All the latest from ESM’s BTCC Correspondent, with his comprehensive roundup of the action from Thruxton.
Honda’s Dominance Continues.
Honda’s dominance of the 2013 British Touring Car Championship continued at Thruxton last weekend. Honda continued their impressive form from Donington, where they occupied 7 of the 9 podium positions, with 6 of the 9 available at Thruxton. Although it sounds rather dull with Honda performing so well, it was quite the opposite; the weekend produced the best races of the season so far.
Thruxton is notoriously a circuit all about speed and tyre management and this weekend proved to be no different. Due to the high tyre wear, none of the drivers were required to nominate a race to use the white-striped soft tyres this weekend. I think it might have been even more interesting if they had though, I’ve no idea how some of them would have coped!
Race One saw Andrew Jordan on pole, although he got away slowly from the line. The first major incident of the weekend occurred into the first set of corners as the lead train of cars came around and Jason Plato and Gordon Shedden collided. Plato had achieved a better start of the pair and was looking to cement his place when contact occurred. Post-race Shedden was furious and believed that Plato smashed him off the track. I however, completely disagree. TV footage clearly showed Shedden angling his car towards Plato’s and while Jason stood his ground as he was entitled to do, Shedden ended up in the barrier albeit he was able to continue at the back of the grid. (more…)
EngageSportMode is a genuine fan of the Volkswagen up!. When we tested the base-model Take up! last year, we were hugely impressed with its value for money, perky performance and VW quality. We suggested that should you want a new city-car, you had no other viable option.
It’s also worth pointing out that we were a little bit amused by some of the names Volkswagen had come up with for the up!’s trim-levels. However, in a world where a major car manufacturer sees fit to call a car Adam, then clearly any sense when it comes to nomenclature has gone out the window.
Along with announcing that the fully electric, and Yorkshire accented, e-up! will hit the UK in 2014, Volkswagen have also announced two new special editions aimed at fans of “loud music, great-looking small cars and questionable puns”. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Groove up! and Rock up! editions!
The Rock up! features that distinctive anthracite body-stripe, full bodykit and rear spoiler and rolls on 16″ alloy wheels. I think the bigger “Upsilon” rims really give the up! some presence, and makes ESM very excited for a GT or GTI version.
Upping (sorry) the equipment count even higher, the Groove up! comes fitted with a 300w Fender sound system with 6-speakers, amplifier and subwoofer! Further kit includes a leather trimmed (with orange stitching) steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake to complement black seats with more orange stitching. The Groove up! also rolls on the same “Upsilon” wheels as the Rock up!, but the lacks the former’s bodykit.
Both feature the 1.0 litre 3-cylinder engine with 75bhp, with the Groove up! starting at £11,640 whilst the edgier Rock up! costs from £12,980. Buy now, collect in July.
In all seriousness, the up! continues to be ESM’s recommend city-car, and these two cunningly named special-editions just further the appeal. We’re still waiting on the proper sporty offering, hopefully with the beloved 1.2 litre turbo motor! Fingers crossed.
ESM’s BTCC correspondent dishes out his review of the action-packed second round of this year’s season:
Honda’s Donington Dominance Stopped by Turkington!
Last weekend saw the second round of 2013’s British Touring Car Championship at Donington Park. The hills surrounding the circuit still look like huge quarry mud banks due to the works to upgrade the track and facilities, so I can’t say it was all that aesthetically appealing, nor are eBay Motors’ vile grey and yellow race suits! Who chose those colours?
Anyway, enough about aesthetics and more about the racing! Race One saw Gordon Shedden on pole, for amazingly the first time in nearly two years since he lined up as leader at Oulton Park in 2011. Jason Plato was quick to point out, as normal, that he was the fastest man if all ballast had been taken account of. However, it wasn’t and Shedden was the first man to see the lights go out. Shedden led from pole with Andrew Jordan in second into the first corner. The cars appeared to be fairly processional in the early part of the race after sorting themselves out after the first few corners. The cars on the soft tyres suffered towards the end of the race, with Aron Smith being the best placed come the end in only 11th.
A car which perked up my interest in Race One was that of Tom Onslow-Cole. I think the VW Passat looks great and I fully expect it to be a competitive car by the end of the season, especially on the evidence witnessed this weekend. I would suggest that the Passat needs a bit more speed as it looked a bit sluggish at times. I was surprised at how much traction it had off the corners, especially compared to Rob Collard’s BMW, who he was having a good battle with. (more…)
EngageSportMode has a little bit of a love/hate relationship with BMW. Hate is, probably, too strong a word. Instead try an underlying suspicion that it is selling its values up the river slightly. For every car such as the 1M Coupe, M135i or Z4 comes something like the X6, 5-Series GT or 6-Series Gran Coupe. ESM is not a fan of any of the last three, as you may be able to tell from a rather subtle article last year.
With Munich’s goal seemingly being to ensure that almost every model in the BMW lineup features an M-model; step forward the M6 Gran Coupe:
Utilising the same twin-turbo 4.4litre V8 as its M5 and M6 brethren, the Gran Coupe comes equipped with a useful 560 bhp and 502 lb-ft of torque. Funnelled through a 7-speed DCT dual-clutch gearbox, this is enough to propel the Gran Coupe from 0-60 mph in 4.2seconds, and on to a limited 155mph. An optional extra exists to up this limit to 190mph, which is an effective way of charging money to untick a setting hidden away in the car’s ECU.
Whilst it is difficult to argue that the M6 Gran Coupe isn’t a handsome beast, you really have to wonder whether it really justifies an additional £25,000 over the M5 saloon. It may be more swoopy, but it only has four seats compared to the M5. It might hit 60mph quicker by 0.1 of second, but it’s chassis is seemingly tuned more towards comfort. A carbon fibre roof might suggest racey performance, but even BMW admits this car is intended to be more luxurious than any other M-car with it’s, wait for it, “ambience”.
Use of the word “ambience” and “luxury” in relation to an M-model sends a slightly cold shiver down my spine. Yes, vehicles such as the legendary E39 M5 were comfortable, but not to the point of eroding it’s razor-sharp edginess. The fact that the M6 version has seemingly been dialled back for comfort, makes it an even more confusing prospect than the regular Gran Coupe.
Perhaps if I had £100,000 sat ready to spend on a new car I’d think differently but, in my enthusiast’s head, I struggle to understand the reasoning behind the M6 Gran Coupe, other than as a marketing exercise. Although after the X6 M, it seems nothing is truly sacred in Bavaria anymore. BMW may have returned to using the Ultimate Driving Machine tagline, but its products do little to support that notion today.
Might I change my mind if I found myself behind the wheel of an M6? Possibly. But for now, I’ll have to go by the words of those who have gone before me, and don’t seem too impressed. Also, I struggle to find myself ever able to bond with a car that offers an interior colour scheme such as this:
Oh dear. Little bit too much ambience going on there I feel.
Ahead of this weekend’s second round of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, ESM’s reliable expert gives us the latest news:
This weekend sees the next instalment from the BTCC with the parade visiting the Leicestershire circuit, Donington Park. There have been several ‘upgrades’ to Donington since the supposed change of the British Grand Prix to the circuit which, rather predictably, in the end fell flat on its face. Whether the upgrades have been a success still remains to be seen, but the circuit luckily still contains the fantastic Craner Curves and Goddards to challenge the drivers before they hit the start/finish straight. It is however, a great shame that the iconic Dunlop Bridge has been dismantled and is now under the ownership of Radio 2 DJ and BTCC fan, Chris Evans.
I complained post-Brands about the circuit not endearing itself to good racing due to the short lap. I am highly confident that we will see better and more exciting racing this weekend, as I believe the circuit layout is much better and we should see lap times around the 1 minute 11/12 mark.
The weekend will be special for two people in particular: Matt Neal and Jason Plato. The third race on Sunday will see Matt Neal compete in his 500th race. Matt may not be popular with everyone, but this is still an achievement for which Matt deserves a huge pat on the back for from ESM. He has so far notched up 49 race wins and 3 Drivers’ Titles and I’m sure there will be more to come. Plato, similarly, also reaches a race milestone as Sunday will see him compete in his 400th BTCC race; once again, a big pat on the back for you Jason.
Someone who will be pleased just to be racing this weekend will be Rob Austin. His Audi A4 (Sherman) has successfully been repaired with the help of donations from fans buying his ‘I fixed Sherman’ t-shirts, following a huge smash at Brands. I’m glad to be reporting this news as I did fear the worst when I saw the smash, but luckily for us fans the only thing hurting is Rob’s wallet.
My final piece of news comes from Team Club 44. Andy Neate has announced that the team will not be competing in the next two rounds at Donington or Thruxton due to on-going issues with the Cruze. Luckily, for all of us who like taking pictures of cars at the back of the grid, we will get the opportunity at Oulton Park on 9th June- a date for your diary, I’m sure you’ll agree!
I’m really looking forward to Sunday, as it’ll not only be a full day of motorsport as Formula One is also on from Bahrain, but because by the end of Sunday we should have a good idea of who the serious contenders are going to be for the title following 6 races of the season. I predict this weekend will be good for the Hondas, especially if the results from last year are anything to go by. The coverage starts on ITV4 at 10:45am.
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…)
As you might have just read, after a huge period of indecision, ESM finally acquired a Volkswagen Polo R-Line. That was back in late January so, several months and miles later, just what has the kitted-up supermini been like to live with?
First, some photos from when it arrived and the cleanest it has been since, due to the excellent weather we’ve had.
Having had my hand ever-so-slightly forced into taking the Deep Black pearlescent option, I was pleased to find that it suited the R-Line well. The jutting front end gives it an aggressive appearance, with the rear diffuser and relatively large exhaust pipe making the back look equally sporty. On the motorway it has proved able to hustle and intimidate others out of its way well; something it’s predecessor never could. It’s just unfortunate that the colour is already living up to my fears; showing a couple of small scratches, much to my annoyance!
I intended to write and publish this item many, many, weeks ago. However, certain events transpired to prevent me from doing so. So here it is, now, slightly later than planned.
In short, the 9N3 Volkswagen Polo 1.4 SE pictured above is no longer with me, having been traded in for something else, which finally concluded the epic car-buying saga. It was in my possession for around 9 months, and in that time it failed to be anything if not underwhelming.
After the previous frantic experience of the Panda 100HP, I realised I needed something a little more sensible from my daily-driver. To be fair, you’ll struggle to get much more rational than a 1.4 petrol Polo in SE spec. (more…)
Some of you may have been wondering if ESM had been on a little bit of a hiatus for the past few weeks. If so, you’d be correct.
Not to put to fine a point on it, but a person with a huge responsibility for my love for all things automotive has been through a very tough, challenging and worrying time. My family have also had to deal with some difficult decisions, whilst completely rethinking our outlook on some aspects of our lives. As a result, it’s been incredibly difficult to find the motivation to put finger to keyboard and write witty reviews or trawl the classified ad’s. But things are slowly getting back to something approaching normal, and I’m now in the mindset to want to write again.
There’s a lot to write about too. One car has gone, a new car has arrived in its place, finally ending the Car Buying Conundrum! Volkswagen is going from strength to strength in the WRC, we’ve had the Geneva motor show and there’s the small business of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix. So expect some new electronic scribbling this weekend (especially from Senna) as EngageSportMode returns.
I’d also like to say a massive thank you to those who have been there for my family and I the past few weeks. This includes people I’ve never met, or don’t really know my family, but the support has been hugely welcomed by us all.
We might still be 10 weeks away from the first race of the 2013 MSA BTCC season, but things are still fired up behind the scenes. ESM’s BTCC Correspondent brings more news, with the return of a former champion and ESM favourite. Read on:
The big news from the BTCC this week involves the announcement that Colin Turkington is returning to the grid for the forthcoming season. 2009 champion Turkington, has signed a deal with WSR/eBay Motors to drive their new BMW 125is, alongside Rob Collard and Nick Foster. I am absolutely delighted to see Turkington return for the 2013 season and I can’t wait to see him back out on track. He won a fantastic championship in 2009 despite facing some stiff competition. I doubt whether he’ll be able to go all the way in his first season back, but with the support of WSR/eBay Motors I’m sure we’ll be seeing him on the podium throughout the year. I think WSR/eBay Motors have a really strong driver line-up this year and I think their success will depend on how quickly they can get the new BMW 125is up to speed. Best of luck to them! (more…)
After an exciting 2012 season, ESM’s BTCC Correspondent brings you a round-up of all the news, rumours and seat-swapping that has happened so far. So, what does he have to offer you? Read on:
It’s been a few months since the end of another dramatic season in the BTCC, which culminated in Gordon Shedden winning his first BTCC drivers’ crown. The teams, and TOCA, have naturally been busy in preparing for the season ahead; starting at Brands Hatch on the weekend of March 30th/31st.
Some of the most exciting close season news comes from Team HARD, who had been running Honda Civics throughout 2012. However, in quite a change of tact, the team will be fielding not only two Vauxhall Insignias next season but also two VW Passat CCs! Quite exciting, I’m sure you’ll agree. Team HARD have also secured the services of Tom Onslow-Cole from WSR in a shock three-year deal, which is quite some statement of intent. Onslow-Cole has proved himself to be an excellent driver in recent seasons and I’m sure Team HARD will be hoping his progress continues over the next three years. This will be one to one watch in the 2013 season.
Team HARD have also decided to give a BTCC chance to Renault Clio Cup champion Jack Goff, who had been testing with the team over the winter. All the best to Jack for the forthcoming season. I assume Tony Gilham will be taking one of the other remaining seats with the team leaving one spot still to be filled. Last season, the team chopped and changed their second driver so it remains to be seen who will complete their 2013 driver line-up.
One man, who will not be in the Team HARD seat next season, will be Dave Newsham who has completed a surprising move from ES Racing to Speedworks. There is little doubt that Newsham extracted the best from the trusty old Vectra and I thought he would have stayed there to give it another go next season, but he has opted join the NGTC Speedworks team to race a Toyota Avensis. Tony Hughes has certainly struggled to get the best out of the car, something highlighted by Paul O’Neill’s efforts at Knockhill in particular, when he was a guest driver. With Speedworks signing up Newsham, I expect to see the Avensis in the top 10 on a regular basis next season and possibly pushing for a win, especially in the reverse grid race.
Speedworks seem to be intent on running 2 cars next season, but who will join Newsham currently seems to be a mystery. The team have had Lea Wood, Sam Tordoff and Carl Boardley all testing the Avensis in the close season so one of these chaps could yet pop up in the second car.
Newsham’s departure from ES Racing obviously leaves a seat to be filled alongside Chris James for next season. The team have had Chris Knox testing last season’s car over the winter, but it remains to be seen whether he gets the nod for the season ahead.
Another man looking for a drive in the 2013 is Andy Neate following his early departure from Triple Eight/MG. Neate rarely impressed in the MG alongside Jason Plato last season; in-fact Neate has rarely impressed in any BTCC car in three years!
Three men who have been confirmed for next season are this year’s champion, Gordon Shedden at Honda Yuasa Racing alongside Matt Neal, and Adam Morgan who will continue in his Toyota Avensis, albeit now run by his own team, Cicley Racing.
Some interesting team news sees WSR eBay Motors remaining in BTCC with their BMWs, except they are changing to a 1-Series M-Sport version after 6 seasons with the successful BMW 320si models. The highlight of this car clearly came in 2009 when Colin Turkington won the BTCC drivers’ title. It’s a real shame we’ve never seen him since, apart from the occasional drive in the WTCC. It would be great to welcome him back in 2013. This could be a possibility following some hints during interviews last season and there is obviously a seat to be filled at WSR following Onslow-Cole’s departure.
A car that could be making a welcome return next season is the Chevrolet Cruze in NGTC specification with Tech-Speed Motorsport. The team have been testing the Cruze over the winter with the hope of it being ready for the new season.
TOCA have decided to spice things up next season before the race action has even begun on each race weekend, with Thruxton being the only exception. Drivers will be allowed to choose one set of special extra soft tyres allowing more grip throughout the race before qualifying has started on a Saturday. The drivers will be allowed to use the tyres in race 1, 2 or 3 on a Sunday but will have to nominate the race they have chosen pre-qualifying. Exciting times!
Finally, TOCA have also decided to employ a ‘three strikes’ strategy next season. Any driver who receives three warnings throughout the season will automatically have a 6-place grid penalty for the next available race plus any other penalty that is imposed. This news will certainly have grabbed the attention of some drivers more than others!
We continue to look forward to the start of the new BTCC season here at ESM; more news will follow in due course.From ESM's BTCC Correspondent
EngageSportMode is committed to bringing you more regular BTCC news and updates throughout the close season, in the run up to the first 2013 round in March. ESM will also be attending various rounds to bring you photos and reports from the frontline, along with the learned opinion of our own correspondent.
If you’ve been reading the long running saga about me attempting to buy a new car, you’ll know that I’d swung towards the Audi A1 but was finding it tough to get a dealership to sell me one. The end result was Tyneside Audi providing me with a A1 1.4TSFI Sportback for the weekend, to give me chance to really test the Ingolstadt baby. What did I think? Read on…
Thursday – 16:45
Getting stuck in traffic having headed through the Tyne Tunnel is not the best way to prepare for a test-drive. Pulling into Tyneside Audi, I parked next to a handsome looking Glacier White with contrast roof A1 Sportback. A few minutes later, and this turned out to be the car I would be spending the next few days behind the wheel of.
First impressions were good. Being the S line, this model had all the extra niceties such as L.E.D. lighting in the doors and footwells, half leather seats and a very tidy perforated leather steering wheel. Despite costing over £18,000.00, the A1′s interior ambience doesn’t make you feel hard done by. Without wanting to roll out too many clichés, the S line’s insides would not look out-of-place in a car costing 2-3 times as much.
Heading out into the rush hour traffic, the VAG familiarity meant I was able to confidently navigate the back roads from the Silverlink to home. The 1.4 turbocharged engine felt instantly zingy, along with sounding a lot throatier than I expected. In fact my entire weekend highlighted just how vocal the mini-Audi was from its engine bay, and all the better it was for it. Lifting off the throttle at higher revs made the turbo produce a noise that I can only really describe as sounding like a surprised owl. So far, so good!
The other things which stood out were the lightness of the steering, and the lack of feedback through that leather-covered wheel. Given that the S line comes fitted as standard with 17″ x 7.5J alloy wheels, I expected to be able to sense some of their inertia through the steering. But I got none; slightly disconcerting with such big rims fitted to a relatively small car. Others have commented that the ride in the S line borders on the unlivable due to the stiff springs/big rims setup. Realistically, it didn’t strike me as any worse than the Polo I’d just climbed out of. Though perhaps owning a Panda 100HP has made anything above falling down a flight of stairs seem comfortable. Posterior intact, I made it home and took time to admire the high quality Driver’s Information System (DIS) and the worryingly low average 24 mpg showing on it!
Friday – 8:45
To get some second opinions on the A1, I picked up a former Audi owning colleague, Natalie, on my way into work. She immediately loved the looks of the A1, which in daylight appeared quite striking with the Daytona Grey roof contrasting sharply with the white paintwork. Those 17″ wheels and S line bodykit also give the Sportback some chunky aggression; for a little car it packs a lot of road presence and seemed to get admiring glances from other drivers. The morning commute did allow Wallsend’s ubiquitous speed-bumps to expose just how stiff the S line suspension actually is, but the A1′s rorty performance through the Tyne Tunnel toll plaza more than made up for this.
Natalie did also point out that, given the relatively high price of the S line, you would expect to find heated seats and a DAB radio as standard. However, these are relegated to the options list (costing £215 and £305 respectively) even for the top of the range Black Edition.
Friday – 14:30
I decided to move the Sportback in my office car park to the window next to my desk, in order to get the chance to take a better look at it. After less than 24 hours, I’m already starting to become quite taken by the smallest four-ringed offering. It may not be ‘pretty’ in the traditional sense, but it certainly packs a lot of aggression into such a small package. Other colleagues at work seemed taken with the baby-Audi, with one describing it as “the best car I’ve seen you drive since you started here”. Praise enough, I think.
Friday – 17:55
If you speak to ESM’s Other Half, you’ll know that I’m usually banned from having any involvement in the weekly food shopping expedition. This tends to work quite well for me, but on this occasion I know I needed to submit myself to the weekly pilgrimage to Asda. Why? To tick off an important motoring cliché, and bring you this all important photo:
Yes, the A1 Sportback’s boot will take a weekly shop for two people and a whippet! It’s also a chance to show off the rather fancy secondary set of lights the A1 has beneath its tailgate. For use when driving with the boot open after a trip to Ikea is the only reason I can see for their existence, but impressive nevertheless.
Saturday – 9:05
No peace for the wicked, or for ESM, as another day at work beckoned. But at least it meant another chance to drive the A1, and the opportunity to play around with the 6.5″ pop-up display mounted on top of the dash. Designed to be used as a sat-nav display, it also incorporates settings for the radio, media-player and other general functions into a ‘lite’ version of the MMI system found on larger Audi models. Once the novelty wore off, I found I could access most options through the DIS screen in between the speedo and rev-counter by using the steering-wheel mounted controls. The large MMI button in the centre of the dashboard also kept fooling people into thinking it was the volume knob for the stereo; it isn’t. That’s the little one to the left. So whilst the 6.5″ screen looks cool, once you’ve used it to play around with settings to get them how you like, you can probably leave it retracted for general use. Until you want to show off to people, that is.
Saturday – 18:00
Despite yesterday’s shopping trip, somebody forgot to buy pasta sauce. What should have been a quick 5 minute trip to the shops became a 45 minute expedition in exploring the full dynamic potential of the A1. Freed from the shackles of commuting traffic and a place to be, the S line proved to he hugely entertaining. It feels every bit as quick, if in fact quicker, than the quoted 0-60mph time of 8.9 seconds. The in-gear flexibility, aided by the turbo’s linear power delivery, means the A1 can gain speed without needing to work the weighty six-speed gearbox too much.
However, the steering still remained lacking in feedback about what the front wheel’s were up to. Whilst personally I’ve never really demanded a car to have a particularly talkative steering wheel, with the A1 there was a feeling of being distanced from what was happening at the business end. I suppose this the pay-off for increased refinement and easier low-speed maneuvering.
Saturday - 21:20
Like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Pringles and heroin, the A1 1.4TFSI proved to be very more-ish. As such, I decided to take the A1 on a tour of some of my old haunts in Newcastle and Gateshead. The underpasses of the Central Motorway also provided a good opportunity to drop the windows and see if the S line sounds as sporty from the outside as it does inside. Pleasingly, it did.
It’s at this point I realise that I cannot genuinely remember the last time I’ve driven a car so much, just for the sheer pleasure of driving. Not since owning the Polo GTi – a car the 1.4TFSI’s performance figures mirror – have I felt the need to be out in the darkness of December, taking photos and blasting between locations with a huge smile on my face.
Sunday – 00:10
Would I normally be out in the small hours of a Sunday morning to help ESM’s BTCC Correspondent get his new iPhone 5 to work? Probably not, but it was another chance to drive the A1. With the Apple product sorted, we took the Sportback out on the deserted roads of North Tyneside for a quick blast down to Tynemouth. The verdict from our touring car specialist? “Buy one”. All good advice, providing you overlook how worryingly low the mpg readout was now showing.
Sunday – 13:15
After the antics of last night, Sunday proper brought a longer distance trip to test out the A1′s motorway abilities. ESM’s OH and F1 Correspondent whippet were loaded up, and we set off for the middle of nowhere in County Durham, where my parents call home.;
Cruising, aptly, down the A1(M) the Sportback proved more than up to the job of mixing it in the outside lane. ‘Big car feel’ is another one of those infamous clichés, but there really is no better way to describe the long-haul capabilities of the baby-Audi. Despite its supermini proportions, it felt rock solid at speed, with the standard fit daytime running lights and snarling front end seemingly make others willing to get out of its way.
Tyre noise was slightly louder than expected, but this is probably more due to the width of the S line’s wheels (and the state of the UK’s roads) than a lack of actual sound-deadening. Of greater concern was the refusal of the average mpg to lift itself above 35 for the trip. Admittedly this did involve some stop-start traffic (making use of the actual stop-start ignition system) but it was still lower than I would have expected.
The clean country air and piercing winter sun gave the chance to take some photos of the A1 in daylight, which you can see below:
The journey back was smoother, and saw the fuel consumption increase to a heady 38.1mpg by the end. Whilst I’d never expect to get close to the official EU combined figure of over 50mpg, it’s still someway off. Hopefully it’s more a case of this exact car being so new, the very low temperatures working the climate control hard, and the lead foot of yours truly.
Monday – 08:35
Having to hand back the keys of the A1 was genuinely a difficult thing to have to do. Whilst it may be pricey for what is effectively a supermini, it’s very hard not to be taken in by the beauty of the fit and finish. From the steering wheel, to the knurled aluminiumbuttons and leather-covered handbrake and gearknob, everything you touch feels expensive.
But the A1 feels far more than just posh Skoda Fabia or Seat Ibiza. The growling exhaust note, the chirping turbo and shove in the back performance make it a riot to drive. Whilst the steering may lack feel, the solidity of the S line suspension never leaves you lacking confidence in the Audi’s abilities. Its been a while since I’ve driven a little car with such enthusiasm and verve, that I’ve wanted to keep piling on the miles for fun.
Combine this with striking looks, big-car refinement, generous kit levels and everyday practicality and the A1 adds up to far more than the sum of its parts. Quite frankly it’s enough to justify the worries about fuel consumption, and to justify this writer considering spending his own hard-earned cash on one. Recommendations cannot come higher than that.
Want more info about the A1? Try here.
Thank you to Tyneside Audi for kindly lending me the A1, though not for losing my VW key ring from the Polo.
Since launching EngageSportMode almost a year ago, the past few months have seen contributions from a number of different people.
To try to give recognition to the fact that ESM is more than just my own personal ramblings, the newly updated Team page includes a brief description of just who is who.
Have something you’d like to contribute to EngageSportMode, and be forever immortalised as part of the team? Check out the Contact page and drop us a line.
Yesterday’s Brazilian Grand Prix was possibly the most intense and terrifying motor race I have ever had the pleasure of watching. Never before have I felt the need to actually start drinking beer during a race; such was the sheer drama that occurred at Interlagos.
As I had set out before the race, EngageSportMode was firmly rooting for Sebastian Vettel to take his third World Driver’s Championship, and surpass Ayrton Senna by becoming the youngest winner to do so. Therefore watching the first lap chaos, with Vettel’s RB8 pointing the wrong way with damage, left ESM speechless. The title looked like it had already gone to Alonso before 1/71st of the race was done.
Vettel has come in for criticism from current and past F1 drivers for not being a “true racer” and not being able to overtake or battle for position. Yesterday, as with Abu Dhabi, proved he is more than capable of fighting his way through traffic, to challenge and pass other drivers. With the damage he suffered in turn 4, Sebastian did not have the best car on track at Interlagos. But the rain is a great equaliser, as it was in Monza back in 2008 when he scored his first win, and he was able to use his skills to come back through the field. That is the mark of a true champion and a driver deserved of legendary status, regardless as to what Jackie Stewart might think. Ironically, Vettel has now matched Stewart’s three World Championship titles; somehow I can see him adding more to that, unlike a certain tartan-hatted Scot.
However, more important things were proved by Vettel’s triumph. Namely, you should not listen to this, or the punditry of this:
Instead, you should heed the learned wisdom of this…
…when it comes to who you should put your money on. So there you have it; don’t listen to the foolish words of the 1997 Formula 1 World Champion, but instead listen to a whippet wearing a baseball cap. She is, after all, named after the greatest F1 driver ever.
This year’s F1 season has been the most difficult to predict for a long, long time. Be it the seven different winners of the first seven races, Romain Grosjean’s first corner madness, to the crazy tweets of Taki Inoue and Lewis Hamilton; 2012 has not been short of action. Pirelli tyres, DRS and KERS have produced actual overtaking action, though how real it is open to interpretation. This season never failed to be entertaining, something I’m sure Mr Ecclestone’s bank balance will welcome.
EngageSportMode will bring you a few more post-season features before the year is out, including a final review of Sky Sports F1 and probably an article ascribing factitious trophies to certain people (probably Taki Inoue).
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.
Tonight, ESM’s Mate Steve explains why he’s surrendered ownership of the iconic MkV Golf GTi, along with noting the highs and lows of owning a hot-hatch legend.
Last week I handed back the keys to a VW Golf GTi MkV, you might ask why, hopefully this will become clear.
Just over 3 years ago I cheerily told my girlfriend “Don’t worry, I’m just going to look, not buy” as she went off to do some shopping. An hour and a half later and I’m dragging her out of the supermarket to have one final test drive before sitting down to agree the deal.
Over the course of the 3 years I’ve had it, the car has been reasonably reliable; the air-conditioning being the exception to this! The compressor on the air-conditioning is a known weak spot on the Golf MkV and, true to form, it failed resulting in a very warm car in the summer. Happily it was covered on my extended warranty as the cost including fitting came to just over £600.
The car also developed a small patch of rust at the back of the roof, which VW refused to cover under the anti-corrosion warranty. This was very disappointing and really knocked my faith in VW. Their decision was based on some blurry photos taken by my local dealer and emailed to their HQ, with them unwilling to discuss the matter further.
Unfortunately last winter I also had problems with the sensor in the coolant expansion vessel. This was remarkable, given that VW had this same fault on the Mk3 and Mk4, they still hadn’t fixed it for the MkV so a replacement vessel was required. Again this falls short of the standard I expect from a brand such as VW.
These issues aside, the car has been fantastic; it lived up to all the excellent reviews I read before purchasing it. It can be driven sedately and comfortably or it can be driven aggressively, either way it’s an excellent drive and has always returned circa 30mpg, which I consider pretty good for a 200BHP hot hatch. The suspension is the perfect compromise between bone shaking firmness and French softness and is therefore far better than the Seat FR equivalent with its horrifically stiff suspension. The seats are supportive and hold you well through the turns but the downside to this is the seat bolsters do wear badly and older people find it difficult to get in and out.
Each and every time I’ve driven the GTi I’ve had fun, its blend of performance and practicality makes it an easy car to live with but its performance is what makes you love it. The power-band is so large that there’s always plenty of torque available. This makes overtaking in 6th a breeze, but bother yourself to drop a cog or two and the GTi can really take off. So much so that I had to set the onboard computer to alert me at 95mph since it was so effortless to break the speed limit one had to keep a careful eye on the speedometer. Not that I ever speed you understand, simply as a precaution.
The interior of the car is as well-engineered and designed as the rest of the car, buttons and switches in logical places, well labelled and the fit and finish was top-notch with not a single rattle in the whole 3 years I had it. The party piece of being able to get the display on the Climatic automatic air-conditioning to display information such as current speed, oil pressure etc. was a lovely little hidden Easter Egg. However it would have been nice if some of this information was available a bit more readily, such as in the Ford Focus ST where there’s an extra pod of dials for turbo boost pressure etc.
Indeed the GTi has been fun not just for me but for friends and family too; most friends have had a go of the GTi and not a single one has been disappointed. Every time I parked the car at my parents it seemed to disappear off for several hours with my brother who couldn’t get enough of it. Having a hot hatch is an itch I needed to scratch and the GTi certainly scratched that itch!
Its performance in the snow is probably best forgotten (it doesn’t perform!) but I can forgive it, given that it was shod with 17inch summer tyres. The standard brakes never caused me issue and always had just the right amount of stopping power. I am certain my car had a modified exhaust due to it being fully stainless steel and pretty loud. However, when it was serviced by VW they did say it was a standard exhaust again showing how poor VW are; they can’t even recognise a non-standard exhaust on one of their own cars!
In fact VW customer service really lets the brand down, when I phone my local independent garage all I have to do is mention it’s a Golf MkV GTi and they know what I’m talking about. When I phone VW dealerships even with the information about it being a GTi they without fail always ask if it’s a petrol or a diesel. Now I know some UK dealerships sold Mk4 GT TDIs badged as a GTi but really there’s never been a diesel GTi and I expect VW dealerships to have a better grip on their own products than they do. They also seem to have a problem keeping up with VW Germany since VW Germany issued a technical memo several years ago that only LongLife oil could be used in the MkV Golf, but every time it’s been serviced by VW I’ve had to argue this point to ensure it gets the correct oil.
Unfortunately, this review seems to have spent more time talking about VW customer service than the car itself, but this is a major problem. VW price their cars higher than their competitors and trade on their reputation for quality. My experience is that their products are no longer worth the price and, although I consider myself a VW enthusiast, I would not consider purchasing another VW at this time.
So I’m sure you’ll be wanting to know what I’ve purchased to fill the GTi shaped gap in my life and, unfortunately, you’ll have to be patient since I won’t be purchasing a new car until March next year. I’ll be running around in a 56 plate Seat Leon FR TDI until then but my choices in March will likely be either Mini or BMW – you’ll just have to wait for my next blog post to find out which. Oh and just by the way VW, the reason it’ll be a MINI or BMW is down to the excellent customer service received recently when looking for a new car for my girlfriend. I never intended for her to purchase a MINI, but their customer care and product are so good she couldn’t resist. So she now has a rather excellent MINI Cooper D Countryman All4 (a stupidly long name for a car).
I have to admit, having driven the MkV GTi when it first went on sale, along with driving Steve’s also, it was an addictively fun car to be behind the wheel of. It’s a huge shame that the overall ownership experience for Steve hasn’t lived up to the basic product underneath. In addition, I share Steve’s sentiment in that I would not consider buying a Volkswagen at this time; notice how my shortlist featured no VWs (unless you count the Ibiza). With the current models on offer, along with the genuinely exorbitant pricing, the veneer of the VW badge has worn a little bit thin in ESM’s opinion.
The MetroCentre is known for lots of things; being the biggest shopping centre in the UK, having a huge 3D IMAX screen in its Odeon cinema and for not actually being connected to the Tyne & Wear Metro. But as a meeting place for some of the North East’s finest American and classic cars? This was news to my ears.
Hot Rods, as it is known, has been running for a number of years despite various attempts to stop it happening. The second Wednesday of every month during the summer sees a range of American muscle, classic British and anything and everything in between descend on the retail park. Following a tip-off from a petrolhead colleague, I decided to head down and take a look what all the commotion was about.
Naturally, I left the Polo a fair distance away and walked over. Wandering through the car park leading towards Toys-R-Us and McDonald’s (those two American icons) it was obvious something car-related was going down. The revving of engine, the smell of exhaust fumes and the random performance and modified cars dotted around signalled we had hit the right place. With such an array of motoring delights on offer, it’s perhaps easiest to let the pictures do the talking.
What I liked most about the meet was that various types, genres and ages of car mixed in together without prejudice or discrimination. As a casual observer, it was inspiring to see muscle car, Mini Cooper, Mazda MX-5 and others lined up together. It seemed more a celebration of enthusiasts, rather than a clique built around one marque or model. If you happen to be in the area next time it’s on, I would wholeheartedly recommend stopping by.
ESM cannot help but notice that over on YouTube a LOT of people are talking about a certain video. No, not the one ESM featured last week, or even the baby monkey riding on a pig. The internets are currently very into this one:
Over 21 million viewers (as of today) can’t be bad surely? Well, I guess not. But, for whatever reason, I just don’t really buy into the whole Ken Block/Gymkhana thing.
Undoubtedly I appreciate that the level of skill and car-control to do the things Block does in that video are incredible. Jumping the hills of San Francisco sideways whilst drifting?! That is genuinely insane. Doing doughnuts on a floating barge also takes tremendous faith in knowing where the car ends and the water starts.
Ken is certainly talented behind the wheel of a car, doing stunts and yanking on the handbrake. Does this make him a great racing driver? ESM would be inclined to say “hmm, well, probably not dude”. His performance on the WRC circuit has been sporadic; typically only competing in half the rounds throughout the season. His best actual result has been 8th on last year’s Rallye de France. An impressive result in isolation, but Kimi Raikkonen managed better even with his whimsical approach to rallying.
Block and his Ford Fiesta have also seemingly created a generation of drivers who think sticking huge Monster energy drink stickers to random bits of their car will give them his level of car control. Essentially, it’s no cooler than sticking a picture of the Tetley Tea Folk to your back bumper.
So before ESM turns into too much of a boring old man, here’s one of Block’s good friends (Travis Pastrana) doing a ridiculous jump in a Subaru Impreza from a couple of years ago. Enjoy:
…all we know is he’s called The Tame Geek“
Along with being a technology and gizmo expert, he’s also rather good at being Jeremy Clarkson. Take a look at this video he submitted with this review of the Range Rover Evoque:
Uncanny isn’t it. And on that bombshell, goodnight!