Are you a Twitterer? Would you like an opportunity to meet other petrol heads and enjoy some of the best driving roads Wales has to offer? Well read on...
The plan is simple. I'll be spending a weekend driving from Llangollen in North Wales, to Crickhowell in South Wales. I'll be camping on the Saturday night and I'd really like friends and strangers from Twitter to join me.
It's up to you how much of the trip you do. You can join for a day only, or both days and stay at a nearby B&B (I'm happy to provide recommendations). Or you can camp and socialise face-to-face in the evening (no doubt with a bit of tweeting thrown in).
I'm not one for planning things months in advance, plus we're on the downhill to winter (sorry), so how does August 31 to September 1 sound?
The planning's in the early stages, but essentially we'll be meeting in a car park near Llangollen mid-morning on the Saturday and driving a few hundred scenic miles zig-zagging to Tywyn - our destination for Saturday night where there are a number of suitable campsites and B&Bs.
We'll do similar on the Sunday, finishing somewhere near Crickhowell - hopefully not too late so people can get home before dark.
Anyone's welcome - it doesn't matter who you are or what you drive, as long as you're on Twitter and fancy exploring Wales. Depending on how many people join us we may or may not all stick together - I'll dish out clear maps and instructions just in case anyone gets lost.
To sign up, or if you have any questions, drop me a tweet at @TheAndrewBrady
. If you're camping let me know (the campsite will be less than £10 a person) and I'll look into booking the site. It'd be great to see you there!
I have a new dream car. It costs a mere £24,995, isn't as fast as it could be, and is built by the same company that makes the Prius. But it is brilliant and I really, really want one.
If you haven't guessed – or had the surprise ruined by reading the heading – I'm on about the GT86. You probably already have a good idea what it's about – essentially it's a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive coupe developed by Toyota and Subaru (hence its twin, the Subaru BRZ). It's fitted with a 2.0 boxer engine from the Impreza that produces 197 BHP and gets you to 62 mph in 7.7 seconds.
It's a car that has really divided opinion. What Car?
said it didn't live up to the Audi TT on the road
, yet Evo
described it as a complete cracker that restores your faith in cars
complained that it didn't have the power to drift around tight hairpin bends
, but Autocar
reckoned it had the ability to make every roundabout an oversteery joy
After reading reviews like these for over a year, I'd been longing for a go in one. That finally happened yesterday at Millbrook when the good people at Toyota handed me the keys and a map of a fun, local road route.
First impressions were excellent. The seating position makes you feel like you're driving a serious sports car – not £25,000 worth of coupe. Squeezing the accelerator does little to quell your excitement, this thing sounds raspy and brilliant.
Now, if I may, I'd like to tackle the issue of how fast it is. If, like a lot of the motoring journalists who've criticised the GT86, you're more used to supercars worth several times the price, yes it's going to feel a little slow. And no, it's not the torquiest engine, but if you're scared of the redline can I suggest a diesel? If you're willing to work the gears (and you will be, the gearbox is lovely), you can make some serious progress in the GT86.
Joining a dual carriageway I out-dragged the fastest car on British roads – a diesel Audi. He was trying too, bless him, but he didn't stand a chance. Do you need more proof that the GT86 is fast enough? Its sixth gear means it's a competent cruiser too – I would happily have carried on driving along the dual carriageway at fairly legal speeds and arrived at my destination without too many aches and pains.
Fortunately I didn't though. I came off the dual carriageway and hit the B-roads, where most magazines agree the GT86 excels. And you know what, it really does. Going around corners made me giggle, while slower traffic was overtaken with ease.
If you hadn't worked it out by now, I really like the GT86. It's an absolute bargain and is perfect for someone who wants a car to be fun at speeds that won't cost you your licence. I won't ruin the review by talking about the size of the boot (I didn't look, I was having too much fun, but apparently it's not great), or about fuel consumption figures. All I will say is, if you've got a spare £25,000 and want fun, this is it. Buy one, and then let me borrow it.
If there's a car currently being sold that could comfortably sport a Whirlpool badge, the Mitsubishi Mirage would be it. The Mirage is Mitsubishi's A-segment city car, built to a price and with low emissions and excellent fuel economy in mind.
And for that – it doesn't do a bad job. It weighs next to nothing at 845kg and is packed full of features to keep emissions below that 100g/km benchmark (meaning free road tax and congestion charge exemption). These include stop/start and skinny low-friction tyres. It also has a basic eco-drive assist display that shows up to three bars depending on how heavy you're being with your right foot.
Around town it's hard to beat. It's got an excellent turning circle and the top-of-the-range Mirage 3 I tested comes with front and rear parking sensors as standard. Out of town however, things aren't as pleasant. For the occasional motorway use it's fairly competent – the 1.2 engine fitted to all but the base model is fine for getting the car up to speed, although it can be a little unrefined as you get higher up the rev range. Wind noise is also evident and on the motorway it gets blown around a fair bit. Driving in the rain can be a little unsettling, presumably because of a mixture of skinny, low rolling resistance tyres aimed at improving fuel consumption and minimising emissions, combined with a chassis designed to be comfortable around town.
On twisty roads it's obviously not meant to be a Lotus Elise, however it rolls a lot and the steering is extremely vague. Although the Hyundai i20 I reviewed
a few weeks ago wasn't entertaining to drive, it felt very safe and easy to place in comparison to the Mirage.
Over 264 miles on a mixture of motorways, A-roads and inner-city London I averaged 43.88 mpg – considerably lower than the official figure of 65.7. Autocar did a similar test and averaged 46.9, but raised the point that their Mirage, like mine, hadn't done many miles so would perhaps loosen up after a while.
The interior is comfortable enough for short journeys, in the front at least. I took my ultra-critical parents for a short drive in it and my father, sat in the back, complained that he could feel every bump. It does have a tendency to get unsettled easily on bumpy roads. For a city car rear leg and head room is good and the boot swallows a decent amount of luggage.
If all you're after is a household appliance then I can see why you'd consider the Mirage, especially at its starting price of £7,999 (including a launch offer of £1,000 off). The biggest issue is the competition - the Mirage 3 I tested costs £11,999, which buys a very highly-specced car from the Up trio which does the city car thing a lot better. One of the few things the Mirage has got going for it is Mitsubishi's reputation for reliability (and an unlimited mileage warranty), but my test car unfortunately was taken away on a recovery truck when it got stuck in first gear after 900 miles. Only time will tell if this was a one off.
Mitsubishi Mirage 3 1.2
Recommended retail price: £11,999
Top speed: 112 mph
0-62 mph: 11.3 secs
Official combined fuel consumption: 65.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 100 g/km
Insurance group: 18
Road tax: Band A - £0/year
Servicing: 12,500 miles
Warranty: Three years/unlimited miles
I liked: Ideal city car, comfortable and looks good.
I didn’t like: Unrefined and handling scary at times. Expensive. Are reliability issues a one-off?
Stirling Moss once said, “There are two things no man will admit he cannot do well: drive and make love”. Now, I'm a 21-year-old bloke. This means, naturally, I really am a very good driver. Not only can I beat everyone away from the lights, I can also multitask by texting my friends while changing the music and rolling a spliff – all while looking out for nuisance speed cameras which are likely to land me a hefty fine.
OK, most of that is an exaggeration, but one in three people who die on our roads is aged under 25. The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has decided that people in this age group are exactly the sort who should be given some extra training to become safer drivers. For £40 young drivers can take part in Momentum, which incorporates an online test that gets an idea of their attitude to driving and gives the IAM an idea of where they need practice. Once they've done this, they will spend an hour out with one of their examiners who will assess their driving and give them a few pointers. Simple. But is it actually worthwhile? There's only one way to find out.The online assessment
Not a good start. The online assessment seems to be a way of the IAM trying to be cool and making judgements about your driving based on questions like, 'what's your dream car?' and 'what music do you listen to when you drive?'. I answer with 'Land Rover Defender' and a song that a beardy IAM instructor will never have heard of. I don't want them to realise that I'm a proper boy racer just yet.The drive
The day of the drive arrives and the lay-by I'd arranged to meet the examiner in is full, so it's a pitstop style manoeuvre as he jumps in. He checks my documents and questions why I'm doing this. “Er, it's because I'm a boy racer and I don't want to die.” Shit, I've been too honest. Now I'm going to have to drive like a nun so he isn't too judgemental.
I set off down the road following his directions and trying to drive naturally. Apart from worrying every time he scribbles something down on his clipboard it's going OK. He directs me down a cul-de-sac and asks me to do a left-hand reverse. It's like learning to drive again! After a while we pull over and he discusses his obsessions so far. First of all, speed. “You have a tendency to sit at 5 mph above the speed limit.” I resist the temptation to argue against this one. I know my speedo (like most others) is around 5 mph out, so I tend to take this into account.
But anyway, he's not finished. “Your steering is like a racing driver. That's fine on track but what happens when your airbag goes off?” OK, fair enough, my steering is sloppy. Like most people I ditched the push-pull method as soon as I passed my driving test and have adopted a strange, but comfortable, way of steering. He also mentions the IAM way of negotiating bends using the vanishing point technique. This is something which I will try and incorporate into my driving – it's worth looking up as it makes sense in most situations.
After a brief telling off, sorry, discussion, we carry on. My instructor, Jonathan, starts to open up a bit. He's a petrolhead himself – with Jaguar E-Types, an Aston Martin DB5 and an Audi R8 on his list of past cars. He's now running a diesel however, as fuel economy is more important than top speed. Apparently.
I do a bit of rural driving before heading into Leicester city centre to try an urban environment. He gives some good tips about spotting hazards. I feel very conscious as I sit at an indicated 30mph with a queue of cars building up behind me. He also reminds me of the two second rule – although I try not to make a habit of tailgating apparently I now seem to have ditched the two second rule in favour of the half a second rule. Oops.
Before long my hour of driving is over. We pull over to discuss what I do well, and what needs work. Although initially mentioning all my bad points Jonathan's keen to highlight the positives. “You've clearly got a lot of experience and you're not lacking confidence. You're a safe driver – I feel perfectly comfortable being driven by you.” From an ex-police driving instructor, I'll take that. Although I don't agree with everything he's pointed out I'll take it on-board. I took the criticism better than I expected and it's a very worthwhile experience to have an outsider's view of your driving. It's amazing how many bad habits you can pick up over a few years. If you're interested in advanced driving visit www.iam.org.uk
A few years ago a Hyundai would have passed me by without a second glance. Hyundais of the past were cheap but they were anything but cheerful. Recently, however, a revolution has happened and Hyundai's current range is not only excellent value for money – it's also desirable. They look cool and are as well made as their rivals and to prove this, Hyundai's even offering five years warranty on all its new vehicles.
The i20 I'm testing is the mid-range Active model fitted with the most popular engine choice – the 1.2 petrol. Although it's not packed with clever features, ours comes with bluetooth, electric folding mirrors and steering wheel audio controls as standard. If you want luxuries such as automatic headlights and a reversing camera opt for the top-of-the-range Style from £12,345.
From the outside it's a very handsome little car, its facelift front lights replacing the gawping lights of the pre-facelift model, suggesting that Hyundai means business against its rivals such as the Vauxhall Corsa or Ford Fiesta. The interior is a little disappointing – some of the plastics feel cheap (the gear knob looks like it was bought from Halfords) and the seats are a little on the firm side. However, it is spacious with plenty of room for four adults and the boot is huge compared to others in its class.
To drive, the i20 isn't entertaining, but it isn't meant to be. It's a safe drive, the suspension absorbing bumps well and the performance is more than adequate. During my time with the i20 it displays an average of around high 40s mpg on the computer. Like with the Swift I reviewed recently, I'm spending a lot of time with the i20 sat at motorway speeds – where the revs are a little higher than ideal at 70mph meaning the engine is working hard and guzzling more fuel than it would pootling along A-roads at 50 mph, which is how a lot of these spend their time. There are other engines available – 1.4 petrol and diesel units as well as a 1.1 diesel, however I've been impressed with the 1.2 and I'm not convinced it'd be worth splashing out for a more powerful or efficient engine.
Around town the i20 excels. Its light steering and clutch combined with a small turning circle makes it a doddle to manoeuvre and visibility is good. Unlike a lot of cars in its class, the i20 is easy to judge when parking as there are no large overhangs and massive blind spots.
If you're after a sporty little hatchback with the badge of a marque that will impress your friends, the i20 is not for you. However if practicality, reliability and value for money are what you're after, combined with a conservative but handsome image, it's worth considering an i20.
Hyundai i20 1.2 Active
Recommended retail price: £11,595
Top speed: 104 mph
0-62 mph: 12.7 secs
Official combined fuel consumption: 57.6 mpg
CO2 emissions: 114 g/km
Insurance group: 5
Road tax: Band C - £30/year
Servicing: 12 months/10,000 miles
Warranty: Five years/unlimited miles
I liked: Practical, good value for money and excellent warranty.
I didn’t like: Not very exciting. Interior feels a little cheap.
It's roughly thirty years ago now that the hot hatch craze hit Britain. The idea of a run-of-the-mill shopping trolley, such as the Volkswagen Golf or Peugeot 205, being equipped with an engine more powerful than the chassis could really cope with, grabbed the imagination of young drivers and the boy racer phenomenon was born. These days hot hatches are extraordinary – with the likes of the Focus RS and Renaultsport Megane comfortably exceeding 200bhp. One hot hatch that I think is a bit more back-to-basics is the Suzuki Swift Sport which, at about half of the price of the big boys, achieves a modest 134bhp from its feisty 1.6 engine yet provides plenty of smiles per gallon.
However, Britain's feeling the pinch, and most young drivers can but dream of affording to run even the Swift Sport. Gone are the days when a 17-year-old could razz around in a 205 GTI, nowadays driving anything is a privilege and many of us, while wanting the good looks of something like the Swift Sport, are happy to sacrifice performance for a few more miles to the gallon and a bit cut off the ridiculous four-figure insurance premium.
Suzuki has the answer in the form of the Swift SZ-L. It's a special edition based on the mid-range SZ3 - that means you get a 1.2-litre unit with low emissions of 116g/km CO2, resulting in road tax of just £30 a year, and a claimed 56.3 miles to the gallon. But you also get some nice features nicked from its sporty counterpart, such as a rear spoiler, privacy glass and red stitching on the steering wheel and gearshift surround. I'm a massive fan of the red stitching and wish it was more common on all cars – it can make the must mundane interior look interesting. I wouldn't class the Swift's interior as mundane, however. It's a comfortable place to sit and it feels fairly well built, however a few interior features, such as the handbrake, feel a little flimsy. It's not the most practical either – the boot is small compared to rivals and its massive lip makes transporting bulky objects a chore. The back is lacking legroom and, with small rear windows, it's not the nicest place for an adult to pass time. However, for young drivers with nothing but themselves and a few mates to carry, the Swift is more than adequate.
The question is, is fitting a 1.2 to a sporty hatchback like this a sacrifice too far? I decide to take the SZ-L for a swift (sorry) tour of North Yorkshire to find out. At first I find the engine disappointing. It seems to seriously lack grunt and doesn't seem as nippy as its rivals. However, after a few days, it's growing on me. It needs working hard – you get used to dropping down a gear on even the slightest bend or incline and you feel a real sense of pride after successfully completing an overtake. A one-in-three hill on a single track road has me dropping to first and considering asking passengers to get out to help the Swift to reach the top but we make it eventually. And what the Swift lacks in power it makes up for in handling.
Any driver can drive a fast car, slowing down for a poorly anticipated hazard and then accelerating hard to get back up to speed, but a few days in the 1.2 Swift, with its 0-60 time of 11.9 seconds, can teach you a lot about keeping momentum. Fortunately it handles marvellously – keeping body roll to a minimum and only hinting at understeer if you enter a bend at a horrendously optimistic pace, in which case it’s easy to control. This allows you to keep speed up well so you don't have to hold traffic up accelerating back up to the speed limit on straight stretches of road. The feedback through the steering wheel is also good, although it can feel a bit artificial at times, especially when it noticeably becomes heavier when you increase your speed. When I hit a patch of mud and nearly end up in a farmhouse, the steering feedback means I know exactly what the wheels are doing and I manage to control the resulting slide. Which is nice.
On the motorway – once up to speed – the Swift is a capable cruiser. You feel perfectly safe in it thanks to its seven airbags and stability control as standard, which meant it scored a top five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests. The cruise control, fitted as standard on this model, allows your right foot a chance to relax and the seats are very supportive. On the first day of my Yorkshire trip I covered over 400 miles and happily jumped into the Swift early the next morning for another motorway journey. However, the Swift sits at 70 mph at about 3,500 revs meaning that engine noise is noticeable and long motorway journeys don't help fuel economy. Over one tank I averaged a disappointing 40.7 mpg. Admittedly, as well as motorway, some of these miles were spent working the Swift hard on challenging North Yorkshire country lanes but that's a long way from Suzuki’s official figure. Honest John
managed an average real world mpg of 50.4 showing perhaps how hard the Swift had to work in these conditions.
However, this is not the Swift's natural territory, which is why I decided to head into York city centre to explore the cobbled streets and stop/start traffic. For this the Swift is very good, squeezing down narrow streets like a pro (although the large door mirrors, while being great on the motorway, make me a little nervous). As I park up on a cobbled street with the impressive York Minster in the background, I can’t help but be impressed at how good the Swift looks. It's a really cool little car and, in the white of our test car, it gets more than one envious glance, despite being caked thick in Yorkshire dirt.
Ultimately the Swift is never going to be the most practical choice. If, however, carrying a bootful of shopping and a car ful of passengers isn’t high on your wish list, it’s definitely worth considering. Personally, although I wasn’t expected hot hatch levels of performance, I can’t help but feel it’d be perfect with just a touch more power. If it did it'd sit comfortably at slightly lower revs on the motorway increasing fuel economy and comfort, and you wouldn’t have to work the gearbox quite as hard to keep the speed up. But for people who want something cheap to insure and tax while being a fun car to own and drive, I would highly recommend the Swift SZ-L.
Suzuki Swift SZ-L 1.2 3 door
Recommended retail price: £12,719
Current offer price: £10,599 (until 31/03/13)
Top speed: 103 mph
0-62 mph: 12.3 secs
Official combined fuel consumption: 56.5 mpg
Average fuel consumption during test: 40.7 mpg (over 320 miles including motorway and through North Yorkshire)
CO2 emissions: 116 g/km
Insurance group: 11E
Road tax: Band C - £30/year
Servicing: 12 months/10,000 miles
Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles
I liked: Impressive handling, cool image, good interior.
I didn’t like: Lacking power and not the most practical hatchback.
Have you seen the episode of the Inbetweeners when Simon drives his friends into central London in his iconic yellow Cinquecento? He swaps his shoes with a tramp, gets his car clamped and ends up making a phone call to his dad along the lines of, “first of all, I want you to know it wasn't my fault”. Well, this is exactly the episode I have in mind as I point a borrowed yellow Seat Mii towards the middle of London on a night-time drive to see the sights – complete with a couple of friends equipped with cameras. Only my passengers are under strict instructions not to shout obscenities out of the window.
If you're not familiar with the Seat Mii, it's Seat's new city car that shares a platform with the Volkswagen Up and Skoda Citigo. They're all built in the same factory in Bratislava and are essentially the same car with minor tweaks to the design of each. The Mii I've borrowed is the top-of-the-range Sport model which comes with the more powerful 74bhp engine as well as a lowered suspension and tinted rear windows. It's also crammed with options including the Vibora Negra pack (£1,740 as fitted to this car) which includes the black 15” alloys, viper stripes, side decals, a chequered dashboard, side skirts, spoiler, black mirror caps and a black gear knob. There's also the convenience pack fitted (£310) which includes cruise control, trip computer and rear parking sensors; safety assist (£200) which, when driving in slow stop/start traffic, detects if the car in front has stopped and prevents you crashing into it; and the Seat portable system (£275), Seat's clever sat nav system that includes bluetooth phone connection and a fancy trip computer.
Now, on to the journey. The plan is simple – we're going to wait until it's evening (so we don't have to pay the congestion charge), and head into the big city from our hotel on the outskirts of Crawley. But first we have to get there from our base in Leicester, which involves a motorway journey down the M1 and a stint on the M25. A few years ago you wouldn't have dreamt about doing such a journey in a small city car such as the Arosa. Just going on the motorway in one of those was a scary prospect. But the Mii I'm driving is a surprisingly efficient motorway cruiser. As I join the M1 the Mii feels perfectly adequate and I soon arrive at a comfortable pace, turn the cruise control on and let the miles pass by. Even the M25 isn't a problem for the little Mii and before we know it we've arrived at our hotel.
After a few hours of looking over maps and a pub meal to prepare us for the evening’s road trip, three of us jump into the Mii, select a playlist for the journey and enter the postcode for Buckingham Palace into the sat nav. The portable system is a Navigon unit that can also act as a trip computer, a screen for the CD player and even a rev counter, if that takes your fancy. Initially the sat nav feels counter-intuitive, however you soon get used to it and the lane guidance feature makes it very clear where you're heading at complicated junctions. However, using the Mii on routes I know well, it sometimes suggests strange routes that neither I, my Tomtom, or Google Maps would consider.
But for now we decide to blindly follow the sat nav as it receives traffic updates and directs us through small suburban roads to avoid jams in areas like Croydon. Before we know it we're driving along the side of Buckingham Palace. I wonder what Her Majesty would think of our little yellow Mii with black racing stripes if she's looking out of the window. That's our first destination ticked off, where next? We decide to tootle up Birdcage Walk before dropping off photographer Adam and passenger Martin at Parliament Square so I can do a few laps while photos are taken. Photographers are a picky breed and aren't happy with a quick snap, which means in the end I do about half a dozen laps of Parliament Square, each time increasing in speed and enjoying the buzzy nature of the BumbleMii (as I've christened it). The extremely light steering makes the Mii a pleasure to drive in town but there's very little feedback through the wheel. Although I was being fairly sensible during my laps of Parliament Square, I was going fast enough to expect the steering to increase in weight as the tyres were loaded up, and perhaps even to go light as I lifted off mid corner, but I hadn't got a clue what the wheels were doing as the electric power steering gave zero feedback. While it sounds odd that you'd drive a car to its limits of grip in the middle of London, the Mii is such a fun little car it begs to be chucked about even at almost pedestrian speeds. However, while I can understand that Mii buyers won't be after excellent driving dynamics, it'd be easy to get too cocky and stick the Mii in a hedge (or the Houses of Parliament) if there's little warning when you're pushing on.
I'm sure normally the sight of a little yellow car with viper stripes doing laps of Parliament Square and trying to coax lift-off oversteer would get the attention of the many rozzers in the area, but I'm not alone. I'm following a Subaru Samba – a nasty Japanese VW camper van replica, driven by an elderly man who's kicked his wife out to get some photos of it driving past the Houses of Parliament. The sports suspension fitted to this model of the Mii means there's very little body roll, so pretty soon I'm able to lap the nasty camper van creation. Soon however red lights spoil the fun and my passengers jump back in, so we can go for another explore.
We head for the Thames and the impressive sight of the London Eye comes into view. I point the Mii at it and find myself down some little roads that make for some perfect photo opportunities. I pull up behind the Eye and two young, female European tourists stop taking photos of it, turn around and take photos of the Mii, exclaiming that it's 'cute'. Unfortunately we can't stop and chat for long – we've got plenty more of London to see and it's already fast approaching 10pm.
We drive back across the river, swing a right and head up the Embankment, before taking a left to head towards Trafalger Square. Not the fastest route but we're enjoying seeing the sights and trying to confuse the sat nav. Trafalger Square is fairly snarled up but the Mii comes into its own, squeezing between buses and picking out a route. We decide to head towards Kensington to see if we can find any supercars who wouldn't mind us hanging around with them. We drive past the Dorchester and head down Park Lane towards Harrods, prime supercar territory, but are disappointed. In a final attempt to stumble across some rich Arabs we take a left and follow the road to the rear of Harrods. It's a strange moment – this little road is unusually quiet for the middle of London and, while there are no billionaire boy racers cruising around, there are a mixture of Ferraris, Porsches and Range Rovers parked up. We stop for a photo at the entrance to Harrods where a security guard appears out of the blue, having watched us on CCTV and wondered what three blokes in a little yellow car are doing loitering outside Harrods at nearly midnight.
We didn't come to London for peace and quiet so we pile back into the Mii and head towards Piccadilly Circus. We can almost see the bright lights when we hit major traffic and a convoy of police and ambulances rush past us. It turns out a tourist has been run over by a taxi, making Piccadilly Circus even more hectic than usual. The Mii copes admirably – again darting in and out of traffic and avoiding being crushed between buses. Although I'm loving the experience my passengers are getting tired and, as we've ticked off all the main tourist attractions, we tell the sat nav to take us to a road we'd read about online – a little cul-de-sac in Canary Wharf that promises excellent views.
Again we head back up the Embankment and soon hit more traffic. Being stuck in a jam late at night is a bizarre experience for someone not used to London. I'm also a little impatient so, when a car in front turns up a little cobbled road that looks like a short cut, I decide to follow it, as does the minibus behind me. We're all a little peeved when it turns out to be a dead end but, while the minibus has no option but to reverse back out onto the main road, I manage to turn the Mii in the smallest of spaces thanks to its rear parking sensors and tiny turning circle.
Eventually we arrive at our destination. As we pull into the street we can't work out what's so special about it. I start doing a three-point-turn at the end of the road when the most stunning view of Canary Wharf comes into view.
“Oh, so that's what's so special.”
Even my passengers who've been longing to go home and to get some sleep for a while now jump eagerly out of the car to take in the impressive sight.
After taking a few snaps we go for a cruise through Canary Wharf. It's a complete contrast to central London. Being a business area we're the only people about this late at night. The Mii looks tiny as it glides past some of the tallest skyscrapers in the UK, with the noise of the three-cylinder engine punching above its weight and thrumming off the walls (seriously!). While at low revs it sounds a bit clattery, as soon as it approaches the redline the little Mii takes off and sounds fantastic. Of course, doing this regularly might be partly to blame for not achieving the claimed fuel consumption.
It's now very late indeed so my passengers decide it's time to head back to the hotel. The sat nav takes us out towards Dartford where we join the M25 which, even at night, is unforgiving thanks to miles and miles of roadworks and 50mph limits. I put the cruise control on, wind the window down, turn the music up and enjoy the drive home as best as I can while my two passengers snore away.
So what did this trip teach me about the Mii? Well, as you'd expect, it's the perfect city car. It feels confident and nippy and a pleasure to slot through London's traffic jams. But also, it's more than capable on the motorway. It's surprising how many lane hoggers move over when they see the yellow Mii gaining on them or sitting on their tail like an angry bumble bee. It feels a lot bigger than it is. After our trip to London I headed home to Leicester via the South Downs, Wales and Shropshire and having covered over 800 miles in a couple of days, I felt I could get in it and do the same journey again. That'd be impressive in a luxury car – but in a city car like this, it's amazing.
I've already talked about the steering being too light and the sat nav being irritating. At first I didn't understand why someone would opt for the Sport model - what's the point of a firm suspension on a city car? But over our trip it grew on me – it's not overly harsh and if I was buying a Mii I'd be disappointed with less power. Although the boy racer in me loved the viper stripes I think very few people will pay the full price for the Vibora Negra pack, although you can opt for the bits of it you want without paying the not inconsiderate sum for the full pack.
Seat Mii 5dr Sport 1.0 75PSRecommended retail price:
£10,430Price as tested:
106 mph0-62 mph:
13.2 secsOfficial combined fuel consumption:
60.1 mpgAverage fuel consumption during test
: 45.5 mpg (over 292 miles including motorway and driving through central London)CO2 emissions:
108 g/kmInsurance group:
Band B - £0 first year rate, £20/year thereafterServicing:
12 months/10,000 milesWarranty:
Three years/60,000 milesI liked:
An excellent city car that’s also good at eating up the miles.I didn’t like:
The irritating sat nav, expensive options and over-assisted steering.Thanks to Adam Rosenberg for the photos - visit his Flickr here.
I'm a firm believer that you don't have to spend big bucks to have fun in a car. In fact, cars can be more fun if you haven't spent silly amounts of money on them. Over the last few days I've been making the most of the snow by grabbing any opportunity to find an empty car park and enjoy losing grip in my old Focus. While I'm sure skillfully sliding £50,000 worth of rear-wheel-drive sports car around a car park would make you giggle like a schoolgirl, you'd be very worried about sliding gracefully into a bollard or kerb.
So, while this post isn't necessarily about having fun in the snow, I thought I'd gather together five cars you can pick up for around £1500 for pure and simple motoring pleasure. Sticking to the theme of fun on a budget - none are particularly expensive to insure or will break the bank when it comes to MOT time.Ford Puma
Pumas are dirt cheap at the moment, with a great deal of choice at half our set budget. The issue's finding one without crusty rear arches. I set my Twitter followers a challenge earlier today of finding me one without bubbling arches (it's harder than you'd think) and @callummaclean91
suggested this tidy looking 1.7 for £800
. While there are cheaper ones out there it's worth paying an extra few quid for one that's been looked after, and this one's got low mileage and plenty of MOT.
1.7s like this one have the fun factor by the bucket load. Based on the Fiesta but fitted with a 125 bhp Zetec S engine the Puma will provide many smiles per mile without costing a fortune, achieving 38 mpg (if you resist the temptation to drive it like a go kart).
As with all cars at this price it's a good idea to check the history - making sure the cam belt has been changed every five years or 80,000 miles. Personally I don't think full service history is essential on cars this cheap, but check the oil and if the tyres are showing uneven tyre wear it could be a sign of expensive suspension problems.
If you're willing to ignore the hairdresser jibes, it's impossible to have more fun on a budget than a Mazda MX-5. What's not to like about a rear-wheel-drive two-seater convertible combined with Japanese reliability?
This is the perfect time of year to buy one with plenty of choice of UK spec facelift 1.8s available for our budget. Although this one
is over our budget (I couldn't resist), everything about it seems so right and, if you turned up at the garage on a snowy day like today with £1500 cash, I don't think you'd be laughed away.
Suzuki Ignis Sport
Introduced in 2003 as a way of entering Suzuki into the Junior World Rally Championship, the 1.5 Ignis is the ideal back-to-basics B-road tool.
They're far from perfect but they're cheap and fun, which is good enough for me. Admittedly finding one for less than £1500 isn't easy but there are a few out there.
I'd stretch the budget by a mere £95 and go for this one
. The silver paint tones down the body kit and is less in your face than some of the garish red or yellow ones out there.
MG ZS 180
Yes, they're a little chavvy and some people wouldn't touch an MG with a bargepole, but the idea of what is essentially a Rover 45 with a stiffer suspension, a bodykit and a 2.5 KV6 engine appeals to me.
There are plenty around within our budget - I've even seen a few at less than £600 recently. I'd get the best that you could afford and try to avoid any that may have been thrashed (nasty modifications such as Lexus lights are a good indication of a boy racer owner).
I prefer the saloon to the hatchback (the boot is massive), and British Racing Green is essential in my view, which is why I'd go for this one
- not to mention the low mileage and long MOT.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
My list wouldn't be complete without at least one cheap 4x4 for exploring the unsurfaced rights of way that the UK has to offer. While I was tempted to suggest an old Freelander (I had one and loved it), realistically a Grand Vitara is a much better option.
I'd be after a three-door with the 1.6 petrol engine - it won't be fast but it's not a bad little engine and the safest bet at our price range. This one
would do nicely.
What would you go for?
The chances are we'd all spend £1500 in different ways. I like reliable cars which is why my list sways away from classics and has more than its fair share of Japanese metal. What would you buy? Comment below or tweet me @TheAndrewBrady
. Here's what people on Twitter are saying:
Currently I drive a 2003 Ford Focus 1.6 Ghia. It's an excellent car for what I want, but I hate it. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just really bloody boring. Every time I look at it I fall asleep a little.
I've been contemplating replacing it for about nine months now (I've owned it for just over a year). As a student I need to be sensible - I'd love an old Jaguar but the running costs would cripple me. To justify swapping the reliable and efficient Focus, I need something equally reliable and efficient. Just reliable and efficient in an interesting way.
So naturally, I started looking at old Rovers. Stop rolling on the floor laughing. I stumbled across a 2003 45 Impression S 2.0 diesel at a local garage. The Impression S bit means it comes with lovely leather seats that make it a really nice place to sit, while the 2.0 L-Series is known to be bulletproof. I had the same engine in my Freelander and it was great. I've also heard reports of it returning 60 mpg in the 45 (downhill with the wind behind you and a little internet forum exaggeration thrown in for good measure, possibly) - but it should definitely be more efficient than my Focus.
To cut to the chase - I test drove it and the clutch was on its way out. It also had zero history and nothing more than the word of the previous owner that the cam belt had been changed. The seller was also adamant that supply for these is strong so wouldn't budge on price, and he offered £750 for my Focus, which was disappointing.
I'm not one to be put off easily so sat in their car park and did a search on AutoTrader for other 45s for sale locally. There was a 2005 that sounded perfect, apart from the 1.6 K-series engine. Everything else about it was great (ok, it didn't have leather either, which I REALLY wanted), but I glossed over these minor issues and went for a look anyway.
On the plus side, the 45 had an even smaller mileage than advertised and looked absolutely gorgeous thanks to its bluey purple paintwork and facelifted exterior. It was also cheaper than advertised online, showing £1000 in the window. If you follow the prices of these, you'll know £1000 for a facelifted 45 with FSH and mileage that suggests a lifetime spent inside a garage is a bit of a bargain.
You know what they say about being too good to be true? Yeah, that. We opened the bonnet, and yeah, sludge in the expansion tank. Not to be deterred - a failed head gasket is the norm when looking at second hand K-series Rovers - I asked for a test drive.
"Certainly sir. OIIIII, DAZ, GET OFF YOUR F**KING ARSE AND GET THIS CAR OUT FOR THIS CUSTOMER."
Young Darren tried his best to get it out but a flat battery and a Honda Civic parked in front of it meant it wasn't going to happen. A few minutes later the car was jump started and I was turning on to the dual carriageway on a test drive. Yes - turning on to a dual carriageway, in thick fog, in a Rover with head gasket failure so no heat going to the steamed up windows.
What followed was the scariest test drive of my life, which I won't go into for legal reasons. The nice chap offered me £700 for my Focus (although I think he'd have been open to the idea of a swap, if I'd been naive enough - he knew the 45 was borked).
When I got back I returned to the office (well, portakabin) to give the keys back and tell them "thanks, but no thanks". I was told to sit down and look through the paperwork while they argued with a poor Eastern European couple who were trying to buy a car from them. "No, you can't pay a deposit now and collect the car next week, we need the cash payment and the £50 admin fee NOW!"
I hate buying secondhand cars. I suddenly appreciate my Focus a lot more now.
2012 will be remembered for me as the year I was lucky enough to win the Sir William Lyons Award.
For those who don't know, Sir William Lyons was the founder of Jaguar. He set the award up with the Guild of Motoring Writers in 1966 as an attempt to encourage young people to write about the automotive industry.
I was delighted to have been shortlisted and invited for an interview with a panel of experts at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, London. I returned a month later to receive the award at the annual Guild dinner.
To enter the award, I wrote the following pieces:
An overview of Jaguar design director, Ian Callum
Jaguar has come a long way over the last five years. Since the sale of Jaguar to Tata, the brand has returned to the cool British brand it was in the days of the E-Type. And a lot of this can be attributed to Jaguar's design director, Ian Callum. Callum is responsible for the design of the entire current Jaguar range, including the stunning F-Type – the first picture of which has been leaked this week ahead of its Paris motor show debut.
He was once quoted as saying: "Jaguars should be perceived as cool cars and cool cars attract interesting, edgy people."
Five years ago Jaguar was perceived as anything but cool. The brand did nothing to attract interesting, edgy people – instead it attracted elderly people who wore flat caps and lived in suburbia.
This was thanks to disappointing cars such as the S and X-Types – two cars which lacked the handsome looks of Jaguars of old and weren't helped by a poor reputation for reliability. Neither car stole customers from German brands like Jaguar hoped.
Callum joined Jaguar in 2000 – a job he'd dreamed of since a young boy. At the age of 14 he'd lusted over an XJ6 in a showroom and decided that one day he wanted to design Jaguars.
While Callum had input in the 2004 facelifted S-Type and the 2004 X-Type estate, it was the later generation of Jaguars that Callum really made his mark.
The new XK was launched in 2006 and shocked the world with its striking looks. Its critics complained that it looked too much like an Aston Martin, something that could not be said of Jaguars of the last decade.
The following year, the C-XF was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show. This was the concept car that gave the first hint of what the S-Type's replacement would look like.
At the time Callum told the press: “Great Jaguars turn heads in the street. They make people stop and pay attention. They evoke instant desire. That's what the C-XF does and that's what the next generation of Jaguars will do."
When the production XF was unveiled later that year at Frankfurt, the design proved controversial. The chrome mesh grill harked back to Jaguars of old while the rest of the car looked like nothing ever seen with a Jaguar badge before. But it soon became a success, winning awards and being loved by the general public and motoring journalists alike.
Two years later the new XJ arrived to a similar reception. The shape of the XJ had hardly changed over the last 40 years and while the mechanics of the latest XJ were based on the previous model, Callum's design was completely different to any XJ seen before.
And that's what Callum does best. His designs are controversial and new, completely different to Jaguars of the past but stunning to look at. That's what appeals to interesting, edgy people who now buy Jaguars. Callum has saved Jaguar.
What gives a car or bike 'iconic' status?
The Land Rover Defender is one of the most iconic cars money can buy. Park a 2012 Defender next to a 1948 Series One and you will be able to see clear similarities. Yes, the current Defender might be fitted with the most eco-friendly engine ever fitted to a Defender, and back in 2007 it lost its legendary front flaps (Defender style air con) but, even with luxuries such as heated seats, it's still the same old, iconic Defender.
It's a bit of a motoring cliché to describe the Defender as iconic. But how is it iconic? Is it because it's an old design lacking in modern safety features such as crumple zones and airbags, in which case surely iconic is a bad thing?
Tim West from Middlesbrough is a die-hard Land Rover fan who will argue until his death that his Defender is an example of one of the most iconic vehicles ever produced. He told me: “It is a direct derivative of the original Series One. Just the shape alone is iconic. Show a silhouette of a Defender to anyone who has even the smallest knowledge of cars and they will tell you it's a Land Rover. It is a symbol of ruggedness, of the ability to achieve the otherwise impossible. It defines the brand that is Land Rover.”
But even Tim admits it has its downfalls: “It is also symbolic of dismay, frustration, expense and unreliability. But we'll forget about those ones.”
Another 'iconic' British vehicle is the Morgan. The first Morgans were introduced in 1909 as a cheap way of getting from A to B over the Malvern Hills. Admittedly they're a bit different to Land Rovers in that they're built to go on twisty roads through mountains rather than over them, but they've both got a strong fan base around the world and have inherited iconic status.
It would seem that liking old English designs is a terribly British thing to do. One Dutch review of the Morgan 3 Wheeler stated: “The English people are crazy. They are terribly behind, and proud of that.”
It's hard to disagree with this statement. Compare the Morgan to European sports cars, or the Defender to European 4x4s, and on everything – safety equipment, performance figures, fuel efficiency, standard equipment – the British rivals are way behind. Does this mean that, frankly, cars have to be a bit pants to be iconic?
All the iconic cars on the roads – the Defender, every Morgan ever built, the Reliant Robin, the Mini, the 2cv, the Austin Allegro – are a bit crap.
Of course, some people would argue that there are exceptions. As a Land Rover enthusiast the Range Rover springs to mind for me. The original sparked the SUV rage and the latest one is brilliant. Loved by lottery winners and football players alike, there's obviously something about the Range Rover that makes it stand out against its rivals.
But, compared to its rivals, technically it's a bit rubbish. They're known for being a bit unreliable, which should be unforgivable on a car that can cost several times what most of us earn in a year, but they sell well because they have an image which portrays them as a little bit more special than the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes ML and the like. Park a Range Rover of any age on your drive and the neighbours will think you've made it. Sure, an X5 will impress them, but not quite the same as the iconic Range Rover.
American writer Augusten Burroughs in his memoir, Magical Thinking, wrote: “I like flaws and feel more comfortable around people who have them. I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” I think this hits the nail on the head about why cars which are a bit rubbish are loved by so many and earn iconic status. It's said that cars reflect our personality.
Defender drivers tend to be the outdoor type who can be a bit hot headed and don't particularly care about their appearance. Yes, it's a massive stereotype, but in my experience it's true. Morgan drivers are often a bit eccentric – they hark back to the old days and complain that 'things aren't made like they used to be'. Their cars reflect this. People aren't perfect so they like cars that aren't either.
These flaws in iconic cars are often what people describe as character. A friend of mine drives a classic Mini – one of the most iconic cars ever produced – and if he accelerates hard or brakes heavily he can feel the engine try to escape from the car. He describes this as 'character'.
In which case, does character make a car iconic? In my opinion, possibly. Bland cars that are absolutely perfect but lack character never make iconic status. Can you remember the Mitsubishi Carisma from the mid 90s? It was a reliable, sensible family car but it was one of the most boring cars ever produced. Because of this, most people have now forgotten about it and it certainly isn't iconic.
The Carisma's rival, the Ford Mondeo, on the other hand, probably could be described as iconic. No, it's no Land Rover, but a Mondeo is iconic of the working man in the mid 90s. Can you imagine Tony Blair targeting Carisma man? It doesn't have quite the same ring to it. But the Mondeo is a fairly bland car.
Foibles lead to character, and character goes a long way to iconic status. For a car to be truly iconic it needs to have caught the imagination of the general public. It needs to be loved by many. The Mondeo is an exception – it is iconic in that it represents an era, but as a fairly bland car it's not truly iconic. People will not be driving their Mondeos to classic car meets in 20 years time. Defenders, however, will be iconic for years to come.