skoda

Going to a classic show in a dull car? Good luck finding it again

Toyota has made its Avensis Tourer very good at blending in - but our motors man reckons he has the answer
SOMETIMES the best places to go looking for cars aren’t the bustling shows taking place at stately homes most weekends – it’s the makeshift car parks next to them.
I was at one last Sunday and in the vast field given over to cars brought along by visitors I spotted a Jaguar XK150, a Ford Capri 3000XL, a Citroen CX GTI and a particularly well restored Hillman Super Minx. All of which were, lovely, of course, but the car I really wanted to see was a silver, 18-reg Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D Tourer. Largely because it’s the car I’d been lent for the weekend, and I needed to get home again.
Anyone who’s been to a big car show in something that isn’t a Triumph TR4 will have encountered this problem. After crawling through the grounds of a palatial country pile you’re directed into a nondescript field, where some volunteers – who always seem to be children drafted in from a local Scout group – beckon you into neatly organised rows of cars that aren’t terribly interesting. Normally, if you park up somewhere you’ll make a mental note of where you are – but because I’m a car nut with a short attention span my mind immediately zooms to what’s on the other side of the show entry gate, and I forget.
Which is great right up to the moment you emerge seven hours later and have to find your mid-sized family hatchback in a vast, nondescript field filled from front to back with mid-sized family hatchbacks.
If you’re lucky you might have remembered that you parked two rows away from a bloke in a Ferrari and that you can use his slightly dusty-looking F430 as a sort of homing beacon, but normally there’s a horrible moment when you realise you might never see your car again. I once spent two hours wandering around the peripheries of Goodwood trying to find a borrowed Skoda Fabia, which has six vast car parks given over to people who all seem to drive Skoda Fabias.
You might even end up doing the thing I do, which is to grab your car’s keyfob and point it in just about every direction imaginable, hoping that somewhere in the distance you might see the reassuring flash of indicators of a car that’s unlocking itself. It makes you look like someone who’s pulling shapes at an early ‘90s rave night, but it does on the odd occasion reunite you with your wheels.
I reckon the solution is for cars to be equipped with distress flares that can be activated remotely from the keyfob – especially for ones as visually anonymous as the current Avensis D-4D Tourer. As long as the car show isn’t held in a multi-storey car park this would work a treat, and you’d only have to look up to see in an instant where you’ve parked.
Or just turn up in something interesting, of course. I bet the bloke in the XK150 doesn’t have this problem…
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You don’t need a Porsche to make motoring fun

You don't need a 911-sized budget to make motoring fun
PORSCHE is, I’ve long reckoned, is the only supercar maker that just about everyone can afford to dabble in.

The days of 944s for under a grand and air-cooled 911s for Mondeo money might be long gone but you can easily pick up an early Boxster for less than the price of a secondhand Astra – try doing that with Ferrari or McLaren. I was at a huge Porsche event over in Llandudno and that’s definitely the vibe I picked up from the people taking part. Sure, there were managing directors flying the flag in brand new Caymans, but there were also plenty of petrolheads who just love their cars, even without the enormous budget, and were just as happy to be there.

Except for one chap, who I can only assume was a member of the public who’d got lost. “I dunno, I don’t get what all the fuss is”, he seethed to his other half as he glanced over 650 of Stuttgart’s sports cars, proudly lined up along a North Wales promenade.

“They’re just cars, aren’t they? A means to an end. As long as it’s got a tow bar for my trailer and starts up in the morning, I don’t give a fig”. Only that last word was something else beginning with ‘F’, of course.

For a moment I thought I’d overhead someone who sees cars the way I see football – but then for all the moments I can feel my eyes glazing over every time I head the transfer window being discussed loudly in a pub, I can at least look back at all the few times I’ve been to see Southport play and ended up cheering them on. This bloke, on the other hand, had no time for cars whatsoever.

His loss, especially when you bear in mind that you don’t have to have a Porsche and that motoring fun can be had in just about any form at every budget, taking virtually no effort to attain. A secondhand Mondeo can be picked up for a few hundred quid and they can be very sprightly through the bends. Gently expand your used car budget and the Golf GTI is your oyster. A mate of mine bought a RenaultSport Megane not long ago – 225bhp and finely honed French suspension for just four grand.

Still not convinced? You could snap up a secondhand Land Rover Discovery and have all the space and countryside chic you could ever ask for, or match family practicality with a healthy dose of B-road prowesss with a 5-Series that’s barely in. Even the most sensible family car I can think of, the Skoda Octavia, can be had in smile-inducing vRS form from about £2000 upwards.

All of these cars, of course, can be fitted with a tow bar and will start up a treat first thing in the morning. Not bad for a means to an end.

The only way is Up – if you’re looking for a small hot hatch

The Up GTI is the smallest hot hatch Volkswagen makes

IT’S THE sort of late landing an Irish budget airline would be proud of. There’s arriving fashionably late – and then there’s the Volkswagen Up GTI.

Connoisseurs of pint-sized and spiced-up hatchbacks might have already read that as of this week the smallest of Wolfsburg GTI-badged wonders has just gone on sale across the UK. You might have also read in the motoring mags about how it copes tremendously with tight turns, and seen James May making excitable squawking noises while driving it on The Grand Tour. But the fact remains that Volkswagen first started promising us a spruced-up version of the teeny-tiny up way back in 2013, at a time when I was actually using a bog-standard Up as a company car.

I can only assume that Volkswagen was being considerate by teasing us with it in concept car form – albeit missing that elusive third letter and badged as just the GT then – so it could give press-on drivers like me the chance to save up for it. Which is a good thing, because even in the poverty spec guise I reckon the Up’s the best car VW currently makes (especially now that the Scirocco has been pensioned off).

But all those years of teasing car nuts with the idea of an Up with added oomph has given the rest of the motoring world time to catch up. For a few hundred pounds less, for instance, you can have the Renault Twingo GT, which follows roughly the same formula but sticks the engine behind the rear seats and spits all the power out through the rear wheels. So basically it’s a Porsche 911 that’s more practical and easier to park. There’s also the Smart ForFour Brabus, which uses the same engine as the Twingo in a much heavier package and slaps on a £20k price tag for the privilege. Erm, and that’s about it.

Sure, there’s a new Suzuki Swift Sport on the way too but it’s astonishing that there’s no Sport spinoff of Ford’s Ka+ and that Vauxhall’s VXR boffins haven’t got their hands on an Adam. There’s no GTI twist on Peugeot’s 108 or a VTS variant of its sister car, the Citroen C1. Even VW hasn’t extended the GTI fun factor to the Up’s extended cousins – why isn’t SEAT doing a Mii Cupra, or Skoda Citigo vRS?

Hot hatches inject a sparkle of excitement into the all-too-often anodyne world of front-wheel-drive supermarket companions, and the smaller and lighter they start off the more fun and immediate they end up being in GTI form.

Come on carmakers, let’s have some more! Until then the only way is Up, even if it is five years late. Or to a Twingo GT, if you’re being awkward.

Smart motorways aren’t so smart if you get a puncture

Changing a tyre is frustrating at the best of times - but it could even be dangerous on a motorway roadwork

IT’S AMAZING how much motoring tech has come on in the past decade or so – but I’m not entirely convinced it’s always a good thing. Particularly when a little orange light starts to play tricks on you.

The nifty little illumination in question is a dashboard warning light VW fits to its more recent offerings – and many an Audi, SEAT and Skoda, for that matter – that lets you know its on-board tyre pressure sensor thinks you’re about to encounter a puncture. Having had a Golf give me advance notice of a flat tyre on an outing last year I know that it works tremendously well – except when it doesn’t, because the person who borrowed the car before you admitted to kerbing an alloy a few hours earlier.

In the end it turned out said colleague’s parking ineptitude had knocked the sensor out of sync, everything was fine and I was able to get off scot-free for the rest of my 200-mile journey, but it’s where the light came on that really unnerved me. Anyone who regularly ventures down the M6 will know there’s a stretch just south of Thelwall Viaduct that’s being upgraded into a smart motorway, and it feels like it goes on forever.

It’s frustrating enough when you’re forced to sit at fifty while all the lorries thunder past obliviously, but when you’re suddenly alerted to the possibility of an imminent puncture and realise there are still several miles of roadworks before you can pull over safely that you start to get worried. Especially when you remember the car you’re in isn’t even fitted with a space saver. The idea of tackling a dead tyre on an open motorway with only a can of gunk to help is mildly terrifying.

My fear of breaking down on one of these not-so-smart motorways isn’t unjustified, either; only last week a family gave permission for a rather harrowing 999 call which captures the moment their stricken people carrier was punted up the backside by an HGV to be made public. Properly managed motorways can cope with using the hard shoulder as a fourth lane, but it’s the horribly narrow ones that are still being built that worry me. There were proposals a while ago to limit these stretches to a more palatable two miles long – rather than the 15 or so the longer ones are now – but it seems to have quietly disappeared under the hazy fug of Whitehall bureaucracy.

I’ve always hated the roadworks leading up to smart motorways because they’re the very opposite; with their average 50mph limits that people routinely ignore, constructions sites that are hardly ever frequented and unbearable length they’re anything but clever. But – if that 999 call is anything to go by – they could even be dangerous. Fingers crossed I don’t get a real puncture, then…

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…

Good news 007 – even Aston Martin is downsizing these days

Even Aston Martin realises that we live in an age of austerity

M PAUSED reflectively for a moment. “The latest figures from the Minister of Defence have arrived. I’m afraid there are going to have be some changes for the 00-section”.

There was a brief silence as the assembled MI6 bigwigs braced themselves for the bad news. They knew all along that austerity had been a fundamental part of Government policy for years, but they’d never expected it to hit Her Majesty’s flagship network of foreign operatives directly.

“I’m terribly sorry, but if we’re going to meet all these spending targets then agents are just going to have to start flying Easyjet and Ryanair, like everyone else,” M sighed with resignation. “And 007’s certainly going to have to stop ordering all those blasted vodka martinis. Doesn’t he realise that he shouldn’t be ordering all those drinks on expenses?”

Q Branch, for all its years of jetpacks and exploding pens, was right in the firing line. There’d be no laser-equipped watches when the shop up the road from MI6 was selling perfectly good Casios at a tenner a pop. Certainly there wouldn’t be any more jet packs, stealth boats or exploding pens.

But M drew a line when he picked up the Aston Martin brochure. The battle against SPECTRE, the depressed-looking faces in the room were surely about to reason, could just as easily be fought with a Dacia Sandero or Skoda’s new Citigo. But MI6’s top man was having none of it.

“Happily, Aston Martin has realised budgets here are a little tighter than they used to be,” he announced. “The DB11 was beginning to look a little unfeasible, but thanks to the changes they’ve made I think we might just be able to afford it.”

M pointed out that for the past year or so the DB11’s only been available with a twin-turbo 5.2-litre V12, accompanied by a rather hefty starting price of £157,900, something which even those pesky world domineering sorts with their hollowed-out volcanoes and white cats are baulking at these days. But now there’s a new version which comes with a smaller engine that’s kinder to the environment – a 4.0-litre V8, no less. It’s still equipped with two turbochargers and pumps out 503bhp but it’s still cheaper than the full fat DB11 – it’s now £144,900.

Okay, so a 13-grand saving isn’t a lot but it does make DB11 ownership that tiny bit more affordable. It’s also lighter than the V12 car and, Aston insists, better through the bends as a result, which counts for a lot when you’re attempting to outrun the bad guys.

Which means that even in Theresa May’s era of austerity Bond can have a decent company car. Good to see 007 doing his bit to help the nation’s finances…

The Volkswagen Scirocco is part of a dying breed

The VW Scirocco is now part of a dying breed of car

I DON’T know if the car world has a Grim Reaper – I imagine he’d look a bit like The Stig in some black robes – but he must be rubbing his hands with glee at the moment.

Not long ago I wrote about the death knell being sounded for Skoda’s Yeti, but now an entire automotive species is facing extinction; the fun, affordable coupé. Rumour has it that once Volkswagen’s Scirocco is put out to pasture, it won’t be replaced. Which for a fan of small two-doors is a big deal, because it’s pretty much the only one left.

Cast your mind back to the days when Tony Blair was eyeing up Number Ten and you were spoilt for choice if you had roughly £20,000 and a generous fleet manager prepared to offer you something sleeker than a Mondeo. Ford had the trendy Puma, and was in the process of replacing the Probe with the Cougar. Smile at a Vauxhall salesman and he’d rustle up a Tigra or Calibra, and that’s before we get to all the sleek two-doors Peugeot, Fiat, Honda, Toyota and just about everyone else had to offer. There were 20 different coupés on offer, and they were all exciting in their own way.

But now there’s the Scirocco, and that’s about it. Sure, there are a couple of three-door hatchbacks flaunting the c-word on their bootlids – and they’re coupés in name only, really – but nowadays you have to venture more upmarket before you arrive at the Toyota GT86, Ford Mustang and BMW 4-series. Hardly the sort of affordable offerings that give Mr Family Man hope.

The world needs coupés as much now as it did when the Ford Capri and the Opel Manta were the top dogs. They offer a welcome injection of panache into a motoring landscape dominated by boring family hatchbacks and me-too off-roaders, but because their underpinnings are ordinary they’re affordable, reliable and easy to service. So what if they’re a bit cramped in the back?

Perhaps we should persuade Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn that as part of their election pledges there should be state-funded grants for people prepared to brighten up the landscape with two-door coupés.

Alternatively, just buy a Volkswagen Scirocco while you still can.

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.

The big journey – and the wrong car – behind an epic Drive-It Day

ccw cover 27 aprilI’M ALMOST ashamed to admit it. Drive-It Day is all about getting your classic car out of the garage and taking it for a spin – yet I spent 350 miles of it at the helm of a borrowed Skoda Yeti.

As much as I’d have loved to have used the MGB GT over the weekend I felt it would’ve been verging on cruel to put it through my latest mission for Classic Car Weekly – going to not one, but three of the many events taking place across the North of England on a single day. Oh, and a long motorway slog back to the offices in Peterborough just for good measure.

lancsauto-HEADER SHOT

After a (very) early start the first Drive-It Day calling point was Blackburn’s Northern Sports Club, which the Lancashire Automobile Club was using as the start point of its St George’s Day run. It’s a superb event that takes in some of the best country lanes cris-crossing the Lancashire/Yorkshire border, but Classic Car Weekly’s mission of getting as many of your photos as possible meant all the legwork went into making sure as many of the E-types, Austin-Healeys and their smiling owners were getting their pictures sent off for today’s paper. Even Steve Berry of Top Gear fame got his snap sent off – he wasn’t taking part, but he’d come along anyway in his Alfa 156 to see all the congregated classics.

As the 75 cars headed off towards the Lancashire countryside I was heading the other way – up the M6 to another Drive-It Day gathering, this time at the Lakeland Motor Museum. It didn’t feel as busy as last week’s similarly named Drive-In gathering but as the museum’s management rightly point out, last Sunday was all about classic car owners using the venue as a stopping point during tours rather than it being an event venue in its own right. That’s why it ended up being the sort of event to reward car nuts who hang around – the cast of cars would change completely by the hour!

lakeland-HEADER

But the best Drive-It Day gathering involved getting back on the M6 and venturing even further north; a lot of the classic owners who’d brought their cars to the Lakeland museum mentioned they were heading on to Dalemain, a Georgian mansion on the other side of the Lake District. After deciding on a hunch to follow them up this is what I was treated to when I got there:

dalemain-HEADER.JPG

It was a superb event, organised by Wigton Motor Club, and with just about every size and shape of classic imaginable on show. The 170 cars at Dalemain ranged from Ford Escort MkIs to 1950s specials, Rileys and Austin Sevens – and even though Drive-It Day technically caters for pre-1985 cars there were plenty of Mazda MX-5s, TVR Chimaera and Porsche 911 GT3s to look at too.

As I hit the road on the long slog back to Peterborough, I realised the sheer variety of cars at these three events across the northern England isn’t the whole Drive-It Day picture. Even the 500 pictures we’ve printed in today’s Classic Car Weekly only scratches the surface of just how many old cars go out on what surely must be Britain’s biggest petrolhead event, with shows, runs and gatherings taking place in every corner of the United Kingdom.

Drive-It Day is us showing the wider public what makes classic cars so brilliant (even if you do have to use a borrowed Skoda to see them). Hope your picture got into today’s Classic Car Weekly!

The Drive-It Day special issue of Classic Car Weekly is out now, with more than 500 pictures from across the UK inside.