Gallery Feature | Fifty Shades of (automotive) Grey

Over 17% of new car buyers picked grey last year, and it’s now the third most popular tone in the UK. But how many different types of grey can there really be? Quite a lot, actually.

50 Shades of Grey

For reference ESM’s Editor has never actually seen Fifty Shades of Grey, or read any of the books. However, he surmises that the plot revolves around a man who treats his interior designer quite badly, whilst she struggles to pick the right grey tones for his house. Plus, the lead character insists on one room painted red, in a tribute to Changing Rooms from the 1990s. Beyond that, who knows what happens, other than inspiring us to seek out fifty shades of grey paint offered on new cars.

We’ve taken these directly from the configurator websites for the respective manufacturer. As a result, the quality of some images is not the best. In the case of Skoda, it’s truly dreadful; like 8-bit Nintendo retro. We’ve tried to accommodate as many different brands as possible, but other greys are available. We’re also not sure how some of these can even be classed as grey in the first place.

Shades 1 to 10

Tasting Notes: (more…)

Quick Review | MINI John Cooper Works Challenge

Can a MINI priced at £32,000 ever really be worthwhile? Well, yeah actually, based on our brief experience at the 2017 SMMT Test Day.

2017 MINI John Cooper Works Challenge

On the face of it paying the same amount as a Volkswagen Golf R, or a Ford Focus RS, for any MINI may seem hopelessly decadent, or even foolish. But stick with us on this, because the John Cooper Works (JCW) Challenge manages to back up the big price tag.

We were a little undecided on the regular JCW hatch when we drove it at the 2015 SMMT Test Day, with the automatic gearbox fitted to that particular car seeming intent on spoiling the fun. Thankfully a six-speed manual is the only option for the JCW Challenge – phew – and it fits perfectly with the hardcore ethos the car is meant to embody, being based on the Challenge race car.

2017 MINI John Cooper Works Challenge

This is, essentially, a parts bin special with a host of bolt-on goodies from aftermarket performance suppliers. Were this the early 2000s, the ‘shopping list’ decals on the doors would be very long indeed. Brembo supplies the four-pot brake calipers, whilst Mintex provides the pads. Michelin is responsible for the grippy Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, which wrap around lightweight 17” Team Dynamics alloy wheels. Finally, the two most important items are the adjustable coilover suspension from Nitron, and the Quaife limited-slip differential.

2017 MINI John Cooper Works Challenge

The latter two have a substantial impact on how the JCW Challenge drives. The Quaife automatic torque biasing diff is seriously aggressive, but allows the JCW’s 228hp and 236lb-ft to be transferred to the road with zero fuss. Add in the almost instantaneous turn-in response from the steering, to a rock-hard suspension setup, and the feeling really is like driving a giant go-kart. (more…)

Friday Photo – Frankfurt 2015 Gallery

This year’s Frankfurt Motor Show proved to be fairly impressive, with a host of big names revealing new products and concepts. Incredibly, this even included cars that hadn’t been previewed in a press release weeks beforehand! Who knew that was still possible? We’ve picked out some of the notable cars making an appearance in Germany. 

2015 Frankfurt

ESM actually spent the first Frankfurt press day helping out the good people at Motoring Research with their live blog. We heartily recommend you go and read it, especially for the Periscope video action from Andrew and Gav. Trust us, you’ll find yourself longing for a special edition Suzuki Jimny or at least learning where not to leave you bag on a motor show stand.

Possibly the biggest talking point of the whole Frankfurt show was the Bentley Bentayga SUV. Promising to be more luxurious than a Range Rover, but with epic performance from a W12 engine, it’s a pretty big deal. To some it’s a step too far for the Bentley brand, and the styling is also equally divisive. However, ESM is pretty sold on it – especially in orange. The Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo is just as mental in real life as in the initial photos – a definite showstopper. Oh, and yes that is a tent on the back of the Citroen Cactus M.

We’d already seen PR photos of the Ferrari 488 Spider, but it’s seemingly even more impressive in the metal. Some even going so far as to say it’s better looking than the GTB coupé. The Hyundai stand was one of contrasts, with the Korean company pushing its new “N” performance sub-brand with the rather mental 2025 Gran Turismo concept, alongside the Santa Fe and i20 Active. Jaguar’s F-Pace stole the pre-show excitement with a Guinness World Record-breaking launch event, whilst the MotoGP-engined Honda 2&4 concept proved to be a winner.


2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed – Moving Motor Show Gallery

ESM has been to the Goodwood Festival of Speed before – the last time back in 2012 – but this year was a little different. 

2015 Goodwood Festival of SpeedIt started with a letter from the Earl of March inviting ESM to the Festival of Speed as a fully fledged member of the media. It ended with driving almost 700 miles in 30 hours in order to spend just one day there but, when the Earl of March invites you, it’d be rude not to make an appearance.

2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Esso liveried retro Toyota GT86 was our favourite

In Festival of Speed tradition, we’ve broken the galleries down into batches. This first one covers the cars of the Moving Motor Show, while the second and third will include the iconic racers and findings from around the festival respectively. The Moving Motor Show has become a big part of the Festival of Speed, giving the public the change to pilot a wide range of cars up the famous hill climb course. So from the meagre, to the mighty, all the below could be driven.


SMMT Test Day 2015 – One day, Twelve cars [Part 2/3]

Round two of our SMMT 2015 mega-test continues, with a further batch of four cars. By mid-morning had we picked any more winners from the 170 on offer? Part one can be found here, if you need to read that first.


As a way to build up an appetite for lunch, two performance Renaults and a new MINI aren’t a bad workout. A soft-top Audi TT added an alternative slant on things.

Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy
2015 Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy 001
Some cars come with a large amount of hype surrounding them, and a Renaultsport product has to carry the substantial weight of expectation from motoring journalists on those French shoulders. Quite simply, the 275 Trophy cashed in over every single cheque written by it, to the point of ridiculousness.

2015 Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy 002
It probably helped that the guy from Renault made sure to put it ‘into Sport mode’ before we’d even left the steering pad. Even after the WRX STI, it became clear very quickly just how special the 275 Trophy is, with the Millbrook hill route suiting it perfectly.

The handling was as direct and precise as you could wish for in a sub-£30k hot-hatch, with such feel that you could really push the 275 Trophy with confidence. Renaultsport is keen to attract the track-day market, and there was no doubt this car would make an excellent ‘arrive-and-drive’ option.

However, the best bit had to be the Akrapovič titanium exhaust system, with a lovely bass note topped by pops and crackles on the overrun. With 271bhp, acceleration was suitably strong and the six-speed manual gearbox tight and precise.

2015 Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy 003

Carbon fibre exhaust tip!

It’s worth noting that, bucket seats and Alcantara steering wheel aside, the interior is nothing special. But such is the depth of talent in the 275 Trophy that this can be overlooked. In short, we didn’t want to give it back, and are still quietly pining for it right now.

ESM Rating 9.5/10
Stats: £28,930, 2.0-litre I4 turbo, 271bhp/273lb-ft torque, 0-62mph 5.8 secs, 159mph top speed

Renault Mégane Sport Tourer GT 220
2015 Renault Mégane Sport Tourer GT 220 001

Up until a few weeks ago, we didn’t even know this car existed. Yet, weirdly, it’s been on the Renault fleet for a while. Given the rising popularity for fast estates, the Sport Tourer GT 220 could be a real contender. (more…)

MINI Superleggera™ Vision – Details and Photos

German manufacturer turns to an Italian coach builder to produce attractive version of a British car. Despite sounding like the start to some complicated joke, it’s real and the MINI Superleggera™ Vision is the end result.

2014 MINI Superleggera™ Vision 001

We haven’t necessarily been the kindest critics to MINI’s latest styling direction – well, evolution of the same style, rather than ‘direction’ is probably more accurate. But semantics aside, we described the Clubman Concept from the Geneva Motorshow as looking like “a giant Wels Catfish” and we’ve struggled with the array of grilles and intakes fitted to the new regular MINI hatchback.

2014 MINI Superleggera™ Vision 002

We’re fairly confident it’s nothing to do with what we’ve said, but MINI has turned to Italian coach builders Touring Superleggera to build them a beautiful concept car. The result is the Superleggera™ Vision you see here, that was unveiled at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este this weekend. Held in beautiful Italian scenery next to Lake Como, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este event has taken place since 1929 to celebrate the most elegant and stylish cars and motorbikes made.

2014 MINI Superleggera™ Vision 008

Along with the 50 historic cars, ranging from the 1920s to 1980s, (more…)

2014 BMW / MINI April Fool’s Day Special – The Force Injection Booster and Cooper T

Like clockwork, BMW’s PR Department rolled out another almost believable product as part of its annual April Fools’ Day gag. This year, it’s the turn of the “Force Injection Booster” system. Full advert text below:


BMW looks set to change the face of motoring with the introduction of a patented artificial G-force technology. (more…)

Uncle Steve Writes – Part 3 of 4 – MINI Cooper SD

In the penultimate part of the 4 part series, ESM’s Uncle Steve covers his most recent car purchase.

So, as previously mentioned, the Leon FR TDI has gone, arriving in its place is a MINI Cooper SD hatchback. Again purchased from our tame motor trader, Cooper MINI Durham. So let’s get right down to the specs:

  • MINI Cooper SD Hatchback
  • Lightning blue with contrasting black roof and mirror caps
  • Chili pack
  • Media pack
  • Sun protection glass
  • Anthracite roof lining
  • Chrome line interior
  • Chrome line exterior
  • Piano black interior trim
  • Heated front screen
  • Park distance control (more…)

Uncle Steve Writes – Part 2 of 4 – MINI Countryman Cooper D ALL4

In the second part of his tetralogy, Uncle Steve tells us all about the MINI Countryman Cooper D ALL4 – is this the longest car name in the world? Maybe, but it’s also the name of the car purchased by the fiancé of Uncle Steve.


Back in October last year, we were looking for a car to replace Amy’s Leon FR TDI. Given recent winters we wanted something that would enable us to get out and about if the bad weather returned, but also something that was fun to drive and reasonably economical. Following a visit to several dealerships the MINI found its way straight to the top of my list given the attentiveness I received from the MINI dealership we visited. In fact, given the poor performance of the other dealerships, had they simply waved hello they’d probably have still been top of my list, this was the woeful customer service delivered by SEAT, VW and Audi and all on the same day! (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!