News

Motoring News

The Government ban on petrol and diesel in 2040 will be fine for new cars. It’s the old ones I’m worried about

Cars like the BMW i3 have made zero emissions motoring more fashionable

APOLOGIES to Mark Twain’s estate for having to shamelessly pilfer one of his better-known quotes. Reports of the car’s death – which you’ve probably read over the past week or so – have been greatly exaggerated.

Chances are you’ll already be aware of the Government’s intention to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars as of 2040, which a million internet bores instantly took to mean the death knell for motoring fun as we know it. The party that Karl Benz and his pals threw back in 1886 is finally over, because we all overdid it and got drunk on AC Cobras and Range Rover Sports.

But calling it quits isn’t really doing us as a species, particularly those of who love cars, much credit. Ever since we figured out that we had opposable thumbs and could light fires we’ve been pretty good at working out answers to things, and even by the Government’s own prescription we have roughly 23 years to solve this one.

I’m not going to get into how we make the clean energy that propels a zero emissions car but the end result’s a lot better than it used to be. Seven years ago I drove an electric MINI that had a battery so huge it took up the back seats, a range of barely 100 miles and engine braking so severe you could pull up at roundabouts without touching the middle pedal. It only took another two years for the motor industry to invent an electric car that was fun to drive – take a bow, Renault Twizy – and fast forward to 2017 and the charging points at motorway service stations are crammed with Nissan Leafs and Teslas. If we’ve made it this far in seven years, you probably won’t need a diesel Golf as a new car in two decades’ time.

The bit I worry about is what happens with all the old ones. The more intelligent people at Westminster have already said that banning them isn’t the answer, partly because outlawing the MGB is a bit like banning Buckingham Palace and more importantly because the nation’s classic car hobby is worth £5.5 billion to the British economy (and it’s still growing). Horses have been old hat to commuters since the Austin Seven showed up, but they’re still allowed to use our roads.

But the thing with horses is that you only need straw, carrots and a decent vet to keep them going. If everyone else is driving electric cars in 2040 will there still be petrol stations to fill up the MGF or the Peugeot 205 GTI? Or places that can do a new battery for an Audi TT?

The car, I honestly reckon, will live on. It just might be a bit trickier than it used to be.

Advertisements

Mercedes X-Class – the perfect car for Southport’s golfers

The new Mercedes X-Class could be the wheels of choice for the next Open

IT FEELS like the population of Southport’s halved over the last few days. Apparently all the people who’ve just vacated the resort were here for something called ‘the golf’ – and I don’t mean the Volkswagen hatchback, either.

The one thing that did strike me during the North West’s moment in the international sporting spotlight was that virtually everyone seemed to travel to the Royal Birkdale in either a series of commandeered Stagecoach double-deckers, or in a black Mercedes. It felt like every other car was a black E-Class with tinted rear windows.

The Benz blokes have obviously thrown a lot at The Open, which is why it surprised me enormously that it didn’t bring along its latest model. It claims the X-Class is the first pick-up truck from a premium manufacturer, but that’s not entirely the case.

Firstly, the posh pick-up from a luxury carmaker isn’t a new idea, because both Cadillac and Lincoln have already tried it (albeit with virtually no success, which is why they never sold them over here). Secondly, the trimmings might be Mercedes’ finest but the bones most definitely aren’t; keep it quiet, but the X-Class is essentially a Nissan Navara. So I suspect all the building site operatives who actually buy pick-ups are probably going to stick with the cheaper Japanese original.

So who’s going to buy the X-Class? Originally I’d suspected it’d be perfect for anyone who appears in or produces hip hop videos, but I can’t imagine there are too many of those in Formby or Parbold (Straight Outta Crosby does have a nice ring to it, though). Nor is it going to appeal to the sort of managing director types who normally go for big, German off-roaders, because the ML-Class already does it without relying on pick-up truck underpinnings.

But – and this is why I think Mercedes missed a trick at The Open – it has plenty of potential as a golfer’s chariot of choice. It has a sufficiently posh badge to mix it with the Jaguars and BMWs in the club car park, more than enough room inside to take four of your chums out for a quick round, and with it being a pick-up there’s plenty of room out back for all the sets of clubs you’ll ever need. Pack carefully and you could even bring your own golf buggy with you!

I can’t wait for the golf to come back to Southport, because the resort is going to be rammed with X-Class Mercs.

Fair play to Ford for making the Mustang safer

The pre-facelift Mustang was criticised for its poor crash rating

SUPPOSE you opened a posh restaurant specialising in the sort of gourmet grub that’d make Jamie Oliver envious.

It doesn’t take long to pick up rave reviews aplenty from the foodie set, but a council inspector smells a rat (quite literally) and slaps a poor hygiene rating on the door for the standard of the kitchen. It’s a serious dent in your reputation – but you’ll do everything in your power to put it right again.

Which is pretty much exactly the place Ford’s found itself in with its latest Mustang. Reviewers loved it – me included – for its V8 soundtrack, tempting prices and pert good looks, and it was wonderful to have the American motoring institution over in Blighty for the first time, officially sold through nearby Ford dealers with the steering wheel on the correct side.

But even though you could escape the reality of commuting through Crosby or Crossens on a wet Wednesday morning by turning up the Beach Boys CD in your American muscle car, there’s no way you could get around its fairly dismal safety rating. Regular readers might recall that earlier this year it was given just two stars by the crash test experts at Euro NCAP, in an age where anything less than five stars on your new family saloon is considered a disappointment.

But it’s fair play to Ford for actually listening and doing something about it. It can’t go to all the expense of completely re-engineering the Mustang’s crumple zones, but it’s responded to the criticism by bringing out a lightly facelifted version with vastly improved airbags and a lane assist system as standard.

Naturally the crash testers responded by immediately shoving it face-first into a concrete block – and hey presto, the two-star Mustang is now a three-star Mustang.

Okay, so a three-star rating still isn’t amazing, with Euro NCAP’s boss calling it “unexceptional” but it does show that one of the car industry’s giants cares about your safety. It also proves just how seriously the powers-that-be take crash test results. Two decades ago the Metro scored so poorly it was promptly taken out of production altogether after sales dried up, but the small cars of today, including the latest SEAT Ibiza, are routinely picking up top marks for their teacher’s pet approach to safety.

So the Mustang’s a lot safer than it was before. Which means we can get back to enjoying why we came to that metaphorical restaurant in the first place – four courses of V8 muscle, with the engine for the Focus RS as the vegetarian option. Where’s a waiter when you need one?

Good news 007 – even Aston Martin is downsizing these days

Even Aston Martin realises that we live in an age of austerity

M PAUSED reflectively for a moment. “The latest figures from the Minister of Defence have arrived. I’m afraid there are going to have be some changes for the 00-section”.

There was a brief silence as the assembled MI6 bigwigs braced themselves for the bad news. They knew all along that austerity had been a fundamental part of Government policy for years, but they’d never expected it to hit Her Majesty’s flagship network of foreign operatives directly.

“I’m terribly sorry, but if we’re going to meet all these spending targets then agents are just going to have to start flying Easyjet and Ryanair, like everyone else,” M sighed with resignation. “And 007’s certainly going to have to stop ordering all those blasted vodka martinis. Doesn’t he realise that he shouldn’t be ordering all those drinks on expenses?”

Q Branch, for all its years of jetpacks and exploding pens, was right in the firing line. There’d be no laser-equipped watches when the shop up the road from MI6 was selling perfectly good Casios at a tenner a pop. Certainly there wouldn’t be any more jet packs, stealth boats or exploding pens.

But M drew a line when he picked up the Aston Martin brochure. The battle against SPECTRE, the depressed-looking faces in the room were surely about to reason, could just as easily be fought with a Dacia Sandero or Skoda’s new Citigo. But MI6’s top man was having none of it.

“Happily, Aston Martin has realised budgets here are a little tighter than they used to be,” he announced. “The DB11 was beginning to look a little unfeasible, but thanks to the changes they’ve made I think we might just be able to afford it.”

M pointed out that for the past year or so the DB11’s only been available with a twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12, accompanied by a rather hefty starting price of £157,900, something which even those pesky world domineering sorts with their hollowed-out volcanoes and white cats are baulking at these days. But now there’s a new version which comes with a smaller engine that’s kinder to the environment – a 4.0-litre V8, no less. It’s still equipped with two turbochargers and pumps out 503bhp but it’s still cheaper than the full fat DB11 – it’s now £144,900.

Okay, so a 13-grand saving isn’t a lot but it does make DB11 ownership that tiny bit more affordable. It’s also lighter than the V12 car and, Aston insists, better through the bends as a result, which counts for a lot when you’re attempting to outrun the bad guys.

Which means that even in Theresa May’s era of austerity Bond can have a decent company car. Good to see 007 doing his bit to help the nation’s finances…

Drive the new Volkswagen Polo? I’d rather take it jogging

There is a reason why the new Polo is roomier than the old one

I’VE LONG suspected that jogging is just a sweatier form of walking. I’ll cheerily wave at people powering past on yet another 10k, but I’m quite content that simply strolling to the nearest pub is exercise aplenty.

But then a colleague – who’s practically taken me on as some sort of flabby protégé –  insisted I give it a go. Worryingly, I’ve found this whole moving quickly without a car lark to be surprisingly good fun.
I feel better for myself after every run, and I’m already beginning to see the results on my waistline. The idea is that I’ll get fitter, build up my speed and stamina – and then I’ll invite the new Volkswagen Polo along too, because boy does it need it.

By the looks of things Germany’s supermini of choice has been spent too long watching The Jeremy Kyle show with a can of Stella in one hand and a freshly cooked Fray Bentos in the other. By Volkswagen’s own admission it’s taller and wider than the outgoing model, and bumper-to-bumper it’s 94mm longer, which is like going up three waist sizes in car terms. What’s more the latest press packs favourably compare its dimensions to how big the Golf was in the Nineties but don’t mention weight once, presumably because the Polo’s scared of stepping on the scales and screaming in horror.

Which is a shame, because while the new Polo looks like the Golf (which is a good thing) and builds on 2009’s European Car of the Year (ditto), it’s getting increasingly hard to relate to it as a small car. The gap between the new boy and the pint-sized Up is bigger than you’d imagine.

But then the Polo isn’t the only one looking a tad porky these days. The other day I had a nose around Nissan’s new Micra and it is vast compared to the lovably cute bubble-shaped ones learner drivers used to have crashes in, and while I love the looks of Renault’s latest Clio I had to conclude the 900cc engine in the one I borrowed felt a bit strained because it’s a far bigger car than its predecessors. Virtually all of today’s superminis are blobbier than they used to be – very few are lighter, smaller or nimbler.

But I can guarantee that while small cars have got bigger the multi-storey at the Concourse in Skelmersdale hasn’t expanded, and nor have any of Southport’s parking spaces. If you really do need to squeeze into those awkwardly tight spaces outside supermarkets, you’d be better off slipping down a size and buying something like Ford’s Ka+.

That or jog down to the shops

Bloodhound SSC – inspiring the next generation of Blue Peter doodlers

Bloodhound SSC is aiming to break the world land speed record

WHEN I was about ten I entered a Blue Peter competition that involved sending in drawings of Britain’s biggest and boldest achievements.

Everyone else sent in pictures representing the Millennium Dome and the World Wide Web – which is hindsight is weird, because the former was lambasted a colossal waste of public money and the latter is now used for amusing cat videos.

But my rather badly scrawled doodle depicting Andy Green at the helm of Thrust SSC, correctly predicted that Britain would ace the world land speed record. What I didn’t realise was that the 763mph record would still stand today, two decades later. Which is why my inner schoolchild beamed with excitement this when I heard that Thrust SSC’s successor is finally ready for its first outing.

For starters it has an equally brilliant name – Bloodhound SSC – but the stats sound like they belong in an episode of Thunderbirds. Try 0-60mph in less than a second. Barely a minute later it’ll be doing 1000mph.

On its low speed demonstration runs later this year it’ll comfortably keep pace with a Ferrari F40 at 200mph or so, and run on tyres borrowed from a Lightning jet fighter. But when the big day comes it’ll have no rubber at all, because there’s no tyre in existence that can cope with a wheel spinning 170 times every second.  Some of the numbers that come with Bloodhound SSC’s record attempt boggle the mind.

Why does it matter, particularly since this project’s been nearly a decade in the making and so far hasn’t moved beyond static displays at car shows? Because it shows we Brits can still do all the ballsy and brave stuff when we aren’t making Range Rover Evoques and Vauxhall Astras. In the same way that the British motor industry rallied behind Donald Campbell and his Bluebird record attempts half a century ago, the Bloodhound project is being used to get schoolchildren excited about engineering and technology.

I really do hope that when the blue and orange streak of flag-flying tech finally does those demonstration runs in Cornwall later this year – followed by 800mph and then 1000mph runs on the salt pans of South Africa – it’ll inspire some bright spark somewhere to get inventing. You never know, they might even enter a competition run by a children’s TV show.

Oh, and I never did get my Blue Peter badge.

Lotus – The Movie! Why it won’t happen anytime soon

Lotus makes some of the best handling cars on the market today

IF LOTUS were a bloke he’d have had his life story turned into a Hollywood movie by now – probably with Christian Bale playing the lead role.

It’s a compelling enough tale. A troubled young individual who grew up on a farm in Norfolk ends up hanging out with the world’s F1 stars, James Bond and that bloke from The Prisoner. Then he ends up falling in with a dodgy American entrepreneur and narrowly avoiding jail, losing loads of money in the process – before bouncing back spectacularly by winning Britain’s petrolheads over with his charm and character. But then he gets big ideas of taking on Ferrari, ends up cocking it up again and annoys his accountants.

Lotus has all sorts of baggage attached to it but none of it matters a jot when you’re at the helm of one on an open road. I’ve driven a couple of Hethel’s products over the years and they’ve all – from the 1970s Elan +2 to a brand new Evora S – been pretty much unbeatable when it comes to ride and handling. Even the 1990s Elan, which plenty of pub critics will kid you is a bit rubbish because it’s front-wheel-drive, was years ahead of its time when it came to mid-bend agility.

But the really important thing about Lotus isn’t all those dusty old F1 trophies or the pictures of the (now late) Sir Roger Moore posing next to a white Esprit; it’s all the work its engineers do behind the scenes on ordinary, everyday cars. Vauxhall and Proton are just about the only ones who’ll admit to having Lotus experts work on their cars’ handling but there are plenty of others who use its services; if your car doesn’t corner like a drunken tea trolley then it’s probably down to Lotus know-how.

Which is why I’m glad that a majority stake in Lotus has finally been snapped up by Geely, a Chinese manufacturer. You might not have heard of them but they’ve owned Volvo for the past seven years, and the Swedes seem to be doing rather well out of it.

I’m optimistic that Lotus will be allowed to thrive with a new influx of cash, rather like Jaguar Land Rover has under Indian ownership. For too long it’s depended on the Evora, a model launched back in 2008, and the Elise, which can trace its roots back to the early 1990s. Both are brilliant, but with the right investment Lotus should be able to develop some world class cars.

Starting with a new Elan, hopefully. Maybe the movie script writers should put their pens down for now…

An electric car game-changer is nearly here

It is likely carmakers like Tesla will use the new technology first

ANYONE who grew up watching Space 1999 needn’t feel disappointed. We might not be living on the Moon and eating everything in pill form, but the world today’s a lot more advanced than it used to be.

You can tap your finger against a handheld electronic screen and a van carrying your shopping rocks up a couple of hours later – and chances are that’s only because the supermarket isn’t allowed to deliver it by drone yet. We have trains that go under the sea and stealth fighter planes that fly above it. It beats driving home in your Morris Oxford and watching Terry and June over a bowl of Angel Delight, that’s for sure.

Just about every conceivable piece of technology has come along in leaps and bounds – with the exception of two things. You might not have noticed that the fastest transatlantic flights of today are a lot slower than Concorde could manage, but you’ll almost certainly have noticed that phones can barely manage a day before running out of breath. If you’re reading this on your smartphone via Champnews.com it might not even make it to the end of this article.

But an Israeli company that reckons it might have cracked the problem of rubbish smartphone batteries might have inadvertently created a genuine motoring game-changer. The smart money is that as of next year you’ll be able to use its tech to charge your phone up in a few minutes – and because electric cars run on the same sort of batteries it figures that it should work equally well on those too. Perhaps not unsurprisingly half the car industry’s keeping a very close eye on how StoreDot’s boffins are getting on.

Don’t expect it to revolutionise the roads overnight. It’s worth remembering that while nearly 100,000 plug-in cars were sold across the UK in 2016 that’s still nowhere near the number of Golfs or Focuses you all buy. It’ll also make sense that the most expensive offerings will be fitted with quick-charging tech first, so it’ll be a while before it filters down to the Nissans and Mitsubishis that dominate the ‘leccy car market.

But once it does break through to the mainstream the issue of battery anxiety – and the main reason you wouldn’t buy an electric car – will disappear. The cars themselves are absolutely fine, but no longer will you have to worry about an eight-hour wait if you start running low in deepest Snowdonia. You’ll be able to pull into a filling station and be on your way a couple of minutes later.

That idea might catch on. Eating food pills on the Moon it ain’t, but it’s a brave new world all the same.

Why one ruined Metro made your car safer

A070_C001_013093

NORMALLY saving lives involves noble things like vaccinations, charity fundraising and the Heimlich Manouvere. But you wouldn’t think deliberately destroying a Metro would have the same effect.

20 years ago that’s exactly what happened, when some chaps with clipboards and clever cameras gave one (well, a Rover 100 if we’re being picky) a 30mph introduction to a concrete block. Not for a laugh, but in the interests of scientific research. What they discovered sent shockwaves through the car industry.

The car wreckers in question belonged to an organisation called Euro NCAP, which has just celebrated its 20th birthday. Their mission was to mark as many new cars as possible with independent safety ratings, and they gave the poor Metro a miserable one star out of five. The resultant drop in sales meant Rover dropped it altogether a few months later, and ever since Euro NCAP’s findings have been taken very seriously indeed.

The results kept coming. 1990s Volvos weren’t as indestructible as pub wisdom had long dictated. The original Ford Focus wasn’t as good at protecting pedestrians as the Escort that preceded it. The old Chrysler Voyager was a deathtrap, and the G-Wiz electric car might have as well have been made out of cardboard after its appalling crash test performance. Even today Euro NCAP is still unafraid of ruffling the car industry’s feathers, giving Ford’s latest Mustang a dismal two stars when five is increasingly the norm.

But your car’s almost certainly safer as a result. Ever since Renault picked up the first five star rating for its Laguna back in 2001 – and paraded it on every TV, magazine and newspaper ad it could as a result – manufacturers have engaged in a sort of safety arms race to ensure they’re top dog. 

Multiple airbags, ABS, autonomous braking, whiplash-responsive headrests and cleverly designed crumple zones are no longer novel additions to car brochures. They’re everyday motoring addenda, and anyone who doesn’t offer them is shown up in the test results as cheapskates who aren’t that bothered about customer safety.

It’s impossible to calculate how many lives Euro NCAP’s boffins have saved by forcing car companies to smarten up to avoid embarrassing crash test results, but it’s fair to say you stand a much better chance of surviving a 30mph shunt in a new Clio (a five star car) than you would in its 1997 equivalent (just two stars).

So it’s worth thinking about Euro NCAP’s experts next time you go out for a spin. They’ve genuinely moved motoring on – and all it took was one utterly ruined Metro.

Why Zenos deserves to make more British sports cars

the-zenos-e10-is-a-two-seater-sports-car-powered-by-the-ford-ecoboost-engineIT’S happened again. A company specialising in plucky British sports cars has gone into administration.

This time it’s a tiny manufacturer based in Norfolk and best known for its flyweight two-seaters. No, not that one. This time it’s Zenos, which barely a few weeks after getting its rev-happy E10S onto The Grand Tour has had to bring in the suits and a steady supply of red ink.

All of which makes it a proper British sports car – and I love proper British sports cars.

History is littered with examples of blokes mixing mainstream motoring engineering – regardless of whether it’s an old A-series lump or the nifty Ford Ecoboost engine you get in the E10 – with neatly styled roadsters designed to be enjoyed al fresco. But for every Morgan or Lotus you end up with countless others going out of fashion. All those Elvas and Austin-Healeys. Marauders and Marcoses. Gilberns and Gordon-Keebles. The list goes on.

But I wouldn’t write the Zenos E10 off as another entry in the I-Spy book on Obscure British Sports Cars just yet. Partly because it’s been picking up some pretty good reviews – including from James May in its aforementioned telly appearance – but also because the thing Brit sports car firms do really well other than going into administration is bouncing back.

Fellow Norfolk firm Lotus has a long history of being in trouble – but they’re still going strong after nearly 70 years. Aston-Martin spent decades struggling to make a profit before Ford took it under its wing and launched the DB7. TVR is due to relaunch later this year and even AC – which can trace its roots all the way back to 1901, despite going bust a couple of times along the way – will still sell you something that looks vaguely like a new Cobra. 

I reckon the E10, with its not massively unobtainable £27k pricetag, familiar Ford engines, glowing reviews and a ready-made audience in Britain’s booming track day industry deserves another crack. 

I love proper British sports cars like the E10. Says the man who’s on his second Mazda MX-5…