Editorial – Have you got fuel economy OCD?

Motorway cruising has got our editor thinking about just how far do you need to go in the pursuit of fuel economy, especially when it’s probably an impossible task.

Editorial12052014Driving down the A1(M) in the Polo R-Line the other day, sulking whippet in the boot, something struck me about the traffic that was being generated. Usually on the A1(M) any kind of tailback tends to be caused by lorries overtaking each other – that soul-sapping display of watching one HGV ease past another with a 0.0005 mph speed differential, played out over several miles. But there was something else which caught my eye today too; cars sat in the wake of lorries in front of them, travelling at 50 mph.

I understand that we have no minimum speed limit, so cars can essentially travel at whatever speed they want on our motorway network. Obviously that’s so long as they’re not causing an obstruction, or contravening any relative road traffic legislation. But it did leave me wondering why on earth you’d want to sit there chugging along, whilst HGVs, caravans and everything else has to venture into the outside lane to get by.

But then something else became apparent. A lot of these cars doing the half-ton were rather new; as in less than 3-4 years old. Whilst I know down at the bottom of the automotive food chain there’s still some very slow cars on sale, at least 99% of them are still capable of more than 50 mph. Looking closer still,  the badges on the boot of these cars said ‘ECOnetic’, ‘Bluemotion’ or ‘EcoMotive’. Now it made sense; these were people desperate to get somewhere near the claimed official MPG figure for their car.


2014 SEAT Leon Cupra – Something of a bargain

We like the new SEAT Leon Cupra here at EngageSportMode. We like it even more when SEAT UK announces keenly priced finance options, that match the power output of their car’s 2.0 TSI engine.

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra 02

Call us OCD, but having a Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) finance deal that lets you drive a 265 PS SEAT Leon Cupra SC for £265 a month makes us a little bit happy. Oh, and that’s with a £1,000 deposit contribution from SEAT UK and an interest rate of 4.9% on a 36 month deal. SEAT haven’t provided any worked finance examples to accompany this news, so there may be hefty deposit contribution lurking behind that headline figure. But regardless, we admire the marketing work there SEAT, and it makes for an attractive payment to get behind the wheel of something which will do 0-62 mph in 5.9 seconds.

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra 003

If you’re unsure what exactly a PCP scheme entails, then have a read through our previous car buying deliberations here. Also, if you’re serious about buying a 265 PS Spanish hot hatch, ESM would suggest visiting the SEAT website or getting yourself down to your local dealership. They can provide financial advice; we can’t!

200th Post Special – Volkswagen Polo R-Line 8,000 Mile Review

It seems hard to believe that a year has now passed since ESM picked up a very shiny Volkswagen Polo R-Line on a chilly January afternoon. So 365 days and 8,000 miles later, just what has life with the R-Line been like for the past twelve months?

Polo R-Line Report2 001

In short, the R-Line has been virtually flawless throughout the year, with only a handful of minor issues cropping up along the way. Here’s a quick summary of what has been good, and bad, since the last report with just 1,000 miles showing on the odometer:

The Good

  • Fuel economy – 45 mpg is an average real world figure for day-to-day driving, based on a mix of motorway and urban roads. Economy has improved over the year, and longer runs can easily see it creep up towards 50 mpg. (more…)

EngageSportMode Shares the R-Line Love

If you just cannot get enough of hearing about my Polo R-Line, but would rather read about it elsewhere, then you prayers have been answered. Over the coming months I’ll be documenting my ownership of the R-Line over at PoloDriver.com

But in all seriousness, I am genuinely honoured to have been asked to contribute to somebody elses website. I’ve only been doing this internet writing thing for 18 months, so to have the chance to write something for PoloDriver.com truly means a lot.

This is especially true given the immense time and effort put into the site by owner Rich Gooding. I challenge you to spend five minutes on PoloDriver.com and not find out something new about Volkswagen’s supermini. For instance, did you know about the painfully rare 2004 Polo Club Sport? Or that VW India offers a version of the R-Line known as the GT TSI? Well, now you do.

So go on, go learn something new about the Polo!

Friday Photo from the Archives #7

Some car ideas work better in certain places than others. Some, such as the BMW 5-Series GT, don’t really seem to work at all – at least not in America that’s for sure.

The Volkswagen Jetta (or Bora/Vento/Golf with a boot) is one of those propositions that has never really taken the UK by storm. Consequentially, they present themselves as something of a bargain on the second-hand car market, which was how I came to find myself behind the wheel of one in March 2010. This one in particular:

At the time I was between jobs and, had just sold my wretched Audi S3, as its financial burden had finally proven to be enough. However, the prospect of being sans automobile was a thought too unholy to contemplate.  I had to find a new vehicle and fast. But any replacement car would have to be affordable to run, reliable and blessed with at least some modicum of performance and entertainment.

As a VAG fan, my natural instinct was to think of a Golf. Specifically, a Mk5 GT TDI. It was quick enough, achieved good fuel economy from its 2.0 TDI engine and should be relatively solid. But, alas, the GT TDI was expensive. Volkswagen’s chosen son was the one everybody wanted, which meant used values remained high. That GT TDI moniker also meant insurance prices had a suitably enhanced value too. So I used my automotive knowledge and thought laterally; when is a Golf not a Golf? When it’s badged as something else and has a humongous rear end.

When I first went to view NJ56 XKS (a great number plate for a Jaguar) the trader described it to me as “having a boot you could easily get two dead bodies in.” He also had a Caterham Seven Superlight in his own garage, so I decided he was probably (for once) a genuine person to buy a car from, and ignored the fear of my car once carrying corpses in a previous life. The Jetta’s history was slightly more mundane, as you would expect, having been a former company-car for the Benfield motoring group. As a result it had been serviced religiously by a VW dealership, meaning mechanically it was sound, but the black paintwork betrayed a working life. Either way, it was a deal too good to miss, and I found myself behind the wheel of a diesel saloon at the age of only 25.

In the eighteen months I owned it, the Jetta proved to be a tireless workhouse, schlepping up and down the A1(M) with ease. It’s cavernous boot was never filled, and I often felt like I was a photocopiers salesperson on the way to a very important business meeting whilst in it. On the road it was entertaining to drive, the 140 bhp and 236 lb.ft of torque gave effortless shove and the GT TDI suspension meant it attacked corners with verve belying it’s size.  Parking was a pain in the backside, literally, given its hefty rump as was constantly having to explain to people what it was.

But more fool them; in the UK the Jetta remains the thinking man’s Golf. ESM’s good friend The Tame Geek drives one very similar to the one I owned, and every time I see one I have a wry smile, liking to think the owner made a clever choice to avoid going with the herd.

I do miss my Jetta, as does ESM’s OH; mainly because she found it comfortable enough to fall asleep in whilst I drove. In the end it was traded for that of which we do not speak, which was probably the worst car-buying choice I’ve made! Oh well, can’t win them all, just ask BMW.

Music Makes it Better – Driving Tunes

Does music turn a drive into a journey? It’s something that struck me last weekend, as I found myself piloting the Polo R-Line along a short stretch of road from Crakehall to Catterick in North Yorkshire. It’s the one highlighted in blue on the image below:

Mapping via google.com

Mapping via google.com

It’s a road I’ve driven a few times, but never with any real intent. However, last Saturday, everything seemed to align into a perfect opportunity to test the R-Line in the wild. It was warm and sunny, there was very little traffic as people made the most of the good weather, and this song came on the radio:

As you can see from the video, What It Feels Like by Armin Van Buuren is quite clearly a song that you’re meant to drive to. The beat and rhythm fitted perfectly as I threaded the Polo around the twisty bends, found the slightly too long travel of the suspension and worked the TSI motor for all it’s worth.

By the time I reached Catterick and joined the A1, I was grinning from ear to ear. Had I done that route with the radio off it would still have been enjoyable; but having a musical accompaniment just made it even better.

Whether this is the same for everyone, I’m not so sure. Up until recently I’d have probably turned the radio off to have maximum concentration when partaking in some “spirited driving” but playing Forza Horizon has probably made me contemplate music as part of the experience. In addition, should you be fortunate enough to be driving something with an aurally exciting engine (we’re talking V8, V12 territory), then I’m pretty sure you’d be in the music off category.

So if you’re out this weekend doing enthusiastic driving, will you be speakers up or windows down?

VW Polo R-Line – 1,000 Mile Review

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!


ESM’s 2012 Car Buying Predicament #6 – The Finale

Recently I wrote about the end of my ownership of the 9N3 Volkswagen Polo, following the epically long saga to replace it which began all the way back in October last year. So after several months of searching, test driving and negotiating, just what did land on the EngageSportMode drive?


A Polo R-Line; not mine.

Originally when my quest began I had dismissed the regular Polo for looking too mundane, despite the appeal of the 1.2 TSI petrol engine. But whilst researching a broker who could supply an Audi A1, I happened across a listing for the R-Line like the one shown above. Embarrassingly for such a perennial Polo purchaser, the existence of the R-Line had completely passed me by, despite being unveiled several months ago. Could the R-Line be the answer to all the requirements I’d originally asked of my new car? Let us just review what I wanted:

Essential Criteria

1. 0-60mph in less than 10 seconds. The R-Line dips under with an official 0-60 of 9.7 seconds.
2. A 120mph+ top speed. 118mph according to the manual. Close, but not quite.
3.Real world mpg of 35+. Yup. The benefits of a modern downsized engine mean an official combined mpg of 53.3, so even taking into account the fact the stated figures are impossible to achieve, it bodes well.
4. 3-Spoke steering wheel. Three-spoked, with a flat bottom, and made of a nice leather/perforated leather combination. (more…)

End Of The Road: The VW Polo 1.4 SE (9N3)

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.

 Polo SE-01

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. 

Polo SE-03

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…)

ESM’s 2012 Car Buying Predicament #5

I realise that calling this series of posts a “predicament” is somewhat of a dramatisation. Like having to decide on whether to pick a Cheryl Cole or Megan Fox calendar for the ESM office, this is a nice first world problem to have to deal with. But at the same time it is hardly like I’m sat here deliberating over whether to buy a Bugatti Veyron or a Pagani Huarya; everything is relative.

At the end of the previous instalment, I’d been left mulling the prospect of a MINI Cooper Coupe that I had to order within the next 48 hours to get the deal I wanted. In addition, I was also awaiting a telephone call from the Head of Business at Tyneside Audi. These two tales are entwined and interlinked, but lets deal with them one at a time.

The MINI Coupe Situation

One of the biggest problems I had with placing an order for the Coupe was the fact I hadn’t driven one. Stratstone MINI Tyneside couldn’t say when they might have one available, so the only real option would be to order blind and hope I liked it. The monthly payment was also £20 more than where I wanted it to be; this was the reason I’d walked from the showroom.

Lee, the friendly MINI sale exec, came back to me with a solution. He’d slash £21 a month off the payments, and let me drive a Cooper Coupe belonging to his (female) friend. I’d have to do this on a Wednesday evening after work, and then sign up there and then to get the order placed in time. The more I mulled this over, the more I got cold feet and given the money and length of time involved, this was not a good thing to have.

As a result, I ended it with Lee. I explained it wasn’t him, it was me, and that I just couldn’t make that level of commitment right now. This drew a line in the sand for the MINI buying experience, for now. I have to commend Stratstone that despite some initial problems, they were good to deal with. In future I certainly wouldn’t be adverse to buying a car from them, but just not right now. Ultimately, this led to…

The Audi A1 Situation

When I had walked out of the MINI dealership earlier in the week after the price was too high, my first point of call had been to head over to Tyneside Audi. Regular readers may remember the harsh criticism ESM gave this dealership for ignoring me and ESM’s mate Steve, and choosing to speak to a man in jean shorts instead. At the time, I tweeted North East Audi (part of the Benfield behemoth) who run the four Audi Centres in the Tyne & Wear/Teesside areas, and their response was apologetic. In addition, they also admitted they were reviewing weekend staffing numbers “to enable all customers to have a great experience”. As such, expectations were high that there would not be a repeat of last time. Oh, I was wrong.

Whereas on the previous visit the showroom had been quite busy, on this occasion it was virtually empty. ESM’s better half and I spent a good 5-10 minutes checking out the A1 on offer; opening the boot, sitting inside, wandering around it and generally talking quite loudly. But nobody approached. We then wandered up and down the showroom a bit more, looking at the RS3 and R8 Spyder models on offer. Again, salespeople were not forthcoming. After one last look at the A1, and a rather loud exclamation from ESM’s other half, we left. This time we hadn’t even been dissed instead of someone in cut-off denim shorts; we’d just been plain ignored.

Naturally there was no other course of action; I went straight to Twitter. Surprisingly, I got a fairly instantaneous response (perhaps I should have tweeted from within the showroom) apologising, saying there were no excuses and that if I sent them a Direct Message I would get a call from their Head of Business on Monday. Having previously said there were no second chances in this game, I deliberated before sending off my number and awaiting a call.

Monday dawned, and I did indeed get a call from Thomas, Head of Business at Tyneside Audi. He apologised profusely, and explained that they had seriously been undertaking a review of customer numbers vs staffing requirements at the dealership. This was the reason for the “kid in the bomber jacket” (as described by ESM’s other half) being by the front door of the showroom. I explained that being ignored twice was insulting, and that it made it appear that I was not the kind of person whom they wished to sell an Audi to; despite me having previously owned one.

Thomas then asked what car I had been interested in, and wondered if there was anything they could do to try to get me to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves. It was at this point that the idea of a “lifestyle test drive” of an A1 was mooted. This would give me the chance to have the car for 24 hours, rather than the regular 10-minutes round the industrial estate test. He took my details and said he would get one of their sales executives to contact me to make arrangements.

By the time the salesman, Peter, called the test drive was now being discussed as for “a few days”. That would clearly give me a superb opportunity to try out the baby Audi, and help allay any “cold feet syndrome” that I had with the MINI; should the car be good enough that is. There was only one snag; Tyneside Audi didn’t have a 1.4 TFSI (the model I’m interested in) available. Clearly I have a habit of wanting cars that nobody else seems to buy! Peter explained that they may have to order one in via Audi UK (at cost to the dealership) in order to get me one, but this was something they were willing to do.

Overall, I have to admit Tyneside Audi are doing all the right things, and making all the right noises, to try to get me back as a potential customer. Thankfully, this has all been done without the need for me to resort to wearing cut-off denim shorts. As soon as the A1 lands, hopefully this week, expect it to grace these very pages. And Twitter, and probably Instagram as well.

At this point it might be worth noting that ESM’s Mate Steve reckons that the Audi A1 is “a girl’s car”. What this is based on, I’m not so sure, but it is a view he maintains. Funnily enough, it is not one he applied to either a MINI Coupe or Hatchback, which would often be considered more feminine in my opinion. So, in the spirit of democracy, the next post is also going to include a poll to decide if Steve is right, or wrong.

So, in some respects, the predicament has become simpler. The MINI has very much gone out the window, and the Audi A1 emerges as the challenger to win my heart and wallet. ESM is still undecided on the Cheryl Cole vs Megan Fox situation though. Any help much appreciated!