hatchback

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.

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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.

The Skoda Yeti is a hard act to follow

Skoda put substance ahead of style with its Yeti

IN A WORLD of Jukes, Capturs and Mokkas the Karoq is a good thing; a proper, evocative car name of the old school.

Not only is it drawn from the language of a remote Alaskan tribe but you can just imagine it being slapped across a supercar’s rump. A Maserati Karoq has a certain ring to it.

But this name isn’t going on some Italian slingshot; it’s going on Skoda’s new baby off-roader, which looks great and should sell like Ed Sheeran tickets when it goes on sale here later this year. I’ve no doubt it’ll be an accomplished all-rounder (especially if its Kodiaq big brother is anything to go by) but it means Skoda’s existing baby off-roader, the Yeti, will be quietly put down.

Which is a real shame because I still reckon it’s one of the most talented tiny off-roaders out there. In fact, it’s one of the best motoring all-rounders, full stop.

I remember road-testing it for The Champion in 2010, not long after it first arrived in the UK, and thinking how willfully different it was from the rest of the Qashqai-alikes out there. It eschewed trendy styling and clever in-car infotainment for slab-sided proportions and minimal overhangs for better ground clearance – just like you get on a Land Rover Discovery. It even had the same sort of chunky buttons and indestructible interior plastics as most off-roaders, so that even the clumsiest of schoolchildren or the hungriest of Labradors wouldn’t be able to ruin it.

But best of all it had that rare thing missing from so many of today’s off-roader-esque family cars; the prowess to match the proposition. One of the cars we occasionally use at Classic Car Weekly for photoshoots is a 13-reg Yeti, and no matter what we throw in its direction it always emerges totally unflummoxed. On one jaunt back from the Goodwood Festival of Speed we actually took it green laning to avoid the traffic jams and it dealt with the muddy ruts and rocks superbly – and as a result, it was faster than every Ferrari, Porsche and M-badged BMW within a ten-mile radius.

For a five-door hatchback that kicks in at a shade under 18 grand it is supremely talented, and definitely something that even in its twilight years I’d thoroughly recommend. I can only hope the new arrival picks up the Yeti’s baton of being something you can count upon in a muddy field, rather than following the me-too route of looks over all else.

It does at least have a cool name, though, which is a good start.

This DS3 is proof girly cars don’t work

The DS 3 Givenchy Le Make Up is a tie-up with French fashion brand GivenchyTHE perfect car for women should have a pink dashboard, a cosmetics kit and LED lighting that makes it easier to apply. 

Before you fire up your keyboards and prepare your email to The Champion’s editor that’s not me being sexist for the sake of an intro. That’s the genuine specification of a three-door hatchback you’ll be able to order in a couple of week’s time. 

I haven’t been on enough political correctness courses to work out whether or not the DS 3 Givenchy Le MakeUp is patronising to the opposite sex or just brilliant brand placement. Girly cars with pink upholstery are nothing new (take a bow, Fiat 500), and nor is marketing your upmarket bit of motoring with a fashionable label (the Range Rover Vogue, for all its blokey off-road credentials, was originally named after the fashion magazine). But blending the two is genuinely brave stuff.

The encouraging news is the basic package is genuinely good stuff. I’ve driven several DS3s – admittedly when they were badged as Citroëns rather than a posh French brand in their own right – and all had an enticing blend of consummate handling, plucky engines and energetic, youthful styling. It’s exactly the sort of fun-filled family car I’ll hop into for a cheeky B-road blast.

But – and here’s the rub – I can’t help feel sorry for the bloke whose car breaks down one Monday morning, with no public transport to hand. The only way of getting to the office on time is to borrow the other half’s DS 3 Givenchy Le MakeUp, and all his mates are going to see him driving it. It’s a car named in honour of make up, for heaven’s sake. Our poor friend – who might as well walk to work wearing a short skirt for the same effect – is going to feel like an utter berk driving it.

That’s my problem with gender-specific cars. Women are far brighter human beings than most males are and are perfectly capable of adapting any car to their needs without the need for pink upholstery and in-built cosmetic kits, and don’t need manufacturer help. It also begs the question of where the bloke equivalent is – a DS 3 The Lad Bible with an in-built fridge full of Carlsberg and some Liverpool season tickets is just about as ludicrous, but that won’t happen any time soon.

The DS 3 is a brilliant car – but chucking make up and silly pink trim at it doesn’t improve it one jot.