMG-tweaked Mercedes of hotted-up Audi. This particularly elusive species of motorist is after something with just enough cachet to cut it outside a nearby golf club (so that’s virtually every fast Ford and sporty Vauxhall out), and is hung up enough about long-term reliability to give anything made by Alfa Romeo a wide berth. Not entirely fairly, I’ve always reckoned.

Just think about all those cars over the years that have offered a 9000 Turbo-esque premise but never really taken off (no jet fighter puns intended). The Lexus IS-F, MG ZT260, Mazda6 MPS, Volvo S60R, Chrysler 300C, Volkswagen Passat W8, for instance. For all their leather seats, ample equipment levels and muted growls from their exhausts none have ever really managed to convincingly win over the anything-but-a-blummin’-BMW brigade. In fact you could argue that Saab itself never nailed it either, given the Swedes ran out of cash five years ago.

But that isn’t going to stop Kia giving it their best shot anyway. Their new BMW-baiter arrives here in January and it’s already onto a winner because it has a cool name; it might not be posh and German, but you can at least tell your mates that you drive a Stinger. Which it makes it sound like an American muscle car.

It also picks up the Saab’s old trick of using turbos to rustle up the sort of mid-range thump that comes in handy on a motorway’s outside lane; in the range-topping 3.3-litre V6 there are two of them, and they send 365bhp to the rear wheels. The upshot is that you’ll end up surging to 60mph in 4.7 seconds and onto a top speed of 168mph. Yes, I know that’s academic when you can only legally do 70mph, but when you bear in mind that sports saloon ownership is basically a better funded version of Top Trumps for grown-ups the big Kia comes across quite well.

For the same sort of money as a BMW 340i you can have a four-door saloon that’s bigger, better equipped, quicker and more powerful – and it’s styled by the same bloke who did the original Audi TT, just for good measure.

So it’s a no-brainer that your next sports saloon’s going to be a Kia Stinger, then? Nope, didn’t think it was. The BMW brochure’s just over there, seeing as you’re asking…

MoT exemption for classic cars is madness – here’s why

Classics like this MGB GT V8 will no longer need an MoT

“IT’S ABOUT the Toyota,” the voice on the other end of the line crackled. “I’m afraid it’s going to need a bit of work.”

The news from the garage came as a bit of a shock. The 1998 Avensis that I’ve been running around in for the past few months isn’t particularly renowned for its country lane prowess, and it’s so dull that I can’t even recall what it looks like, but it is the single most reliable thing I’ve ever owned. I’d also checked it fastidiously before it visited the MoT station, so I wasn’t expecting it to fail.

In the end I coughed up to have a sticky rear brake sorted and I was back on the road an hour later, but if the same problem pops up on my 1972 MGB GT next summer I needn’t bother. As of next May if my 19-year-old Japanese repmobile develops a glitch I’ll have to fix it before it can earn its annual ticket, but my 45-year-old piece of British Leyland heritage won’t legally be required to go into the garage at all.

Which – and I choose my words carefully, lest I be whisked away in a mysterious car belonging to the Department for Transport – is complete madness.

The aforementioned Avensis has never broken down, shed any of its components or so much as hiccupped over 12 months, but the fact that the MoT testers picked up the sticky brake on one of their machines means they were able to spot something I’d have missed otherwise. If a bombproof motorway cruiser (with a fresh set of tyres, belts and barely 30,000 miles on the clock, before you ask) can fail, then what horrors is my MGB or any other forty-something classic car harbouring?

Nor do I buy the Government’s argument that we’ll still be able to take classic cars in for inspection voluntarily; owners of pre-1960 cars, which have already been exempted for the last five years, simply don’t bother. The Department for Transport’s own figures show that only 6% of them take their old cars in for an MoT, given the choice.

The upshot is that this time next year there’ll be quite a few Ford Cortinas, Austin 1100s and MG Midgets rattling along Britain’s roads with no MoT whatsoever – and the thought of one of them suffering some critical component failure at the wrong moment troubles me. The Government reckons the risk involved is very, very small, but I’d rather there’d be no risk at all.

My MGB won’t be among that number, and if you own a tax-exempt classic car I’d urge you in the strongest possible terms to carry on getting it checked. Even if that means getting a few unexpectedly expensive phone calls…

The new TVR Griffith is mad. Which is why you should love it

TVR chose to launch its new Griffith at the Goodwood Revival last weekend

THE NEW Ferrari FXX? Sorry, not really that fussed. The Aston Martin DB11 was lovely, but hardly astonishing. And I was a bit ‘meh’ about the McLaren 570S, to be honest.

I’m sure all three are resolutely thrilling on the right bit of racetrack but it’s entirely forgiveable to be a bit blasé. We’re used to seeing shiny new supercars from all three, all of which are a modicum more impressive than the last one. It’s a bit like Liverpool doing rather well in the Premier League – just like they did last year, and the year before that.

But a new TVR is more like Leicester thundering in and unexpectedly snatching all the silverware, against ridiculous odds. The latest Griffith is the car that so many of us wanted to see, but none of us really believed was ever going to happen. Only that last Friday, after more than a decade of waiting, it did.

Barely a week in and there have already been plenty of comments that it doesn’t look bonkers enough to be a TVR – even I think it’s got shades of Jaguar F-type, but that’s hardly a bad thing. It’s also been fitted with ABS and a sophisticated power steering system but otherwise it’s business as usual for a carmaker that’s crafted its reputation on being ballsy where everyone else plays safe.

It has a V8 not a million miles from what you’ll find in a Ford Mustang but it’s been breathed on by Cosworth so it’s developing something in the region of 500bhp, with a Porsche-troubling power-to-weight ratio of around 400bhp per tonne. Gordon Murray – of McLaren F1 and Mercedes SLR fame – has helped out with the underpinnings, so it shouldn’t drive like an old-school TVR. It’ll be much better than that!

Even the Griffith’s launch makes it loveable. TVR could’ve done the sensible thing and flown out to Frankfurt, where everyone else is unveiling their new metal at the moment, but it decided instead to do it at the Goodwood Revival, a classic car event known for being consciously stuck in the 1960s. It’s emphatically not the place to launch a brand new car – but TVR did it anyway.

In fact the only thing that’s missing from this curiously British resurrection is the old Blackpool factory being brought back into action and giving Lancashire its sports car crown back, but that would be far too predictable for the new boys at TVR.

So they’ve decided to build it in a small town in Wales instead. There you have it – Ebbw Vale is Britain’s answer to Maranello…

Separated at birth – the story of two very different Peugeot hot hatches

Peugeot made one of the greatest hot hatches in the 205 GTI - but prices now can vary wildly

WILLY Russell fans might want to stick around for this week’s motoring musings. It’s essentially Blood Brothers in four-wheeled format, albeit starring a couple of old Peugeots rather than two Scousers separated at birth.

Our two protagonists both happen to 205 GTis, born in the same French factory and fitted with the same delightfully revvy 1.9-litre, 105bhp engine. They were even painted the same shade of Alpine White, and both were welcomed into a world where excitable road testers thought the 205 GTi was the best hot hatch ever made. With the exception of not quite having the same birthday – oh alright, one’s three years older than the other – they’re pretty much identical.

Except, as anyone familiar with Liverpudlian musicals will testify, they really aren’t.

Our two go-faster Peugeots, having led very different lives once they’d left the factory, both happened to go under the hammer at two separate auctions within 24 hours of each other recently. The younger of the two, which had done 103,000 miles but definitely wasn’t a shabby example, was yours for a shade under six grand. That’s a lot more than they used to fetch, but even in 2017 not exactly verging on unreasonable.

But then its older brother stepped into the spotlight. It was a 1988 car that had been given away in a competition – to a winner who couldn’t drive – and as a result still has fewer than 6000 miles on the clock. It’s also been wrapped up in cotton wool every night and doted on for the past five years by a Peugeot evangelist, so you’d expect it’d fetch a little bit more at auction.

It ended up selling for £38,480. That’s 15 grand more than you’ll pay for a brand new 208 GTi, which has airbags, traction control and a warranty.

Obviously just about everyone ended up fixated on what was a phenomenal result for a 29-year-old hot hatch, but if you live in the real world it’s the first price that’ll bear more relevance. Old cars with minimal mileages and unblemished panels come out of the woodwork every so often and go for some eyeball-grabbing price, but it doesn’t suddenly make that old Golf GTi rusting away at your mate’s garage worth a million quid. Only last weekend a Vauxhall Nova with a particularly exciting backstory sold online for £65,000 – that’s Porsche Cayman money – but it doesn’t mean the one you used to own is worth the same.

Blood Brothers ends of course with both protagonists getting shot – something which probably won’t happen to either of our elderly Peugeots. But if you believe the hype and spend over the odds on some vaguely trendy bit of 1980s motoring, you might end up shooting yourself. In the foot, of course…