It’s been a while since EngageSportMode browsed the adverts in search of possible used car bargains and beauties. Well, that’s a lie; ESM is always checking the classifieds, just in case, you know? Anyway, after that brief spell of good weather the other week, ICAT/CD’s attention has been turned towards convertibles this time. For some, bizarre, reason the UK remains once of the biggest drop-top markets in Europe. Perhaps it’s that classic British sense of optimism, or humour, that leads us to buy so many roofless roadsters? Either way, here is a selection of vehicles at both ends of the unlimited headroom scale.
I Could Afford That
It’s common knowledge that if you’re any sort of motoring publication/website writing about cheap convertibles, then you have to include the Mazda MX-5 as the recommended buy. ESM isn’t going to conform to such stereotyping and instead tracked down the MX-5′s Japanese rival; the MR2.
Looking a little bit like a squarer, 3/4 scale Porsche Boxster, the third generation MR2 packed 140 hp into it’s short mid-engined body. Performance is decent, with 0-60 mph in less than 7 seconds and the handling was roundly praised for being excellent. This particular model is blessed with both a hard-top and air-conditioning; perfect for the unpredictable British weather.
There isn’t a photo of the interior but I’d presume that a) it has one, and b) it’s a plasticky late ’90s Japanese affair. However, even with close to 100k miles on the clock, I would wager money this little MR2 is still pretty damn bulletproof compared to an MG TF for example. Granted there won’t be much luggage space, but who would really buy a roadster for practicality? Although, compared to many of its rivals, the MR2 was rare in having a genuine glass rear-window!
Verdict: Yeah, I would buy one, but I’m not convinced the dog would be happy about being wedged into the load space under the bonnet.
Designed by the Newcastle upon Tyne College of Art graduate Peter Horbury, the C70 changed the face of the previously square and solid Swedish company. The convertible version doesn’t quite look as good as the coupe, losing the hard-top’s DB7-esque roofline, but certainly couldn’t be called unattractive. With the fully electrically powered roof in place, the C70 does look slightly dumpy but that’s the price of the sky as your headlining.
This example features the 2.0 Turbo engine with 163 bhp. Given the automatic gearbox and considerable weight of that folding roof, performance is more sedate with 0-60 mph in 10.4 seconds and a breezy top speed of 124 mph. The mildly terrifying 26 mpg official fuel consumption is also as wallet frightening as the interior is chunky:
Such a thirst for fuel and such low performance returns might explain why this car seemingly only has 36,000 miles under its belt. I’d also wager it’s had some substantial kerbing at some point to necessitate the alloy wheels being refurbished in that attractive gun-metal colour. It does have all the toys you could ever need, and is a lot of car for the money, which probably explains why in the time of researching and writing this someone has stuck a deposit down on it!
Verdict: Even if I wanted to, it appears someone else has already bought it. But given the choice, I still wouldn’t. Little bit too pipe and open-toed sandals for me.
If the C70 above is gloriously late 1990′s in design, then this SL is unashamedly more ’80s than Wall Street. I originally started looking at first-generation SLKs, such as this one, when researching convertibles. But then I thought why go for the Quarter Pounder when you could have a Big Mac?
Another classic motoring cliché is to roll out the line about Mercedes-Benz’s of this era having “tank” or “vault” like build quality. It is true that this R129 model had much tougher plastics inside than the subsequent R230. Plus, with a kerb weight in the region of 1,800 kgs it has the bulk to match an armoured fighting vehicle. Unfortunately this one doesn’t quite have the torque needed to propel such mass, being only the 2.8 litre straight-six compared to the substantially more powerful 5.0 V8 model. But 200 bhp allows the driver to cruise to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds, and all the way up to 140 mph should you so wish. Just try not to worry about the equally ’80s fuel consumption; a 23 mpg average!
Whilst it may have almost 150,000 miles under its lengthy bonnet, from the pictures at least this SL280 doesn’t appear too tired. It also seems to have had a fair bit of money lavished on it of late; a new roof cannot have been cheap. Furthermore, even if only half the extensive interior fittings work, it’ll still be better equipped than your average modern family hatchback. A Bose sound system, electrically adjustable seats, and automatic climate-control are all things you would expect to pay extra for today; the SL came with them standard almost 20 years ago. The hard-top roof would also come in handy when the weather turns colder.
Verdict: So with my commute I could get it on limited mileage classic insurance, use the remaining money to pay for the fuel…not sure where I’d put the hard top though…might need a bigger shed. If you hadn’t guessed, yes I’d buy it.
So should your numbers come up on tonight’s Euromillions draw, where should you be placing your deposit tomorrow morning? How about this for a start:
The Audi R8 is without a doubt one of the most complete supercars ever built. Futuristic looks, stunning performance, quattro agility and Audi quality has produced a terrifyingly competent product whilst still maintaining a degree of soul. This GT Spyder is the ultimate R8 and also the most expensive Audi ever offered for general consumption, with new prices starting at £158,175.00. By choosing one somebody first signed for you’ve already saved over £3k with this one; about enough for you first month’s fuel!
The GT Spyder weighs in 85 kgs lighter than the regular open-top R8, meaning it’s 552 bhp really does deliver the hit of the whole fruit. The 5.2 litre V10 is mated to the R-tronic semi-automatic gearbox which isn’t perfect, but allows the almost 400 lbs ft of torque to be used effectively. 0-60 arrives in only 3.8 seconds and it’ll be knocking on the door of 200 mph before the aerodynamics call enough. Whilst the standard R8 isn’t exactly subtle, the GT’s body is a riot of carbon-fibre, splitters and wings on the outside; marking this as a special 1 of only 333 examples.
Inside is also more bespoke than normal, with the fixed bucket seats, alcantara steering wheel and even more carbon-fibre marking this out as something special. As hardcore as the GT Spyder may appear, according to those in the know it’s still perfectly usable on a daily basis unlike some other supercars. Provided you can live with fuel consumption somewhere in the low teens that is!
Verdict: The ultimate convertible example of a thoroughly engineered supercar? Unquestionably. I’d probably stick with the coupe version though; in orange.
And there we have it. Four delectable cabrios without any mention of the predictable MX-5.
Friday is the first main day of the actual Festival of Speed. ESM spent the vast majority of it taking the long walk from the bottom of the paddock all the way to the rally-stage at the top of the hill. This is what we encountered along the way.
So that is Friday’s action covered. Come back for Saturday and video highlights soon.
The Infiniti brand is to Nissan what Lexus is to Toyota; essentially blinged up versions of domestic Japanese models, renamed to charge Americans more money for them.
Whilst Infiniti was launched in the United States back in 1989, it wasn’t until 2008 that the decision to branch out in to Europe was taken. In keeping with the “premium” image comes a premium price tag. The cheapest G-Series saloon starts at just shy of £35k, rising to £58k for the range topping FX 4×4 SUV.
And that’s the one ESM found itself in, powering around the streets of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, desperately trying not to look like a drug dealer. Though, as you can see from the photos below, not looking like your friendly, neighbourhood, crack dispensary is not easy:
This is the FX30d S Premium, looking to cost someone mental enough to pay full price a whopping £53,415. As you can probably guess from the “d” in the name, this is a derv powered machine; a 3.0 litre V6 kicking out 253 bhp and a not unsubstantial 406 lb-ft of torque. A 3.7 litre V6 petrol is also available, along with a suicidally thirsty 5.0 litre V8. Given that the Renault sourced diesel engine was shoehorned in for the European market, the US bias behind this car is obvious.
Regardless, despite weighing the best part of almost 2.2 tonnes, the diesel engine manages to launch the FX30d to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds and on to a 132 mph top speed. Warm-hatch performance for such a huge vehicle is not to be scoffed at, but the payback comes in the form of only 31 mpg average fuel consumption. In reality, 25 mpg is probably more realistic. The 7-speed automatic gearbox does have a Sport mode with flappy-paddle shifters, but even in my short drive the novelty soon wore off. This is a car to be left to do its own thing in D. Performance matches the figures, with the FX feeling quicker than a crude-oil burner of such stature really should. Braking is equally, and reassuringly, impressive.
A few roundabouts provided the only real chance to test out the handling of this 4-wheel drive behemoth, which was grippy and stable. The suspension also happens to have a Sport mode, though this served only to amplify the crashy nature of the ride; something not helped by the big pimpin’ spec 21″ wheels:
The steering is light and not particularly communicative, though accurate which is useful given its 2.13 metre width. With the narrow lanes of some of the “Toon’s” dual-carriageway, the automatic lane departure warning kept making itself known; just one toy from the entire box Nissan has emptied into the FX Premium through its sunroof. Adaptive cruise-control, dual-zone climate-control, heated and cooled leather seats, touchscreen satellite navigation and a media hard-drive are your starters for 10. More interestingly, the FX includes cameras mounted at the front, back and both sides to offer a very handy bird’s eye view when parking. Given the cramped feel to the cabin and restricted vision of the outside world, this feature is more necessity than gimmick in the FX.
Along with feeling cramped, the FX’s interior struggles to live up to its £50k expectations. Plastic abounds in the cockpit, along with a tacky Maserati emulating analogue clock:
Other bits appear stolen from the rest of the Nissan range, and do very little to create a feeling of bespoke craftsmanship. I have no doubt that it will be well put together and ultimately reliable, but in this price range that special ambience behind the wheel is critical.
I also think anyone buying one new is going to suffer depreciation on a truly epic scale. Whilst the £53,000 list price may well undercut rivals such as the BMW X6 (equally pretentious) or the Range Rover Sport, and be better equipped, Infiniti lacks the brand cache. I realise launching a new badge is difficult, and that it took Lexus until the release of the IS200 in 2000 to get a foothold in Europe, but I’m not convinced by the Infiniti project.
Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even Lexus all offer (relatively) affordable entry-level models to welcome new, young, buyers into their marques. With a £35k opening bid, Infiniti is asking substantial sums of money for a unknown entity. However, given the Nissan model range it can hardly offer a gold-badged Micra or Note as competitors to the Audi A1 or BMW 1-Series.
The FX30d S is not a bad car by regular measures of performance or value for money. But in a market segment where choice is based on image and desirability the FX it makes a very poor argument for itself.