Lotus

Tesla tech I can trust – but Mr Middle Lane Hog? Not a chance

You might trust Tesla tech - not the other drivers passing you nearby
TESLAS can do all sorts of completely bonkers – and therefore, entirely brilliant – things that you didn’t know you needed or wanted from your next car.

There is no point, for instance, in it having something called a Ludicrous Mode that enables you to outdrag a Lamborghini Aventador from the traffic lights. Nor do you need an infotainment system that lets you pretend you’re Roger Moore, circa 1977, outrunning the baddies in an early Esprit, or a remote-control system that lets you move the car out of awkwardly tight parking. And you definitely don’t need your next purchase to fund a motoring tycoon who fires his own cars into space for fun. But this is Tesla, so you can do all of these things, and more.

But one thing you definitely can’t do – at least in the eyes of Hertfordshire Constabulary, anyway – is to show off its impossibly smug autonomous driving mode. You might have seen in the news that Bhavesh Patel has been banned from driving, because he decided to let his Model S have a go. Not on a private test track, but on the M1, while he was in the passenger seat.

The last thing I’d want to do is condone Mr Patel driving like a berk (or not at all), but what the incident does prove is just how much of a tightrope Britain’s powers-that-be and the world’s motoring giants are treading when it comes to autonomous driving. Tesla’s tech, weirdly, I think I’d have trusted with a not terribly interesting stretch of motorway, but would I have had an ounce of faith in the chap in the rented Insignia inevitably 200 yards up front in the middle lane? Not a chance.

I’ve said before that while I love driving, and will be a broken man if my right to enjoy it at the helm of an early MX-5 on a Welsh mountain road is ever taken away from me, there are plenty of occasions when in a distant future I’d happily retreat to a Tesla’s rear quarters. My current commute, for instance, is one long, straight flat road that has no overtaking opportunities and a lorry on it that’s inevitably doing 39mph – that’s an hour a day where I could be learning Italian or writing poetry while Elon Musk’s electronics strut their stuff. I know that I wrote in this very column 18 months ago about a self-driving Tesla that was involved in an accident, but technology improves and gets ever safer.

It sounds wonderful – but Britain would have to go autonomous in one huge, legally-binding lunge if it was to ever embrace it properly. Until then the road will be an unhappy mix of diehard traditionalists (that’d be me, then), the vast majority of people who’d love to have their cars do all the hard work but aren’t legally allowed to, and the dimwits in between, who are too busy cutting people up in their rented Insignias to care.

Until then I’ll happily enjoy the Model S’ other mad features. Any Aventador owners fancy a race, then?

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Pininfarina – a genius new name for Mahindra’s European offerings

Pininfarina turned the Peugeot 406 into a truly stunning coupe

A PAL of mine is currently perusing the classifieds for a Peugeot 406 Coupé. Hopefully, by the time you read this, he’ll be the proud owner of one of these gorgeous Gallic two-doors.

Apparently Ford’s Cougar, Vauxhall’s Calibra, the Mercedes-Benz CLK and Volvo’s C70, which all convoy four adults with a reasonable amount of shove in the same sort of two-door package, didn’t even make it onto the shopping list, because there’s one thing that even today sets a 406 Coupé apart. It’s the same thing that makes you lust after a Ferrari 458 Italia and why the Alfa Romeo 164 was always such a head-turner. It’s also what makes my MGB GT so well proportioned.

It is – and petrolhead bonus points if you’ve already guessed it – having Italian design house Pininfarina sprinkle its magic on the cosmetics. Think of it as a sort of automotive Armani, turning the humdrum into handsome and making things of downright desirability when given a free hand. It’s even had a hand in building cars, including Ford’s StreetKa, but thanks to a tie-up with an Indian conglomerate it now wants to be a carmaker in its own right.

The business side of it makes sense. Mahindra is a big player in motoring but in the UK it’s best known for its dreadful Jeep knock-offs – it has the money to take part in the increasingly lucrative market here in Europe for luxury offerings, but not the street cred. Citroen, for instance, has decided to take on BMW and Mercedes by creating its DS sub-brand, whereas Chinese conglomerate Geely have gone for the Blue Peter ‘Here’s one we made earlier’ approach by snapping up Volvo and Lotus.

But launching a brand with a name already associated with Ferrari’s better-looking offerings is bordering on genius. All it has to do now is the opposite of what most glitzy product launches manage. Make sure it has the style to match the substance.

Automobili Pininfarina hasn’t put out any pictures of what its new car looks like yet but if it’s anything other than jaw-droppingly amazing I’ll be disappointed. This is the name that not only turned the repmobile Peugeot 406 into one of the best-looking cars of the Nineties, but it’s also behind the Ferrari Daytona, Testarossa and F355, the Lancia Montecarlo, the Fiat Dino, the Alfa Romeo GTV and the Jaguar XJ6 Series III. With a blank slate and Mahindra’s money behind it, Pininfarina’s first production car really ought to be so pretty that you leave it your phone number rather than drive it.

If it pulls that off than it might just pull you away from the pile of brochures you have for the C-Class, 3-Series and A4. Or you could save yourself about 20 grand and get the same sort of visual sparkle from a 406 Coupé. See, we’re full of useful consumer tips at The Champion

I’ll admit it – driving in Scotland is fun

David was able to enjoy Scotland safely in his Mazda MX-5

IT’S BEEN a while since I’ve had a pen pal but I seem to have picked one up at Classic Car Weekly. He doesn’t write often but the topic’s always the same – I’m apparently guilty of glamorising driving dangerously on rural roads.

So he’ll no doubt be writing in when he discovers I’ve just spent a weekend driving around the Scottish Highlands, not to visit a distant aunt in Fort William, but for fun. I’ll admit it; I did nearly 1000 miles over four days for no good reason other than to drive on great roads simply because I enjoy doing it.

We’ll start with the location. Pick up any of the glossy travel mags and they’ll tell you that the A82 between Glasgow and Glencoe is Europe’s best stretch of road but this simply isn’t true – you can’t enjoy driving it because you’ll be stuck behind a lorry winding its way up to Inverness, and you can’t stop to admire the view because all the laybys are full of Dutch motorhomes. But the A87 and the A887 are utterly wonderful. Set off from Southport tomorrow morning and you’ll be there by mid-afternoon, and because you’ll want to stay overnight you’ll be giving the Scottish economy a helping hand, too.

But the real joy is you can do all of this without going anywhere remotely near a speed limit. Yes, I’ll freely admit that there were far too many people up in the Highlands driving dangerously in BMW X5s and doing silly overtakes in Honda Civic Type-Rs, but that’s something you’re as likely to see in Parbold as you are in Pitlochry. The trick is to drive around in a car that thrills at real world speeds.

I spent the weekend up there in my Mazda MX-5 but you’d be just as happy in any MG, Caterham, Lotus or Alfa Spider – and if you do need something with an extra set of seats, anything vaguely old with a Peugeot, Ford or BMW badge up front should suit the bill. Some of the best drives I’ve ever done have been at the helm of a derv-driven Peugeot 306 and a 15-year-old Ford Mondeo, so don’t knock ‘em until you’ve tried them!

But the end result is always the same; you emerge with a smile on your face, the Highlands economy gets a boost, and – unless you really do drive like a berk – Police Scotland don’t have to deal with unnecessary paperwork. Drive sensibly of course, but freely admit that it’s something you enjoy, like playing a piano or going fishing.

I might even arrange for my pen pal to go up there and for there to be an Austin-Healey 3000 waiting at the other end. Chances are, I suspect he’ll enjoy it…

Lotus – The Movie! Why it won’t happen anytime soon

Lotus makes some of the best handling cars on the market today

IF LOTUS were a bloke he’d have had his life story turned into a Hollywood movie by now – probably with Christian Bale playing the lead role.

It’s a compelling enough tale. A troubled young individual who grew up on a farm in Norfolk ends up hanging out with the world’s F1 stars, James Bond and that bloke from The Prisoner. Then he ends up falling in with a dodgy American entrepreneur and narrowly avoiding jail, losing loads of money in the process – before bouncing back spectacularly by winning Britain’s petrolheads over with his charm and character. But then he gets big ideas of taking on Ferrari, ends up cocking it up again and annoys his accountants.

Lotus has all sorts of baggage attached to it but none of it matters a jot when you’re at the helm of one on an open road. I’ve driven a couple of Hethel’s products over the years and they’ve all – from the 1970s Elan +2 to a brand new Evora S – been pretty much unbeatable when it comes to ride and handling. Even the 1990s Elan, which plenty of pub critics will kid you is a bit rubbish because it’s front-wheel-drive, was years ahead of its time when it came to mid-bend agility.

But the really important thing about Lotus isn’t all those dusty old F1 trophies or the pictures of the (now late) Sir Roger Moore posing next to a white Esprit; it’s all the work its engineers do behind the scenes on ordinary, everyday cars. Vauxhall and Proton are just about the only ones who’ll admit to having Lotus experts work on their cars’ handling but there are plenty of others who use its services; if your car doesn’t corner like a drunken tea trolley then it’s probably down to Lotus know-how.

Which is why I’m glad that a majority stake in Lotus has finally been snapped up by Geely, a Chinese manufacturer. You might not have heard of them but they’ve owned Volvo for the past seven years, and the Swedes seem to be doing rather well out of it.

I’m optimistic that Lotus will be allowed to thrive with a new influx of cash, rather like Jaguar Land Rover has under Indian ownership. For too long it’s depended on the Evora, a model launched back in 2008, and the Elise, which can trace its roots back to the early 1990s. Both are brilliant, but with the right investment Lotus should be able to develop some world class cars.

Starting with a new Elan, hopefully. Maybe the movie script writers should put their pens down for now…