Other Car Reviews

Other cars that I’ve owned, borrowed, driven etc.

Review: Ferrari F430 Spider

Originally written for Supercar Driver (www.supercar-driver.com) in December 2016

Ferrari F430 Spider, Red

Ferrari F430 Spider, Red

With a pick of the crop to showcase the Vanrooyen stock for the SCD magazine, whilst scanning the roomful of exotica, my car of choice had to be the Ferrari. It could only be the Ferrari. A red F430 convertible stood out like a beacon in a man cave. Fabulous.

As director Martin edged the car out of the showroom, the gleaming paintwork reflected the lighting, making every other car seem muted by comparison. This car looks good as new. The bright paintwork and cream leather interior belay the 40,000 miles on the odometer.

When the F430 came along back in 2004 it addressed many of the 360’s controversial lines of the time. The 360 was a big design step away, both in size and appearance, from its forebears – namely the pretty 355 and 348. It was visually striking but didn’t hit everyone’s sweet spot. The highly regarded F355 was a tough act to follow and the 360 brought the marque into the modern era, both with interior design, a rounded shape and increased reliability. Perhaps the shape was a little too soft, with designs from other brands beginning to take on a more edgy styling that was proving popular. So, when the F430 was launched, it brought the shape more up to date, with a predominant facelift at the front including revised lights and bumpers, plus angular detail to the rear of the car making the overall appearance more aggressive yet contemporary, whilst also improving aerodynamic efficiency. The F430 also brought with it numerous styling cues as a nod to previous generation models, including the embossed exterior mirrors and those rear light clusters echoing the design of the mighty Enzo.

But as with all Ferraris, the biggest change was in the heart of the machine – power was up almost 100bhp over the outgoing 360, making the revised engine (up from 3.6 to 4.3 litres) a lively beast indeed.

As we began our journey on this cold winters day, the car is set to Race on the Manettino dial and the tail happy F430 immediately gave us a hint of its playfulness as the rear scuttled us onto an empty side road, with the engine song brightening the day. Big grins all round but, as ‘Race’ is not something we intend to do in this climate with no track in sight, I switch the dial down a notch into Sport mode. This provides a more civilised experience, with the car’s computers still allowing maximum enjoyment, whilst keeping the F430’s mischievous side in check. This all helps to inspire confidence when driving this car, even in damp conditions.

The photographer wanted to get some motion shots for this feature and requested that I drive as close to his camera car as possible so that the ‘perfect shot’ could be obtained. Now, “as close as possible” in Raid’s world means mere inches away from his rear bumper. Never before have my buttocks been quite so clenched, nor my reactive instincts so immediately primed to stamp on the brake pedal, as much as when driving someone else’s Ferrari that close to another car. Apparently, I still wasn’t close enough but our photographer was happy none the less.

Photos over with and it was time to enjoy the car on some country lanes. With my winter coat on, the F430 was absolutely fine with the roof down even with the chill in the air. There was little buffeting that I noticed, it didn’t feel cold and conversation was easy. That said, words were always halted when the boot was put down, as the F430 exhaust comes alive at 3,500rpm. The discernible difference in volume will guarantee you a smile every single time with that trademark growl of a modern Ferrari being ever-so present here. Not quite the screamer of the V8s from the past, but a hugely enjoyable sound nonetheless. What surprised me was just how good the stock exhaust was, where traditionally aftermarket versions are needed to fully extract the song of Maranello.

The F430 feels sure footed as you’d expect, with oodles of power available on demand. It can cruise or go bonkers as your mood requires. The steering feel of these cars is not in the same league as say a modern Porsche, where precision is in abundance, but it doesn’t detract from the experience. The F430 feels more like an all singing, all dancing event, packaged up and delivered to you on four wheels, rather than something designed to beat the world at the Nürburgring.

The interior has stood the test of time very well. It is a simple and effective design, a real driver’s machine. This particular car has a nice set of options, not least the Daytona seats and the ‘Carbon Driving Zone’, which gives the interior a race appearance. There is also a sat-nav should you get lost, but having to drive this car more than necessary to get to your destination would hardly be a bad thing. Outside this model features the Challenge grill and the ever-important Scuderia shields on the front wings.

As we arrive back at Vanrooyen HQ, Martin asks “What did you think of it then?”. “I love it!” is my smiley reply. “Like it enough to buy it?” he grins. Oh, I would if I could, Martin. It is the perfect spec Ferrari, Rosso Corsa with Crema leather and, being a modern car, could offer lower overall maintenance costs than previous models (the F430 is chain driven rather than the belts of old to maintain). Nothing stops a crowd quite like a pulsing red Ferrari on full chat. It stirs the soul in a way that other car manufacturers just can’t match.

The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” has perhaps never rang truer than with present day cars, with their lower capacity engines mated to turbos or electric hybrids now ruling the roost. If you want a screaming engine, then previous generation models are where you need to look. And with Ferrari used values on the increase in recent times it could prove to be a relatively low cost ownership proposition too. Every petrolhead needs to experience the thrill of a Ferrari at some point in their lives, to wear a beaming smile on your face, courtesy of that unmistakable prancing horse.

BMW i3 Review

BMW i3 - Grey/Black

BMW i3

“1.21 Gigawatts? 1.21 Gigawatts!” Those words that echoed in my mind, and refused to leave, the entire time I was in the company of this new electric powered BMW i3. For the uninformed (and where have you been?), those words were immortalised by the legendary Dr. Emmet Brown, whilst trying to work out how to send Michael J Fox “Back to the Future” in 1985. The movie car in question (a Delorean, no less) required a bolt of lightning in order to power the car through time. Mega electric indeed.

This nifty BMW i3 on the other hand, doesn’t require quite the same amount of juice, but then time travel isn’t on BMWs options list either. What the i3 does do though, is allow true home-powered motoring in an incredibly efficient and environmentally conscious package.

The i3’s appearance will divide opinion greatly, but personally I think this is a real funky looking thing. A little futuristic, small on the outside, big on the inside, tall and thin. The diminutive BMW has a very roomy cabin and feels that of a larger car. The narrow front seats and the lack of a centre console really give an impression of more space than you would expect given is external size. It is comfortable, if a little harsh on the suspension and the lumbar support is quite unforgiving. There is lots of glass all around the cabin though and if spec’d with a light coloured interior gives the i3 a really calm and airy feel. Plus, being fully automatic makes the whole driving experience a pleasant one. It comes with plenty of toys including two large LCD information screens and the optional Business Sat Nav is the best navigation system I have ever used.

The construction of the car is carbon fibre with the materials and general ethos of the build being around sustainability. You can spec an all-electric, or opt for a range-extender version (tested here), equipped with a 647cc bike engine. This is used to charge the batteries should you find yourself running low on electric juice. Charging those batteries at home can be an overnight affair from a standard plug, but there are various options available to speed this up, including a rapid charger at public stations which will bring the car to 80% capacity in just 30 minutes.

Being new to this electric business, I decided that the first stop would be the petrol station to make sure I’d got my backup fuel. There is the first surprise – the tank is tiny. Less than £10 of fuel brimmed it. Handing over a tenner – and getting change – is a very good feeling on the forecourt. The i3’s petrol motor will only come to life if you either specifically tell it to, or if you are running very low on electric power – at which point it will cut in and start charging the batteries to keep you moving. Otherwise, you are on electric only.

When in use, the petrol motor isn’t intrusive emitting a low noise hum. You have two fuel gauges – one for petrol, one for electric and there are three different modes to suit your driving style, each extending the range further by turning off non-essential items like climate control.

Being an electric car, you do have to adapt your driving style, but this is something that takes minutes, rather than days to master. When you are not accelerating, the car is braking; there is no coasting function. This means it is quite possible to come to a complete stop – and quite quickly – without touching the brakes at all. Acceleration is a giggle, the power is all there immediately and the i3 takes off very rapidly. Handling is all fine for a car of this size, but despite its low centre of gravity (the batteries are central underneath the car), it did feel rather blowy at motorway speeds.

As a package I think this car is absolutely fantastic. It is different to look at, but not massively so to fall into the ‘weird’ category and it looks a little space-age’y. And charging a car at home has massive appeal. MPG, even when using the petrol extender came in at around 75mpg and running on electric, was the equivalent of 350mpg. Big numbers indeed. With a BIK value of zero, this car really comes into its own as a company car too (the Range Extender model will give you around 200 miles total petrol and electric between fill-ups).

The i3 could be the car that kick starts the electric car revolution into the mainstream. It has that BMW badge on the bonnet and is reasonably priced (starting at £30,680 but then minus a £5,000 government grant). It looks quite funky yet still familiar and it is very easy to drive. It also points to what we can look forward to in the upcoming i8 supercar.

Whilst it seems that you might still require 1.21 Gigawatts to head back to the past, all you actually need to head towards your own future is a 13 amp plug. The future is here, and it’s pretty cool indeed.

DRIVEN: Audi R8 V10 DMS

Silver Audi R8 V10 DMS

Silver Audi R8 V10 DMS

Audi has long satisfied our craving for speed and fast cars, be it on the road or on the track. This sporting intent has been present in road form since the 90’s, when the range of “S” and “RS” models began. The one that started the current range was the street-sleeping S2, in 1990, followed by the legendary RS2, which was fettled with by Porsche and launched in 1994.

On the racing grid, after a number of successful years on the track in rallying and touring cars, Audi set its sights on Le-Mans in 1997. They developed a new car, specifically designed for endurance racing called the R8R. The car had some success, but didn’t attain a first-place finish. It was redeveloped into the “R8” model in 2000, a car subsequently hailed as one of the most successful racing cars ever, winning 5 out of its 7 24-hour Le Mans races.

Audi R8 V10 DMS Silver

Audi R8 V10 DMS Silver

The R8 name was introduced to the public highways in 2006, although its resemblance to the Le-Mans racer is in name only. It is actually based on the R8 Le-Mans Quattro concept car.

Today, the top R8 model sports a V10 engine and R8 roars in with 525bhp V10 engine of sublime automotive goodness. And I’ve got one to play with! All R8’s come complete with those signature daytime running lights that started the LED trend. On pressing the remote fob to open the door, the R8’s face wakes up with mean eyes and scowls at you with the ice white DRL’s. I have a real love-hate relationship with these LED lights. They really do look uber-cool, but in doing so they are so unforgivingly self-assured that they make me cringe. Or maybe I just hate myself for liking the Audi bling-bling. But enough of my personal demons…

Climbing aboard, the first thing that you notice is the quality feel of the materials. The leather steering wheel feels expensive and the dashboard looks impressive, with a TV screen in the centre of the dashboard and an ‘iDrive’ style control system. Most of the electronic gadgetry is controlled from here including the radio, phone, Sat Nav and driver information systems such as service intervals, oil checks and the like.

The R8’s seating position is – as you’d expect – more of a racer affair, sitting long and low. As you nestle into those expensive cream leather sports seats, starting the engine and the growl is immense. Pressing the loud pedal briefly and you get a short-sharp howl that will have you grinning like a cat maxing out on its Cheshireness.

Audi R8 interior

Audi R8 interior

A friend, Mark owns the R8 and as standard it develops 525hp. Not content with Audi’s colossal power efforts, Mark has had a DMS remap on the car, hiking the power to an eye-watering 585bhp. So what is it like to drive? Well, immense is probably a good word. The gated gearbox takes a bit of getting used to, but when you get it, it really feels like the supercar that it is. Those manual gear changes are extremely satisfying, as you feel the mechanicals working for your pleasure as you clunk another cog down, out of a bend and power on down the straight. Two seats, mid-engined, perfectly balanced and bags of power. And the noise. Oh the noise! A wonderful driver’s machine. This extraordinary power can also be tamed and the R8 will happily tootle in traffic or at low speeds without issue.

In summary, the R8 is a rapid, joyous weekend toy and a lot of fun! Recommended.

Audi R8 Silver V10

Audi R8 Silver V10

 

And here it is, barking its head off… 🙂

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Lamborghini Gallardo Invidia

Originally written as part of a “Celebration of Motoring” feature for supercardriver.com. You can view the pdf version of the full story here.

Orange Lamborghini Gallardo Invidia - rear

Orange Lamborghini Gallardo Invidia - rear

The Gallardo needs no introduction. It has been around since 2004 and still looks both modern and mental with performance that is expected of a raging Italian Bull. This particular Gallardo has its dial turned up to eleven, with Amari Design having breathed new life into the performance and styling of this already quick car. John Greatorex has brought the car to the party today and gives me the low-down on some of the finer points.

Orange Lamborghini Gallardo Invidia - front

Front View

Known as the Invidia, the Gallardo features a number of styling modifications which look both balanced and well-proportioned and give the car a more aggressive, purposeful stance. Inside, the carbon-fibre racing seats have been re-trimmed in Alcantara. It’s a neat styling package and the bright orange/red paintwork sets the whole thing off beautifully.

For the mechanicals, the Lamborghini has received a power hike to 540bhp and a new custom exhaust means we can enjoy the tunefulness of that power in all its glory. Time for some driving.

Climbing in to the sports-seat in the small Gallardo cabin, I am reminded that Italians didn’t cater for those of us of a loftier disposition. The seats don’t move very much, which leaves me sat with my head wedged against the roof, along with a contortionist position in the lumbar of my back, which has my internals screaming at me to get out. Not bloody likely – this is a special Lambo, and I’m going to enjoy this specialness even if it kills me. My spine informs me that I will be reminded of this defiance for the next two days. But for now, it’s on with the show. John fires up the car and blips the throttle. It sounds good. Very good.

Out on the road, John gives me a demonstration of the power. It quickly starts to feel like the throttle is attached to my face because, with every press of the right foot, the noise gets louder and my smile gets bigger. It’s very fast, and under load it is very loud – and in this car that can only be a good thing. It’s an Italian screamer. As the manual gearbox is worked through the h-gate, the noise is intense and sounds exactly what you’d want in an extreme Supercar. It feels very quick, with my torso welded in the seat as the acceleration fires us through the gears at a merry old rate, but at the same time the power feels progressive and smooth.

It’s a great thing, this Gallardo. I like the look, the noise, the power, the badge. It’s fantastic. The suspension on this particular car however is more hard-core and after already being wedged into the seat is too uncomfortable for me on these roads. “The suspension is set up on this car with track days in mind. That’s why it’s so stiff”, John tells me. Comfort aside, I really enjoyed my time in this car. It’s very rapid, sounds spectacular and looks superb.

Orange Lamborghini Gallardo Invidia - side

Orange Lamborghini Gallardo Invidia - side view

2009 Audi S5

Photos by Dom Fisher (DFishPix)

Black Audi S5 - Front View

Black Audi S5 - Front View

The Audi A5 was launched in 2008, after being introduced at the Geneva and Melbourne motor shows on March 6, 2007. A compact executive coupe, heralding back to the good old days of the Audi 80. Naturally, a Sport model was on the cards and here it is, the Audi S5 – in cabriolet trim to ensure the ultimate pose factor and help you stand out from all the other reps on the motorway…

This model is powered by a 3.0 V6 supercharged petrol engine, mated to the VAG group’s 7 speed DSG gearbox.
Pressing the remote fob to open the door and the S5’s face opens its mean eyes and scowls at you with the ice white LED daytime running lights. I have a real love-hate relationship with these LED lights. They really do look uber-cool, but in doing so they are so unforgivingly self-assured that they make me cringe. Or maybe I just hate myself for liking the Audi bling-bling. But enough of my personal demons…

THE CABIN

Audi S5 Dashboard

Audi S5 Dashboard

Stepping inside the S5, the first thing that you notice is the quality feel of the materials. The leather steering wheel feels expensive and the dashboard looks impressive, with a TV screen in the centre of the dashboard and an “i-drive” style control system knocking about around the gear stick. Controls for all the electronic gadgetry are controlled from here including the radio, phone, Sat-Nav and driver information systems such as service intervals, oil checks and the like.

It’s a real button-fest, but thankfully the heaters and volume control are controller separately with traditional dashboard displays. The heated seats have no fewer than 8 different levels of bum warmness ranging from mildly soiled to curry bum heat and everything in between. You can also move the seat ad-infinitum, with electronic adjustments moving you forwards, backwards, up and down (front, back or the whole seat) and a lumbar support which can be moved all over shop to make sure you get a perfect seating position.

As good as the seat may be, the position is marred a little by the pedals, which feel too offset to the right, although you do get used to this over time.

One thing I haven’t been able to get used to though is the distinct lack of room for your left foot. Being an auto model, there is no clutch pedal. However, there doesn’t appear to be any space where a clutch pedal should be. Instead there is a footrest and absolutely zero room for manoeuvre. The centre console juts out at an angle, both intrusively and unnecessarily into the driver’s foot-well. You can’t pull your leg back and put your left foot flat to the floor – there just isn’t room. Instead it has to remain welded to the foot-rest. For a car this big it is just unfathomable and does become frustrating on longer journeys.

Back seats – you’ve got two of them, plush and sculpted – a nice place to be with independent air conditioning, totalling 3 zones of climate control in this car.

SAT NAV
Why can’t manufacturers just franchise a Tom-Tom? Don’t get me wrong, the satnav is good, but it’s very fiddly to use. I’m not one for reading instruction books, so if techno-gadgetry doesn’t work by toying with the controls then it isn’t user friendly in my opinion. With the S5 Navigation unit, if you do start fiddling you will switch things on and off without realising it. There is a hugely simple solution to this – Audi should implement a “back” button as your foraging through the menu minefield. Let’s hope this is introduced in the future as it would solve many a frustration with the navigation system [update: I have since found that there is a back button, but it isn’t all that obvious, honest!]. Once you have eventually got your destination in and the route has been mapped out, it becomes dual-screen; feeding the basic information onto the display between the speedo and rev counter whilst the full detailed maps remain on the centre of the dashboard.

LETS DRIVE!

Black Audi S5 - In Motion

Black Audi S5 - In Motion

Pushing the keyfob into the hole, the engine sparks into life – with the rev and speedo dials shooting round to the top and back again as the car starts. It’s a small thing, but it makes you smile. The dashboard has an electronic and regular speedometer as well as a rev counter and other typical dash-information.

We’ve got two driving options on the gearbox, “D” for drive, and “S” for sport with the latter keeping the car more readily able for rapid take off, lingering in the power band for longer than standard drive and being more eager to please whenever you touch the accelerator.

That’s not to say it is a slouch in either mode. If you press the loud pedal to the floor, the car takes off with Cheshire grinning immediacy and speed. It will drop down a couple of gears, then an extra one if you’re still pushing. The engine makes itself heard and you get an extra surge of power momentarily, thanks the supercharger. And when the latter wakes up you really start to trot.

Black Audi S5 - Front View

Black Audi S5 - Front View

Yet even with all of this power, it still feels well behaved – until you glance at the speedo and realise that your being really, really naughty. This is a comfy car – it is designed for cruising and it does it so well. The engine is so quiet and refined that journeys are very relaxing.

Even when your tonking along, the S5 almost butler like. “You’d like to go faster, sir? Not a problem. Speed is now engaged”. “You’d like to go round that bend sir? We’ll deal with that for you too, nothing to be concerned with”. The gearbox has a manual option and there is a paddle shift on steering wheel if you want to actually feel involved, rather than having the butler deal with this for you as well.

It’s all a little bit too casual though and as such, I wouldn’t say this is a sports car. What it is though, is a very comfy, wonderfully fast cruiser with satisfyingly sporty handling. It is a dream machine for a doing-well business man who’s concern doesn’t stretch to the extravagant fuel eating beast that one is purchasing. You are looking at around 10mpg in town, and 20-22mpg on a long motorway run (computer indicated).

The speed and handling is impressive for a big car, but the engine never sounds that sporty in the cabin, although the S5’s party-peace is an exhaust burble as you change up the gears. Which is nice. But that aside, it doesn’t really ‘feel’ like a sports car, moreover it is an effortlessly fast, relaxing, comfortable cruiser. And if that ticks all of your required boxes, this could well be the car for you.

When you are not driving like a road-hooligan, the gear changes are silky smooth and only a minor hint of engine note indicates that the gears are doing their job. If you’re in a cruising state of mind, the setup of the S5 just lets you relax and point the nose in the appropriate direction. You arrive at your destination feeling refreshed – even in long traffic jams (assuming you’re not actually paying for the petrol!).

THE AUDI BUTLER

Audi S5 Interior

Audi S5 Interior

Ooh, the S5 has got all the toys! Auto-lights, check. Auto-wipers? It will take care of those as well. How about a CD player with built in hard-disk storage capacity – and MP3/Ipod interface? Oh yes.  DVD player? Sure, why not. Cruise control is also present. In fact, I can’t think of anything missing out of this car on the toy front.

The electronic parking brake is also controlled via a button, but unlike most of these sorts that I’ve tried in the past, this one inspires confidence, removing the brake pedal gently from your foot to indicate that the Audi ‘butler’ has got it under control.

Oh, and the S5’s butler will also hand you your seatbelt when you close the door. It saves you the effort of stretching back to reach, see. “Safety first, sir”.

SUMMER SHINE

The roof retracts with just a touch of a botton and folds away into the long luggage compartment in the boot. It’s a lovely display of technology with the rear deck raising whilst the roof performs a few contortionist tricks and drops away neatly behind you. As the owner of a coupe, I’ve missed this. It’s that instant calming grin that any petrolhead gets when in a flash car with only the sky above one’s head. Roof down, you do get to enjoy the engine that little bit more, but it still doesn’t set the world alight in terms of noise.

With the roof down, the boot isn’t very big – but it is quite long. Handy if you’re a snow-boarder, but not much use for a big shop at Tesco’s.

SUMMARY

Black Audi S5 - Rear View

An exceptional car, which is unforgivingly sporty and yet very comfortable. It cossets you whilst driving and the electrical toys take care of the periphery car controls on your behalf.

The auto-gearbox on this supercharged S5 makes the car fast and effortless to drive, whilst the convertible option allows you the fully enjoy the best of British summertime.

If you don’t need the power, Audi also make an S-line diesel A5 cabriolet which I believe has most (if not all) of the S5’s toys – just without the rapid engine.

The quirks of the driving position aside it is a very fun car indeed.

March 2011

Black Audi S5 - Side View

Black Audi S5 - Side View

2008 Toyota Prius

I had already got some broad ideas for an introduction for this article. It started with an apology to all those other motorists on the M1 during my journey, having forced them to view my wonder-wheels and in doing so considering me to be one of the smug, self-satisfied, hype believing misled eco warrior wannabes.

You see, I love cars. I love sports cars even more but equally I don’t like being lied to. Climate change, carbon emissions and all that jargon is a controversial subject and one which no-one can conclusively prove. There are as many reports negating the human impact on the environment as there are doom mongers who say the end of the world is nigh just because I’m driving to work in a morning and I like my heating on at night.

The marketing for the Eco-friendly hybrid alternatives has been somewhat lame. Aimed at a stereotypical road-going train spotter who likes wearing cream trousers and knitted jumpers, the eco-cars have a functional design to match the target audience.

Enter the Prius.

Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius

To look at, you could be forgiven for thinking it was one of the lower end Korean car manufacturers’ best attempt at a cheap family hatchback. I mean, really – could it be any more bland an uninspiring? To look like this, with no real shape or design influence one could only assume it has been done deliberately.

This is the revised model and looks marginally better than the original Prius, with the very latest model looking better still. Looking at it individually it looks ‘OK’ – it certainly isn’t offensive, but it doesn’t stand out. You are an absolute man of anonymity in this car. Add to this the silent running engine and you feel invisible too as you wait whilst another person ambles across your path not realising that the car is actually in motion.

At the petrol station over the weekend, I pulled up next to a BMW M5 and in comparison my little Prius looked seriously cheap and very, very tacky. A different league, granted, but you’ll never win over well-heeled businessmen with this box that’s for sure.

Regardless, my recent business trip meant my choice was either a Passat, or a Prius. After the age old comedy line to the assistant who has probably heard it a hundred times as to whether the car will send me headlong into a field of its own accord, I chose the Passat. But all night, I couldn’t help but wonder what a Prius might be like to drive. A hybrid – electric car. An interesting prospect. Petrol heads pre judge them, yet Eco’s and Hollywood love them. I’m of an open mind and curiosity got the better of me.

The next morning I swapped my choice and here she is… all silver and….dull.

The Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius

But there much more to this car than its looks. The last time I had instructions on how to get a car moving was 15 years ago when I started driving. Yet here I am again, this time with a bit of scrap paper in hand telling me what to do next. Shove the plastic fob into hole. Press brake. Press Start. A few bits of whirring, then electric pops and bangs. Nothing else. Hmmmm… Embarassingly I opened the door to see if I could hear any sound of engine/electric noise. Nope. Has it really started? Strange business this electric stuff. I checked my scrap of paper again. “Check dashboard”. It dutifully tells me that the car is now ‘ready’, so apparently we’re ready. Tap the gear stick over to Drive, punch the ‘hand’brake with your left foot(!) and we are off!

The first thing that you realise is that this car ain’t normal and this makes it truly fascinating. But a little frustrating. Either way never before has my journey home, stuck solid in Friday traffic being so entertaining!

Inside
In the cabin nothing is where it should be. I would imagine this is deliberate to remind the driver that they are in something special and ‘futuristic’. The Speedo is right out below the window, along with the fuel gauge. Nothing else of interest is up front, all functions are on the centre screen. More on this in a moment.

Toyota Prius Interior

Toyota Prius Interior

The driving position isn’t great to say they have so much room available. The steering wheel is down around my knees, but the driving seat is elevated, feeling more like a people carrier. It is very odd. The plastic on the dashboard looks cheap – and there is a lot of it. The design is like something you’d imagine from a future production car but watered down with some of today’s naff budget material. Maybe if it was all shiny smooth white gloss or something we’d have a real future box on our hands!

The readouts do not tell you any of the typical stuff your used to in a car. Thermostat? Nah. Oil pressure? Nope. Gear selection? None of that here. Your in ‘drive’ – that means ‘go forward’ and that’s all you need to know. The unconventional design of the engine is truly interesting marvel of engineering. There are no gears, just some fancy wizardry best described with planets, orbits and some electrical brains controlling it all.

What about that centre screen then? First up, the bad news – its too far away. To press the climate button, or any other button to the left of the screen, you have to stretch. And See that typical radio below the screen? It doesn’t actually display anything. It is just a shiny bit of plastic. Audio, Climate, Phone, SatNav and fuel consumption outputs are all controlled and viewed on the centre screen. But this causes some confusion. The radio for example is very higgledy piggledy. If you want to change the station, you have a number of disarrayed options. First you select the physical radio button next to the screen (stretch). Then you use the touch screen to select the station. Or you can use the buttons on the steering wheel. Unless you want to manually scan the band, in which case you use the ‘real’ radio below, which has ‘real’ buttons for manual scanning. But this makes the steering wheel controls manual-scanning too. To make them navigate through the presets, you have to hit the touch screen again. The volume is on the ‘real’ radio, but bass and treble are on the touch screen. Its very all-over-the-place. The JBL speakers are Just Bloody Lousy too.

Toyota Prius Dashboard

Toyota Prius Dashboard

And don’t get me started on the stat nav. This actually had me shouting, screeching and literally punching the buttons at the weekend during a period of lostness in Leeds city centre. Its absolutely sh1te and that’s being kind. For a kick off you can’t set it going when the car is moving. OK, so I shouldn’t be doing anything whilst driving but what about my passenger eh? You know she is there, Prius; you were frantically panicking about the seatbelt earlier. There is also no postcode search. When you have finally entered your destination, you have NO CLUE as to whether it is plotting a route or not; the SatNav will, out of the blue, start barking orders at you after a period of uncertainty. But where it will take you is anyone’s guess. I wanted a road 2 miles away which, despite being there since Leeds was invented, wasn’t on the SatNav. So I programmed in the nearest main road. I checked it had found the correct road and it estimated an hour an a half to arrival – trying to send me back onto the motorway!!

And THEN…. after sending me back on the ring road for the umpteenth time I couldn’t shut her up!! I swear I had steam coming out of my ears as my missus frantically pressed each and every button to try and get the stupid thing from telling me repeatedly, at every button press to “take next left” (in the wrong direction). Absolutely DIRE.

Ass-glass

Ass-glass

The Verdict

So, the Prius is a bit rubbish then?

Well.. actually no. Having lived with it for a week and several hundred miles I am surprised to say that, for the job it is intended, it is actually quite good. It’s very quiet for a start. The engine sounds coarse if your giving it some beans and much prefers cruising. But when you are cruising it is a genuinely nice place to be. If you are a motorway kind of guy then this car gives a relaxing ride.

The steering lacks sporty feel as does the handling, but then it’s not even remotely trying to be sporty. It wants to waft about and it wafts nicely without giving you a sea-sick feeling. The seats don’t have side bolsters which I thought would be uncomfortable but both my lower-back and my mind completely disagree. You arrive at your journey end relatively relaxed and I’ve had not even a hint of back pain whilst driving this car.
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Economy

Prius Fuel Consumption

Prius Fuel Consumption

So what about fuel economy? The computer recorded an impressive 62.7mpg on the way home from work. This is a 30 mile commute, largely motorway and on a Friday afternoon means a fair amount of stop/start. Remember this is a petrol engine (cool) and an electric engine (cooler) not a clunky diesel. Overall, for a full tank of petrol doing a long motorway stint and local road driving, we averaged a computer indicated 48mpg. A point to note is that the computer over embellishes a little with its accuracy – a few sums revealed that a real world figure on this occasion was actually 41mpg. However the car is no slouch and accelerates quicker than you’d expect and can handle motorway speeds and overtaking with aplomb. A breathless underpowered car this isn’t.

Toys
The Prius also has a rear view camera, with computer aids imprinted on the screen to help you park. If that’s not enough, then the car will also park itself on your behalf. With a few presses of the touch screen, the Prius will reverse itself into a parking space or parallel park at your behest. Watching the steering wheel move about on its own its fantastic fun and when taking it to show my parents, my mum’s face was an absolute picture. “Its like Knight Rider!!!” she exclaimed! Being an old-school mechanic, my Dad loved the technology and engineering but wondered about longevity and future costs. This is something I have also considered – would this make a good used buy I wonder? Time will tell.

Here is a little (and a little naff) video I made showing the park assist doing its thing…

Summary
In America, the majority of people drive a petrol car. Big lazy engines with poor miles per gallon. There isn’t a great infrastructure for LPG or diesel and I’ll wager many other countries are the same. So here is a huge target market for the Prius, diesel economy from a petrol car whilst waving a ‘green’ flag with its eco posterior (the “Hybrid Synergy Drive” no less – sounds good doesn’t it!).

In the UK its a good alternative if you don’t want the tractor sound of a derv-burner. As a car-fiend, I absolutely couldn’t have this car as my only means of transport. It’s not exciting enough. But to get you to work and back, with something special tucked away for the weekends it absolutely does make sense. It really is worth considering as a company car. Zero road tax, fella’s!

This car is comfortable, quiet, has great gadgets and enjoys promising fuel economy. If you are the kind of guy or gal who sits on motorways in traffic then you’ll benefit the most. If it’s a relatively clear journey for your day to day commute, then the Prius may be a tad worse than a diesel. The nifty Toyota really comes into its own in traffic and it does excel in this area. But please, please, please – buy a TomTom.

Hybrid Synergy Drive!

Hybrid Synergy Drive!

Final Thought
When your stuck in traffic, it really does perk you up a bit knowing that your spending absolutely no money whilst crawling past another set of bollards. I guess owners can be justifiably smug in a Prius.

Now all Toyota need to do is wrap all this eco technology in a body that we will actually want to buy. The new Celica perhaps?

April 2010

2009 Ford Fiesta Zetec

We collected our new Fiesta on March 1st 2009, our first brand new car!

2009 Ford Fiesta Zetec in Hot Magenta

2009 Ford Fiesta Zetec in Hot Magenta

My girlie has liked them since they came to the London Motor show and had a particular soft spot for the pinkie-purple one since she clapped eyes on it. A few months ago we took a trip to our local ford garage to see what sort of deals were on offer, all casual like with no intention of a purchase.

Fiesta Interior

Fiesta Interior

Two hours later, we had bought a new car! It was a choice between this pink colour and the bright yellow/green colour. My girlfriend chose the former after seeing a few green ones on the road, but no pink ones. The deciding influence also being the colour coded interior, which is lacking on the green one having only the dull-grey standard colour. A benefit of the pink dashboard is that it detracts from the scratchy plastic that Ford still use on its interiors. This something that is highlighted significantly on the grey dashboard, as the rest of the product is of very high build quality.

The delivery date was March 1st. After a few calls saying it would be delayed, then it wouldn’t, then it would again – it was delivered on 1st March.

The service by our local Ford garage has been great. We got a good deal on the car and also got free mats, mud flaps, and a few other bits and bobs. We went for the 1.25 Zetec model, as this offered a good balance between specification and price. We also purchased 2 years of servicing which, when purchased upfront, are discounted by a miserly £20 – but its still £20 in our pocket.

What stuff do you get?
Air con, CD player (which plays MP3 CDs), an iPod connection, alloys, quick-clear screen, Bluetooth connectivity (including phone capabilities) and a funky voice-activated radio! You can just talk to it to use many of the functions including the phone. The downside is that it doesn’t respond very well to ladies – I think it’s a trait of the technology requiring a more boomy voice to acknowledge. It also has very light power steering, and some fancy clutch wizardry, which makes it virtually un-stall-able.

What’s it like inside?

Ace! Its very nicely laid out, very up-to-the minute in trendiness. The dashboard is typical modern-car big, so it has its own little window on the side.  Ours, being pink, has a matching dashboard and seats and looks very funky indeed. Maybe a bit love or hate, but there won’t be many girls who don’t like it!

The seats have an appearance and feel from the class above; very nice and chunky with good lumbar support and huggy sides. I thought this might be a trait of the Zetec edition, but having recently driven a Fiesta in Style trim the seats did feel the same. Regardless, we think they are rather comfy.

The pre-purchase secret.
After getting home on the day we signed up to our new car, we had a look at personalised number plates and my girlie found one that she really liked. It was £400 so she thought it was a bit too expensive for her. Herein started my super secret purchasing plot of great surpriseiness. I contacted the dealership and told them of my little plan to buy the plate as a suprise and they agreed to keep it quiet. I purchased the registration entitlement and took this down to the dealer (thankfully it arrived in the post on a day I arrived home early!).

My lady said nothing else about the plate until the day we went to sign for the car (the week before collection). Amazingly, she had remembered the registration and asked if the dealer could try and get that one for her! The dealer played along with my game and said they couldn’t, as they can’t pick registration numbers any more (that bit is true).

The dealer was fantastic with my secret; they even printed copies of the agreement documents without any registration numbers and told my girlie that they don’t get the plate number until the 11th hour. In addition, our sales man instructed the mechanics to ensure the plates are not put on the car until the day before (they were kept in the boot), in case she comes down looking – and to keep the car in the compound at the back. It was funny listening to them going to lengths to keep my suprise under wraps when we were in the showroom – at one stage rushing into the garage bays to move it round the back when the salesman noticed she was in! Even the account manager pretended we hadn’t met before when we went in to sign. I think they went above what was required of them in this respect to make sure the collection day was that little more special for us, and I was very grateful indeed.

The collection day.
Our appointment was at 9am (first ones to collect!) on the 1st March. The car was parked outside the showroom in the car furthest from us. We were a few minutes early and after confirmation it was indeed our car, we went to have a look at it until the salesman was ready. The first thing my lady said as we walked over was “I wonder what my registration number is going to be!!” When she saw her lovely new car, gleaming in the sunlight with her private registration on it she got all teary and overwhelmed, bless her. To say she was happy was an understatement and was definitely the right decision to buy the plate. I think it just finishes the car off nicely and makes it more personal to her/us.

Since then….
The car turns just as many heads as my Cayman! A lot of people point at it, which my missus loves!

Fiesta Front View

Fiesta Front View

Driving the car is a very comfortable and relaxing experience – reminding me once again that you really don’t need anything bigger than this. It does everything very well, has all the creature comforts you could ask for and feels responsive when driving. I’m not allowed to thrash it (being carefully scrutinized by my lady, protective over her new little baby), so can’t really comment (too much 😉 ) on the handling characteristics. Fords are typically very good at this though and what I tried on the test drive you can certainly chuck it about and it leaves you with a nice grin!

Average MPG in 500 miles is 40mpg, so not too shabby at all. On long motorway journeys, it gets to a fuel sipping 48mpg+. Lovely!

It has been accessorised in a way that only girls can, including a Little Miss Naughty air fresher, a flower shaped tax-disc holder and a pink worm – all matching the car of course!

We have also bought some kick plates for it, after browsing the accessories catalogue. Buying the servicing up-front entitles us to 10% off accessories, so they came in at around £40. They look great too.

Summary
Good stuff:

Sprightly engines, very nippy and nimble.

Great chassis, feels sporty to drive.

Lots of bright colours to choose from – about time we had some nice fruity cars again, painting our urban landscape as they travel.

Good price, full of equipment that would put lots of other cars to shame. Feels well built.

Not-so-good stuff:
Air con comes on automatically every time you start the engine if you have the vents pointed to the front screen, which is a bit irritating as us lot in Blighty don’t really need air con until the 2 weeks of summer.

Plastics are still a bit scratchy, but the colourful dashboards do detract from this.

Voice Activated controls is temperamental to softer voices.

Paul Os verdict: A first brand-new car for both of us. A great car, great service, great great greatness. 🙂

March 2009