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Motoring – Convertibles You Can Use Everyday

The appeal of a convertible is plain to see – good looks, especially with the top down, and the joys of wind in your hair motoring. Most of us need to use our cars all the time, though, and need practicality too – space for four passengers and their luggage, good build quality and reliability and, most importantly in this day and age, low running costs. Here are four ways to have your cake and eat it.

 

Volvo C70 (2006 to present) Based on the S40, the C70 is undoubtedly the best looking Volvo you can buy. It has an all singing, all dancing folding metal roof, all the safety features you could wish for and the ride, handling and refinement of a luxury  saloon. There are some hugely powerful   Turbos in the engine line up but I’d go for Volvo’s excellent 2.4 litre D5 diesel; it delivers all the performance you could wish for but still manages 40mpg around town. Better still, there’s plenty of room for 4 adults and a  commodious boot. A 2007 model with 75k on the clock can be yours for a very reasonable £8,500. For: Looks, quality, refinement, performance Against: Antique dealer connotations

 

BMW 320d Convertible (2000 to 2005) I still maintain that the last generation 3 series was the best that BMW has ever made and the convertible version totally proves my point. It is a stunning looker, particularly with the top down, and still sets the benchmark today as an all-round dynamic package. The silky smooth 3.0 litre straight six is hard to resist but I’ve gone for the most excellent 2.0 litre diesel which will punt you up to 62mph in 9.7 seconds but still give better than 50 mpg on a run. They are surprisingly expensive; £8000 puts you in a 05 plate with a hefty 85,000 miles under its belt. For: Lovely looks, great to drive, very economical Against: Last year’s model

Audi A4 Cabriolet (2000 to 2005) Ever since Princess Di bought one, the A4 Cabriolet has been an Audi icon. Underneath the celebrity glamour it is actually a very good car. It combines timelessly elegant looks with peerless build quality and precise handling. Audi makes the best diesel engines in the business and the 2.5 V6 is one of their finest. This is a car that will hit 140 yet still average 39mpg in mixed motoring. The Diana effect is still noticeable in the prices; you will need to stump up £8k for a 2004 version that has covered 60,000 miles. For: Style, build quality, performance. Against: Pricey, overly firm ride

Saab 9-3 Convertible  (2003 to present) Saab has had its ups and downs over recent years but the 9-3 soft top has been a consistent success story. The styling is still crisp 8 years down the line and it retains   several of the quirky features that Saab  loyalists cherish so dearly. Mechanically it has been left behind though; the 150bhp 1.9 diesel takes a painful 11.2 seconds to drag it up to 62 and the scuttle shake and under steer are relics of yesteryear. On the plus side, it is a reasonably well built old bruiser and there is plenty of room in the cabin. It’s relatively cheap too, a four year old with a mere 45,000 miles on it will cost you £7,500.

For: A handsome old brute, Saab individuality, value for money Against: Poor performance and economy, handling

 

Have you been persuaded?  Perhaps we will be seeing more convertibles in Sutton Coldfield soon.

 

This motoring feature appeared in Walmley Pages Magazine,

delivered to 8000 home in Sutton Coldfield


Used Car – Old Rollers That Won’t Roll You Over

For over a hundred years Rolls Royce has produced cars that are the last word in luxury, quality and exclusivity. Have you spotted any recently in Walmley or Sutton Coldfield?  Naturally, they are extremely expensive but, if you shop carefully, you too can join the millionaires club and own a car that is also an investment. Here are the ones to go for:

 

Rolls Royce Silver Shadow      (1965 to 1980)

As stately as the queen and as understated as a Barbour jacket, the Silver Shadow was the first modern Rolls Royce. This car was an exercise in craftsmanship; the Connolly hide seats were hand stitched, the burr  walnut dash was hand polished and only the finest lamb’s wool would do for the carpets. The self levelling suspension gave a ride that is a match for a modern day Jag. Power from the huge 6.75 litre V8 was described as “adequate,” certainly enough to waft this hefty car along in near silence. Prices start at £2,500 but a pristine 1977 model with a scant 80,000 miles under its belt can be yours for £8k.

For: Luxury, presence, value, quality

Against: Doesn’t do corners, too many are used as wedding cars

 

Rolls Royce Camargue  (1975 to 1986)

The Camargue is a 2 door coupe based on the floor pan and mechanicals of the Silver Shadow. The Pininfarina styled body is  timelessly elegant and hugely luxurious. In 1976 this was the most expensive car in the world and the fact that only 500 were made makes it extremely collectible. Even so, I found a truly immaculate 1982 model with 64,000 miles on it for £43k. That may seem like an awful lot of money but this is a car that is only going to increase in value.

For: Glorious looks, immense style, a sound investment

Against: You’d probably never drive it

 

Rolls Royce Silver Spirit  (1980 to 1998)

The Silver Spirit was a new car for a new age. The 80s were all about brash, go    getting entrepreneurialism and this new Roller reflected that with its monolithic,    in-your-face styling. It was as big as the QE2 and as luxurious as Donald Trump’s penthouse suite. The owner was more likely to be boss of his own company than a titled landowner and more likely to be behind the wheel than sitting in the back. Unfortunately, it was based on the same mechanicals as the Silver Shadow and retained the same aversion to corners and lack of performance. This might explain the falling rock depreciation – these days you can pick up a ’93 model that has been barely run in over 49,000 miles for £7,500.

For: Huge comfort, road presence, the  bargain of the century

Against: Rather ugly, massive running costs

 

Rolls Royce Silver Seraph        (1998 to 2002)

By the time the Silver Seraph came on the scene, Rolls Royce had fallen into Volkswagen ownership (they kept the   Bentley brand and sold the Rolls Royce name to BMW). The engine was a 5.4 litre BMW V12 that finally gave the car the power it deserved. The electronics, equipment and running gear were all state of the art, but a lot of the craftsmanship that was a Rolls Royce hallmark had been lost. Visually, it was sleeker, curvier and more compact than anything that had gone before. Unfortunately, those compact dimensions also extended to the interior. You can pick up a ’98 model with a minimal 74k on the clock for £28,000; not bad for a car that cost £155k when new.

For: Looks, sophistication, ride comfort, road manners

Against: It’s really a high end Beamer


Road Test – Jeep Compass 2.2 CRD 4×4

Jeeps have always been the American equivalent of the Land Rover, iconic vehicles with a reputation for toughness, off road ability and practicality. The Wrangler rivals the no frills workhorse Land Rover Defender while the Grand Cherokee offers a kind of cut price alternative to a Range Rover though without the build quality, luxury or prestige. The Grand Cherokee in particular has been a steady, if unspectacular, seller over here but has always seemed more at home in its American heartland.

Somewhat belatedly Jeep has seen the  writing on the wall for big SUVs and is pushing its Compass crossover heavily at the moment. The Compass has actually been around since 2007 and the original version was notable for its switchable four wheel drive system and one of the ugliest noses ever to be slapped on a car. This new version features heavily revised styling, new engines and a choice of either permanent four wheel drive or front wheel drive. Of course, the whole point of a crossover is that it combines the street presence and elevated driving position of an SUV with the practicality, low running costs and road manners of a family hatch. Will Jeep be able to pull off this trick with the same panache of the Nissan Qashqai and impress motorists in Sutton Coldfield?

Straightaway, I have to say that the styling is a huge improvement on what went before. The chunky grill and headlights blend nicely with the squared off flared wheel arches and the sharp lines of the bodywork to deliver a pleasing combination of chunky offroader and crisp contemporary styling. Step inside and there is plenty of room for five adults on comfortable (leather in the case of my test car) seats. Put the back seats down and you get a load area the size of a small van. There’s plenty of kit as standard too but the fit and finish of the interior feels fragile, the plastics are hard and shiny and I didn’t feel any confidence that the switchgear would still be working properly in a couple of year’s time. All pretty much what you would expect from Jeep then!

Jeep offer a pair of petrol engines with the Compass or a 2.2 litre diesel sourced from Mercedes. The two wheel drive version kicks out 134bhp but the 4×4 has 161bhp as standard. The engine is nicely refined and gives you all the grunt you need with a respectable 125mph top whack and a sub 10 second 0-62 time. I managed 42mpg as well, not bad for a car like this. Although I didn’t take it off road I’ve no reason to doubt that it would acquit itself well in the mucky stuff.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare so well on the tarmac; the ride is bouncy on any kind of rough road surface and there is way too much roll through the corners. I thought the whole point of a crossover was meant to be that it drives like a hatchback.

All in all the Compass is not a bad effort; it’s certainly an improvement on the previous model. I really don’t think that it is quite good enough though; it doesn’t have the drivability of the Nissan Qashqai and it lacks the prestige of the two wheel drive Land Rover Freelander. Chrysler, Jeep’s parent company, has now merged with Fiat and the Compass will be replaced next year by an all new Fiat based model. My concern is that the Compass is serving to downgrade the Jeep name, a global brand that has been over sixty years in the making. General motors made a similar mistake when they handed the blue collar icon of the Chevrolet brand to some sad little cars from Korea – remember Daewoo? Rather than using the Jeep brand to add kudos to a Fiat, perhaps Chrysler should concentrate on producing a car good enough to add kudos to the Jeep brand.
Kit Johnson

Car tested Jeep Compass 2.2 CRD 4×4 £23,595 OTR


Pimp My Ride -To the Garden Centre and Back!

Pimp My Ride -To the Garden Centre and Back!

We’ve all done it – popped along to the local garden centre for a packet of sunflower seeds and come out with enough new plants to re-stock a small country estate. It is also virtually impossible to leave without a trailer full of compost, a nice new shiny stainless steel thingamibob for weeding the borders or maybe a Lady Spade! Which is all very well until you get to the family Mondeo and wonder how you are going to fit it all in.

The bottom line is that most cars and I include Chelsea Tractors and pick ups in this sweeping statement, were not designed for the garden centre run. The loading procedure for your average shopping trip inevitably takes the form of a scene from ‘It’s a Knockout’ with Stuart Hall providing a hilarious commentary as the boot, back seat, foot wells and glove box are engulfed in horticultural stuff.

Yes, of course you can cheat and take advantage of the free home delivery, but not everyone can wait to get their new plants and ‘sundries’ home; besides, what if you live outside the delivery area? A few years ago I remember travelling throughBirminghamin my gleaming company car when I spotted a garden centre with a sign proclaiming ‘SALE– EVERYTHING HALF PRICE!’ This always has that red rag/ bull effect on yours truly so business meetings were cancelled as I went hunting for a bargain. Unfortunately, my bargain(s) turned out to be a pair of spiral topiary specimen trees which were approximately 6 feet tall and planted in substantial pots of very heavy compost. Stuart Hall would have had a field day; my suit, the previously immaculate car and my self-esteem were in tatters as I managed to cajole these monsters through the boot, across the back seat and onto the dashboard. Thankfully the trees survived unscathed and are still resplendent in the front garden of my old house – however, every time I pass by I get flashbacks of the journey from hell and the hefty cleaning bill!

Luckily I have never been one of those people who feel a need to drive around in a spotless car and, having now acquired 3 children and assorted dogs, that isn’t an option anyway. Yes I’ve done the flash motor bit but my latest jalopy, an old Volvo estate, is proving to be as close to perfection as I can get for garden centre forays. Firstly, it has got a massive boot with a low sill; with the back seats down you could even get a garden bench in there! Secondly it already has a background aroma of ‘Eau de Wild Bunch’ so a stray bit of manure won’t make any difference. Most importantly, I have a good feel for exactly how much I can load in before either the suspension gives up the ghost or the boys in blue read me my rights. If I had one complaint it would be the lack of headroom for tall plants (sod the passengers!) but perhaps I could get someone to fit one of those concertina roofs like you see on Camper Vans.

The big problem with garden centre purchases is the ‘randomness’ of it all. Normally your groceries will fit neatly into plastic bags. Not so your garden supplies where you have to try and keep your plants from toppling over and prevent muddy water from dripping on your velour upholstery. I would love to see the Top Gear team have a go at ‘pimping’ your average car into the ideal wheels for garden centre devotees – Jeremy Clarkson take note!

Maybe ‘garden centre user friendliness’ would not be top of your average road tester’s priorities when putting the latest Porsche through it’s paces – but I would be willing to bet that at some stage in its life it’s going to have some inappropriate plant life on the passenger seat following a trip to the garden centre!

 Garden article provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.


Road test Volvo S60 D5

Volvo S60 D5

Volvo has long been viewed as sitting in the second tier of prestige car manufacturers, a club that includes Saab and Alfa Romeo. The reasons for this are simple, dynamically and stylistically any recent model Volvo has produced has

not been the match of its rivals from Audi, Mercedes and BMW. With the new S60, Volvo has set out to remedy this, or at least that’s what the launch advertising campaign would have us believe.

The S60 is aimed squarely at the “compact, prestige, sporting saloon” segment of the market, in other words it is up against the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. What is it doing differently that will enable Volvo to take the fight to these titans of the prestige car industry? Well, if we start with the styling I have to say it looks the part. From the side profile it has the curves that, these days, are associated with a four door coupé and from the rear everything is taut and tidy. Unfortunately, until Volvo decides to completely abandon its boxy heritage, the front end is always going to be a problem. Even with the trendy LED running lights, the headlights are bulbous and awkward looking. To my eye the car looks slightly too high sided and stubby as well.

Climb inside and everything is as it should be in an executive saloon. The fit and finish, quality of plastics and all-round ergonomics are nearly up there with the Audi and ahead of anything BMW or Mercedes have to offer. I’m not wild about the slab-like centre console but it is a Volvo after all. The front seats are supremely comfortable but if you get in the back you will find that the price of those coupé-like looks is limited leg room, a centre seat that is strictly for kids and a slightly claustrophobic feel. There are also some funky things on the options list, how about a collision avoidance system that detects pedestrians walking out in front of you and applies the brakes before you run them over?   

Volvo’s tried and tested 2.4 litre 5 cylinder diesel produces 204bhp in this guise, enough for a 7.4 second 0-62 time and a top end of 146mph. I like the hefty shove in the back it gives when it hits the power band and that distinctive 5 cylinder warble makes it one of the few diesels that I actually enjoy the sound of. The economy figures don’t quite keep up with the likes of BMW, expect around 50mpg in mixed motoring, but are perfectly respectable. I drove the six speed manual which is fine, but I hear that the automatic is to be avoided.

What about the handling though? After all, Volvo has made a huge song and dance about what a sporty drive this car is. I can report that this is without doubt the best handling Volvo I have ever driven and I would go further, it is considerably better than the class leading Ford Mondeo whose platform it shares. Even so, it doesn’t exactly make your heart sing and urge you to push it into every corner as hard as you can. The steering is decidedly lifeless too. By way of contrast the ride is excellent, soaking up the bumps like a bigger car but without any wallowing or excessive roll. The way I see it is that it will be a rare occasion indeed when you explore the limits of the handling envelope of your sporty saloon, but a supple ride is something you will appreciate every time you drive it.

The S60 is a solid all rounder and represents good value for money. Somehow though, I don’t think that it will have the German aristocracy quaking in their boots. Even so, if you are bored with your A4 or 3 Series, it is worthy of serious consideration. And if you are quite happy to drive a second tier, prestige sporty saloon, this is definitely the one to go for.

Kit Johnson

Car tested Volvo S60 D5               £26,745 RRP   

Car review provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public