jaguar

Toyota, thank you for making the Century so bonkers

The Toyota Century is brilliant - but unlikely to make it to the UK

THE GREATEST car you’ve never heard of has just been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. But you wouldn’t know it just by looking at it.

The Toyota Century is that awkward relative who cracks awful jokes, dances badly at weddings and dresses like Alan Partridge. It is, with its ridiculous V12 engine and gaudy ‘70s Lincoln looks, the Monkey Tennis of motoring. Which is precisely why I’ve always found Japan’s most extravagant bit of automotive engineering so weirdly endearing.

But now the awkwardly outdated wedding guest has been given some snappy new clothes and been informed that Taylor Swift is a pop starlet, not a brand of caravan. Well sort of, because while the new model’s been given an eco-conscious hybrid powerplant in favour of the old V12, Toyota’s also insisting that it has “a simple and modern aesthetic”. Which it doesn’t.

Not that I (or any of the Century’s customers, for that matter) care remotely. In a world full of me-too sports activity vehicles and drearily understated executive saloons there is something wonderfully refreshing about a brand new saloon that looks exactly like a car that Huggy Bear would drive.

It’s aimed at the sort of people who’d normally go for an S-Class or an Audi A8 but it’s also the only luxury offering that eschews leather seats (although you can still order them) in favour of wool-trimmed thrones. There’s also an LCD panel that allows the managing director to control all the interior settings – including those for the driver’s seat – while slouching in the rear seat. That’s exactly the sort of unapologetic luxury that you just wouldn’t get in a 7-Series.

Toyota has absolutely no plans to bring it to the UK, partly because it’d trod of the toes of the Lexus LS, an equally lavish saloon developed by the same manufacturer that just happens to look like it belongs in 2017. But it’s good to know that when it isn’t churning out Prius hybrids the world’s biggest car manufacturer has something genuinely a bit bonkers up its sleeve.

I really hope the new Century’s a raging success because it’ll prove that there’s a market for luxury waftmobiles that look they belong in the late 1970s. Hopefully it’ll encourage Jaguar to get on with making a new version of its Daimler Double Six Vanden Plas. Just a thought…

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Jaguar Land Rover has a great opportunity right under its nose

Currently the Jaguar Land Rover range starts with the XE saloon

WHAT’S your worst nightmare? Perhaps it’s giving an important work seminar wearing nothing but a bikini – even though you’re a bloke – or being locked inside a hi-fi shop overnight with every stereo system set to play Justin Bieber’s greatest hits on repeat, ad nauseam.

For me it’s trying to explain Jaguar Land Rover’s plans for world domination to someone who doesn’t understand cars. The Jaguar stuff’s fairly simple – you start with the wonderful XJ, replicate in slightly smaller sizes and then chuck in a two-seater sports car for good measure, but I’m completely lost when it comes to Land Rover. There’s no Land Rover-shaped Land Rover any more, a Discovery that looks just like a Range Rover Evoque, and a big Discovery that’s now tremendously ugly. Then there’s the Range Rover, but it’s accompanied by another Range Rover that obsesses over Nurburgring lap times and looking good outside footballers’ homes, a really small Range Rover that now looks a bit like a Land Rover Discovery Sport, and the Velar, which sits somewhere between the two.

All of which hurts my head (and probably yours) slightly. So rumours that JLR’s looking to expand its range of offerings even further are going to have me reaching for the Nurofen.

The manufacturer’s Indian bosses are reportedly thinking about snapping up another brand to boost its luxury offerings, with everything from Aston-Martin to MG under consideration. Even Jeep’s been linked to a potential deal, although this would be a bit like Liverpool snapping up Arsenal.

Then there’s serious consideration apparently being given to launching what’s being dubbed the ‘Road Rover’, which would be a sort of tarmac-orientated twin to Land Rover’s current offerings.  All of which would make it… a Rover, surely?

Rover would be a great name to bring back. If VW can successfully turn Skoda from the butt of motoring jokes to a champion of sensibly-priced family cars, how hard can it be to turn an (admittedly tarnished) British brand back into the luxury name known for cars like the P5 and P6? BMW so nearly did it with the 75 but famously bottled it in 2000. Jaguar Land Rover, with its clever engineering and healthy cashflow, might just crack it.

Admit it – a properly engineered Rover with wood, leather and some Jaguar-esque tech beneath the skin really wouldn’t be a bad thing. Better than presenting that work seminar in a bikini, anyway…

The new TVR Griffith is mad. Which is why you should love it

TVR chose to launch its new Griffith at the Goodwood Revival last weekend

THE NEW Ferrari FXX? Sorry, not really that fussed. The Aston Martin DB11 was lovely, but hardly astonishing. And I was a bit ‘meh’ about the McLaren 570S, to be honest.

I’m sure all three are resolutely thrilling on the right bit of racetrack but it’s entirely forgiveable to be a bit blasé. We’re used to seeing shiny new supercars from all three, all of which are a modicum more impressive than the last one. It’s a bit like Liverpool doing rather well in the Premier League – just like they did last year, and the year before that.

But a new TVR is more like Leicester thundering in and unexpectedly snatching all the silverware, against ridiculous odds. The latest Griffith is the car that so many of us wanted to see, but none of us really believed was ever going to happen. Only that last Friday, after more than a decade of waiting, it did.

Barely a week in and there have already been plenty of comments that it doesn’t look bonkers enough to be a TVR – even I think it’s got shades of Jaguar F-type, but that’s hardly a bad thing. It’s also been fitted with ABS and a sophisticated power steering system but otherwise it’s business as usual for a carmaker that’s crafted its reputation on being ballsy where everyone else plays safe.

It has a V8 not a million miles from what you’ll find in a Ford Mustang but it’s been breathed on by Cosworth so it’s developing something in the region of 500bhp, with a Porsche-troubling power-to-weight ratio of around 400bhp per tonne. Gordon Murray – of McLaren F1 and Mercedes SLR fame – has helped out with the underpinnings, so it shouldn’t drive like an old-school TVR. It’ll be much better than that!

Even the Griffith’s launch makes it loveable. TVR could’ve done the sensible thing and flown out to Frankfurt, where everyone else is unveiling their new metal at the moment, but it decided instead to do it at the Goodwood Revival, a classic car event known for being consciously stuck in the 1960s. It’s emphatically not the place to launch a brand new car – but TVR did it anyway.

In fact the only thing that’s missing from this curiously British resurrection is the old Blackpool factory being brought back into action and giving Lancashire its sports car crown back, but that would be far too predictable for the new boys at TVR.

So they’ve decided to build it in a small town in Wales instead. There you have it – Ebbw Vale is Britain’s answer to Maranello…

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…

Why drive-in cinemas are more relevant than you think

Why drive-in cinemas are more relevant than you think.jpg

ELECTRICALLY adjustable leather seats, massive cupholders, automatic air con and speakers so powerful they can wake the dead. It’s amazing how much cinemas have come on these days.

Going out to catch a movie increasingly involves levels of luxury you’d normally find in a Mercedes or Jaguar showroom – but then you also need a Jaguar-sized budget to pay for it.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I can remember putting up with nasty fold-out chairs and sticky floors to catch Jumanji in Southport’s old ABC cinema, but then the entire experience came in at under a fiver. Fast forward to today’s multiplexes and stocking up on two adult tickets and snacks can cost four or five times that.

Which is why I was intrigued to try an alternative last weekend. The future of watching films isn’t Netflix – it involves going back to the 1950s. Drive-in cinemas, to be exact.

The one I tried out costs £25 per car. Expensive if you’re travelling alone, but rock up in an MPV rammed with youngsters and it’s a bargain night out. Comfort depends entirely on your choice of wheels, and while I can now confirm that an S-registered Toyota Avensis is not as comfy as the premium seats at your nearest multiplex you can talk as loudly as you like without annoying anyone else watching the movie.

The only downside is the sound. Anyone old enough to remember proper drive-in cinemas will know that you pulled up next to pre-installed speakers and wound down the windows, but the class of 2017 involves flicking your radio in to the right frequency. Great for a crisp, clear sound, but not when you miss a crucial bit of plot because there’s interference or you’re suddenly redirected to the traffic news.

Nor am I convinced I’d want to sit in a medium-sized hatchback for two hours in the depths of winter, trying to listen to bits of movie dialogue over the sound of hailstones bouncing off the windscreen, but at this time of year drive-ins are a right giggle. Buy your popcorn at the supermarket earlier on, load your car up with mates and park up the film, which given the audiences being targeted means it’ll likely be something nostalgic and catchy. I ended up watching Grease, and the following night a mate spent two hours watching Top Gun from a Saab 900.

I’ve long maintained cars solve all sorts of problems. I just wasn’t expecting the rocketing cost of going to the cinema to be one of them.

Closed roads motor sport is a good thing for Britain

F1 cars have long been a big draw at the Ormskirk MotorFest

GIVE the Government credit where it’s due. It’s stuck to its promises and handed power back to Britain’s towns and cities – about 475bhp, by my reckoning.

That’s roughly how much the Cosworth V8 in a Saudia-Williams FW06 F1 car makes, as driven by Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni in the late 1970s, when they’d have been able to use every last inch of its power on the world’s race circuits. But if you’d seen the same car doing its lap of honour at Ormskirk’s MotorFest event it would’ve been limited, for legal reasons, to the same 30mph your mum’s Fiesta does on the town’s one-way system.

Until now. After years of talking about it Whitehall’s finally gone ahead and lifted the ban on cars doing more than the speed limit at one-off events.

In recent years it has technically been possible to have Ferraris and Jaguars do high speed runs on closed-off British roads, but as it was very complicated and involved obtaining an Act of Parliament very few actually bothered. But as of last Monday it’s now much easier to stage races, sprints and various other forms of motorsport on public roads and in town centres – which I reckon is definitely a good thing.

Take the MotorFest. Every year it brings roughly 15,000 of you into the West Lancashire market town for a bit of high-octane fun, making it Ormskirk’s busiest trading day. It’s a great event, but imagine how much more compelling it’d be if you could watch F1 cars, Jaguar D-types and rally-prepped Subaru Imprezas being given the beans on the one-way system. Obviously these closed-off roads would be properly policed and ‘elf ‘n’ safety checked until the organiser’s desk creaks under the weight of paperwork, but the adrenalin rush of great cars being driven as their makers intended would boost all the businesses nearby.

In fact enterprising so-and-sos could use these new powers for all sorts of things. I’d love to see Lord Street in Southport turned into a sprint course for an afternoon – my bet’s that a Lamborghini Huracan would easily beat a Ferrari 488 in a dash from Duke Street to the fire station. Half Mile Island in Skelmersdale could easily host a round of the British Drift Championship. And what about the Parbold Hill Climb?

I’m sure that precisely none of these ideas will end up anywhere other than the bottom of a beer glass, but it’s nice to know we’re legally allowed to.

A Triumph TR4 or a year of parking tickets? I know which I’d take

Being stretched for time is no excuse for poor parking

IT MIGHT not buy you a house any more but £24,500 still bags you a lot these days. A mid-range BMW 1-Series, for instance, or a Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport with most of the options chucked in.

Classic car nuts like me would probably end up with a Triumph TR4 or Jaguar Mk2 for that sort of money. Or you can follow Carly Mackie’s lead and blow the lot on roughly a year’s worth of parking for the car you already have. That’s something in the region of £65 a day for a car that’s not even moving.

The punishment administered a court up in Dundee this week is widely being described as Britain’s biggest ever parking penalty – but it does (in Scotland at least) scotch the myth that parking tickets issued by private companies on private land are legally unenforceable. All it’ll take is one court case of a similar nature either here in England or over in Wales to make the precedent Britain-wide, and I don’t think any of us want to test it out.

Yet I think this is no bad thing. Too many people on the internet have been perpetuating the idea you should refuse to pay these private penalties under any circumstances, but I’d much rather take the precedent of a court ruling over some self-appointed internet legal eagle and – while it’s unfortunate for Ms Mackie – this does at least clear things up. It also highlights how bad the situation in most town centres has ended up if people are prepared to run this parking gauntlet.

On a busy day Southport and Ormskirk are particularly tricky to find spaces in and I’ll inevitably end up circulating like an automotive vulture, waiting to swoop down the instant someone’s Fiesta backs out and frees up a space. Skelmersdale does rather better, with its swish multi-storey at the Concourse – but it’s a shame the spaces were designed for an age when everyone drove Austin 1100, not BMW X5s.

But there is a solution both to the parking precedent and to another news story that’s been doing the rounds this week. Apparently a third of us are so fat and lazy these days that we’re costing the NHS a billion quid a year, largely because we can no longer be bothered to stroll to the corner shop.

So let’s walk more. I’ve spent years parking on the fringes of Southport on my shopping trips, saving a couple of quid in parking and doubtless extending my life slightly at the same time. If you’re a mum with three prams to push around or someone with a wheelchair or crutches then go ahead and use the town centre, but for the sake of a few minutes I’d much rather enjoy some exercise. Bit rainy? Use an umbrella. Lots of shopping to carry? That’s what bags are for.

I know this new-fangled walking thing is going to take a while to catch on, but just think of all the money you’ll be saving. Enough to buy a Triumph TR4 within a year, if the latest precedent is anything to go by.

Don’t buy a new Focus – buy an S-Class instead!

you-can-have-all-this-for-less-than-the-price-of-a-new-ford-focus

I WAS wondering which Liverpool player was going to step out when the black S-Class pulled up alongside me. Or perhaps it was a leading light of the criminal word, dispatched to assassinate me for something unsavoury I’d written in The Champion years earlier.

But actually it was one of the freelance photographers I work with sometimes, and he was very pleased because this enormous luxury saloon with electric everything and an AMG sports pack really was his. Not only that, but it transpired the whole thing had set him back what an entry-level Ford Focus costs.

As cars go it really is phenomenal value. The equivalent diesel V6 model today will set you back the thick end of seventy grand, meaning this one has lost more than two thirds of its value in just eight years. It’s the sort of hefty depreciation that’ll make its original managing director owner wince, but look at it from a buyer’s perspective and it’s a no-brainer. For £16,000 you can’t buy the cheapest new car Mercedes-Benz makes, but you can buy a barely run-in S-Class with everything still working.

It’s not just misunderstood Mercedes models, either. For the same sort of money you can have a BMW 730D with a full service history and 39,000 miles on the clock – not bad, considering all it’ll get you new is a top of the range Polo. How about a Jaguar XJ with the 2.7-litre diesel V6? Again, could be yours for an Astra-sized outlay.

Yes, I know they’ll be more expensive to tax, insure and service than a family hatchback, but at least with them being the diesel versions you won’t be left weeping inconsolably every time you pull into a branch of Shell or BP. Nor are they the sort of automotive antiques I normally deal with – even at this sort of money they’re all fully working cars with plenty of life left in them, gadgets that sync up with your iPhone and seats that massage your buttocks on motorway slogs.

It’s worth bearing in mind next time you’re thinking of venturing out and buying a new car – for the same sort of money you can have a low mileage S-Class, a barely used BMW or a just run-in Jaguar. 

Suddenly the snob factor of having a 66-plate on your front bumper isn’t so impressive. Although you will get Champion journalists cowering everytime you drive past, thinking their number’s up.