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.
APPARENTLY I have a knack for extracting big numbers from fast cars. Only they’re not the figures you might be expecting.
Take the 22-year-old Jaguar XJR I was lucky enough to be lent a couple of weeks ago. Teaming a 4.0-litre straight six up with an Eaton supercharger means it’ll kick 315bhp through its rear wheels – most of which I used on a glorious day cruising up the A1 and then hoofing around the Yorkshire Dales. Even today it’ll crack 60mph in under 6.5 seconds and theoretically race to 150mph, but the number that impressed everyone when I returned home was the 26mpg I’d somehow suckled out of it.
It’s the same story with an equally ancient Mercedes-Benz S280 I borrowed for a trip to Devon not long ago. You’d think having the a smallish V6 thrashing about beneath the bonnet of something the size of my old student flat would be a fuel economy nightmare, but it very nearly managed 30mpg.
Yet I’ve never been able to pull off the same trick in what’s meant to be a champion of petrol abstinence – the Ecoboost-engined version’s of Ford’s Focus. On the many occasions I’ve driven them I’ve never bettered 37mpg – a long way short of the 56mpg it’s claimed to be capable of.
Sound familiar? Well, some scientist types noticed that lots of you have the same problem of buying cars and then spending rather more at the pumps than you’d originally expected and decided to do something about it. After driving for what must have felt like an eternity they’ve managed to come up with real world figures for pretty much every car you can buy today – and they make intriguing reading.
Not only was their Focus Ecoboost result virtually identical to mine, but they also failed to match the fuel economy of cars marketed as being some of the nation’s most frugal. The Fiat 500 TwinAir gave them 39mpg, making it in their books less economical than the bigger 1.2-litre engine you can buy in the same car. The Golf Bluemotion was 23mpg short of the 74.3 claimed in Volkswagen’s figures. Don’t think buying a hybrid’s a get-out-of-jail-free card either, because the Prius’ shortfall was virtually identical.
But don’t take my word for it – have a look at the Equa Index website and see how your car does. The one constant factor is that the bigger the engine, the less dramatic the shortfall. Buy a Porsche 911 Carrera S and the shortfall is only 3mpg – and chances are if you’re in one of those you’ll be able to afford the difference.
Obviously I’d be more than happy, Porsche, if you’d like me to put the 911 Carrera S through the Simister fuel economy test that so clearly suited the XJR and S-Class. Just leave the keys on The Champion’s reception desk…