Photo Gallery – 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed – Paddock Action

Despite weather that threatened to make Goodwood seem more like Glastonbury at times, the 2016 Festival of Speed proved to be as impressive as ever. ESM was there, for two days this time, getting up close and personal with as much of the machinery as possible. We could write 1,000s of words but, instead, we’ll give you the pictures first. 2016 Goodwood Festival of SpeedTrying to pick which photos to feature isn’t easy given the ridiculous selection of race and road cars on offer at the Festival of Speed. To try and keep things simple, we’ve broken it down into three galleries: the highlights from the paddock, what the manufacturers brought to the motor show, and cars in action tackling the hill climb. In this first gallery we’ve covered our favourites from the various paddocks at Goodwood, where it’s possible to be inches away from priceless racers and motorsport icons. We’ve also included what we found after the (long) trek to the rally stage at the top of the hill, and a special feature on BMW.

2016 Festival of Speed – Main Paddock

BMW Paddock Highlights
BMW was the featured marque at the Festival of Speed, so the brand accounted for a lot of the cars on display. Including one particular car that’s very dear to ESM’s heart.  (more…)

SMMT Test Day 2016 – Part Two

We’re continuing our twelve car odyssey through this year’s SMMT Test Day. Part one can be found here if you need to refresh yourself. Things get a little weird and a little crazy in part two. SMMT Test Day Header 02If our first selection of cars at SMMT were varied, although generally performance themed, the second sextet proved to be incredibly diverse. From the ridiculous to the sublime, and everything in between.

7. MG3 1.5 SportMG3 SportRemember the world before everything became turbocharged and you had to rev the nuts off a naturally-aspirated engine to make progress? Drive the MG3 and the 1.5-litre VTI petrol motor will take you back to those heady days. Let’s not kid ourselves here – the MG3 is undoubtedly a cheap car – but any real potential it has is hamstrung by an outdated engine. In a world of EcoBoosts and Boosterjets, having to pin the throttle to the floor constantly just to keep up with traffic becomes a chore.

A chore that damages fuel economy and C02 figures compared to rivals. It also makes for unrefined progress, matched by the slightly bouncy ride quality. Handling is, however, pretty neat and although the interior is built to a price it’s relatively well-equipped. There’s the potential for an acceptable bargain supermini in the MG3; it just desperately needs a modern small-capacity turbo engine.

ESM Rating: 5.5/10
Stats: £9,899, 1.5-litre I4, 105hp/101lb-ft, 0-60mph 10.4 seconds, 108mph top speed.

8. Subaru Forester 2.0i XT LineartronicSubaru Forester XTThe Subaru Forester is a product which appeals to a certain niche population in the car market. Typically farming folk who want something reliable and usable. This particular car, being the performance turbo petrol XT version, manages to be even more specialist in its appeal. Rural people who want to get to the market in a hurry. It’s the quickest horse in the Forester stable, although we only tried it off-road, so can’t really comment if 238hp turns this into a high-riding performance SUV like the RS Q3. The boxer engine was noticeably quiet – no iconic flat-four burbling here – and overall refinement was strong for something many might label as mildly agricultural.

Hitting the dirt tracks of Millbrook’s ‘brown route’ showed off the genuine ability the Forester has in the rough. It was more than capable with steep inclines, juggling torque to the wheel with most grip quickly and efficiently. The hill-descent control system was brilliantly easy to use, with a simple tap of the brakes to set the speed you want, and the Forester handling the rest on the way down. It’s intuitive, doesn’t require messing about with extra buttons, and is very effective. Overall the Forester has a lot of charm and, whilst it might make more sense in diesel specification, you can’t doubt the capabilities of this XT version.

ESM Rating: 8/10 (off-road only)
Stats: £30,995, 2.0-litre flat-four turbo, 0-62mph 7.5 seconds, 137mph top speed

9. 1988 Nissan Micra 1.0 Automatic ‘K10’

Nissan Micra K10

Bluebird was off-limits, sadly.

Nissan was keen to celebrate three decades of production at the NMMUK Sunderland factory, so wheeled out three heritage models. Which includes this original Mk1 Micra – resplendent with three-speed automatic gearbox and unassisted steering. If anything, it serves as a reminder to just how far automotive technology has come in the past 30 years, and how we should be grateful for that progress! (more…)

Friday Photo – Colin McRae 20 years ago

Right now the cars competing in the 2015 Wales Rally GB are probably somewhere around Special Stage 3. But on this Friday Photo we’re looking back to the final round of the World Rally Championship two decades ago.

World © LAT Photographic

Back in 1995 rallying was teetering on the edges of still being an endurance motorsport, with the Network Q RAC Rally covering some 317 competitive stage miles that year. It followed a route that ran from Chester, to Leeds, up into the Scottish Borders and then back down to Wales; a total distance of almost 1,500 miles across four days. Compare that to the 192 stage miles that the Wales Rally GB will cover this year.


More importantly, the 1995 RAC Rally saw Colin McRae battle teammate Carlos Sainz to take victory and with it claim the World Rally Championship. It was the only time McRae would ever win the title, although he would finish runner-up on three other occasions. But it wasn’t just winning the Championship, but doing it in the UK, in a straight fight with twice World Champion Sainz that made it even more special. Throughout his career McRae was susceptible to throwing away victories from pushing too hard but, somehow, he managed not to that year.


2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed – The Racers Gallery

Whilst the Festival of Speed has grown to become the de facto British motor show, it’s still all about the epic racing cars that tackle the hill climb course. Our second 2015 gallery features some of the exotic and expensive machinery found in the paddock.

2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed Racers 007

A whole class was dedicated to the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR this year. An awful lot of money under one tent.


SMMT Test Day 2015 – One day, Twelve cars [Part 1/3]

The annual SMMT Test Day is often described as being like Christmas for motoring writers, with a huge range of cars available to drive on the demanding Millbrook test track. So, is it really the automotive journalism nirvana it’s meant to be? You bet. SMMT-2015-108 With this being our first time at the SMMT Test Day, ESM didn’t quite know what to expect. Driving onto the famed mile straight at Millbrook – including some banked corner action – certainly got the adrenaline racing, ever so slightly. That was raised more, as the minibus pulled into the steering pad, covered with over 170 cars from almost 40 manufacturers. The deal at the SMMT Test Day is quite simple; which makes it even more special. Approach a friendly PR/media representative from a marque, ask if a car is available, and then be handed the keys after a quick check of your name badge. Be it 1.0-litre Suzuki Celerio or Rolls-Royce Phantom, the process is the same. That is what makes it an amazing experience.

As such, ESM made sure to try as many cars as we reasonably could in the time we were there. We managed twelve in the course of the day, with the option to drive direct rivals back-to-back hugely valuable. Time with each car is, relatively, limited if you want to make the most of what’s on offer, so the below are more initial impressions, rather than a full detailed road test. With the number of cars driven, we’ve broken this down into three parts:

Lexus RC F 2015 Lexus RC F Coupe 001What car to learn the formidable Millbrook Hill Route in? A 5.0-litre V8 coupe, with 470 bhp and rear-wheel drive of course. Fortunately, despite the power on offer, the RC F wasn’t too intimidating on the tight twists and turns. (C) SMMT 2015 Lexus RC F 006It’s certainly quick, has an excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox, and sounds superb. However, you’re also reminded of the 1,800kg kerb weight under braking, and there’s a little bit of confusion as to whether it’s more muscle car than pure sports car.

Inside there are obvious hints of the revered Lexus LFA in the shape of the centre console, and it’s as high-quality as you would expect. We’d question the choice of red-leather seats in a blue car, and Solar Flare orange would be our obvious pick of paintwork colour. The RC F is a curious car, and one we would love to spend more time in to figure out fully. There’s obvious talent beneath that coupé body, and one that seems to offer an interesting alternative to the BMW M4.

ESM Rating 8.5/10
Stats: £59,995, 5.0-litre V8, 470bhp/390lb-ft torque, 0-62mph 4.5 secs, 168mph top speed (more…)

2015 New York Auto Show – Subaru BRZ STI Performance Concept

If there’s one thing people have taken criticism over the Subaru BRZ / Toyota GT86 / Scion FRS trio with, it’s the power. Or relative lack thereof. Is this US concept the answer?

2015 Subaru BRZ STI Performance Concept 001

The concept of a low slung, lightweight, naturally aspirated sportster is nothing new. When it comes to the BRZ, this makes for a finely balance rear-wheel drive machine. But that’s not good enough nowadays, we want too much power. Thankfully, Subaru USA seems to have finally picked up on this concern, and unveiled the rather awesome looking BRZ STI Performance Concept.

2015 Subaru BRZ STI Performance Concept 004

Featuring an engine taken from the BRZ Super GT race car, there’s 345bhp underneath the bonnet as opposed to the 197bhp found in a regular BRZ. That’s a hefty boost, and means this STI Performance Concept has both show and go. Will it actually become a reality? The Subaru USA press release is cagey at best, so it’s difficult to say with any real certainty.

For the minute it remains a demonstration of what Subaru of America could potentially achieve with the use of Subaru Technica International parts. The likelihood of something like this making it to the UK seems slim to none, for now. It seems hard enough to buy a normal BRZ here, let alone one with more power.


But, let’s just enjoy the rather awesome looking Concept coupé, and dream of drifting down Japanese mountain roads in it.

What did we learn from the 2015 Detroit Auto Show?

As the first major event on the global automotive calendar, the North American International Auto Show sets the scene for the rest of the year to come. Yes, there’s a definite US-centric bias to a lot of the offerings on show, but many of the new cars will also be available globally. Check out the key trends below:

Blue is definitely the colour for promotional cars
Last year at Geneva we noted that blue had replaced brown as the paint colour of choice for cars on display at motor shows. At Detroit, things got turned up a level, with virtually everything painted bleu this year. Ford even went to the extreme measure of painting its new performance models all in the same shade of Liquid Blue for their Detroit show stand. From Fiesta ST to F-150 Raptor and, obviously, the new GT everything was the same hue. It’s worth noting that Liquid Blue isn’t a production paint colour so, despite being teased by it, you can’t pester your local dealer to deliver you a Focus ST wearing that shade. Notable exceptions to the blue-ness were the new Acura NSX in red, and Cadillac who painted their ‘V’ series performance models white.

The V6 is the new V8
Again, this trend is primarily represented by Ford’s offerings, but it’s quite a significant one. The new GT supercar packs a twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6, where once lived a supercharged V8. The F-150 Raptor has also ditched the 5.4 and 6.2 litre V8s from the previous generation, again favouring a boosted 3.5 litre V6. Only the Shelby GT350R Mustang seems to have emerged from Detroit with all eight cylinders still intact. The EcoBoost unit has, of course, already arrived in the regular Mustang model. (more…)

UPDATED: Subaru beats its own Isle of Man Lap Record with new WRX STI. Again!

Back in 2011, Subaru of America decided to take on the four-wheeled lap record for the Isle of Man TT Mountain Course. With the launch of the new WRX STI, Subaru decided it needed another go at the 38 mile course.

2014 Subaru WRX STI IOM Record 03

The Manx TT course does, at least, make a change from companies banging on about the Nürburgring. Although the two places do share some similarities; both being based on roads available to the public (within reason) and both having fearsome reputations for being unyielding of mistakes by those brave enough to challenge them. With narrow roads through villages, long flat-out straights and bends with nothing but stone walls as crash barriers, the TT course needs courage and commitment. ESM should know, we drove those roads in a Polo GTI some eight years ago, albeit not as part of the TT event.

Getting some major air, just like the TT bikes do.

Getting some major air, just like the TT bikes do.

Enter Mark Higgins; Manx native and former British Rally Champion, accompanied by his almost standard US-specification Subaru WRX STI. Remember, it’s definitely not called an Impreza anymore. Modifications included an FIA-spec roll-cage, racing seat and harness, fire suppression system and uprated suspension springs / dampers. Further additions included grippy Dunlop Direzza trackday tyres, along with an unsilenced exhaust to ensure crowds could hear the WRX STI coming. The latter definitely not because it sounds cool, honest. Finally, the car’s speed limiter was removed, allowing it to top over 160 mph.

2014 Subaru WRX STI IOM Record 01

The result was a lap of 19 minutes 26 seconds, some 30 seconds quicker than his 2011 effort. Across the 37.8 mile circuit, Higgins and the Subaru averaged 116 mph to set a new lap record, up from his previous average of 115.36 mph. For comparison, the outright lap record stands at an average of 131.17 mph (17 minutes 11.7 seconds) set in 2013 by John McGuinness on a Honda CBR1000RR motorbike.

EDIT (1): Mark Higgins made one last run on the TT course today (Friday 6th June 2014), after feeling there was more time to be shaved off his best lap. He was right; taking another 11 seconds off his previous best to record a lap of 19 minutes 15 seconds, giving an average speed of 117.51 mph. (more…)

Subaru cuts £2,500 from price of BRZ – Will anyone buy it now?

Subaru UK leaves EngageSportMode confused at times. Recently we’ve seen them drop the Impreza part of the WRX STI name tag; banish performance cars to concentrate on SUVs; reintroduce said performance cars in an about turn, and decided that what people really want now is an non-turbo hatchback. All whilst still selling this:

2014 Subaru BRZ 001

If you’ve never seen one before – we wouldn’t be surprised – that’s a Subaru BRZ. A highly-regarded rear-wheel drive coupé developed and built in partnership with Toyota – they call it the GT 86; you’ve probably spotted one of them. In fact, at the end of 2013, there was a grand total of 197 BRZs registered in the UK compared to almost 3,000 GT 86s. Hardly big volumes for either model, but that’s a fairly substantial disparity between the two.

2014 Subaru BRZ 003

Given that both share the same 197 bhp 2.0 litre boxer four-cylinder engine, the same 0-62 mph in 7.6 seconds / 140 mph top speed performance and even the same five-year warranty why is nobody buying the Subaru? The fact that there are only 57 Subaru dealerships in the United Kingdom perhaps doesn’t help, especially when there’s three times as many Toyota dealers out there. Realistically, you’ll need to deliberately drive past somewhere selling a GT 86 to get to a BRZ shop.

2014 Subaru BRZ 002

There’s also that question of brand. (more…)

Subaru Impreza coming back to the UK – Just don’t get too excited

Contain yourselves, Subaru UK is bringing the Impreza name back to these shores. But before you get too carried away, that Impreza name is only applied to a single 1.6 RC hatchback model now.

2014 Subaru Impreza RC 001

It’s not much of a looker.

This fourth-generation Impreza has actually been on sale in Japan, the USA and quite a lot of other places, since late 2011. However, only now has Subaru UK made the decision to bring it over here.

2014 Subaru Impreza RC 002

Rear-end is slightly better, if somewhat anonymous

In Great Britain we’ll only be getting one specification of Impreza, and it’s notgoing to set your underpants on fire. Making use of a petrol 1.6 litre flat-four engine, which the press release is at pains to point out as being non-turbocharged, (more…)