mx-5

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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Driving top-down? You can have too much of a good thing

Too much sports car fun can damage your health, as our motoring man has discovered

WINE, Italian cuisine and Queen’s Greatest Hits. As I know from painful experience with all three – which normally involves indigestion or annoyed neighbours banging on walls – you definitely can have too much of a good thing.

Unfortunately, I can now add enjoying a sports car, top down, in the spring sunshine to that list. It is, I reckon, exactly the sort of hedonistic petrolhead hoot that makes all those hours spent queuing in city centre traffic jams all worthwhile; the giddy thrill of going exploring in search of a country pub in something that puts the wind in your hair and a big smile on your face. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it in a 1930s MG T-type, a Lotus Seven from the mid-Sixties or a brand-new BMW Z4, because even though their technology is wildly different, the results are always broadly the same.

This is exactly the sort of bright-eyed optimism I ventured out with over a glorious Bank Holiday last weekend in my own small sports car, my trusty (if slightly faded-looking) Mazda MX-5. For a 28-year-old roadster it still works a treat, happily hitting the high notes with its rev counter, time and time again, but unfortunately it seems there’s one component that just isn’t as well engineered for the task as all of Mazda’s double wishbone suspension and twin overhead cam engine trickery. Me, to be exact.

What I’d forgotten was that in blazing sunshine and 24-degree heat that human skin just isn’t as good at coping with hour after hour of top-down fun. I naively ventured out for a two-hour drive to see some old racing cars going sideways at the Donington Historic Festival, spent the day looking at Ford Capris and Jaguar D-types, and spent another two hours driving home again.

Driving with the roof down for hours at a time is deceptive, because the breeze blowing onto your face masks the fact that you’re slowly simmering like a barbecue sausage. It was only when I returned home eight long hours later that I realised my complexion looked like a curious blend of an Oompa Lumpa and a freshly grown tomato. No amount of after sun was going to remedy this one overnight!

So if you are lucky enough to have a two-seater convertible at your disposal, do make sure that you keep a bottle of sun tan lotion to hand so you can keep on applying it throughout the day (and not just first thing in the morning, which was my schoolboy error).

Play it sensibly and you might just be able to enjoy all three days with the top down, as opposed to spending two of them trapped indoors, nursing colossal sunburn.
Although it did give me a chance to crack open a bottle of wine and stick Queen on again, of course…

Don’t panic about snow – learn to drive on it!

More should be done to prepare motorists for coping with snowy conditions

THIS TIME last week there was a joke doing the rounds in the bars of Helsinki about our recent spate of bracing weather.

The English called the weather front, on account of it sweeping across the North Sea straight from the chillier bits of Russia, The Beast From The East. The Dutch dubbed it The Siberian Bear. Even the Swedes got a bit over-excited and labelled it The Snow Cannon. But the Finns called it… Wednesday.
It’s a bit of a harsh observation, but when it comes from a country that’s produced seven world rally champions there is an element of truth in it. We Brits just aren’t too hot at coping with extreme cold.
I can understand the schools closing for the day and the train operators finding things a bit tricky – but all those warnings about not travelling unless it’s absolutely necessary rang a bit hollow. Okay, so horsepower hedonists like me who venture out simply because it’s fun had to hang fire on getting their MX-5s and M3s out for a few days, but everyone else who’s vaguely normal only ever travels because it’s necessary. You might be lucky enough to work from home or to have a boss nice enough to deem your drive in non-essential, but for the rest of us we’re on the roads not to be annoying, but because we have to be.
Which is why there really ought to be more emphasis on learning what to do when you have to go out in the snow, so you don’t have to stay in and listen to people on the news telling you how treacherous it is out there. If you woke up to a genuine ten-foot high snowdrift than fair enough, but you’d be surprised at how far you can get on the white stuff in a car that isn’t a Land Rover Discovery if you drive sensibly. Even on quiet roads that hadn’t been gritted my 20-year-old Toyota Avensis managed to cope admirably, and one pal of mine managed to overcome just about everything in a Fiat Cinquecento. Neither had chunky winter tyres or fancy traction control systems – but they did have decent rubber, a lack of weight and some careful driving in their favour.
But far too few drivers I encountered during Snowmageddon seemed completely clueless about what to do when you get that horrible moment when the steering goes light on an icy patch or what to do when the back end snaps out of line on a slippery bit of snow. I’m not suggesting that we’re sent on weekend breaks to Finland to learn how to drive a Mitsubishi Evo VIII rally car on a frozen lake to sharpen up our skills (although I’d be more than happy to volunteer!), but I’m sure that equipped with some snow-driving knowledge the recent conditions wouldn’t have been as ominous.
Let’s stop panicking about the snow and learn to drive on it instead. Then the Finns might stop taking the mickey out of us…

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…

MGB vs MX-5 – which would YOU take to Scotland?

IMG_8310THE MGB’s fresh MoT has just made one of my big motoring calls of 2016 that little bit harder.

In a few weeks’ time I’m going on a stag do with a petrolhead twist; driving around the glorious roads of the Scottish Highlands for three days. There’s an odd assortment of automotive gems going on the trip, ranging from a Hillman Imp and an MGB GT V8 to a Saab 9000 Turbo, a Mercedes W123 and a Mazda MX-5.

But – and most of the fellow stag weekend attendees already know this – I’m having a genuine dilemma over which of my two classics to take. MGB GT or MX-5?

Until this morning the Mazda had it in the bag. Drive any early MX-5 and you’ll know instantly why it’s such a masterclass in steering and handling – it genuinely is one of the great driver’s cars of the past 30 years, and yet you can pick ’em for under a grand. If I took mine up it’d be big fun on Scotland’s wonderful country lanes, and if the sun makes a rare appearance it takes all of two seconds to drop the roof down. It’s endlessly reliable too and it’ll easily eke 35 miles out of a gallon on the M6 on the way up there. The only slight snag is that my import-spec one’s been fitted with a three-speed auto rather than the snickety five-speed manual, but that’s a small price to pay for it being such a brilliant companion every day I’m not barrelling down a B-road.

Mazda Eunos Roadster - David Simister

But then last weekend I took the MGB out for a 250-mile trip to the Lakes and back for a Classic Car Weekly gig last weekend. And it was brilliant.

Yes it’s noisy, you have to work with the heavy steering to manhandle it through corners and it’ll do 25mpg on a good day, but it’s so much more of an event to drive. It involves you so much in the experience, and while it’s more tiring to drive on long motorway slogs it’ll happily pound along with the Audis and BMWs in the outside lane if it needs to.

I just assumed the MGB would be too unreliable to turn up and it’d fail its MoT – but having just done a faultless return flight to Cumbria and earned itself another 12 months’ ticket it’s time to think again. I love both cars and would happily take either up to the Highlands – but until I work out how to drive two cars at once, I’m going to have to make a tough choice.

Which would you go for?