If you happen to follow EngageSportMode on twitter, if you don’t remedy that first, you’ll have noticed a steady stream of Pirelli tyre-related lolz on Sunday.
The Spanish Grand Prix at Catalunya has rarely been one to set pulses racing, managing to generally rate slightly above Hungary for excitement. But the 2013 race proved to be unpopular with many for more than just poor racing. Namely, when do pit-stops for tyres become too many? Apparently four is the magic number, not three in this regard.
One of the key aspects to the resurgence in “racing” during recent seasons of Formula 1 has been the change to Pirelli as tyre supplier. This, combined with DRS and KERS, has seen a return to a phenomenon known as overtaking, not witnessed in F1 for many years. Despite the fact Sebastian Vettel has won the last three World Championships, nobody is complaining too much about the lack of on-track action.
Pirelli’s tyres have been fundamental to this, in the use of the compounds used to construct the prime and option variants. The rates at which the tyre degrades have been increased, leading to dramatic changes in tyre performance when the level of grip is said to “drop off a cliff” during the race, often without warning. Some teams have coped with this better; others have had to manage them differently during a race, leaving the possibility of cars on different tyre strategies creating overtaking, aided by DRS and KERS.
However, the tyres offered this year by Pirelli are seemingly a step too far. In Catalunya we saw front running drivers such as Alonso, Raikkonen and Massa only pushing their cars to around 80% of their potential. As Martin Brundle commented on Sky’s coverage, behind the wheel the drivers looked positively sedate – not like they were battling for World Championship points. The reason for this was the, arguably, excessive tyre wear seen in Spain. Teams were unable to allow their drivers to push hard for fear of destroying their rubber and being forced to pit. As such, we saw anaesthetised racing and some teams needing to make four pit stops to prevent shredded Pirellis.
Arguably, Ferrari and Lotus might claim that there is no problem. Seemingly their cars are easier on their tyres compared to Red Bull or Mercedes, allowing them to ride away to victory. However, it seems perverse that the two cars which qualified 1st and 2nd on the grid end up 6th and 12th respectively, due to chiefly struggling with tyre wear.
Red Bull in particular has been incredibly vocal about the fast wear rate of the Pirellis, with owner Dieter Mateschitz claiming that: “this is a competition in tyre management. Real racing looks different.” Even Bernie Ecclestone has stirred the pot, suggesting that the tyres Pirelli brought were “wrong” and not what Formula 1 had asked the Italian firm to “produce.” Finally, David Coulthard’s BBC Sport column suggested that the failures seen by tyres this year could be a much bigger worry, should it happen at a “critical point of the race track in a critical racing situation.”
Tyres have always been a sensitive subject in Formula 1; witness the drama which unfolded at the 2005 Indianapolis Grand Prix when only three teams were able to compete due to the safety concerns with Michelin’s tyres. Nobody wants such ridiculous scenes as that, nor do they want the increased risk when we get to quicker circuits such as Spa-Francorchamps and Monza later in the season.
You also have to wonder about the damage it must be doing to Pirelli’s brand. Formula 1 is probably its biggest advertisement; to see such rhetoric in the media about Pirelli products cannot be a good thing for the company.
As a consequence of the above Pirelli Motorsport Director, and occasional twitter antagonist, Paul Hembery has announced changes to the tyres it will offer, starting from the Canadian Grand Prix. Initially Hembery had stated this would take effect from Silverstone, but one wonders whether the sheer loudness of the dissenting voices forced them to act quicker. It also leaves ESM with only one race of tyre-related puns left, Monaco, rather than the two first hoped for.
ESM has never been a fan of racing dictated by tyres; they’re hardly the most exciting part of a racing car for a start. But they are also the key bits which join the car to the track, just in Catalunya they started to make the tail wag the dog in terms of performance. Hopefully, after Monaco, we’ll see less burnt rubber and more of drivers pushing their cars to the limit.
During ESM’s recent and well documented quest for his new investment, there have been mutterings, generally from ESM’s Mate Steve, about “girl’s cars” and which models ESM should avoid, lest he be branded as owning such. But what on earth is a “girl’s car” and why are certain models labelled with this gender stereotype? Granted there will be certain models that were designed with the fairer sex in mind but, to my limited knowledge, this label is just a chauvinistic outlook on underpowered and boring cars.
Now, I am a girl. Does this therefore mean that due to my sex I am destined to a life of small practical cars, housing tiny engines with fewer horses than a budget beef burger? Can I not be trusted to responsibly own and operate a more exciting car? Just to clarify this is not me having a feminist rant. I completely agree that many female drivers should not be allowed anywhere near a car, much less drive one, and I frequently find myself ranting like a lunatic on my daily commute about “stupid, bloody, women drivers”. But why should the poor unsuspecting vehicle have to suffer the detrimental label? Well let’s find out. Is there such a thing as a “girl’s car” or is it just a fictitious motoring swear word? (more…)
In less than an hour, the lights will go out on the final race of the 2012 Formula One World Championship. After an epic season, two drivers still remain in contention for the Driver’s title; Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. Both are vying to become triple World Champions, but only one will emerge from Interlagos today as the victor.
EngageSportMode makes no attempt to deny that its allegiances are firmly in the Red Bull camp. But in case you haven’t quite made up your mind whether to back blue or red this afternoon, here are a few reasons to sway you to ESM’s way of thinking.
1. Vettel wants the Championship more
This is purely opinion; obviously I cannot really measure the motivation of each driver. But from the interviews, body language and on-track attitude I would hedge that Vettel is more bothered about taking the title today. He cares about records, achievements and statistics. It will have galled him to not win his 100th Grand Prix in Austin last weekend. In addition, I would imagine that winning three titles in a row would mean more to Sebastian than them spread out over a number of years.
2. That performance at Abu Dhabi
Pundits and drivers alike have criticised Vettel for not being a true racer and only being able to perform from the front of the grid. The 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix blew that argument out of the water, and proved he could overtake and battle through the field. No, it wasn’t perfect; contact with Bruno Senna and the bizarre Ricciardo/polystyrene sign incident certainly slowed his progress. But he still drove from starting in the pit lane, to finish on the podium in third place.
3. The Red Bull has not been the best car
Unlike 2011, the Red Bull RB8 has not been an all-conquering behemoth this year. The loss of the double-diffuser setup hurt Red Bull, and it has taken all of Adrian Newey’s skills to get the RB8 back to the front of the pack. It still isn’t perfect; look at the straight line speed differentials between the car from Milton Keynes and Hamilton’s Mclaren last weekend.
On top of the difficulties with performance, Vettel has twice suffered at the cruel hands of unreliability this year. Whilst leading in Valencia, an alternator failure dumped him out of the race, and washed an almost guaranteed 25 points into the sea. A second alternator problem compounded a difficult weekend at Monza for Vettel by forcing him to retire and again taking away valuable points. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, the alternators used in the Red Bull’s Renault engine are supplied by Magnetti Marelli. An Italian company which also happens to be a subsidiary of Fiat…
4. Mark Webber is not Felipe Massa
Massa is very much the number two driver at Ferrari, and knows it. Like the “Fernando is faster than you” message of a few years ago, this season has also seen the Brazilian driver take the bullet to assist Alonso. The cutting of the gearbox seals in Austin last weekend to give Massa a grid penalty and move Alonso to the cleaner side of the grid was a pure Ferrari move. There is no way Mark Webber would ever agree to something like that to help Vettel; the German is very much on his own out on track.
5. Jacques Villeneuve is backing Alonso
In a recent article, 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve revealed he is supporting Alonso to win this years title, as whilst Vettel is quick he believes he “reacts like a child” when under pressure. If you need any assistance as to why you should ignore the views of the French-Canadian, try listening to this.
6. Vettel doesn’t look like a puppet from the Dolmio advert.
It’s true, he doesn’t.
7. Senna is backing Vettel.
No, not Bruno Senna but EngageSportMode’s own F1 Pundit whippet. In her opinion, Sebastian is the one to win today, so much so that she’s even taken to wearing a Red Bull Racing cap:
So there you have it, seven very convincing reasons to back a certain German this afternoon. Enjoy.
As mentioned previously, ESM’s Mate Steve happens to believe the Audi A1 is a “girl’s car”. To uphold order and democracy, the only way to resolve this is by way of a vote. Below is a very simple poll; even if only one person makes a selection it’ll still probably be proportionally more than bothered to turn out to elect a Police & Crime Commissioner. Have at it:
Feel free to leave comments, should your heart so desire.
Not wanting to be left out of all the fun and frolics of that big sporting event happening in the capital city, ESM decided to get on board with the Olympic spirit. Whilst EngageSportMode wasn’t at the opening ceremony/Victorian Farm the Musical which happened last night, it can at least add some tenuous related car-based writing to the copper cauldron. Though with less geese, and certainly with less Paul McCartney (thank God).
As you may, or may not, know BMW is heavily involved with London 2012. Due to its heady position as official automotive partner, BMW is offering 4,000 vehicles to chauffeur athletes and VIPs around. The company was also responsible for the vehicles which followed the Torch Relay, including ones decked out in a blindingly bright gold wrap.
Unfortunately for those who live in Cheshire, BMW doesn’t actually offer an actual gold wrap off the shelf. Though if you live in Dubai or similar and have enough money, I’m sure they’ll be happy to oblige. So, to make the Olympic dream a bit more achievable, ESM decided to browse the BMW model list and pull out the actually obtainable models with a winning theme and colour scheme. And by winning, I mean the latest offerings from Bavaria which have won the prize for steering as far away as possible from what BMW used to be about; something previously touched on.
I spent a while playing around with the rather easy to use configurator tool on the BMW website to “make” these possible. So here we go, with the prize winners in the BMW Olympic Podium of Shame:
Third place in this event is actually a tie. The first contender I came across was this:
Mmm. A Marrakesh Brown X6. Obviously it is more dog excrement than precious metal in colour, but ESM really strongly dislikes the X6 so it’s inclusion was needed in this roster. Even after coming across this:
Yes it’s that old EngageSportMode conundrum, the 6-Series Gran Coupe. As big as a 7-Series, just as expensive but less practical and only slightly more swoopy looking, this enigmatic machine is available in the above displayed Frozen Bronze. Which actually in real life is more of a matte brown colour. But let us not be picky; BMW say it’s bronze, so it must be. It’s inclusion is also warranted for the chance to have this interior combination, which you actually have to pay MORE for:
I actually left the details uncropped to prove that this wasn’t something I just hashed together. If your heart so desires, you can indeed have a BMW with a white and brown/orange-y interior. The mind boggles.
For the runner-up, ESM picked a brand new offering from Munich: the M6. Gone is the wailing V10, instead replaced with a turbo V8 as used in the latest M5. Road tests have highlighted that the latest M6 is apparently found to be lacking as a driver’s machine, which for a M-branded car is concerning. It also happens to be hideously expensive. Starting at an already pricey £93,795, through ticking all the options I managed to spec this Silverstone II coloured machine to this price-tag:
Yes, that’s £114,545.00. In GBP, not Yen or anything else. Or about the price of an Audi R8 V10; yes I know it’s not the same kind of car, but I know where I’d rather put my lottery winnings/controversial banking industry bonus were it me.
And the winner is:
The 5-Series GT. Another confusing concept of a car, and one that also happens to be horrendously ugly. BMW offer it in this Milano Beige which was about as close as I could get to something on-screen which replicated gold. £64k, for something with a face only a mother (or marketing executive) could ever love. Shameful.
But, all is not lost in Munich. As, whilst perusing the configurator, I was immensely pleased to see this little number available:
In the crazy, modern world of the hot-hatch, a Volkswagen Golf GTi has a starting price of over £25,000. The latest Renaultsport Megane 265 Trophy will require almost £29k to be yours, and Audi’s now not so limited edition RS3 charges £39,930. However, the M135i starts from less than £30,000 (I’d added options on the one pictured) yet boasts firepower to tackle the even the fiercest of current performance hatchback.
The Valenica Orange paintwork isn’t the only thing it has in common with that old ESM favourite; the 1-Series M Coupe. Essentially the M135i uses a slightly detuned version of its turbocharged 3.0 litre straight-six to give 320 bhp, and 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds. Flat-out it’ll hit an electronically limited 155 mph, whilst it’s still frugal enough to offer an official combined mpg of 35.3. It doesn’t photograph well, but in the flesh it does look better believe me.
Given that the old M Coupe cost around £40k and was scarcely quicker, BMW looks to be offering something with 9/10ths of the performance for only 3/4ths the price. Could the M135i be the possible Yohan Blake to the M Coupe’s Usain Bolt in ESMCoTY2012? Wait and see in December.
With another 2 weeks of the Olympics, ESM can take no responsibility for the potential for more tenuously linked items to appear. Although it can guarantee Paul McCartney will not turn up at the end to ruin everything.
A week on from the Festival of Speed and I have had the time to reflect on my experience at Goodwood. By now the magazines and websites have published their glowing reports of how it was the greatest event on the planet, offered unrivalled access and gave (journalists at least) the chance to drive iconic cars. Press accredited access is one thing, but what was it like for the regular punter.
This was the first time I’d attended the FoS since 2002, the first time I’d camped there and the first time I’d been free from parental influence. As such, it was the first FoS where I’d truly been conscious of the costs and efforts needed to attend. When you live in North-East England, travelling to West Sussex is not the work of a couple of hours. This was why ESM travelled down on the Wednesday night, stayed in a cheap hotel and got to Goodwood on Thursday lunchtime. Luckily ESM’s mate Dave has a Seat Leon FR TDi which meant the trip and fuel costs weren’t too horrendous. Plus I very much doubt we would have fitted all the assorted detritus into the boot of the Polo!
Trying to work out who the FoS is aimed at isn’t particularly easy. On one hand you have the Veuve Clicquot champagne bar, exclusive restaurants and cafes, the Cartier Style et Luxe exhibit and a drivers paddock sponsored by an investment firm. Along with this you have big stands from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Bentley and corporate hospitality seemingly packed despite costing around £500 a head for the cheapest seats. Blink, and at times it was hard to believe we’re in one of the worst economic situations the modern world has ever faced. Goodwood is about big money; the kind of money that gets richer during a recession. Where else would you see stands selling helicopters, private jets and bespoke carbon-fibre furniture.
However, the Festival of Speed is still what it says on the tin. A celebration of two and four-wheeled performance, and a chance for the petrolhead to get up close and personal with legendary vehicles and drivers. There aren’t many places where you can stand inches away from cars worth millions of pounds, whilst their drivers get ready to thrash them up the hill.
Getting such access does take some effort though. To really make the most of the FoS you need to be there on Thursday and Friday. Come Saturday and Sunday, the crowds have increased considerably and you’ll need to be patient to get trackside at the best points or snap photos of the most popular cars. Naturally this isn’t always practical for those who have to work for a living. However, it does become apparent that a small but significant proportion of those at Goodwood probably class “waiting to collect inheritance” as their occupation.
Perhaps it’s due to being from The North but I didn’t think people actually wore pin-stripe blazers with garishly coloured trousers. Given that Debretts (the society bible) lists Goodwood as part of “the season” probably explains the reason for a certain type of clientele. For them this isn’t an event to be deafened by the wail of an F1 V8 or choke on tyre smoke from another burn-out. No, it’s a place to be seen at; to say they were there for their social standing.
Does this detract from the experience for genuine car and motorsport enthusiasts? It shouldn’t do. But to an extent, if you pay for only the basic (but not necessarily cheap) ticket, you’re left feeling there are parts of the FoS you’re being denied access to. Dave, a first time visitor, summed it up as “feeling like you’re paying for the champagne and caviar” being enjoyed be the high rollers. And, if you read the advantages offered to Goodwood Road Racing Club members, you realise this isn’t such a far-fetched proposition.
“Standard” entrance tickets with camping for the four days came to around £200 per person. Not an unreasonable amount compared to events such as the British Grand Prix for instance, but not insignificant either. Add to that prices such as £12 for a programme, £4 for a pint of non-descript lager, £8 for a dodgy burger and £3.50 for a tiny can of Red Bull and it does begin to stack up. Naturally nobody forces you to pay these prices – you could always bring your own food and drink - but it does reinforce the costliness of attending. Oulton Park was far more reasonable by comparison.
At its core the Festival of Speed still offers the celebration of motorsport and all things automotive that it aspires to. At Goodwood you get sights, sounds and smells that no other event could possibly provide. Standing next to a deafeningly loud Opel Manta revving away whilst a Pikes Peak racer fires up is just one example. Watching a Shelby Cobra blast by whilst the Red Arrows perform aerobatics overhead is another. I doubt there is anywhere else on Earth that can match these kinds of opportunities and experiences.
It just seems to be a shame that this has to be tempered by gearing the Festival of Speed to appeal to socialites doing “the season” to be noticed. I have no issue with wealth and success, without such money an event like Goodwood wouldn’t exist. But that should not be an excuse to relegate the regular petrolhead punter to feeling they’ve been left with the cheap seats at the expense of the blazer and badge brigade.
Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar has been “suspended” from his position, a decision undertaken by parent company DRB Hicom.
No real details as to the reasoning behind this decision have been released, but Bahar’s “ambitious” aim of six new products by 2015 must play a significant part.
Whilst some car magazines were happy to trumpet the new models as a real, genuine proposition, ESM was cynical. Given that Lotus is a relatively small specialist manufacturer, producing and developing so many new models would always be a mammoth task. To be honest, not even huge car-makers would take on such a project lightly.
Along with this, Bahar has overseen the expensive (£20) Lotus lifestyle magazine, in addition to the collaboration with rapper Swizz Beatz. Whilst I can see the aim of taking Lotus upmarket – the high-end players will always have money – this is not the right brand.
Colin Chapman founded Lotus to make lightweight and technically advanced performance cars. Churning out a product range to rival Porsche head-on moves far away from that principle. Chapman did new and exciting; Bahar seemed obsessed with generic and profitable. I’m sure Colin would be turning in his grave.
The final straw must surely have come with that horrendous press release. Bahar looked like a mad man and made Lotus a laughing stock. That misjudged media message must be reason enough to oust him.
ESM hopes Lotus can survive and be sustainable; it is too big a name to lose. But it should look at innovative new products, and stick to its core values.
As you might be able to tell, this had rapidly descended into a week of BMW themed items. I’ll be honest, this wasn’t intentional, but once something has started there’s no reason to stop it.
Today I was reading about the forthcoming BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe, revealed at this year’s Geneva Motorshow. To be perfectly honest, I’m struggling hugely to understand the point of this huge vehicle:
To put it into context, the old 740i in Tuesday’s ICAT was about 5 metres long. The new 6-Series Gran Coupe is just about dead on 5 metres in length, and only 65mm shorter than a contemporary 7-Series. BMW is marketing this machine as a four-door coupe; a concept which really goes against the very principle of what a coupe is, traditionally being a two-door bodyshell. But in reality, with quad openings, it is a saloon by any other name.
Which leads me to the further question of who exactly is this car aimed at? Pricewise, in the UK it’s going to start at £61,000 for the most basic (albeit still rather well specced model), whereas the slightly larger 7-Series costs from as little (!) as £57,000. I’m sure the ad men would say clearly the Gran Coupe is aimed at a much different customer; those who wish to drive themselves rather than be chauffeured. They might also add that the Gran Coupe is more rakish and stylish than the 7-Series, but when you consider them in profile I’m not convinced the difference is so marked:
Yes there is clearly less headroom in the rear of the Gran Coupe, but unless you’re in the habit of driving around basketball players in top hats, I can’t really see it being an issue. The GC also has a few more droopy and swoopy bits, but they’re hardly poles apart. The engine choices are broadly similar, as are the transmission setups and the overall chassis underpinnings. Genuinely, for me, this is perhaps one market segment too far. However, this is not the first time BMW has strayed into the outer reaches of the car-buying market. Take the 5-Series GT as proof the Bavarians will often give you the answer to a question you’d never even dreamt of asking, let alone wrote down and sent off to their shiny headquarters.
BMW brands the 5-Series Gran Turismo as a Progressive Activity Sedan. What that actually means…I’m not sure. Size wise, again it’s knocking on the door of the magic 5 metre marker, with interior space bigger than 5-Series Touring and a bit more headroom than the X5 SUV. At £45k it’s a lot more expensive than the 5-Series Touring which starts at £32k, but level with the X5. Just without the 4×4 off-road capability of BMW’s established SUV. To try to make some sense of this, lets look at them all in profile:
Any clearer? I didn’t think so. The key perhaps lies in the American market (as ever) where the 5-Series Touring didn’t prove to be particularly popular. The result being the bloated GT is the replacement for the regular estate 5-Series, though given the US market’s obsession with all things SUV, surely the X5 answers that question anyway? Although if that high, straight roofline of the regular X5 is cramping your style far too much, there is always this:
Yes, the X6. A 4×4 Sports Activity Coupe with a swept back roof and 4WD grubby bits. There’s also an M version should you feel the need to be truly vulgar about your personal wealth/ability to be taken in by marketing.
As I said earlier in the week, BMW used to be a company that produced similar looking saloons in different lengths. The above evidence makes it rather clear that those days are long gone. BMW is not concerned with making the best driver’s cars, it now seems more bothered about filling every little market niche, on the off-chance that one person might need a vehicle of that kind.
Even 10 years ago I would probably have been able to explain the brand rationale behind Bayerische Motoren Werke. These days, I’m really not so sure. I’m glad the company still produces little glimmers of awesomeness like the 1M, but given that the latest M5 features synthesised engine noises I worry that nothing is sacred in Munich anymore.
Yesterday I mentioned how I would save the details of the Panda 100HP’s replacement until today. As promised, here is the new contender to fill the (obviously quite petite) shoes left by the baby Fiat:
Yes, like an errant homing pigeon finally finding the coop, I’ve returned to the Volkswagen stable. This 2006 Olympic Blue 9N3 model proved to be the best option when narrowing down the choices.
The biggest issue with being interested in cars and reading lots about them, is that you can pretty much make a pro’s and con’s list for any possible vehicle. So when you come to actually buy one for yourself, it’s possible to become lost in a wall of facts, figures, reviews and recommendations. In a bid to try to see the wood for the trees, I went back to what I know. The Polo.
Being an SE, this has all the niceties I need to deal with a 14 mile daily commute; CD-player, air-conditioning and (importantly after the Panda) a decent ride to soothe my beaten back. With only 80BHP it isn’t particularly fast, managing 0-60mph in 12 seconds and on to a top speed of around 110. Hardly earth-shattering performance, but certainly less frantic than the Panda and in the real-world not a million miles away either. I’m also hoping the fuel economy will be better due to; a) me being less inclined to thrash it and b) not having the crazily short gearing of the 100HP.
In short, the Polo is a purchase I’ve made mainly with my head, but with a nod to my heart also. Owning a house, maintaining a whippet, and just modern life in general has placed a greater restriction on my ability to pick and choose when it came to car buying. In an ideal world, it’d be a brand-new GTI, a Scirocco R or a Dodge Challenger SRT8. But right now I’m not in a position to have one of those, so the Polo is where it’s at. For now at least.
I also like the fact it’s going to need a little bit of TLC to get it back to it’s best. The previous owner appears to have; washed it with Fairy Liquid, scuffed the front bumper at some point and caused what can only be described as hilariously bad kerbing to those optional 16″ wheels. But all these enabled me to beat the dealer down on pricing, along with giving me something to work on. Happy days.
Up until owning the Panda 100HP, I’d only ever had VAG products. Three Volkswagens and an Audi to be precise.
This presented me with something of an existential crisis as someone heavily opinionated on cars and the motor industry. How could someone who had only owned products of one (albeit huge) manufacturing group, really offer views on other marques? With VW Group cars I was well within my comfort zone; I knew where the headlamp switch would be, I knew the grab handles would be dampened and I knew what it would be like to own.
And so, to push myself outside the warm blanket of Volkswagen, I bought a Fiat; possibly the complete opposite of what I’d grown to expect from VW. Six months later, that experiment is over, the Panda has been traded in and I have moved on.
To try to make sense of this, here is a very short summary of what I loved and loathed about the Panda 100HP:
- The looks. Every time I walked over to the 100HP on a morning or when leaving work, the chunky, cute, faux hot-hatch styling made me laugh and smile without fail. The sporty looking grilles at the front, the deep mesh-diffuser and rear spoiler made it look like no other Panda. The fact it had the world’s smallest wing mirrors also amused me greatly.
- The gearbox. Six-speed with the gear-shift mounted on the dash like a touring car/WRC car; the best I’ve encountered after the Civic Type-R. Helped to keep the fizzy FiRE 1.4 on cam with tightly stacked ratios.
- The handling. In Sport mode, with the weight of the steering turned up, the 100HP was great fun to chuck about. Roundabouts became ovals, one-way systems equalled rally stages; any road could be fun.
- The equipment. Bluetooth phone integration, full electronic climate control, steering wheel mounted stereo buttons and bass heavy sound-system were all big car toys in a small package.
- The ride. Oh My God! I’ve owned performance cars, I’ve owned modified cars. Neither compared to the sheer spine-crushing body-control of the Panda. With stiff springs pitted against soft dampers, in a short wheelbase, potholes and speed bumps were to be feared. I would tense involuntarily at certain parts of my morning commute, knowing pain was about to reverberate up my vertebrae.
- The MPG. One would hope that a teeny city-car, weighing less than a ton, with a 1.4 litre engine and 6-speed gearbox would return good fuel consumption. Think again; the 100HP averaged less than 35MPG in my time with it. Driving with the utmost care and attention never returned better than 38, and driving like it was intended meant the average fell to 32MPG. Motorways were even worse, with a steady 70mph cruise giving fuel economy of less than 30! Not since the Audi S3 had I encountered such a drink problem, but at least the S3 had the performance to excuse its petrol addiction.
- The speed. Or the lack thereof. 0-60mph in under 10 seconds, top speed of 120mph. Not earth-shattering, and certainly not enough to offset the above. It made a lot of noise and seemed enthusiastic, but in reality it wasn’t that quick.
- The reliability. Along with drinking petrol, the 100HP also consumed worrying amounts of oil and coolant for reasons I couldn’t get to the bottom of. The electric power-steering also liked to handily fail every so often. This was fixed by turning the car off and on; but relying on the Microsoft method of problem-solving made me uneasy. In short, I could never escape the impending sense that one morning it would just turn to bits on my drive.
Six months is the shortest I have owned a car for, though to be honest it felt a great deal longer with the Panda. It charmed me and never ceased to make me smile. I would proudly defend it to the hilt, knowing that it was probably pissing (coolant) on someone’s leg like a badly behaved puppy.
In the end, the compromises began to outweigh the benefits and deep down I knew the 100HP was not a long-term proposition. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the fear of unknown, huge mechanical catastrophe. Once you have that fear, it becomes very difficult to think of anything else. I certainly don’t regret the Panda; my car ownership portfolio covers a much broader palate now, and it was genuinely good fun. Fondly remembered, but not missed.
As for the replacement? That shall be revealed tomorrow.
Whole numbers of people have noticed a distinct lack of posting on these here pages as of late. To try to address this issue, ESM has prepared a press release to deal with the questions asked. As a template I’ve used the recent example set by Group Lotus. Behold:
False rumour #1:Mr John is no longer CEO of Engage Sport Mode.
Fact: Rubbish – He’s never been CEO, nobody is.
False rumour #2: Dato’ Sri Syed is no longer Managing Director of Proton.
Fact: ESM doesn’t really know to be honest. We lost interest in Proton years ago when they stopped making the GTi. Try Wikipedia?
False rumour #3: Mr John is JUST an independent journalist.
Fact: Independent journalist is probably pushing it. Guy with a website/blog is probably more accurate really.
False rumour #4: Engage Sport Mode is no longer involved in F1.
Fact: ESM has watched every race this season. Granted ESM didn’t watch China live, but that’s only because it was nursing a hellish hangover from being out in Covent Garden until 4am. ESM watched the “controversial” race in Bahrain today also, so there.
False rumour #5: Engage Sport Mode is going into administration.
Fact: Rubbish. ESM paid it’s WordPress fees for a full year back in January.
Breathe, and return to normality. I realise the whole Lotus meltdown press release was a couple of weeks ago now, but I’d been desperately wanting to mention it here on ESM. In all my years of watching the motor industry I don’t think I have ever seen such a hideous media message since the publicity photos for the Ssangyong Rodius.
In all seriousness, I realise I have become somewhat distracted from posting on this blog. Ironically, a lot of that has been due to personal car buying and selling, details of which shall be provided over the next few days. But be in no doubt that ESM is still here, and there certainly wasn’t an incident which involved forgetting passwords.
After the seriousness of yesterday’s up! review, the desire to make a play on words with the new VW was too great.
Volkswagen are clearly already aware of this, just look at the model names they’re already using:
Take up! – Base specification,
Move up! – Next model up with slightly more kit,
High up! – Top of the line, clearly,
e-up! – Electric concept car version (also great for those from Yorkshire).
There’s also two special edition versions which, for reasons I can’t possibly imagine, don’t use the same naming convention:
Anyway, to help VW out, here are my own new model suggestions:
up! Hill, Down Dale – Perfect for a 4×4 off-road version.
Open up! – Convertible model.
Lighten up! – A BMW CSL stripped out, lightweight edition.
Power up! – Forget a GT or GTI performance edition, this is the name to call your hot baby-hatch.
What do you think? Any other suggestions, hit the comment button below!
The past three seasons of Formula 1 coverage by the BBC had made me forget just how bloody irritating advert breaks are in the middle of practice sessions and qualifying. Sky Sports F1 seemed to feature rather a lot of them during its broadcasting including, ironically, a lot for its own F1 channel. But, in between watching advertisements, did Sky manage to live up to the hype? Yes-ish.
Producing and directing any new show can’t be easy, especially one with so many parts which need to coordinate together. There were a few blank stares and missed links over the weekend, but the Murdoch money-machine will iron them out over time I’m sure.
Overall it worked; the F1 Show on Friday was a notable success, I generally felt well informed and the HD pictures looked deep and glossy. Everyone’s favourite Dutch-sounding Englishman, Christian Horner, made a number of appearances, we got many pictures of a (more) miserable looking Alonso and there was no Anchorman style confrontation with the BBC.
With Sky having such a disparate roster of individuals working across the weekend, it’s perhaps easier to assess them individually. Here we go then:
Possibly the man with the biggest weight to carry, replacing Jake Humphrey in the eyes of former BBC viewers. It might have just been first race nerves, but from what I saw he could have been presenting anything, anywhere on any channel. Came across bored, soulless and disinterested; check out this from the post-race interview with Eric Boullier for example:
Kept forgetting things like his iPad or to take the microphone off the person he’d just interviewed. Brundle and Hill looked awkward in his presence. Who knows, he might grow into the role as the season progresses but for now he looks out of his depth.
Having commentated on F1 since 1997, Brundle’s television career is now actually greater in length than his time spent behind the wheel. He didn’t seem quite as comfortable as normal and the grid walk failed to hit the spot, getting there too early to bag the top drivers. In truth that’s more the producers fault than his, but it did undermine his role as chief pundit. However, in the commentary box at least, he was on usual form.
“Crofty” as everyone calls him (including himself) spent several years commentating on F1 for BBC Radio 5 Live before jumping ship to Sky. His radio history shows; he sadly seems to suffer from Jonathan Legard syndrome. This irritating affliction involves stating every little detail of what’s going on as if the commentator was on the radio and thus having to give a vivid description to help the listener. This isn’t necessary with television; we can see what’s happening for ourselves! Generally knowledgeable, and really nowhere near as annoying as Legard (or James Allen, thank Christ). If he calms down and lets the pictures speak for themselves he’ll be fine.
Like Brundle, another F1 TV journeyman, having spent time with both ITV and the BBC before moving on to Sky. Kravitz (or Theodore Slotover as he was originally named) is consistent, insightful and eager to please with his pit-lane updates. Aside from the rather excellent F1 Show with Thompson on Friday he felt underutilised this weekend, which is a real shame. Less Lazenby, more Kravitz.
Another BBC Radio 5 Live refugee. I had never heard much of her on the radio, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The result was some incredibly lightweight questioning and confused looking F1 drivers. Highlights were discussing koalas with Sergio Perez, lowlights being the stupidity of asking Alonso if Ferrari planned to update the car between Australia and the next race weekend (which begins in only 5 days). The irritated look on Fernando’s face said it all.
Went to the same school as Pinkham and, according to Wikipedia at least, is her friend. Georgie proved to be something of a revelation this weekend as, to be honest, I didn’t really expect a great deal from her. She co-hosted the F1 Show on Friday with authority and professionalism. In my opinion she could quite easily replace Lazenby as anchor for the whole weekend, such was the impression she made. Before anyone says anything, the above isn’t related to her looks. Yes she is easy on the eye, but not my type; this praise is purely for her presenting.
The only member of the team whom I have an incredibly tenuous personal link with; a result of vaguely knowing his younger brother many years ago. Davidson is another under used part of the group, with great professionalism onscreen and astute commentary on practice sessions. His chemistry with Thompson seems to be the most natural of any pairing across the line-up. Also seems to be the only person capable of working the SkyPad display.
The Roman Grosjean equivalent of pundits, going above and beyond what anyone must have expected from this former F1 World Champion. Charismatic, clever and (according to my girlfriend) a bit of a silver-fox. Apparently only scheduled to be doing ten races for Sky; they desperately need to get him onboard for the rest to give some weight and magnitude to proceedings. Undoubtedly the star of the weekend.
Like a timeless, neatly coiffured squirrel Rider presents the Legends show, which I haven’t seen and thus can’t comment on. But his inclusion is a nice throwback to the original days of Grandstand on the BBC.
So there you have it. The 1996 World Champion leading the pack, with the rookie anchor trailing in last place. I sincerely hope Lazenby at least attempts to look more interested in Malaysia; otherwise it’s going to be a long road to November.
The past seven days of Engage Sport Mode have featured a number of confessions; my love for NASCAR, the fact I like Avril Lavigne (who is technically Canadian) and that sometimes I can be wrong.
Having been through all this, it’s probably worth noting that after so much discourse about products of the USA, I’ve never actually set foot in the home of the Star-Spangled Banner. I have been to Canada, and I’ve been to Niagara falls which borders right up against America. But I forgot to take my passport so thus stayed resolutely on the maple syrup flavoured side. Given this, why on earth do I have such a passion for US muscle?
In essence it all stems from just one car, and one TV show; the original Dodge Viper RT/10 and the original Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I can even recreate what that moment was like. The Viper was an unwieldy monster of a car, and yet special enough for even the most cynical of car journalists to fall for it. It is also, possibly, the only car to have ever made three-spoke alloy wheels look cool. A Ford Fiesta RS Turbo never looked as good as this:
I realise that I said how beautiful the Alfa Romeo 8C was a few weeks ago, but for a classic sports car shape you have to admit the Viper has it all. Long, low bonnet, swooping sculpted sides and fat wheels. The side-exit exhausts add an extra layer of both visual and aural drama to the mix. Being only around 8 years old, I didn’t care that the engine was based on a truck design, that the brakes were barely adequate and some suspension parts came from a pick-up. My only concern was that it’s motor packed a huge 8-litres, that it’d do 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds and didn’t even have a proper roof. All of that made it the coolest car I had even seen. It was also probably the only time I had a model car where the interior was identical in quality to the real one; check out the plastics.
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. Nobody bought a Viper for the interior. They bought it because it represented a return to the crazed horsepower-hedonism of the late 1960s and early 1970s; which is where the second key factor in my love for American cars comes in.
I’m not usually a fan of 70s Art-House film, but one is different to most. Despite the fact Barry Newman is billed as the lead actor, it’s a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T which is the real screen grabber in Vanishing Point. I remember watching it late at night on BBC1 back when I was still in school, and was star struck by how awesome the Challenger looked and sounded. The plot of the film passed straight over my head; for me it was all about the Dodge.
If you want to try to understand why that white Challenger R/T, then take a look at Audioslave’s video for their single “Show Me How To Live” which used massive portions of the film, spliced with additional shots of the band:
That, in a nutshell, is my reason for loving the Challenger, the Viper and most other US cars which favour huge, high-capacity engines over finesse and dainty interior fittings. It seems only right that we end American week as it started; with another massive fireball.
I spent this morning trying to think of a good way to explain the Vauxhall Ampera through some kind of analogy.
This involved a lot of thinking and research; including establishing whether there was any link between the Ampera and those leaked Christina Hendricks photos. For reference, unless it was a Fiat distraction ploy, I don’t think there is.
Instead I believe the best comparison I can see for the Ampera/Volt is to DAB digital radio. Yes it’s meant to be clearer, more efficient, easier to use but it’s still running on the same ideas we’ve had for decades. Plus DAB is still comparatively expensive compared to normal radio, and how many people do you know with a digital radio? I know one.
So there we go, the Ampera is BBC 6 Music for the road.
Along with liking NASCAR, Engage Sport Mode is also willing to admit to other things. Like enjoying the music of Avril Lavigne (and seeing her live), thinking additional jalapeno peppers can improve everything and occasionally being wrong.
In this instance, the “being wrong” relates to a prediction made on this very website back in January. In that post I used the words to the effect that you should put “money on a Mk3 Panda victory” in the European Car of The Year awards. So certain was I that, like the previous Panda and numerous other Fiat products before it, that you could almost guarantee another victory for Turin. Rear windscreen sticker manufacturers were already to hit print, advertising executives were primed to see their updated adverts hit the TV, magazines and internets.
And then the Chevrolet Volt/Vauxhall/Opel Ampera went and won. I mean seriously, what the hell?! Without trying to make some battery related pun I’d imagine that I, along with many automotive commentators, were a little shocked by this revelation. Fiat has won the ECoTY prize 9 times since 1964, more than any other manufacturer. Before today, General Motors had notched up only three previous titles (Astra; 1985, Carlton; 1987 and Insignia; 2009). So I’d imagine that in Luton some marketing types, who aren’t in Geneva, were tonight hastily scribbling together some kind of press release. I’d imagine it’s going to look something like this:
But in all seriousness, the new Panda only came fifth out of the seven nominees. This isn’t a personal issue with me being a Fiat owner, it’s more a general confusion at how the Ampera emerged victorious. Even the Range Rover Evoque placed above the Panda, which really surprised me. The ECoTY judges are meant to assess the contenders on a complicated list of factors such as performance, safety, technical innovation and value for money. In that respect the Volkswagen Up! probably deserved its second place, providing classy, small car-chic in an affordable package; a big deal in these times of austerity. The Panda, on the other hand, perhaps didn’t do much more than build on the already successful packaged which won the prize back in 2004. In that respect it wasn’t really a “game changer” compared to others in the running.
The Ampera victory makes me wonder if, somewhere along the road, the automotive journalists who vote for ECoTY are losing grip with reality. Yes I understand that the Ampera/Volt/whatever has a special drivetrain which makes electric propulsion a reality rather than just a dream. You can plug your Ampera into your house and have it fully ready to go for work in the morning. Should your commute be a little longer that its 35 mile electric range, the internal combustion engine will kick in to top up those batteries. Unless you happen to have a Fisker Karma, this kind of technology is apparently a big deal.
But I can see one slight problem with the Ampera. To keep those batteries topped up and that electric motor turning, you either a) need to plug it into the electricity at your home/a charging station somewhere, or b) fill it up with petrol so the internal combustion engine can produce more electricity. The power to your house is more than likely going to come from a fossil fuel fed power station, and the gasoline is still going to come from refined oil. Either way, your Ampera is still going to be heavily reliant on crushed dinosaur to keep going.
Yes, with its trick powertrain means it uses less compressed stegosaurus bits than many cars, but this doesn’t solve the major problem of reliance on unrenewable energy sources. In addition, much will be made of the Ampera’s impressive fuel economy figures which give (in the Chevrolet Volt at least) an official combined 72mpg (UK imperial) from the US Environmetal Protection Agency. But take a look at what the real world figures are when the Ampera is allowed to use all power “modes” on proper roads. The 49.26mpg (US) obtained by Motor Trend translates into about 59mpg (UK imperial) which is an impressive figure. For comparison, a VW Golf MK6 Bluemotion will, realistically, get fuel economy of around 49mpg (UK).
I realise I’m delving deeply into hypotheticals here, but based on those figures, with a driver covering 12,000 miles a year and using the Ampera in all horsepower producing modes, it’ll take 26 years before the battery-powered car pays off the cost disadvantage against the Golf. For reference, the Vauxhall will cost £28,995 (reduced from £33,995 thanks to a Government grant) compared to £19,445.00 for a Bluemotion 5-door Golf. Yes I realise most trips in the UK are short and the Ampera will be able to use its electric mode, but remember the experience with the Auris Hybrid. £28,995 is a lot of money to sink into something with a Vauxhall badge on the front, let alone something with new technology which may fall to pieces or even catch fire in certain, albeit very rare, circumstances.
I can see why some may see the Ampera as the future of European motoring. If you can afford one, it may well indeed allow you to live the dream of dirt cheap, guilt-free automotive travel. But such luxuries will be out of reach for many in these difficult economic times. Granted, the Ampera’s victory is beneficial in timing for this blog; you’d have almost thought I planned it to fall into American Week! Good thing the Panda didn’t win, I couldn’t really bring back Italian Week again.
All jokes aside, cars like the Ampera are not the solution to our problems. Not at that price and not at that reliance on oil still. At that might well explain why General Motors has decided to suspend production of the Volt for five weeks due to slow sales. On the other hand, Land Rover has already churned out 50,000 Evoques, with orders for another 60,000 already on the books. Given that the Evoque starts at £27,995 I know which I’d be picking given the choice. At least you’d be burning pterodactyl in style…
ESM likes NASCAR. There, I’ve said it. Done. Out in the open for everyone to see.
To be honest I’ve liked it for the best part of a decade. An American once asked me “dude, you’re from Europe, the birthplace of motorsport and Formula 1, how the hell can you like NASCAR?”. The answer is simple: NASCAR is entertaining.
NASCAR involves 200mph cars, with thundering V8 engines, racing inches away from each other. It, almost, actively encourages contact between cars. Officials will throw a yellow flag for no apparent reason, to close the racing back up and make it more fun to watch. As a sport NASCAR cares about “putting on a show” and making sure fans get value for money.
Some might argue they only turn left, that the cars are low-tech and that the races last far too long. But show me when something like this last happened at the end of a Grand Prix:
If you’ve seen Talladega Nights then it goes to show that life does often imitate art.
I also have to admit that, when he raced in F1, I happened to be a fan of Juan Pablo Montoya. Yes everyone took the piss out of him for being overweight, but to me he was one of the most entertaining drivers to grace the grid for a long time. If you didn’t know, he now actually races in NASCAR; where the cars are so heavy body mass doesn’t really matter. This was how he did at Sunday’s Daytona 500:
In many ways, there’s nothing better to start something off than a huge raging fireball. Welcome to American Week; seven (or so) days of themed posts about our friends across the Atlantic.
Top Gear was on TV tonight. Whilst being better than the past couple of weeks, the cliched analogies from Clarkson are really becoming tired. I’ve heard the “gearbox doesn’t know what it is” line god knows how many times in the past decade. It just isn’t funny anymore.
Also, the production is now so OTT it’s almost impossible to actually see a car for more than tenth of a second. The crazy camera angles, dramatic effects and jarring music make for tiring viewing.
By contrast, and for an example of some excellent car journalism on video, watch this: Chris Harris On Cars
This is a car review. This actually gives information about driving a supercar in the real world. And this is what, given the opportunity, I would like EngageSportMode to be like.
The previous post on that turbo-cento got me thinking about a new car which it’s very, very similar to. Well, similar in that it’s essentially a small city-car with a turbocharger attached. So like two peas in a pod then; yesterday’s Fiat and today’s Audi A1 Quattro:
I have to admit I am a fan of the normal A1, so the thought of an high-performance, four-wheel drive version excites me a great deal. 256bhp and 258lb-ft of torque in a baby hatchback can only make for rapid progress potential. I also love the way it looks. For once that deep Audi grille is matched with the pumped up bodywork of the rest of the car. I particularly like the red strips in the head lights, the wide gloss black panel beneath the tail lights and the race inspired diffuser.
When the A1 Clubsport Quattro concept was first revealed last year I never actually imagined Audi would bother to make it. Years of reading about concept cars had made me cynical that they are just marketing gimmicks, intended to somehow have a halo effect over the cars manufacturers actually sell. So for the fact it exists Audi should be commended.
Less commendable, however, is the mechanical underpinnings the A1 Quattro actually makes use of. Whereas the concept used the punchy, offbeat sounding 2.5 litre straight 5-cylinder engine, the real deal is left with the 2.0 TFSI unit found in the Audi S3. Given Audi’s rich heritage of 5-cylinder motors – and the fact they sound awesome – when producing something as bespoke and limited as the A1 Quattro (only 333 to be made), I would have thought wedging the 2.5 engine in there would have been achievable. Clearly not. The side exit exhaust has also disappeared, but I’d imagine that’s more to do with legislation than anything else.
The interior is also somewhat less hardcore than what the concept envisaged. Here’s the concept, with its thin fixed-bucket seats, full harnesses and shiny toggle switches:
And here’s the finished version. Very leather, very refined, very regular Audi A1. It even has an armrest for God’s sake!
My old Audi S3 had a similar armrest. It got in the way when driving quickly and eventually broke. Nevertheless, 4-cylinder or 5-cylinder engine, stripped out race-spec interior or plush upholstery, I am still very much besotted with the A1 Quattro. As are the other 19 people in the UK who have stumped up the £40,000 or so to own one of these left-hand drive only machines. At that price it actually makes the Cinquecento turbo look good value.
But let’s be honest, the A1 Quattro is a trinket, a jewel, a Ming vase of a car; to own it is the point. The fact it’ll probably be damn good to drive is merely a bonus.