Thursday, 1 December 2011

Seat Mii

I'm sure that you know one of those people. People who only ever talk about themselves. People who, regardless of the story you tell, they've done one better.

I used to work with someone like that. It got to the point where nobody wanted to speak to her because she was so self-obsessed that ANYTHING that was said would immediately be trumped with her experience. 

She saw the whole of the moon, in the words of the Waterboys.

And now it seems that Volkswagen have recognised this niche and named a car specifically for these people - the "Mii".

That's right, by buying this car they have yet another opportunity to bring "Mii" into the conversation.

The car is nearly identical to the previous Lupo/Arosa. Nothing of interest, especially not the name.

And I imagine that it will sell well in bright yellow. Anything to draw attention to "Mii".

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Range Rover Evoque

It's been a bit of a bleak year for new car launches. Sure, you've had a few to keep things ticking over, but overall it's been a piss-poor year for car launches.

The truth is, the economy is still feeling the effects of the recession, and new car launches are very expensive in terms of R&D, so there have only been a few launches - mostly from the brands that have weathered the recession well.

Jaguar Land Rover, after being bought by Tata, seem keen to push on, and seem to be doing rather well, particularly in emerging markets, so it makes sense that they have just launched a new car, with the intention of making the posher Range Rover brand accessible to the slightly impoverished masses, pitting their new car, the Evoque, in direct competition with the BMW X1, the Audi Q3, and, er, the Land Rover Freelander.

In all honesty, I think Land Rover have now realised the error of their ways. The original Freelander was a bit crap, and it got replaced with a slightly more upmarket Range-Rover-Mini, but they forgot to put the right brand on. Now, there's the Evoque, partly designed by Vcitoria Beckham.

I've seen it up close and personal, and I have to say, it's actually not that bad.

I expected worse. I'm pleasantly surprised.

And from what I gather, Land Rover are taking huge steps forward in reliability. So that's a plus.

The car is exactly what it says it is, a mini-Range Rover.

Not beautiful, just a smaller version of the Range Rover, but in an altogether less vulgar packaging.


Monday, 15 August 2011

Kia Picanto

Something's wrong.

I've been banging on about it for a while, but it appears that I'm increasingly right, and I'm increasingly being joined by others.

You see, the traditional European car makers are under threat from a much smaller nation, Korea. Korean cars have come a hell of a long way since, well, Daewoo, Ssangyong and Samsung bit the dust. Hyundai and Kia merged, and proceeded in automating their factories, and abandoned the identi-kit cloning process that produced terribly monotonous cars in favour of true flair and ingenuity.

And Kia have once again produced a top-notch car that's slightly cheaper than a European marque, but every bit as high quality. OK, I made that last bit up, but I'm guessing.

People no longer ridicule Hyundai drivers like they used to. It's not a laughing stock any more, in fact people voluntarily choose Hyundais and Kias over luxury cars, I know because I nearly did!

So now that the hideous Picanto has been replaced by something that puts the competition to shame, can we expect to see other manufacturers following suit? Might Korean cars become the leaders? No, unfortunately not. You see, the true innovation is coming out of the German makers. The R&D and tech that goes into a new car comes from research labs in Munich, not Ulsan, but it doesn't take long in today's world to copy the tech.

So they're good, but just slightly behind the leaders.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Top 5 cars driven by arseholes

Have you ever looked in your rear mirror to find someone driving within 10 microns?

Have you ever come to a roundabout only to have the front of your car near enough removed by some idiot?

And have you noticed how certain cars lend themselves to these kind of idiots?

I have driven some of these cars, and I can safely say that it is a combination of arsehole drivers and poor driving dynamics that force these to be driven in such a way. My car, on the other hand, you really have to plan thing in advance. Not that it's a bad thing, but the brakes aren't too sharp, and the accelerator forces you to drive smoothly.

5. Ford Transit van

OK, not a car. Driven by just about anyone from any walk of life, badly.

4. BMW X5

Not the only SUV in my list, but the first incarnation of this was definitely one driven by a certain type of person. The kind of person who thinks that their life is more important than anyone else's. 

3. Audi RS4

Audi weren't pleased when BMW had all the arseholes, so they tried and succeeded in creating a car to get the arseholes to add another four rings.

2. BMW M3

Yes, this is the one Audi targetted. People who couldn't afford an M5 vented their frustration by buying an M3 and driving around permanently stuck to other cars' exhaust pipes.

1. And the winner is... the Range Rover.

Ultimate arsehole accessory. The Range Rover. Not the sport, or the Freelander, this is one for people who clearly yearn for the close-following abilities of a Transit van but wouldn't want anyone to think they were working class.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Mini Coupe

I am not a fan of Star Trek. I have never watched a single episode in its entirety, only catching fleeting glimpses.

But there is one character of which I am a fan, but only because of an internet meme. That is, the character played by Patrick Stewart, now know for his legendary "facepalm", the act of placing one's head in to one's hand to suggest disbelief at an act of stupidity.

And BMW are thoroughly deserving of a facepalm for their latest Mini monstrosity.

The Mini Coupe.

You see, the Mini was not exactly great looking, but it was OK. Then came the convertible. Then the Clubman. Then the Cuntryman. And now the coupe.

Too many models?

Well, let's look at this car on it's own merits.

As Audi produces the TT based on the Golf, BMW will produce the coupe based on the Mini.

But the problem is, BMW are desperate to demonstrate that what they have is a Mini. The real reason they are pushing the Mini brand is so they can abandon their real wheel drive mantra discretely, and that means switching BMWs to 4 wheel drive and pushing Minis as front wheel drive cars.

And because Mini is a relatively new brand, and is strongly brand-image based rather than perceived quality based, they have to remind you that it is a Mini. Hence every car looking almost identical.

But that's where the Coupe falls down. You see, the TT presents a desirable car which is really just a tarted up Golf. With the Mini Coupe, you will constantly be reminded that you are driving a Mini and not a much pricier sports car. The TT sells you a fur coat that hides your size 14 frame (and it is mainly women that buy them) whereas the Mini is a fur coat but with the size tag put on the outside rather than the inside.

It's daft. It's ridiculous.

Expect estate agents to buy them like hot cakes.

Monday, 13 June 2011

MG 6

If I was a cruel man, I would say that there is no point in buying an MG.

I am a cruel man. There is no point in buying an MG. Not, at least, until some poor plonker buys the first one and tries to sell it on.

You see, if you buy a BMW, you know what you're getting in to. You know that they are too big to disappear overnight. You know that the garage won't close in the next two months, and you know that there is not likely to be something that can't be fixed due to poor parts availability.

With MG, you know that there is a reasonable chance that they won't be there in 6 months time. Yes, it's an old marque, but they have been bought by a much younger foreign company, and they have been disastrously managed since the 70s.

But on to the car.

The MG6 is the first offering from MG since their relaunch. It's almost Ford Focus like in styling, but actually more closely resembles a Proton Gen-2. And that's not something to aspire to - in fact, most people I know say they've never seen one, although I know for a fact that three quarters of them have.

But for me, the worst thing about this is that it is British. Not that there is anything wrong with being British, but the reputation still lives on of lazy, workshy communists bolting together cars in Birmingham at a pace that resembles constipated tortoises while the rest of the world has moved on to robotic manufacturing.

Of course, it's not like that.

But MG is.

Even when it is being made by a bunch of hard-working communists in China.

Steer clear (assuming that the steering column has been bolted in to place)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Why I shall never again ask for directions.

Every so often, a car pulls up alongside me as I walk along. The window comes down, and a head leans out.

"Excuse me, do you know the way to St. Mary's Cathedral?" was the question today. The correct anwer is a simple "Yes" but for some reason, I actually tried to give this imbecile the clearest and most concise directions I could.

His poor face, the confusion set in shortly after the second turn. And the trouble is, it's not just him.

Think about it. How many times have you asked for directions and been given step by step directions that take you to your final destination? Never.

And how many times have you been asked for directions? Hundreds of times. And it's not that either of you is more intelligent than the other, it's that asking a stranger for directions is entirely pointless.

Almost as pointless as setting off with no bloody idea where you're going in the first place.

Normally, if I am going somewhere I've never been before I will have a look at a map. I will search online for where I'm going and get a rough idea. Then I will also put it into the sat nav, which I will ignore steadfastly because I know the best route. But there's no doubt, and that's why I don't ask for directions.

And most people I know only very occasionally ask for directions. Which means that there are hundreds of cretins, up and down the land, asking directions to everywhere they go. They stop and ask how to get to the supermarket. Then they stop and ask how to get home. And they get progressively more and more lost as time goes on. This is clearly not acceptable, and the only sensible thing to do is to stop giving out directions. You've got to be cruel to be kind, and if you stop spoon-feeding these imbeciles they will have to learn, or stop driving.

Next time, I shall reply, "Yes" and walk on.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Cars for people who have given up on life

A person who goes by the catchy moniker "X-Quork" once wrote "I don't care how good the things are, anybody who drives something called a Nissan Note has given up on life."

As someone who has had the grave misfortune of being handed a set of keys to a Nissan Note while being told to "make sure the tanks full when you bring it back" I can assure you that I would only recommend this car to someone who needs their blood to start boiling, for whatever reason, because it is the worst car I have ever driven - worse, even, than the Jeep Compass I got in the USA.

So, without further ado, I bring you my list of cars for people who have given up on life.

1. Skoda Roomster

And just what the hell is "Roomster" supposed to mean? Most car makers just pull a name out of thin air, but Skoda have kind of tried to incorporate some part of the car into the name. I've only ever seen old people drive this car, presumably so they can fit the grandchildren in the back. Get some excitement back in your life, for god's sake.

2. Renault Kangoo
It's a van. Except it's not. If your life is at the point where you aspire to have an MPV so much that you'll accept a thinly-veiled van as a substitute, then your life is not worth living. An MPV is not desirable to anyone.

3. Fiat Doblo
You buy this when you have given up worrying about the people pointing and staring. You buy this when you no longer care that the car in your driveway is an eyesore.

Or you could buy it to annoy the neighbours. It's hideous, and lacking pleasantries. It is a sure sign that you have just given up on everything.

4. Porsche Boxster
Everybody knows that a Porsche 911 is the most boring of what could be called supercars. If you aspire to have the dullest car there is, but don't have the money to splash out, then it seems perfectly reasonable to buy a Boxster? No. You see, you've given up hope of achieving your dreams. You've settled for second best. 

What you should do is buy a Z4, or an SLK. But you want the 911. All you've ever wanted is a 911. So you buy the Boxster.

Why not just spend your £40k on 20,000 Euromillions tickets? That way you's be slightly more likely to be able to buy a 911 than if you bought a Boxster. Waste of money. Buy a cheap second hand car and put the rest in savings until you have enough for a 911.

5. Hyundai i800

If you have a reason to choose an 8 seater car over a standard 7 seater car, it means that you have 6 children.  If you have 6 children, it means that your own personal life is pretty much overtaken by the children and there's no escaping. You've already relinquished your lifestyle. Just give up now. 

And don't forget, condoms are an excellent means of keeping family sizes down.

UPDATE: I've had a request. It turns out I'd missed an important car in the geriatric transportation stakes, and that is the Toyota Yaris Verso. Not happy with a car that is devoid of emotion, the owners of this have decided to buy a car that is devoid of emotion but in a slightly taller format, resulting in no additional usable space but an extra opportunity for the neighbours to point and laugh.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Mercedes SLK

I have to admit it - I get my back epilated. Now I'm married, and there's no ambiguity about my sexuality, but I do prefer to have the small forest removed from my shoulders.

However, 50 years ago this would not have been an option for most men, who would have been called "poofs" if they didn't have grease under their fingernails or work in the pits. Times have changed however, and not everything that would previously have been thought of as a "bit gay" suggest someone's sexuality - far from it, if anything this new liberalism has taught most people that such things are absolutely no indication of homosexuality.

So back to the Mercedes then - also known as the "SL Gay". The last two versions of the SLK did have a reputation as a bit of a girly car, and as a result, most of the people you saw with them were women. Since then, however, Mercedes launched the absolutely stunning SLS which hints at the direction the designers are taking. The new SLK definitely seems to capture that design philosophy, and is rather attractive.

However, for any convertible, there is always one test of whether it is a well designed car. Can you picture Arnold Schwarzenegger fleeing an explosion in it with some heavy metal playing in the background? If the answer is no, then I'm afraid it does not live up to its potential as a convertible.

Think about it - Porsche Boxster? Yes. VW Eos? No.

BMW Z4? Absolutely. Fiat 500C? No.

Audi R8? Yes. Mazda MX-5? Probably not.

So can you picture Arnie driving this? No, I'm afraid not. He'd be too busy driving the Z4 instead.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

My eyes are bleeding!

I think I've just discovered the worst page on the web.

Ironic car names

There are some cars which have been given the most ridiculous names. For example, why is it that after you get stuck for an hour and a half on a country lane, you finally get to the front of the queue to find that you spent all that time behind a car which has been monikered the "Suzuki Swift"?

The Japanese are either mocking us or have absolutely no sense of irony to their names.

I mean, when you are stuck behind a car, getting angrier and angrier, what could be worse than the car they are driving advertising that, despite your hatred and frustration, the blue-rinser in the car in front feels "Sunny". They enjoy you being stuck behind them. Because they have a Nissan Sunny.

Of course, it's not just the Japanese. The Czechs have the aptly named Superb, which, in all honesty is an excellent if dull car. It is actually bordering on being Superb, but it's incredibly arrogant to call the car Superb.

The best example of this phenomenon though is from Britain, and is not just the car name but the entire Brand. What would you call a failing car company? Triumph.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale

I was once asked by a German friend what a street where traffic is only allowed in one direction is called. "One way street" was my answer. My friend looked puzzled and then said, "That sounds stupid."

It was only after I asked him what it was in German that it clicked - "Einbahnstrasse" - that it's not really that stupid a phrase, just that English and German both have a harshness and vulgarity to them that you don't get in other languages. Well, at least not in Italian.

For example, have a look at Maserati's current line up, and imagine, if you will, Rolls-Royce applying the same names in English to their cars. The Rolls-Royce Four Door. The Rolls-Royce Grand Tourer. And now, the Rolls-Royce Grand Tourer Traffic.

No. The Quattroporte, the GranTurismo and the GranTurismo Stradale sound much cooler. In Italian it just fits with cool cars, and the new Traffic looks fantastic. For the handsome price of £110k you get a jumped up, slightly lighter version of the GranTurismo. Very few people will know, but think about this: YOU know. Think about how smug you'll feel on the rare occasions when you pull up along side another GranTurismo, but yours is slightly cooler than the one next to you. The other driver will be scratching their head as to why yours is cooler, but it is.

And they'll also be scratching their head as to why you pulled away slightly more quickly than they did.

You know it makes sense.

Monday, 14 February 2011

US Special : AMC Gremlin

Sometimes you get a glimpse into the future without realising it. For instance, how many people would have thought when they first saw the godawful internet pages of the mid 90s that they were glimpsing into what would revolutionise the world? For those that don'tremember, there were lots of pages detailing bell button lint, cats and other such pointless things.

And of course, there were personal computers themselves, famously forecast to sell no more than six worldwide, but now they are so ubiquitous that very few people in the developed world don't have access to a computer.

Sometimes we get it totally wrong, and we all now know that the Sinclair C5 hasn't changed the world, mainly due to its ludicrous design which puts the rider at extreme risk of being squashed to death by a haphazard lorry driver.

But when I was in America, I did see one car that everybody thought was terrible at the time, but has evidently shaped modern designs - the AMC Gremlin. Surprisingly it was still on the road, which is amazing given that American cars are lucky to last 6 months.

Ridiculed at the time, and still ridiculed, it's design is quirky, but Gremlin is a suitable name. Not nice, a bit nasty, but exactly summed up by the title Gremlin.

The car itself is two completely different cars welded together in the middle, a 1970s American saloon car (or should I say sedan?) and a 2010 Volvo C30 in the rear. Now I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. There is no way that Volvo designers would be so idiotic as to copy the rear end from the Gremlin, so it had to be the other way round.

How on earth did they manage to pilfer the rear end of a car from 40 years into the future?

Answers on a postcard please.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Vauxhall Antara

It's still a bit of a grim time for new car launches, in all honesty. Winter's a bit depressing, and there's not much activity in the car market, so the dark months tend to not be the best time for new car launches. There is however, one exception to this - it does offer a chance for facelifted models to slip through without anyone really noticing. If you do want to do that, as a car maker, it suggests that i) noone will care if you facelift the car and ii) you don't want people to notice that you've facelifted the car.

If you start doing that with a price cut, it suggests that you have major problems with a product line.

You see, Vauxhall have facelifted the poorly-designed Antara, and replaced it with a slightly less poorly deisgned Antara with a £3,000 reduction in price. The only reason they would give you an updated model for less is if they wanted rid of them.

The Antara started life as a joint venture with, what was at that time, Daewoo, with very few changes between the brands other than a raised price for the Vauxhall. You see, the thing is, when you go on an easyJet flight, there are certain things that they do to make it feel like you're getting good value. So everything is a garish orange, kind of like Dale Winton, and the seats are uncomfortable. It's not because it's any cheaper, it's because it feels cheaper. And Daewoo had the same philosophy.

Except this wasn't an especially cheap car. But it looks cheap. Seriously, the plastic bumper looks terrible, but the price tag isn't that far off what you would be paying for a far better car from other makers, and often it's more than other makers charge for a much better car.

The facelift is so minor I can't even tell you what the differences are from looking at it. You've still got the cheap plastic bumpers, and budget interior that seems to have been specifically designed to make you feel poor, when you're clearly not, having just spent over £20k on a car that isn't particularly good, stylish or desirable when you could have had a much nicer car for less. Throwing money away, that is.

But if I'd bought one of these in the last few months, I'de be tempted to go back to the garage looking for £3,000 back. Not a good strategy from Vauxhall, and particularly nasty at a time when car prices generally are going up.

Monday, 7 February 2011

US Special : Hyundai Sonata

I've previously written about the current batch of Hyundais. Times have changed, and the cheap Korean cars are no longer bargain-basement in quality and style, instead they provide the other car makers with something worth copying.

It used to be that Korean cars were a laughing stock, totally incapable of competing with anything from Europe, and slightly worse than American cars. But times have changed, and now they are firmly ahead of most American cars, and pretty mid-range in Europe now.

On my trip to the USA, there were a fair few of the pretty Sonatas on the road. You see, most car makers have separate lineups for Europe and North America, with the rest of the world getting cars somewhere between the two. Hyundai have rather bravely tried to develop cars to suit both markets simultaneously, and now we're starting to see the results of this policy. The new Sonata isn't out in Europe yet, where it will be badged the i40, but seeing them in America it somehow reminded me of the Vauxhall Insignia - absolutely stunning as a car, beautiful in appearance, but as soon as it's next to another car, it just kind of blends in to the road.

In isolation, the Sonata is a fantastic looking car, but this doesn't carry over when put next to another car.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

BMW 6 series convertible

Apparently, the biggest fear for men is the loss of one's hair. Now that's perfectly understandable, because it's a big part of your overall image, your hair. I mean, could you imagine Donald Trump if he was bald? Now, I'm afflicted by male pattern baldness, and I'm currently in the stage of being slightly bald but not fully bald, a sort of balding that tends to look a lot worse than either bald or fully haired. I'm also quite slim, but if I was to start putting on the beef, it would point to one possible outcome: the purchase of an open top sports car.

Think about it - have you ever seen a slim, fully haired man in an open top sports car? Thought not. The fact is they're all full of overweight middle aged men with combovers. Quite often they are accompanied by attractive young women, but don't be fooled, these are not their mistresses. They are in fact their daughters, who have reached their twenties and flown the nest. That's the only time in a man's life when they actually have any money for such luxuries, when the kids have left home.

But a few years ago, a fashion developed for four-seater convertibles, but unfortunately it's pointless because there is never a time when it is acceptable for anyone to be in the back of a car with the roof down, unless they are a head of state or other such dignitary, making it convenient and easy to wave to the crowds gathering on the street.

And this year, there will be one such event happening. Apparently, a posh public school boy will marry a chav he met whilst attending university in St. Andrews. Or something. Anyway, there are rumours that they may need to wave at people from the back of a car.

BMW have anticipated such an event and produced a car that may fit the bill. The new 6 series convertible, following on from the old, slightly pointless 6 series, looks like it's borrowed bits from arch rivals Mercedes, and then sprinkled some Jaguar on top. The car itself reminds me of the Mercedes CL, but with some of the front elements from the Jaguar XF. Both are very nice cars, and the result is a nice car, but it's not exactly innovative or original. The 6 series is still a bit of a fish out of water in the BMW line up, but this is an improvement over the old one, yet still manages to retain some of the character of the old 6 series.

Still, I don't think it's a bad choice, just an odd choice. I mean, who goes to the most boring brand of cars and buys a car that is obviously meant for people in the throes of a mid-life crisis? It's like going to Clark's shoes and asking for something a bit wild.

I don't think Wills and Kate will be using this as their wagon of choice, somehow.

Monday, 24 January 2011

USA special: Hummer H2

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are a lot of cultural nuances between Europe and America. Some things that are OK to Americans are vulgar to Europeans, and some things that are sophisticated to European are too pompous for Americans.

However, one that is vulgar to Europeans but at the same time getting it absolutely spot on is the Hummer. The civilian Hummer was the brainchild of the greatest American hero of them all, the Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger. You don't see many Hummers in the UK, but if you do they are likely to be long and pink, and noramlly full of boozed up 30-something women with the token gay man thrown in, drinking champagne while screaming at passing pedestrians. And they say American tastes are vulgar.

However, the Americans, in this instance, got class, and instead use their Hummers as family cars. They don't hang out the windows, or drink champagne or anything like that. No, in the USA, the Hummer is as civilised as they come.

And the Hummer is perfect. It is big, it is brash, it is brightly coloured and it does stand out. But in a way that suggests that the peasant in the Corsa may wish to get out of the way very quickly, or risk being crushed to death. Of course, everyone knows that wouldn't happen, but the merest hint that the Hummer could crush all oncoming traffic without even stopping for a breather is enough to ensure that your road presence is felt, and the roads remain a breeze to drive along.

Of course, the styling suits every man in the world. The only problem is, after everybody taking you seriously on your way to the all-important business meeting, noone will take you seriously when you step out of it.

So, the Hummer is a fantastic car, but could you drive one without looking like a big kid? No.

Monday, 17 January 2011

US Special: Pontiac Aztek

New car releases are a little bit thin on the ground just now, so I thought rather than leave the blog languishing with no new posts, I would take this opportunity for a series of reviews of some cars I had the fortune and misfortune of seeing on a recent trip to the "Good 'Ol US of A".

You see, the thing is, Americans are simple people. They aren't bothered by sophisticated things like cappucinos, high fashion and decent haircuts. No, they'll make do with the drain water they call coffee, Walmart clothes and mullets. In fairness, it's not everyone in America who is like this, but you just don't see them outside of America.

Similarly, there are certain cars you don't see outside of America. The Pontiac Aztek, for example. Driving in America is very different to Europe; the roads are straight and monotonous, so there's no need for decent steering. The speed limits are ridiculously low, so there's no need for decent brakes or acceleration. There's no shortage of space, so the lanes are 12 feet wide, and 8 of them. Some of the roads are hundreds of miles long before a gentle turn appears, so you may need to stop at a McDonald's or three on the way and therefore there are thousands of them, everywhere, just off the interstate roads.

If you go to shopping malls, you might lose your car in the seas of thousands of identical SUVs. So Pontiac came up with a solution - create a car so ugly that you'll never lose it. That's the only way that such a car could come into existence, through the mind of someone deliberately trying to make an unmistakable, ugly car. In fact, I'm pretty sure this is the premise of the whole American car design industry, since there are thousands of other hideous cars available for purchase, although not many as ugly as this. The Pontiac Aztek is a monstrosity, and doesn't even manage to blend in surrounded by what must be the ugliest car market in the world.