Ferrari F355

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!

Vinfast – great looks, shame about the name

No, it's not a new Tesla or BMW - but Vinfast would be flattered if you thought it was
VINFAST. It sounds like the name of some nasty new energy drink or a pill you’d pop to cure ingestion – but it’s actually a new range of cars dreamt up over in Vietnam.

The new wave of carmakers not-so-quietly plotting on world domination in Asia have never been terribly good with names. The first one I can recall coming over here was the Great Wall, a double-cab pick-up truck from China which not only referred to a mighty landmark but also the vehicle’s aerodynamic and performance qualities. Then there’s the Byton, which its makers said was meant to sound well-heeled and vaguely aristocratic but just reminds me of four children and a dog going on adventures.

But one thing Vinfast definitely didn’t get wrong was the styling. I actually did a double take when they sent me the first pictures of their two debut models because I thought they’d mixed up with a press release from Tesla or BMW – but no, the first Vietnamese car company to have a crack at winning over cynical Brit motorists have utterly nailed it in the looks department.

It’s early days so there’s no word on what sort of engines its new off-roader and saloon will have under the bonnet, whether you’ll be able to plug them into a three-pin socket in your garage or if they’ll be able to navigate Switch Island on a busy Friday night autonomously, but they have at least revealed how they managed to make their new offerings look so good. They didn’t – they gave the job to some Italian blokes instead.

If you’ve got this far down this week’s column without giving up and heading straight to the Champion’s sport page then you won’t need me to tell you who Pininfarina is, but it’s worth remembering that they did the Ferrari F355, the Peugeot 406 Coupe, the Jaguar XJ6 Series III and the original Fiat 124 Spider. So it should be no surprise that with a new carmaker eager to get peoples’ attention paying the bills and no previous history as baggage that the Italians would be able to turn a blinder – and they have. Okay, so the V-shaped logo on the radiator grille smacks of late Nineties Vauxhall, but the rest of it is as good as anything you’d find coming out of Turin or Stuttgart.

So you’ll be able to buy it here next year, right? Erm, nope. Despite Vinfast launching its cars at the Paris Motor Show next month it says it wants to play it safe and focus on selling cars back home – and it might launch them here in a couple of years, by which time they’ll be starting to look a bit dated. It’s a shame, because on looks alone I reckon it’d do well here.

Still, at least it’ll give ‘em time to come up with a better name!