Opinion

I’m about to break all sorts of rules…

FORGIVE me if I’m about to break all sorts of rules about product placement – but I’m fairly certain you’ll know what I’m on about if I ask what beanz meanz.

There are plenty of other fine purveyors of the flatulence-inducing dinnertime treat, of course, and you can pick up everything from squeezy bottles of sweet chilli ketchup to tins of creamy chicken soup bearing this culinary giant’s corporate logo down at your nearest supermarket, but chances are that if I challenge you to come up with a maker of baked beans you’ll struggle to think of any other name.

In exactly the same way that proper small cars, for far longer than anyone cares to remember, means Fiat.

So I was a tad perplexed to learn the other day that, as part of a mega-merger between PSA (the owners of Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall) and Fiat-Chrysler (no prizes for guessing what they own) being signed off that the person heading up the Italian side openly suggested that it’s Peugeot that should take the lead on making combined conglomerate’s smaller offerings. Admittedly, what the Gallic side gets in return – Jeep’s mudplugging know-how for future off-roaders – makes complete sense, but to me it still seems like an extraordinary concession from the carmaker that does it better than anybody else.

I’m not just on about the 500, which despite dating back to 2007 still manages to sell in decent numbers while maintaining a frisson of fun, or its addictively entertaining Abarth counterparts. I’m on about underrated city cars that prove to be far more engaging outside of their natural habitats than any small car ought to be. Cars like the old Panda 100HP and the Cinquecento Sporting. We could go back even further – a year or two ago I drove an Autobianchi Giardiniera, which is essentially a 1960s Fiat 500 turned into an improbably small estate car, and loved every moment. It struggled to get above 45mph, but it was agile, brilliantly packaged and equipped with an endlessly eager two-cylinder engine.

I’ve written before about how emissions legislation is – ironically – making it less cost effective to make small cars these days, and it doesn’t make sense for Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall and Fiat to all compete with each other when they’re under the same roof, but having Fiat give up what it does best is a step too far. Peugeot make some cracking small cars, of course, but it says a lot that its most petite offering, the 107, is actually a rebadged Toyota Aygo.

Fingers crossed that someone at the helm of this new carmaking giant borrows a Panda for a couple of hours and sees sense. Small Fiats are a bit like beans on toast – you wouldn’t want to have them all the time, but it’d be a strangely sad world without them.

The eco activists are right – crossovers ARE going to go out of fashion

IT’S not often someone who owns a 1970s dinosaur of a car, powered by a three-litre V6 knocking back a gallon of unleaded every 23 miles, agrees with a group researching ways to make Britain a leaner, greener, zero carbon emissions country.

Yet, for once, I’m completely in agreement with the scientists at the UK Energy Research Centre – we really do, as a nation, have to go easy on the Range Rover Evoques and the Audi Q3s. Lay off the new Nissan Juke and the second-gen Ford Kuga a bit. Oh, and definitely have a gentle chat with anyone thinking of chucking more than £44,000 on a BMW X4.

You’ll have noticed something all of the aforementioned beasts of burden have in common; they’re all SUVs, off-roaders, crossovers, or whatever lifestyle-orientated name they’ve been given this week. The UK Energy Research Centre’s argument is that because they now account for just a fifth of the nation’s new car sales – as opposed to 13.5 per cent just three years ago – hauling around all that extra weight is completely undermining the do-gooders currently buying 44,000 zero emissions motors a year.

Professor Jillian Anable, the group’s co-director, said: “The rapid uptake of unnecessarily large and energy consuming vehicles just in the past few years makes a mockery of UK policy efforts towards the ‘Road to Zero’”, the last bit referring to the Government’s aim of making Britain net carbon neutral by 2050.

My beef with these cars – and I choose my words carefully, as I dearly hope the UKERC doesn’t have the same wrath towards the 1977 Reliant Scimitar GTE – is that almost all of these SUVs are nothing of the sort. They’re front-wheel-drive, aren’t designed to venture up muddy tracks and don’t do anything a Vauxhall Astra can’t do. If you need more space, get a Combo Life. Only you won’t, because it looks like a van with windows rather than a trendy off-roader.

Virtually every new car I borrow is a bloated, high-riding relation of a much better hatchback that’s been cruelly forgotten by the wider market. I’ve no problem with proper 4x4s that actually go off-road – I grew up in a family that lives and breathes old Land Rovers – but ones pretending otherwise and wasting fuel and resources in the process aren’t doing us any favours.

For ages, I’ve been resigned to it being a relentless march up the new car sales chart that wipes out lesser spotted species in the process (see the critically endangered small coupé, and the extinct-in-the-wild large MPV), but I reckon in a few years crossovers will start to look desperately unfashionable, and it’ll be Greta Thunberg and the march of the green movement behind it. It’s hard enough to justify something like, say, a BMW 3-Series in a world where single use plastic bags are taboo, so turning the same car into a thirstier, higher-riding crossover just seems to be prime ammo for the anti-car lobby.

So don’t make your next buy a Skoda Karoq – make it an Octavia instead, which looks much nicer, will drive far better and be just as practical.

Just don’t follow my example and make it a three-litre 1970s sports car. Otherwise, we’re all stuffed…

The Tesla Cybertruck looks all wrong – which is what makes it all right

“Erm, that wasn’t supposed to happen”. Whatever you make of Elon Musk, you couldn’t help feeling sorry for him when his new pick-up launch didn’t go quite to plan.

His big unveiling included a demonstration of the unbreakable windows on Tesla’s latest model – which he then proceeded to smash, completely by accident, in full view of the press. What’s more, if that wasn’t enough, he then went on to show it was just a one-off freak accident by lobbing a metal ball at the truck’s back window. That one smashed too, obviously.

But while there is an inevitable schoolboy temptation to poke fun at this Bond villain clearly disguised as a car company boss getting it so comically wrong on the world’s stage, there are two things worth bearing in mind.

First, that Elon ‘fessed up on Twitter the following day, saying that Tesla clearly had a bit of work to do – and you’d never see Ford, Nissan, Volkswagen or any other big carmaker readily admit it’d fluffed up. If anything, it makes Tesla come across as a little more loveable, because to err is only human.

But more importantly – and I’m happy to stick my head above the parapet on this one, as everyone else seems to be disagreeing at the moment – I think Tesla’s new pick-up looks tremendous. Not heartstoppingly beautiful or pleasingly pleasant, but different. Very, stop-and-think-for-a-moment, different. Which has got to be a good thing.

Put it this way; for months the car magazines and the internet’s resident Photoshop experts knew that Tesla had been quietly working away on all-electric take on that most American of institutions, and almost all of them imagined it’d look like the company’s Model S saloon, albeit on stilts. A couple of them even managed to top ‘n’ tail the Model X’s design details onto a Ford F-150/Toyota Tundra generic pick-up body. Nobody, on the other hand, envisaged it’d be a wedge-shaped creation that looks like it’s escaped from the set of Total Recall. The fact that Elon later admitted it was partly inspired by one of his favourite cars, the Lotus Esprit, makes me love it even more.

Yes, I know it looks like it’s been styled by someone extremely adept with rulers, that it’s so enormous that it’ll clearly look ridiculous in the middle of Ormskirk and that – for now at least – its unbreakable windows can be defeated by a metal ball, but that’s not the point. Whether you’re nodding sagely in agreement or think the new pick-up is the stupidest-looking car since Suzuki stopped production of the X-90, at least you’re thinking SOMETHING. The world needs more new cars interesting enough for people to form an opinion of them – that’s what gets people into cars in the first place.

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is another eco-minded load-lugger, and Britain’s biggest selling plug-in hybrid, but can you remember what it looks like?

Exactly.

Le Mans ’66 is proper petrolhead cinema

IF GOD really is in the details, then I’d suggest that the makers of Le Mans ’66 aren’t exactly fastidious churchgoers.

There’s a scene in the new film – and feel free to skip through to the sports pages if spoiler alerts aren’t your bag – in which the early Ford GT40 is described as being “fresh from England”, but after those three seconds it’s an all-American affair, making no mention of the fact the original racer was based on the Lola Mk6, dreamt up not in Detroit but, erm, sunny Huntingdon.

You don’t even need to be a petrolhead to spot another rather jarring bit of chronology, either. Early on a rather well known publicity shot from Goldfinger of Sean Connery posing next to an Aston Martin DB5 is shown as part of a slide presentation at Ford HQ on what cool cars look like, conveniently forgetting that the very car Bond runs off the road in that film – a Ford Mustang – is unveiled for the first time much, much later on in the story! There’s also plenty on Ford’s team orders at Le Mans, but an equally fascinating plot twist on Ferrari’s part is omitted entirely; F1 star John Surtees was ditched from the driver line-up and quit working for the Italians altogether.

But then I suspect you’re not going to care one jot if you’re planning on a cinema outing to see it, because it’s a two-and-a-bit hours of genuinely enjoyable motoring history, neatly soundtracked by a couple of big block Ford V8s.

What really had me hooked was the amount of metal I wasn’t expecting to see on screen; the opening scene explaining Carroll Shelby’s sole Le Mans win at the helm of an Aston Martin DBR1 was wonderfully shot, but seeing the Porsche 356 and MGA being given the full-on Hollywood treatment in their own action sequences is worth the cinema ticket alone.

Most importantly, it feels believable. I remember watching a so-called race in 2013’s The Man From UNCLE in which single-seaters and Aston DB4s were sharing the same track at Goodwood and staring at the screen in disbelief, but in this film the visit to Le Mans itself is bob on. The track actually looks like the one I camped at last year for the Le Mans Classic, and the scenes inside the main complex on the start/finish straight even showed the never-ending balcony walkways that I’d traipsed while heading to and from its press office. Matt Damon does a dab hand of nailing the late Carroll Shelby’s Texan drawl too, and Batman – sorry, Christian Bale – isn’t half bad as Midlands race ace Ken Miles either.

I know that the Ford vs Ferrari war to win at Le Mans is well documented, but I do reckon that Le Mans ’66 is fast-tracked to a spot on the petrolhead living room shelf next to Rush, Ronin and Bullitt when it eventually comes out on DVD.

If you haven’t seen it already, then I’d thoroughly recommend it. Just make sure you conveniently forget the first half of this week’s column if you do…

Old tyres – surprisingly legal, but potentially lethal

APOLOGIES if I’m about to put you right off your tea – but I’d like to start this week by talking dodgy dinners.

Every so often links to terrible viral websites pop up in my Facebook page (“You won’t BELIEVE this amazing make-up trick Kylie Jenner uses”, “What this teacher told her class will change your life FOREVER”, that sort of thing), and occasionally one of them purports to show what fast food, if left unopened for 30 years, looks like.

It’s something to do with all the moisture being removed from the not-so-tasty grub at the point of manufacture – making it drier than holidaying in Death Valley with a dehydrated Jack Dee, and thus inhospitable to mould – but the result is always that burgers and fries made when Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister look like they could have been cooked ten minutes ago. It looks weirdly appetising. But would you eat it? Of course you wouldn’t.

I was reminded of this the other day when I went car shopping – and ended up coming home with a 1992 Volkswagen Polo. I reckon that with just one owner on the logbook, 47,000 miles under its belt and 11 months on the MoT certificate still to go it was £800 well spent, and its eager little 1.3-litre engine still sounded like it had plenty of life left in it when it thrummed into life.

But it was a different story for the four little bits connecting Wolfsburg’s engineering to the A59 – the tyres, which really were the automotive equivalent of that decent-looking but dangerously healthy dinner. All four of them had legal amounts of tread left on them, and a pleasing lack of worrying cracks, marks of lumps on the sidewalls, but the first helping of snap understeer on a wet bend at 20mph told a very different story.

Award yourself an extra helping of petrolhead points if you’ve already sussed this one – the tyres may well have been well treaded enough to have been given an MoT inspector’s nod of approval just a few weeks earlier, but they were so ancient that they may as well have been made from copies of The Domesday Book. What that means is that the rubber had hardened after being exposed to years of ultraviolet sunlight, and deteriorated after being subjected to year after year of damp, road muck and temperature changes, to the point that they were near enough useless as means of keeping a car planted in a corner. In fact, the date markings on the tyres revealed that one of them had been on the car from new – that’s 28 years without ever being changed.

So the first job I did after snapping the car up was taking the car into a Southport tyre shop to give it a fresh set of boots, and it now handles and stops a lot better as a result. It’ll make it safer too – not only am I less likely to plough the little Polo into a hedge on any more wet bends, but it’ll bring its stopping distance in an emergency down, too.

I know tyres are boring and grey, but they are your car’s only link to the asphalt underneath. If they’re more than five or six years old, get ‘em changed.

Otherwise you might as well eat 30-year-old fast food – it’ll be about as safe!

Peugeot meets Fiat – it could all end in tears

IN THE future, I remember a top motor mogul once saying, there will be just two car companies. Or, to be exact, two car companies, and Morgan still fighting its way through a ten-year backlog of orders for the Plus 4.

How things have changed. Morgan’s infamous ten-year waiting list is now – thanks at least partly to the help of Sir John Harvey Jones – more like six months, and it’s owned by a group of Italian investors, making rather more cutting-edge models like the new Plus 6. If all that can happen in a decade or two to a tiny company making 1930s throwbacks in the Malvern Hills, then it must be a tiny tremor compared to the earthquakes happening elsewhere in the car industry.

The latest one you might have read about is PSA, the French conglomerate that for decades has run Peugeot and Citroen, and owners of Vauxhall for the last two years, agreeing to a merger with Fiat, which itself has already merged with Chrysler. To me at least, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

Suppose you’re in the market for a five-door hatchback of the Golf/Focus ilk in a few years’ time. This new mega-conglomerate will, in theory, be able to sell you a Vauxhall Astra, a Peugeot 308, a Citroen C4 Cactus, a Fiat Bravo, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta and possibly some sort of small Chrysler. All of which will either have to be sufficiently different to stand out – and less profitable as a result – or so closely related that they’ll all end up with birth defects and Haemophilia. If interbreeding doesn’t work for dogs or royal families, I doubt it’ll work on family hatchbacks either.

VW’s managed it because the three basic spinoffs of its Golf – Skoda’s Octavia, SEAT’s Leon and Audi’s A3 – are all very different cars that appeal to three different sets of people. I spent 400 miles with a diesel Octavia SE Estate last weekend and it was superb, comfortably chomping through the motorway network in a quiet no-nonsense manner, but I know that however accomplished it is, it’ll never steal a single sale from Audi A3 devotees or from Golf GTI hedonists.

To pull off the same trick with six or seven big companies already competing for the same middle ground’s going to be very tricky indeed. Get it right and I don’t think the chaps at Ellesmere Port would mind building a Peugeot GTi or a small Alfa alongside their Astras, but get it wrong and it’ll be the Austin/Wolseley/MG/Morris/Vanden Plas 1100 all over again.

One brilliant car, in other words, but made by a messy mix of companies that’ll all eventually end in tears. Meanwhile, at Morgan…

You wouldn’t settle for an old motor – so why should rail commuters?

LUCKY YOU. You did well at school, landed a decent job, worked your way up to managing a small team of talented colleagues…and you can finally afford BMW’s new 1-Series.

It’s an exciting prospect. The 1-Series might have traded in its party trick – being the only rear-driven kid in a class of me-too hatchbacks letting the front wheels do all the work – but it’s better packaged, better built and very nearly to nice to punt down a sweeping B-road as the old one. It’s also, at £279 a month on personal contract hire for a 118i Sport, tantalisingly within reach.

But imagine if, having stuck down your deposit, the sharp-suited man from the BMW showroom dropped off an Austin Maestro instead. Yes, the five-door hatch that took the fight to Ford’s Escort and Vauxhall’s second-generation Astra, and endorsed 35 years ago by a youthful-looking Noel Edmonds in some rather excitable TV ads. You’d be pretty peeved, right?

“Ahhh, awfully sorry sir”, the chap from BMW might say. “Your new 1-Series isn’t quite ready yet. It’ll be ready early next year, we can assure you, but we wanted to make sure you can still get to work in the mornings. Yes, we know it went out of production 25 years ago, but it’s still a five-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback, and it’s great on fuel.”

“But it’s a Maestro, for heaven’s sake,” you protest loudly. “It’s nothing like a 1-Series….and more to the point, I’m paying £279 a month for it!”

The response is polite, but firm. “It’s all we’ve got, sir.”  

“Haven’t you got a MINI Cooper – you make those as well, right? What about an old 3-Series? I used to have a secondhand 335d, and I loved it. Couldn’t you get me one of those instead?”

“I’m sorry, sir. All of our other BMWs and MINI Coopers have been reserved for people in London and the South East. You live in the North of England. All we have for people in the North…are Maestros.”

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that this would never, ever happen at your nearest BMW showroom…but something not entirely dissimilar is happening to a lot of people who, for whatever reason, choose to commute by train rather than at the helm of a new 1-Series. They’ve been promised new trains to replace the frankly rubbish ex-British Rail Pacers on their regular journeys into work – and now they’ve been told they have to put up with them until at least early 2020, and probably longer.

In much the same way that I actually rather like the Maestro but would understand entirely that you wouldn’t want to trade in your Golf GTD or Audi A1 for one, the Pacer deserves recognition for propping up rural communities a generation ago, and a genteel retirement on a heritage railway line somewhere. But to continue inflicting them on people who think an iPhone 6 is old hat is just mean. Especially when they’re paying for something newer and better.

As much as I love old British Leyland engineering it winds me up immensely every time I see one of these noisy, shaky, cramped and non-wheelchair-friendly excuses for a train creaking into a station in front of a crowd of depressed-looking commuters.

This, or a 1-Series? It’s a no-brainer. In fact, given the choice, I’d take the Maestro over a Pacer too…

Forget Morris – let’s bring back Rover

SUPPOSE, given the world’s top engineers, a highly sophisticated 3D printer and Britain’s nicest bank manager, you could bring back any car you wanted from the dead. What would it be?

I’m not talking about taking the chic and cachet of a Sixties bestseller and then draping something that looks vaguely similar over a modern-day hatchback (take a bow, MINI and Fiat 500). Nor am I suggesting you revive a revered old name from twenty-or-so years ago, and then slap it hamfistedly along the rump of some apologetic, me-too Nissan Juke-alike (take a bow, Ford Puma). Nope, I’m talking about an actual old car design, put back into production – because it’s all the rage at the moment.

So far we’ve had the Jaguar XKSS, the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, the Porsche 911 Turbo and the supercharged ‘Blower’ Bentley that won a string of Le Mans victories back in the 1920s. Alvis are at it too and – if you value Q-branch gadgets over a car you can legally use on Britain’s roads – earlier this year Aston Martin was offering Goldfinger-spec DB5s, complete with ejector seats and revolving number plates.

But I’m a bit baffled by a Chinese company’s decision to bring back the, erm, the Morris J-type van. Even at most classic car shows you have to look pretty hard to find one, and unless you remember growing up in a world best endorsed The Rank Foundation’s Look At Life films then it’s unlikely this curious 1950s workhorse is going to press any nostalgia buttons, either.

I’m honestly struggling to think who’s going to want one, especially when the reinvented version, the JE, is set to be crafted out of McLaren-esque carbonfibre and powered by electricity. My best guess is that it’s going to appeal to artisan street vendors, happy to flog you a Frappuccino in a reusable cup at five pounds a pop – but we already have the Citroën H-van for that.

If we’re going to use all of our smartarse 3D printing technology to bring back long-dead vehicles, why don’t we actually use them to bring cars that people like your mum and dad – as opposed to 1950s greengrocers – actually remember driving? I would love to see a continuation Capri but I suspect Ford’s already had that idea, and would charge accordingly for it. Nope, I’m thinking of cars whose makers have long gone too – that’d be much more fun.

A brand-new Hillman Imp with Tesla-esque batteries (and performance) hidden behind its rear wheels? I’d be up for that. What about a revived Rover P5? Sign me up, and the same goes for anyone happy to bring back the Triumph TR6, Sunbeam Rapier or Riley Elf. Rich car nuts who can afford to chuck a million quid at a continuation D-type have had it their own way for too long. If the technology exists – and I’m sure we can all chip in for some lawyers to get past all the copyright wrangles – let’s have some more down-to-earth automotive revivals on our hands.

In fact, forget the J-type. Who’s up for bringing back the Morris Minor?

Alfa Romeo Spider – the unexpectedly reliable wedding car choice

THERE’S a dusty corner in the deep vaults of the Simister anecdotal archives that no longer needs to be quietly reshuffled. The time that I caused a rush-hour traffic jam by conking out in a city centre bus stop – in a bright red E-type, naturally – is still firmly in the top spot as the most stressful bit of motoring I’ve ever done.

The moment I called on a Ford Cortina’s brakes on a particularly steep hill somewhere near Sheffield, only to find it didn’t really have any, comes a close second, but I was ready to demote that too the other day. Not only was I about to make my debut as a wedding car driver, but the blushing bride in question was none other than my younger sister.

I was delighted to be entrusted with such an important task, of course, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me for having visions of gliding helplessly onto the hard shoulder and having no choice but to wait for a van with orange flashing lights to show up, or having to tackle a puncture with an infuriated-looking bride glancing at her watch, wondering how late really is classed as fashionable. Certainly, when I got hitched three years ago I made sure it was someone else’s Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow doing the all-important duties, just to avoid the potential headaches.

But I actually enjoyed the drive far more than I had any right to, and that’s partly because the wedding wheels in question were just about the last thing I’d been expecting – an Alfa Romeo Spider. While that meant the big journey was limited to just two people, it meant the bride and I could focus on the really important things on the way to her big day.

Like how well the Spider suits being offered in black with tan leather – you’d expect red to be the colour of choice for a small, Italian sports car, but with Britain’s Alfisti it was definitely black that proved the most popular colour. I’m sure my about-to-be-wed passenger appreciated too how the centre console was canted towards the driver to give it a much sportier feel, and how all the words on the dials had been left in Italian – olio, benzina, and so on – just to make the drive to the wedding venue feel just that little bit more exciting. She definitely would have appreciated the two-litre Twin Spark engine too, although I suspect the 3.2-litre V6 might have been a bit handier for getting there on time.

But as my younger sister and her now husband embark on what I’m sure will be years of happily married life together, there is one question I’m sure they’ll be pondering – why doesn’t Alfa have a Spider in its range today? The Italians are really missing a trick, particularly as it’d be easy to base it on the Fiat 124 Spider.

I’m happy to confirm that the Spider made it on time, the wedding went without a hitch, and Alfa’s finest chalked up yet another fan. Definitely preferable to a Cortina with knackered brakes, anyway…

Don’t kill off the city car – they’re too much fun

NOT LONG ago I was lucky enough to be granted an audience with the chap who designed the original Mazda MX-5 – you know, the one with the pop-up headlights. Only, as it turns out, he never actually wanted it to have them because they added weight.

You’d like Tom Matano. He’s a proper petrolhead who hates cars, in his own words, “designed by committees and market researchers”, and has a soft spot for the Mini. He also reckons that ditching rev-happy, twin cam petrol engines for on-trend electric motors won’t do the world’s biggest-selling sports car a jot of harm – but only if the delicate handling isn’t ruined in the process.

Yet the one slightly depressing nugget of motoring wisdom that he shared with me is why all the other carmakers have stopped copying the MX-5’s formula for small, simple, open-top sports cars – it’s because the numbers no longer add up. There is no modern day MGF because it wouldn’t be worth someone making it.

This exactly what we’ve already seen with a couple of other endangered automotive species. The Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo are just about keeping the family saloon on life support, the Renault Espace-sized MPV has been all but obliterated by its smaller rivals and crossovers, and the small, two-door coupe is dead. The MINI Coupe and the Honda CR-Z offered a glimmer of hope for the latter, but both neither sold brilliantly here, and have long since disappeared from the showrooms.

But now there could be an even more serious casualty – the small city car, and it’s emissions regulations that are to blame. Because they’re worked out on the average CO2 a carmaker’s entire range puts out, it’s much easier and cheaper to lower the amount of nasty gases coming out of a gas-guzzling larger model, and more palatable to convert them into plug-in hybrid of electric-only models. As a result, it’s less profitable to make the smallest models – which is why the Vauxhall Viva, Ford Ka and Peugeot 108 are probably looking a tad worried by now.

Which is a real shame, I reckon, because it’s usually a carmaker’s titchiest offerings that are the most involving and least pretentious. Given the choice between a Ferrari 488 Pista and a Citroen C1 and told to go out and spend a wet October morning on any of West Lancashire’s narrow, bumpy roads, I’d pick the tiny French hatchback every time because you can use all of its power and grip, all of the time. It’s the same with the Volkswagen Up, Ford Ka and all of the other small cars in this sort of price bracket – the emphasis is on simple, lightweight tech and small petrol engines, and they’re always somehow more satisfying than their heavy, hybrid hatchback bigger brothers.

As I see it there are only two solutions. Either the EU thinks up a different way of laying out its emissions regulations, or the only carmaker that can be relied upon to come up with brilliant small cars, time and time again, comes up with a tiny hatchback so stunning that everyone feels compelled to copy it. The sort of ground-breaking car that sticks its fingers up at the management committees and market researchers, and gets a thumbs up from Tom Matano instead.

I sincerely hope someone at Fiat reads The Champion