Golf

Lupo GTI a classic? You bet

Long before the Up, VW nailed the small hot hatch with the Lupo GTI.jpg

IF YOU want to know who the gatekeepers are when it comes to what is – and what isn’t – a classic car you have to think literally. Often, it’s the people in hi-vis jackets manning the entrances at your nearest car show.

Normally if I’m approaching in my MGB, I could put my house on being waved through with a warm smile (unless it’s a show catering solely for hotted-up Subarus, of course), but I’ve approached in many a car where it could go either way. At one show I was given an appreciative nod because I’d shown up in an MG ZR, which for all its rock-hard suspension and mesh grille is basically your mum’s Rover 25 with a snazzier badge. Yet barely a week later a Ford Puma, a swoopy coupe that did wonders for Ford’s image when it was new, met with a solemn expression and an outstretched arm pointing me in the direction of the public car park, alongside all the Vauxhall Insignias and Kia Cee’ds.

So what advice could I give the chap who emailed from Crosby the other day, pondering whether his beloved Volkswagen Lupo GTI has made it to classic car-dom? This petite hot hatch is essentially the early Noughties predecessor to today’s Up GTI, and shares its no-frills, lightness-added sense of fun. A lot of what made the original Golf so much fun lives on in both.

It has an awful lot going for it, but because it’s the equivalent of an 18-year-old queuing up for a nightclub with a freshly-shaven face, wearing trainers – I wouldn’t be surprised to see it being turned away at the door. The Lupo GTI has a few years yet before it’ll be accepted just about everywhere – turn up at Goodwood or Brooklands in one, for instance, and the gatekeepers will probably laugh – but show up to one of the many Veedub-specific shows across the country this summer and it’ll be met with appreciative nods and quiet mutterings of what a corking – and rare – car it is.

Despite the Government’s best efforts there is no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes a classic car, and I’m glad that there isn’t. One of the questions my Lupo-owning friend pondered was whether cars made between 2000 and 2010 now count as classics, but it’d be too simplistic to argue that a mid-spec Toyota Auris, for instance, is one simply because it was made in the same era as the little GTI. The Teletubbies got to number one barely a few weeks after The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony didn’t – but does that mean it’s stood the test of time?

Some things become classics overnight, and for some it’s a slow-burning process that takes decades. I’ve always reckoned the most important thing is how much time and love people put into them – and it’s the same for VW Lupos, Morris Minors, Triumph motorcycles, steam locomotives, and copies of Bitter Sweet Symphony.

Just be prepared for a man in a hi-vis jacket to disagree with you.

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The new Ford Focus is great – but the 1998 original was the real revolution

The new Ford Focus range is available to order now
IF FORD’S new Focus drives anything like as well as it looks it should be one of this year’s big hits – but if you can save yourself roughly £17,000 if you want to drive a genuine game-changer.

Wander into a showroom with a blue big oval atop and you’ll be able to order the new kid on the block as either a five-door hatch or as an estate perfect for trips to the tip. It’s not only easier on the eye than the old Focus but cheaper too – £2,300 less to be exact, if you go for the entry model – and if you’re feeling flush there’s a plush Vignale model, with leather seats, a fancy radiator grille and electric everything.

But if you want something truly radical you’ll have to walk past the brand-new offering and go back in time. In fact, you’ll have to conveniently forget that there’s still one on every other corner and that you can pick them up for about 25p these days, because the original Ford Focus was a class act. In a way it’s a shame it sold so well because time and familiarity have dulled its impact.

Just think about what else you could’ve bought back in 1998. There was an Astra that handled neatly but looked about as interesting as a tax return, a solidly built but utterly boring Golf, the fantastic yet flaky Fiat Bravo, and a Peugeot 306 that handled beautifully but had a so-so reputation for reliability. Worst of the lot was Ford’s own Escort, which had been quietly getting better with every facelift but ultimately traced its lineage back to an iffy, me-too effort launched eight years earlier. If you wanted a family hatchback your choice was something that did one thing brilliantly or everything with a ‘that’ll do’ attitude.

So when the first Focus rocked up with its all-round independent suspension, its Punto-esque rear headlights and slightly mad angular headlights it’s hardly a surprise everyone sat up and took notice. It had lots of clever little touches – the boot badge that flips sideways to reveal the key slot, for instance – but the big change was just how well it drove. Every Focus I’ve driven over the years has been thoroughly entertaining on a quiet road and that sort of B-road sparkle is something you come to expect from Ford now, but it’s in a different league to the Escort it replaced.

No wonder it went on to become the nation’s best-selling car – and it’s because you still see them everywhere that we’ve all forgotten just how much it moved things on. I’m sure the new car will be a class act too, but it’ll never have the wow factor its (much) older brother did.

Milton Keynes is the venue to win motoring hearts and minds

Ford has developed technology that can sense empty parking spaces
A LONG time ago the blistering heat of the California desert or a fortnight spent in the bitter cold of the Arctic circle were what counted when it came to developing your new car. But it turns out that the latest battleground for motoring supremacy is… Milton Keynes.

Ford dispatched a fleet of Mondeos fitted with some very clever experimental equipment there and – in the best traditions of Tomorrow’s World – a man with a beard and a tweed jacket to attempt to explain their cunning new plan. Essentially, they’ve sent a team of drivers out into this glorious 1960s vision of a New Town and asked them simply to park somewhere. Which, if you’ve ever been to Milton Keynes on a busy Monday morning, can be easier said than done.

If all goes to plan, the Fiesta or Focus you buy in a few years’ time will be able to scan the car park quicker you can, letting you know exactly where that elusive empty space is before the irritating birk in the BMW 1-Series swoops in and steals it at the last second. It’s important stuff; apparently most of us motoring types lose a day a year looking for parking spaces.

Naturally, Volkswagen wasn’t going to let Ford take all the credit for solving our parking problems forever, and just a few days later put out a press release pointing out that it’s been honing its Park Assist system for more than 20 years across three generations of tech, and is now working on an app that’ll talk to your Golf and let you know where all the empty – and better still, cheap – spaces are.

The fact that the combined brainpower of at least two motoring giants is finally being applied to making parking less irritating is wonderful, but what I’m really looking forward to is seeing the Fiestas and Polos of a decade’s time solving the really annoying problems of car parks. Wouldn’t it be great, for instance, if they could fire lasers at all those off-roaders parked diagonally across three spaces? Or have anyone who clips your bodywork with a carelessly-opened door automatically arrested on the spot and sentenced to four years’ hard labour for automotive neglect? I’d go out and buy a new Golf tomorrow if it knew what to do when the ticket reader at a multi-storey stops working, leaving you trapped with six impatient shoppers stuck behind you.

What I’d suggest to Ford is that carries on its important research in the interests of helping the British public by moving its crack team of Mondeo-driving scientists a bit further north than Milton Keynes.

If they – or Volkswagen’s researchers, for that matter – can solve the stresses of parking in Southport town centre or the Skelmersdale Concourse for good, then their millions will have been worthwhile.

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…

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.

BMW make a great 1-series – it just isn’t this one

BMW has made the 1-series brilliant on B-roads, but not so great everywhere else

BARBECUE envy is a bad thing to suffer from at this time of year.

Essentially it involves dragging your rusty old bit of al fresco cooking equipment – inevitably bought at a supermarket for about £30 five years ago – in preparation for a lovely evening with your friends and family. It’s only then you find you’ve been upstaged by an irritating mate/relative/colleague with three grand’s worth of Napoleon Prestige in their garden. You can’t help but marvel at all the polished stainless steel, backlit controls and ceramic plating – but it’s all a bit over-engineered for burning burgers on Britain’s ten hot days each year.

It’s not unlike the BMW 1-series I’ve just spent a weekend with, because it manages to be just a tiny bit too brilliant for its own good. Can a car be too, er, good for its own good? If the 116D is anything to go by, the answer’s an emphatic yes.

If you’ve never driven a 1-series then you won’t appreciate that for all its slightly awkward hatchback proportions it is a proper BMW of the old school, focusing on engineering above all else. So it has a delightfully smooth engine (even for a diesel) up front, all the power heading to the back, and perfect weight distribution in the middle. As a result it’s a real joy to drive, with beautifully balanced steering, a low driving position and a slick gearchange. No bad thing if you’re up in North Yorkshire, where I was working over the weekend.

But once you peel off the B-roads and back into the real world it’s not so impressive. The reason why the rest of the world stopped making rear-drive hatchbacks once the Vauxhall Chevette disappeared is because you have to send all the power down a propshaft to the back wheels, which in a low-slung car like the 1-series robs space. As a result the footwell is cramped, there isn’t much rear legroom and the boot isn’t exactly commodious.

The sharp suspension that proves such a joy on country lanes translates into a firm ride once you’re on the motorway, and I now understand why 1-series drivers never indicate. The flickers seem incapable of self-cancelling, so why bother using them?

This is normally the point where I’d recommend buying a cheaper, roomier Golf that’s very nearly as fun, but I can’t because I know deep down that the 1-series is a truly capable bit of kit that just needs more BMWness to work. It deserves to be ordered in full fat M140i form rather than the apologetic fully skimmed offering you get with the 116D.

I can fully approve of a car where going for the turbocharged one with 335bhp represents the sensible option. Let’s face it, you were only going to spend three grand on a barbecue anyway.

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

Adaptive Cruise Control is too clever by half – but I’m hooked

Driving a Golf on motorways can involve a leap of faith

AN ERRANT Transit van tears off the slip road and onto the motorway, straight into your path. You’re hurtling towards Ford’s finest at bang-on 70mph, acutely aware that a nasty collision isn’t a million miles away. Your right foot quivers nervously towards the brake pedal – yet you do absolutely nothing.

This was me last Friday, taking a leap of motoring faith on the M11. Despite being completely and painfully aware of everything around me I had to resist every ounce of brainpower telling me to tap the middle pedal. Even though I was in full control I’d delegated the decision to a car, and this worried me a lot.

I’m by no means a brilliant driver and I’m sure any half-decent petrolhead would make mincemeat of me on a track day, but logic dictates that a Volkswagen Golf TDI BlueMotion can’t be as smart as I am. Except it is, of course.

A few femtoseconds before I haul in the anchors an unguided hand works out Mr Daily Star Reader in his Transit is tootling along at 10mph less than I am and gently slows the Golf down, working out what the safe distance from the van’s rump is and keeping me at it. Any instant where he puts his foot down is matched by a gentle throb from the Golf’s turbodiesel as it speeds up. If he slows down, the VW slows down. It’s automotive witchcraft, and I’m a convert.

I know that Adaptive Cruise Control has been around for ages – Jaguar was fitting it to the XJ when Liberty X were all the rage – but it’s only now that it’s making its way into mass-market cars. It turns an invention that was frankly rubbish into something that genuinely makes long-distance driving easier.

The only time ‘dumb’ cruise control, as I now call it, works is on a motorway at 3am. Try it at any other time and you’re either frantically thumbing the buttons like a Playstation-addicted teenager, or stomping on the brakes to prevent your car being involved in a rear-end shunt. The Golf’s adaptive system turned it into a guided missile, able to adapt instantly to its surroundings.

You absolutely have to be on top of things – it won’t slam on if Mr Transit does up front – but it meant my feet could take it easy on a five-hour slog up from Kent the other night. Normally I’m a bit resistant to new tech, but Adaptive Cruise Control is genuinely brilliant.

Mass-market cars are cleverer than ever, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. The Golf’s already asked if it can write next week’s column…

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.

There are some amazing used car deals out there

Look carefully and there are plenty of great deals at nearby car dealerships

SAUSAGES, beer and the Mercedes-Benz 190E. It’s clear the Germans do some things brilliantly, but on the evidence I saw the other night motoring telly isn’t one of them.

While holed up in an Essen hotel room I ended up watching what can best be described as Germany’s answer to Wheeler Dealers. It involved slightly cocky petrolheads going out to some car dealers and trying to buy as much car as they can, but minus any of the messing around with welding machines or Top Gear-esque challenges afterwards (although there was a lot of sitting around with serious expressions and discussing things).

The programme was about as much as fun as reading a Dusseldorf railway timetable on a wet Wednesday morning (I should know – I tried it the following morning). But the show’s basic premise of finding as much motoring fun for about £15k at a nearby car dealer sounded like a laugh.

It turns out that the idea of scouring the region’s car dealerships translates perfectly well into English.

Within striking distance of The Champion’s offices I found all sorts of sub-£15k bargains, starting with a Bentley Eight with 29,000 miles on the clock and full service history. That’s 6.8-litres of craftsmanship for less than a mid-range Focus. Should you not fancy being bankrupted by a Bentley’s fuel bills there’s also a one-owner-from-new, 14-reg Golf GTI, a five-year-old BMW Z4 with just about every option imaginable thrown at it or a Jaguar XF with the 3.0-litre diesel that’s just about frugal enough to stop you weeping at filling stations after a long drive.

All of these cars, and all the Peugeot RCZ, MINI Cooper S and Volkswagen Scirocco deals I found while I was at it, all have one thing in common. They can all be found at car dealerships that are within half an hour’s drive of where you live. Play it right and you could pop out in the morning, have a look around some cars and end up with a shiny slice of petrolhead fun on your driveway that afternoon. Do your homework first, go in with a clear head and you’d be surprised at what you can find.

Unless you’re a German motoring telly presenter of course, in which case I’d recommend you spend it on sausages, beer and Mercedes-Benz 190Es instead.