volkswagen

The Saab 9000 Turbo is dead. Long live the Kia Stinger

Kia has tough competition from the Germans for its new Stinger sports saloon

MANY have tried, but none have succeeded. Who’d have thought the Saab 9000 Turbo would be such a tricky act to follow?

It’s a curious (and not particularly lucrative) corner of the car market to capture; the people who are in the market for a tarmac-snorting, junior-sized sports saloon that ISN’T a BMW, AMG-tweaked Mercedes of hotted-up Audi. This particularly elusive species of motorist is after something with just enough cachet to cut it outside a nearby golf club (so that’s virtually every fast Ford and sporty Vauxhall out), and is hung up enough about long-term reliability to give anything made by Alfa Romeo a wide berth. Not entirely fairly, I’ve always reckoned.

Just think about all those cars over the years that have offered a 9000 Turbo-esque premise but never really taken off (no jet fighter puns intended). The Lexus IS-F, MG ZT260, Mazda6 MPS, Volvo S60R, Chrysler 300C, Volkswagen Passat W8, for instance. For all their leather seats, ample equipment levels and muted growls from their exhausts none have ever really managed to convincingly win over the anything-but-a-blummin’-BMW brigade. In fact you could argue that Saab itself never nailed it either, given the Swedes ran out of cash five years ago.

But that isn’t going to stop Kia giving it their best shot anyway. Their new BMW-baiter arrives here in January and it’s already onto a winner because it has a cool name; it might not be posh and German, but you can at least tell your mates that you drive a Stinger. Which it makes it sound like an American muscle car.

It also picks up the Saab’s old trick of using turbos to rustle up the sort of mid-range thump that comes in handy on a motorway’s outside lane; in the range-topping 3.3-litre V6 there are two of them, and they send 365bhp to the rear wheels. The upshot is that you’ll end up surging to 60mph in 4.7 seconds and onto a top speed of 168mph. Yes, I know that’s academic when you can only legally do 70mph, but when you bear in mind that sports saloon ownership is basically a better funded version of Top Trumps for grown-ups the big Kia comes across quite well.

For the same sort of money as a BMW 340i you can have a four-door saloon that’s bigger, better equipped, quicker and more powerful – and it’s styled by the same bloke who did the original Audi TT, just for good measure.

So it’s a no-brainer that your next sports saloon’s going to be a Kia Stinger, then? Nope, didn’t think it was. The BMW brochure’s just over there, seeing as you’re asking…

Advertisements

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.

Drive the new Volkswagen Polo? I’d rather take it jogging

There is a reason why the new Polo is roomier than the old one

I’VE LONG suspected that jogging is just a sweatier form of walking. I’ll cheerily wave at people powering past on yet another 10k, but I’m quite content that simply strolling to the nearest pub is exercise aplenty.

But then a colleague – who’s practically taken me on as some sort of flabby protégé –  insisted I give it a go. Worryingly, I’ve found this whole moving quickly without a car lark to be surprisingly good fun.
I feel better for myself after every run, and I’m already beginning to see the results on my waistline. The idea is that I’ll get fitter, build up my speed and stamina – and then I’ll invite the new Volkswagen Polo along too, because boy does it need it.

By the looks of things Germany’s supermini of choice has been spent too long watching The Jeremy Kyle show with a can of Stella in one hand and a freshly cooked Fray Bentos in the other. By Volkswagen’s own admission it’s taller and wider than the outgoing model, and bumper-to-bumper it’s 94mm longer, which is like going up three waist sizes in car terms. What’s more the latest press packs favourably compare its dimensions to how big the Golf was in the Nineties but don’t mention weight once, presumably because the Polo’s scared of stepping on the scales and screaming in horror.

Which is a shame, because while the new Polo looks like the Golf (which is a good thing) and builds on 2009’s European Car of the Year (ditto), it’s getting increasingly hard to relate to it as a small car. The gap between the new boy and the pint-sized Up is bigger than you’d imagine.

But then the Polo isn’t the only one looking a tad porky these days. The other day I had a nose around Nissan’s new Micra and it is vast compared to the lovably cute bubble-shaped ones learner drivers used to have crashes in, and while I love the looks of Renault’s latest Clio I had to conclude the 900cc engine in the one I borrowed felt a bit strained because it’s a far bigger car than its predecessors. Virtually all of today’s superminis are blobbier than they used to be – very few are lighter, smaller or nimbler.

But I can guarantee that while small cars have got bigger the multi-storey at the Concourse in Skelmersdale hasn’t expanded, and nor have any of Southport’s parking spaces. If you really do need to squeeze into those awkwardly tight spaces outside supermarkets, you’d be better off slipping down a size and buying something like Ford’s Ka+.

That or jog down to the shops

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…

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.

There are some amazing used car deals out there

Look carefully and there are plenty of great deals at nearby car dealerships

SAUSAGES, beer and the Mercedes-Benz 190E. It’s clear the Germans do some things brilliantly, but on the evidence I saw the other night motoring telly isn’t one of them.

While holed up in an Essen hotel room I ended up watching what can best be described as Germany’s answer to Wheeler Dealers. It involved slightly cocky petrolheads going out to some car dealers and trying to buy as much car as they can, but minus any of the messing around with welding machines or Top Gear-esque challenges afterwards (although there was a lot of sitting around with serious expressions and discussing things).

The programme was about as much as fun as reading a Dusseldorf railway timetable on a wet Wednesday morning (I should know – I tried it the following morning). But the show’s basic premise of finding as much motoring fun for about £15k at a nearby car dealer sounded like a laugh.

It turns out that the idea of scouring the region’s car dealerships translates perfectly well into English.

Within striking distance of The Champion’s offices I found all sorts of sub-£15k bargains, starting with a Bentley Eight with 29,000 miles on the clock and full service history. That’s 6.8-litres of craftsmanship for less than a mid-range Focus. Should you not fancy being bankrupted by a Bentley’s fuel bills there’s also a one-owner-from-new, 14-reg Golf GTI, a five-year-old BMW Z4 with just about every option imaginable thrown at it or a Jaguar XF with the 3.0-litre diesel that’s just about frugal enough to stop you weeping at filling stations after a long drive.

All of these cars, and all the Peugeot RCZ, MINI Cooper S and Volkswagen Scirocco deals I found while I was at it, all have one thing in common. They can all be found at car dealerships that are within half an hour’s drive of where you live. Play it right and you could pop out in the morning, have a look around some cars and end up with a shiny slice of petrolhead fun on your driveway that afternoon. Do your homework first, go in with a clear head and you’d be surprised at what you can find.

Unless you’re a German motoring telly presenter of course, in which case I’d recommend you spend it on sausages, beer and Mercedes-Benz 190Es instead.

These are the ten cars that made my 2016, and why

IT’S been a whirlwind year of motoring adventures. Over the past 12 months I’ve driven 88 different cars and been to 34 classic shows, but a couple have left particularly big impressions, and for very different reasons.

These are the automotive memories that’ll stick out more than most…

 

Porsche 928

img_8168

Where: Southport, Merseyside

Confession time. I’ve had my fair share of Ferraris, Astons, Jaguars and TVRs, but until 2016 I’d never driven any kind of Porsche. No 911s, no Boxsters, nothing. But what a car to start with. Wonderful looks that have barely aged in four decades, a thumping great V8 soundtrack, plenty of straight line shove and handling to die for.

 

Vauxhall 6hp

595a0576-ps

Where: Luton, Bedfordshire

How can a car that only does 18mph be so tricky – and a bit frightening – to drive?  This 112-year-old is one of the stars of Vauxhall’s heritage collection, and for one morning its custodians were brave enough to let me have a go. The steering’s by tillar, none of the pedals do what you expect them to do and it has just two gears – but boy is it rewarding when you finally get it right.

 

Wolseley Hornet Crayford ‘Heinz 57’

_smc1511

Where: Swanley, Kent

Regular readers will already know I love Minis. I’ve owned two and over the years sampled many a Cooper, van, Moke and just about every other derivative besides, but this just about tops the lot. It’s one of only 50 convertible versions of the Wolseley Hornet created by Crayford as prizes to give away to the winners of a Heinz competition back in 1966. It’s Half a century on it’s still bloody brilliant to drive.

 

Ferrari Testarossa

_scp4435

Where: North York Moors, somewhere near Whitby

It’s one of my favourite Ferraris and it was in the North York Moors – home to some of the best roads you’ll find anywhere in the UK. You might think the Miami Vice poser might not be the best car for this sort of territory, but the Testarossa handled more deftly than any of the armchair critics would have you believe. It didn’t disappoint.

 

 

Ford Mustang

img_4904

Where: Birkenhead, Merseyside

It’s a blisteringly hot summer afternoon, you have a bright red Ford Mustang convertible at your disposal – oh, and it has a V8 for good measure. It didn’t matter a jot that the summer afternoon in question was in Birkenhead rather than Beverley Hills. Everybody loved the ‘stang, including the guy grinning behind the wheel.

 

 

Volkswagen Up!

img_1026

Where: Stelvio Pass, Italy

I have longstanding affection for the Up!, honed after many weekends using a company-owned one on Classic Car Weekly adventures. What turned out to be jolly good fun on the Cat and Fiddle road in the Peak District translates into equally smile-inducing motoring on the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps. It might have only had 60bhp at its disposal but its size and agility made it a perfect partner, embarrassing plenty of quicker cars up there. Hire car motoring at its best.

 

Messerschmitt KR200

_scp4425

Where: Scarisbrick, Lancashire

Until 2016 I’d never driven a bubble car – and then I got to drive three in one day! The BMW Isetta and Trojan 200 were huge fun but for ultimate kicks the Messerschmitt KR200 is in a different league. Super-sharp, yoke-operated steering, a tiny engine that thrived on revs and a centrally-mounted driving position made this a drive quite unlike any other. Utterly exhilerating.

 

 

TVR Chimaera

img_7655

Where: The Golden Mile, Blackpool

Over three wonderful days I fell just a little bit in love with a TVR Chimaera I borrowed. It was very, very good on the roads criss-crossing the Trough of Bowland (keep an eye for the forthcoming feature in Modern Classics magazine) but the real highlight was cruising into Blackpool at the height of the Illuminations. It was a huge privilege to bring this piece of the resort’s motoring heritage home for the night.

 

MGB GT

img_6178

Where: Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Not just any MGB GT, but my MGB GT, and it was finally on the spectacular journey I’ve always wanted to do with it. Wonderful roads, spectacular scenery – and it actually got there AND BACK without breaking down!

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow

595a6737-ps

Where: Southport, Merseyside

I wasn’t even behind the wheel – that job I left to Bryan Glazer, the car’s owner – but this was the most important journey of my motoring life. On 29 July a blushing bride hopped out of it – and she’s now my wife. Then I got to do a champagne-fuelled lap of my hometown of Southport in it. It was the motoring moment that left the biggest impression on me. Well it had to be, didn’t it?

Additional photography courtesy of Richard Gunn and Classic Car Weekly

Why Volkswagen is investing in a car-free future

volkswagen-is-planning-for-a-future-where-the-passat-is-no-longer-needed

IT’S potentially the biggest shake-up in motoring since Henry Ford set up shop. Yet its instigators would rather you didn’t buy the cars it’ll create.

MOIA might sound like a Radio 2 newsreader or one quarter of Irish folk band Clannad but it’s actually the Volkswagen Group’s latest company, putting it alongside Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Skoda. Except that MOIA isn’t a car company. It’s – and you’ll have to imagine me waggling my fingers as I say it – a “mobility services company”.

Brilliant, I initially thought. Europe’s biggest carmaker has decided to help The Champion’s more mature readers by using knowhow from the Golf and Passat to reinvent the mobility scooter. No longer will looking cool while wobbling about 8mph be the preserve of pensioners travelling in those tiny three-wheelers styled to look like Harley Davidsons – I can just imagine a Golf GTI-inspired mobility scooter with a golf ball gearknob, subtle go-faster stripes and clever traction control.

But I was wrong. Apparently MOIA is aimed not at the over-65s, not even at Ford and Vauxhall, but at Google, Apple and – more imminently – Uber. The whole concept of how we get around is changing, and Volkswagen is determined to be all German about it and lay its towel down before anyone else does.

Unless you’ve been in a cave for the past year you’ll already know that Google has managed to find enough time away from making search engine cartoons to create a car. Only a few months ago Ford acknowledged Apple is now one of its big rivals. And just about every cabbie from Liverpool to Louisiana is feeling a tad cross with Uber muscling in on their turf.

At the moment MOIA is all about car-sharing and ride-hailing apps but don’t be surprised to see it dipping into Volkswagen’s vast parts bin to rustle up a car or two of its own. Nor should you raise an eyebrow when Toyota, Renault and everyone else follow suit. When cars are banned from the big cities, it’ll be whoever wins the mobility-sharing race that rules the roost.

There will be a time in a distant future when moving about in Liverpool involves hailing a ride with some likeminded mates in a vehicle none of you own – but I don’t know if it’ll be VW, Apple, Google or Uber supplying it.

As long as it isn’t a mobility scooter styled like a Harley Davidson I won’t mind too much.

What one German car mag’s said about the new Volkswagen Tiguan will shock you

tiguanIF ANYONE knows a thing or two about art it’s the French. They gave us impressionist paintings, Les Misérables and Daft Punk.

Extend that to cars and it’s immediately apparent they know a thing or two about great design too. In 1971 someone in a turtleneck sweater stuck the original Range Rover in The Louvre and declared it a piece of exemplary industrial design. The rest of the world immediately agreed. The idea of great car designs being art earned a new currency overnight – although it makes you wonder why they hadn’t already done it with the Citroën DS.

Great car designs make wonderful works of art – you only have to look at an E-type or a Citroën SM to realise why. Yet it’s hard to imagine anyone sticking the latest bit of award-winning automotive design in Paris’ hotspot in quizzical-looking arty types.

The new Volkswagen Tiguan has been hailed – admittedly by the Germans – as a brilliant bit of design. The only thing is I’m struggling to understand why.

According to Volkswagen it ‘radiates power and authority’, but I’m still not sure what excited German mag Auto Zeitung so much that it beat 14 other new cars to be honoured as 2016’s most exciting bit of automotive design. Surely the new Morgan EV3 or the Alfa Romeo Giulia or the Ford GT were a bit more interesting?

Apparently not. What excites Germans is the use of a how the Tigun uses VW’s Modular Transverse Matrix – I know you want to yawn, but bear with me – and manages to give it ‘an unmistaken SUV profile’. In other words, they’re impressed by how the bits you know and love from the Volkswagen Golf can be made to look almost exactly like a Nissan Qashqai or a Ford Kuga.

The Tiguan does look a bit smarter than the old one and I’m sure it’s fantastic at towing a caravan along the M58 while getting a silent fifty to the gallon, but is it really the year’s most interesting bit of motoring design? When there’s a new Honda NSX around the corner? When are there all sorts of interesting developments in fuel cell cars and autonomous driving on the horizon?

I’m not convinced. Maybe I’m not German enough…