VW

VW and Tesla – a match made in heaven?

ELON MUSK must be ecstatic. Having already conquered the world with Paypal, taken on NASA at the space exploration game and threatened to revolutionise mass transport with the brilliantly-named The Boring Company, he’s now got a new suitor. The world’s second biggest car company, no less.

That’s right, word on the street is that Volkswagen is interested in buying a stake in Tesla. Admittedly, Volkswagen hasn’t successfully shot one of its own cars into space but it has pulled off a few other tricks of its own – after selling 21 million Beetles and popularising the hot hatchback it’s gone on to snap up Audi, Porsche, SEAT, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini, along with superbike specialist Ducati and truck builder MAN. They’re behind only Toyota in the car-building stakes, and still on an upward trajectory. What’s more, they’re on the cusp of launching their own sub-brand, called ID, which focuses on zero emissions vehicles.

But owning Tesla – or at least, a bit of it – seems like an entirely smart move. Not only does it give VW access to all of the Californian start-up’s battery tech, which for years has been ahead of everyone else in the electric car game, but it also gives it access to all those Tesla-branded smart chargers you see at motorway service stations. The other day I called into Fleet Services on the M3 and saw a line of six of them sitting unused while Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi Outlander owners were practically trading blows over the Ecotricity ones nearby, but if VW and Audi owners were able to use Tesla ones too in a few years’ time, it’d make more sense for everyone.

But I’d like to think the suits at VW are interested in what I think is something even more remarkable that’s potentially on the table; the creation of a brand’s street cred out of nowhere. Think about how long it’s taken Toyota to win over a generation of cynical Brits with Lexus, and yet in half the time there are now car mags urging you to go electric and buy a Model 3 over a 320d. The internet’s even invented its own term for someone prepared to defend Elon Musk’s offerings, even in the face of outright hostility from the rest of the motoring world – the Tesla Fanboy. That such a term – and the people behind it – exists at all just shows you how much currency the cars created by someone I’m still convinced is a real-life Bond villain have with today’s buyers.

Yet here’s the weird thing – Tesla, for all its trick gullwing doors, ability to defeat McLarens in drag races and to make cars that can drive themselves, is still struggling to make long-term profits. It’s moved the motoring game and brought us some very cool cars at the expense of….well, at the expense. So, in other words, it’s where Aston Martin was 30 years ago.

What it needs is the equivalent of the DB7 – a brilliant car that transforms the company, bankrolled by someone else. VW and Tesla, then, are a match made in heaven. Your move, Elon…

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…

BMW make a great 1-series – it just isn’t this one

BMW has made the 1-series brilliant on B-roads, but not so great everywhere else

BARBECUE envy is a bad thing to suffer from at this time of year.

Essentially it involves dragging your rusty old bit of al fresco cooking equipment – inevitably bought at a supermarket for about £30 five years ago – in preparation for a lovely evening with your friends and family. It’s only then you find you’ve been upstaged by an irritating mate/relative/colleague with three grand’s worth of Napoleon Prestige in their garden. You can’t help but marvel at all the polished stainless steel, backlit controls and ceramic plating – but it’s all a bit over-engineered for burning burgers on Britain’s ten hot days each year.

It’s not unlike the BMW 1-series I’ve just spent a weekend with, because it manages to be just a tiny bit too brilliant for its own good. Can a car be too, er, good for its own good? If the 116D is anything to go by, the answer’s an emphatic yes.

If you’ve never driven a 1-series then you won’t appreciate that for all its slightly awkward hatchback proportions it is a proper BMW of the old school, focusing on engineering above all else. So it has a delightfully smooth engine (even for a diesel) up front, all the power heading to the back, and perfect weight distribution in the middle. As a result it’s a real joy to drive, with beautifully balanced steering, a low driving position and a slick gearchange. No bad thing if you’re up in North Yorkshire, where I was working over the weekend.

But once you peel off the B-roads and back into the real world it’s not so impressive. The reason why the rest of the world stopped making rear-drive hatchbacks once the Vauxhall Chevette disappeared is because you have to send all the power down a propshaft to the back wheels, which in a low-slung car like the 1-series robs space. As a result the footwell is cramped, there isn’t much rear legroom and the boot isn’t exactly commodious.

The sharp suspension that proves such a joy on country lanes translates into a firm ride once you’re on the motorway, and I now understand why 1-series drivers never indicate. The flickers seem incapable of self-cancelling, so why bother using them?

This is normally the point where I’d recommend buying a cheaper, roomier Golf that’s very nearly as fun, but I can’t because I know deep down that the 1-series is a truly capable bit of kit that just needs more BMWness to work. It deserves to be ordered in full fat M140i form rather than the apologetic fully skimmed offering you get with the 116D.

I can fully approve of a car where going for the turbocharged one with 335bhp represents the sensible option. Let’s face it, you were only going to spend three grand on a barbecue anyway.

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…