“What’s your oldest Land Rover memory?” asks our tour guide as he negotiates an eleventy-point-turn in the rare, 147-inch Defender. The group of journalists he’s carrying all have an interesting Land Rover story to tell – either memories of being driven in one as a youngster, going on a safari in one somewhere exotic or, in my case, learning to drive in one.
Backed by Volkswagen Group, the Wörthersee GTI-Treffen motoring festival showcases the most radical Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and Skoda custom-built cars and is a key date in the European VW enthusiast calendar.
Held in the seaside town of Reifnitz, it’s been running since 1981 (usually in May) and the 2015 Wörthersee event will be the 34th event.
Europe’s largest event dedicated to Volkswagen and Audi is used as a showcase by the Volkswagen Group for its apprentices and interns: they usually create Wörthersee specials as official projects backed by the firm.
This year, Skoda will be showing five apprentice specials at the 34th Wörthersee GTI-Treffen, while Volkswagen will be showing a Golf GTI Clubsport concept and Audi has confirmed a TT Clubsport turbo concept.
According to the road safety charity, Brake, stress accounts for 40% of all work-related illnesses in the UK.
At some point, most drivers will have been exposed to a stressful situation behind the wheel, be it a traffic jam, road rage incident or inconsiderate behaviour by other drivers. Indeed, a survey conducted by Brake and Direct Line revealed that 71% of drivers had lost concentration at the wheel due to stress or annoyance.
But what can you do to minimise the levels of stress? Well, help as it hand, because we’ve put together a list of ways to stay stress-free behind the wheel.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it, but if you leave earlier, you stand a better chance of getting to your destination on time, reducing your levels of anxiety in the process. It’s far better to arrive early, giving you time to prepare for a meeting on arrival, rather than rushing straight from the car park to the boardroom.
You can also take our advice literally, as getting up at the crack of dawn to beat the rush will invariably present a string of near-empty roads and only the early morning wildlife to keep you company. You just have to make sure the office will be unlocked when you get there.
Listen to appropriate music
Research conducted by Avis Car Rental found that 52% of drivers get stressed at least once a week while driving, with 7% admitting to getting stressed every day. The research – which was conducted in partnership with the help of music psychologist Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen of the University of London – suggested that two thirds of drivers use music to lower their levels of stress.
Adele’s Someone Like You topped the list of the most stress-relieving tunes, which also included John Lennon’s Imagine and Toto’s Africa. We don’t recommend listening to The Prodigy’s Firestarter or anything by those shy and retiring chaps from Slipknot whilst driving. Oh, and if Steve ‘Love the Show’ Wright winds you up, turn him off or switch over to Classic FM.
Avoid driving in the rush hour
We all know the rush hour is best avoided. In fact, figures released in 2011 suggested UK drivers spend around 32 hours of the year stuck in traffic, with London, Manchester and Liverpool being amongst the worst in Europe for traffic congestion. It won’t come as much of a surprise to discover that London congestion peaks between 4pm and 5pm on a Friday evening.
It’s all too easy to suggest driving at off-peak times, but if you can, you should. Even leaving 30 minutes earlier in the morning could have a huge impact on your total journey time. If your job allows it, also consider flexitime, perhaps getting into work earlier and then leaving earlier in the evening. You may feel better for it.
Plan the route
Many drivers have come to rely on in-car satellite navigation systems to guide them to their destination and in the majority of cases they do an excellent job of relieving stress. No more fumbling around looking for an out-of-date street map or asking a pedestrian for directions.
But you should plan ahead to ensure you know where to park. Also, if a postcode covers a wide area, your sat nav may not guide you to the exact address, so check the internet before you set off. You may have enjoyed a stress-free drive to the destination, but the sense of calm could be wiped out if you can’t find a parking space.
Take a break
Brake recommends taking a break at least every two hours, for at least 15 minutes, to refocus your concentration. Some time away from the wheel will clear your mind and prepare yourself for the next leg of the journey.
If possible, go for a quick walk and grab a bite to eat, as hunger can affect your concentration. Taking a break will also be good for your back, as pain and discomfort can be caused as a result of siting at the wheel for too long.
A survey carried out by Carwow in 2014 revealed that an alarming 81% of UK drivers have been the victim of road rage. Of these, 54% have been shouted at, 42% have been verbally abused, while 48% have had people drive aggressively at them. All of which makes for stressful reading.
Do what you can to avoid confrontation and make a positive decision not let the actions of other motorists wind you up. If you do something to enrage a fellow motorist, simply apologise and get on with your day, no matter how much of an ignorant fool they appear to be. Take the moral high ground!
Get an onboard coffee machine
If we’re honest, we’re entirely sure what effect coffee has on stress. One day you’ll read a report telling you that caffeine combats stress, the next day you’ll be told it does exactly the opposite. But what we do know is that many people couldn’t contemplate a day without a coffee. So how can we make it easier for you to get your hands on your favourite beverage?
By ordering a new Fiat 500L, of course. Spend £200 extra and Fiat will equip your grande 500 with a Lavazza 500 Espresso Experience, which sits between the two front seats. Ideal for when you take that stress-relieving break and don’t fancy being fleeced for £3.50 for a coffee at the motorway services.
Have a massage
Seriously, we really do recommend having a massage at the wheel. More and more cars are being offered with a massage function, which can help to reduce lower back pain, itself a major cause of stress.
Combine the massage with a heated seat and you can waft along in supreme comfort. If, on the other hand, you prefer to be chilled whilst on the move, you can order some seats with a cooling function. Whatever takes your fancy.
Get the car to park itself
Parking can be a nightmare. Assuming you can actually find a space, the bays seem to be getting ever smaller. This, of course, is bunkum, because the real reason is that our cars are growing ever larger.
You can combat this by ordering a car with a park-assist function, which will parallel or perpendicular park your car and even drive out of it again when you want to leave. The first time you try it, the experience can be unnerving, as our right honourable friend demonstrates.
Buy a car that’s nice to drive
Seriously, we reckon half the problem with stress is that too many people are driving cars that are – to be frank – a little bit rubbish to drive. A terrible gearbox, woeful acceleration, poor steering, awful rear visibility and uncomfortable seats – just five examples that can ruin an otherwise good car.
You don’t need to own the very best driver’s car. We recently drove the all-new Volvo XC90 and we are pleased to report it’s one of the nicest cars we’ve driven this year. If anyone emerges feeling stressed after driving an XC90, we’d be amazed. For maximum comfort, tick the option box marked air suspension.
Once upon a time, the boredom associated with a long car journey was broken only by a stop at the Little Chef or a game of I-Spy. Occasionally you may have been engaged in a spot of ‘hunt the boiled seat which has fallen down the back of the car seat’. Today, things have changed.
Now you can equip even the humblest of motor with in-car technology that was simply unheard of a decade or two ago. A couple of tablets in the rear headrests, MP3 connectivity, DVD screens folding out of the headlining – the car is like a mobile branch of Tandy. And if your children aren’t bickering in the back seat, you can enjoy a stress-free drive. Are we nearly there yet?
Drive an electric vehicle
According to research conducted by the Go Ultra Low campaign, 70% of motorists believe that a quieter cabin would help improve their mood and reduce stress during the time they spend in the car. Naturally, the folk behind the research have a vested interest in the research and are quite happy to recommend an ultra-quiet electric vehicle as the solution.
They may have a point. Choose the right electric car and it can be a delightfully relaxing experience. Indeed, Quentin Willson claims to have “found the electric motor can turn journeys into a zen-like experience.” We wouldn’t go that far, Quentin. Besides, has anyone mentioned range anxiety?
It was a beautiful car then, and it’s a beautiful car now. But beneath its shapely skin lurked the germ of its makers’ destruction, as well as some technology that plenty of car-makers would fruitlessly spend millions on.
NSU, which made the 1967 Ro80 saloon (which was to become Car of the Year soon after launch), was better known for its affordable-to-cheap motorbikes. Only 20 years earlier it had become the world’s biggest maker of motorcycles and mopeds, including a device named the Quickly, this moped providing its rider with ample time to ponder on its manufacturer’s cruel choice of name. Despite this, over a million were sold between 1953 and 1963.
NSU started life in 1873 as a sewing machine maker, had completely switched to bicycles 20 years later and produced its first motorbike in 1901. The first NSU car was produced in 1905. But the company struggled with four wheels, and in 1932 was forced by its bank to sell its new car plant, which was bought by Fiat.
Fit for a Prinz
Its automotive ambitions resurfaced in 1957 with the Prinz, a small rear-engined, twin-cylinder saloon that was noisy if well-made, and did little to threaten the near-total domination enjoyed by the larger VW Beetle.
The Prinz evolved into a decent enough device that came to resemble our own Hillman Imp, the styling of both heavily influenced by Chevrolet’s rear-engined ’59 Corvair.During this evolution NSU adventured down an interesting side-street with the 1958 Sport Prinz coupe, a shapely variation styled by Bertone.
This adventure became a whole lot more intriguing when the company launched the world’s first rotary engined car, the NSU Spider (pictured above). A convertible version of the Sport Prinz, it was propelled by an engine designed by consultant Dr Felix Wankel and NSU’s Walter Frode, the latter doing much to make Wankel’s idea workable.
‘Unbelievably smooth’ engine
The rotary engine ingeniously did away with the reciprocating engine’s pistons, conrods, camshaft and valves, replacing them all with a curve-sided triangle that rotated eccentrically within a near-oval, or trochoidal, void that provided the combustion chambers and valves.
It was a brilliantly clever design that eliminated the energy-wasting need to convert the reciprocating motion of pistons into the rotary motion of the crankshaft.
The result was an engine that was far more compact, lighter, had fewer moving parts and was unbelievably smooth compared to most of the wheezingly vibratory motors of the day.
It also made the Spider quick in a way that few NSUs, two-wheeled or four, had ever been.
But not for long.
Disastrous NSU rotary engine reliability
The forces and heat applied to the tips of that eccentrically rotating triangle were greater than their constituent materials could stand, premature wear draining the Wankel engine’s energy away. Replacing these so-called apex seals cost NSU dear, even though it made only 2375 Spiders over the three years from 1964.
Despite this, the emergence of the rotary Prinz Spider rushed many manufacturers into buying technology licences from NSU, believing that Wankels were the future.
Among them were Citroen, which formed a partnership with NSU, and General Motors, which produced a beautiful rotary Corvette concept car but ultimately no production machines.
Citroen field-tested two batches of rotaries while Mazda got much further, its 1967 Cosmo (pictured above) triggering a Wankel-engined production run that did not stop until the demise of the RX-8. And it may yet restart.
But no other maker took up the option to make the engine, denying NSU the anticipated royalties that it would soon badly need.
The Spider’s troubles, which it believed it could fix, didn’t deter the company from leaping ahead with its most audacious plan yet. And that was to produce a saloon to challenge Mercedes and a fast-growing BMW.
Enter the NSU R080
The Ro80 was designed by the highly talented Claus Luthe, who had previously created the Spider out of the Sport Prinz and would go on to have an impressive career at Audi and BMW.
The Ro80’s curved nose, wedge-shaped waist, clean-cut flanks, deep glasshouse and neatly truncated boot were almost as adventurous as Citroen’s DS had been 12 years earlier, and like the French car it was very aerodynamic, recording a low-for-the-day Cd of 0.36.
It was beautifully detailed, too. Its headlights sat beneath shapely glass covers, as is fashionable today, its windows were elegantly bordered with polished stainless steel trim, its taillights were funkily frameless lozenges and its indulgently sculpted alloy wheels worthy of a Porsche.
The innovation didn’t end there. Under the bonnet was a larger, more powerful twin rotor 115hp Wankel engine that drove a three-speed semi-automatic transmission whose H-pattern gearlever contained a microswitch operating an electrically-triggered clutch. So it was two-pedal car, but you chose when to shift gears.
A brilliant driver’s car
The NSU was suspended by MacPherson struts at the front and semi-trailing arms at the year, previewing a layout common today, and it had disc brakes on all four wheels, the front pair mounted in-board to reduce unsprung mass.
Despite the engine’s inherent lightness, power steering was standard, the aim being to reduce driver effort, as with the transmission.
Not that keen drivers didn’t like the Ro80. Its excellent weight distribution, well-planted wheels, sophisticated suspension and super-smooth engine produced a car that responded brilliantly to keen pedalling, its agile chassis and rev-hungry engine producing quite a sporty drive.
And a civilised one too, the NSU’s pliant ride and general quiet making it a great long distance machine. Mostly.
Trouble was that many owners over-revved that revvy rotary, accelerating wear of its internal tips, the mix of metals used on the early cars causing further degeneration.
A badly abused engine could fail after just 15,000 miles, and even better cared-for motors were dying at 30,000 miles, their worn tips sabotaging the combustion process.
NSU finances: a tsunami of red ink
NSU behaved honourably over these failures, replacing hundreds of engines under warranty. Unsurprisingly this washed a tsunami of red ink through its ledgers, and two years later the company was bought by Volkswagen, not because it wanted the Ro80, but because it was increasingly desperate to find a replacement for its Beetle.
NSU, it reckoned, had a good stopgap in its development shed with a new saloon that slotted between the Ro80 and the baby Prinz.
That car became the VW K70 (pictured above), but had nowhere near the visual appeal of the Ro80 and was priced too expensively to succeed. NSU itself was rolled into the clumsily named Audi NSU Auto Union AG subsidiary of VW, which would in time simply become Audi, killing NSU in the process.
The Ro80 didn’t die yet however. NSU had managed to sort the rotary’s durability issues, and the car’s brilliant styling meant that it stayed perpetually fresh. VW allowed it to live on, but its early troubles and the fuel addiction of a tyre-smoking American muscle car slowed sales to the pace of a Prinz, especially when 1973’s energy crisis struck.
The legacy of the NSU Ro80
Production finally stopped in 1977 after 37,406 had been made – a modest number given its 10-year life.
But the impact of the Ro80, and NSU’s adventures with rotaries, still have resonance today. Look hard at an Audi A4, an A6 or an A8, and you can still see the elegant bones of the Ro 80 in their proportions, from their six-light glasshouse to their smooth flanks and wide-planted wheels. So far-sighted was its design that it wouldn’t take much to update the Ro 80 for today.
The rotary engine, meanwhile, is taking a rest, but Mazda says that it is still developing the engine for a possible return.
The BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show presenter and renowned car fanatic has signed a three-year deal, says the BBC.
It reports Evans called Top Gear his “favourite programme of all time” and that he has vowed to “do everything I possibly can to respect what has gone on before and take the show forward”.
Speaking to TopGear.com, Kim Shillinglaw, Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four, said: “I’m so delighted that Chris will be presenting the next series of Top Gear.
“His knowledge of and passion for cars is well-known, and combined with his sheer inventiveness and cheeky unpredictability he is the perfect choice to take our much-loved show into the future.”
Encouragingly, she confirmed that Evans “knows the phenomenal attention to detail it takes to make a single sequence of Top Gear, let alone a whole series.
“He is already full of brilliant ideas and I can’t wait for him to get started.”
Filming for Top Gear Series 23 will begin in the next few weeks, and it will air both in the UK and abroad in early 2016.
Chris Evans and Top Gear: the build up
The star recently revealed he was “making a Top Gear”, explaining to Channel 4 Sunday Brunch presenter Tim Lovejoy that he was filming a sequence with an independent production company.
“We’re going to see how it goes,” he said. Clearly it’s gone well enough to make Evans review his earlier claim that rumours he was to replace Clarkson were “absolute nonsense”.
Jeremy Clarkson was suspended from Top Gear back in March, following the now-notorious ‘fracas with a producer’.
Following a review by BBC Director General Lord Hall, it was decided not to renew Clarkson’s contract: he thus left Top Gear after over two decades on the show.
Lord Hall said it was “not a decision I have taken lightly”.
Vauxhall Corsa (2015) long-term review month 1: Is the Corsa’s city steering pointless?
“Only an idiot would need a reversing camera on a small car,” said I, once upon a time.
But then, our long-term Renault Clio had one. And it was brilliant. I could reverse right up to bollards during high-speed parking manoeuvres and look like a driving God. I could even select reverse gear at traffic lights and see the panicked face of the driver behind. It was awesome.
My Corsa hasn’t got a reversing camera. It hasn’t even got sensors. I have to use these old-fashioned things called mirrors and it all seems a bit awkward and a bit like guess-work. I find myself reversing at less than full revs in case I meet the bollard a little too quickly.
“Why it has got is a button on the dash for City Steering? What a pointless feature,” scoffed I, the day I got the car.
The Corsa’s steering isn’t the heaviest as it is, why would you want to make it lighter around town?
Er… you can see what’s coming. Challenged with the slightest of tight parking spaces, or some tricky urban maneuvering, or even a three-point turn, I find myself reaching over to press the city steering button.
What’s the point in wasting energy steering? I can now wind on full lock with all the effort of Floyd Mayweather arm wrestling a toddler.
In the words of Joni Mitchell: “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
- How good is the new Corsa? This good: unless it’s really, really sunny, I’ll much rather take this for a weekend blast than my retro Mazda MX-5…
Introduction: We welcome a Vauxhall Corsa SRi VX-Line to the MR fleet
“I’m getting a Corsa,” I’d say. The person I was chatting to would pull a face. “But I’m looking forward to it. The new Corsa is really rather good.”
It’s a conversation I’ve had a number of times recently. Despite being a massive seller in the UK, the Corsa has never been class-leading, and it’s looked down upon amongst those who care about cars.
When the pictures of the ‘all-new’ 2014 Corsa appeared last year, we sneered. It looked basically the same, with an awkward Adam-esque front end stuck on.
It was with more than a hint of prejudice that I trekked up to Liverpool for the launch of the Corsa last year. But, after a day of giving it a thorough test on the roads of North Wales, I was sold.
It now handled better (not as well as a Fiesta, but close enough for the majority of buyers). The interior was hugely improved, and the new 1.0-litre turbocharged engine… well, what a peach. Good enough to take on the Ford Ecoboost, I announced when I got back to the office.
I’d been wrong to doubt the Corsa. It was now a good car. A car I could almost justify spending my own money on.
So now I’m putting my money where my mouth is, sort of, by taking one on as my daily drive for the next six months, as part of a Motoring Research long-term test.
It’s exactly the spec I’d want – that 1.0T engine, in more potent 115hp form. Its SRi VX-Line spec means it’s got bling 17-inch alloys and lowered suspension. Oh, and you’ll have noticed the colour by now. Lime green. I’m a big advocate of brightly-coloured cars, so this suits me to a tee.
Will my love for the Corsa be as strong six months down the line? Time will tell.
Specification: 2015 Vauxhall Corsa SRi VX-Line 1.0T 115
Price (April 2015): £14,460
Price with options: £15,005 (metallic paint £545)
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol
0-62mph: 10.3 seconds
Top speed: 121mph
They said it couldn’t be done. 60mpg in a Lexus IS 300h? Nah mate, you need a diesel for that. Official figures might say you can get 60-plus, but we all know hybrids can’t do that in reality, don’t we?
I proved them wrong. And this wasn’t some sort of teeth-pulling economy drive, either. Simply a Saturday pootle with the family on board – and I only belatedly realised how good the economy was looking as I scrolled back through the trip computer.
One meek mooch through town later and I watched it appear before my eyes: 60mpg, clear as day. Proving my regular, easily achieved 55mpg during motorway commuting is far from a fluke.
So we’ve answered the big question once and for all. The Lexus IS 300h is green, is good on fuel, is improving with the summery weather. I was worried, before taking delivery, that I’d made an eco mistake and would, literally, pay for it. Not so – and the satisfaction of paying 5p a litre less for unleaded rather than diesel is, given such impressive economy, pleasing each and every time…
Hybrid holiday hit
Another worry I had was practicality. I’d switched from a Skoda Octavia vRS estate, one of the biggest family-sized cars on the planet. You could pile virtually anything into it, and last year’s summer holiday was done with space to spare.
Hybrids are far smaller though, aren’t they? Batteries eat into boot space and leave but tiny slots to load bags in, don’t they?
Again, not so. Quoted capacity is 450 litres and, although a few bags did stray into the rear cabin and front footwell, we still managed to pack a week’s worth of luggage, a travel cot, a pushchair, a bounty of food and even some spare bedding. It was absolutely loaded to the gunwhales, but it still all went in.
This is thanks to Lexus’ experience with hybrid: it designs cars specifically around it now, and it’s managed to squeeze and shape the batteries down to a size that leaves a boot comparable to a BMW 3 Series. Quite a contrast to early GS, as you can see…
- Must remember to wait until the bleep after pressing the starter button before selecting drive. If you don’t, the hybrid systems get confused and tell you to shift back to P and try again.
- When is Lexus going to introduce electric parking brakes? The foot-operated lever feels so 1980s Mercedes-Benz with every press.
Lexus IS 300h long-term review: month 4
The weather’s warming up and the IS is coming into its own in two very welcome ways. One, the economy is getting even more impressive. And two, you can sit in traffic jams for a good 45mins with the air con chilling the cabin without needing to have the engine running.
Both points have had me enthusing about the Lexus this month. Mainly falls on deaf ears for those more interested in BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, mind – they’re waiting to see the new Jaguar XE, which I’m driving next week – but feedback from the Lexus Owners’ Club forum suggests there’s a strong and engaged Lexus core out there that joins me in liking this arguably undiscovered gem.
This month, I’ve finally proven it needs no fuel economy excuse for being petrol-electric hybrid instead of turbodiesel. Nearly 6,000 miles of driving has shown it to be uncannily similar to my old Skoda Octavia vRS in terms of mpg: namely, 55mpg on the run into work, around 50mpg during regular motorway use and, even if I’m pressing on, still a decent average of over 40mpg. If you drive it sensibly, you too should see high 40s and low 50s – without requiring any special techniques.
Some may question hybrid economy as only being good in town, but the IS 300h proves it’s able to perform out of town too. That question mark has thus been fully and comprehensively answered. Now, I’m looking forward to seeing how it improves with warmer weather.
It was while enjoying this warm weather that I gave the Lexus its Silverstone debut, at the 2015 WEC Silverstone 6 Hours race event in early April. Quite fitting transport, given how high tech the racers are: the same hybrid branding that’s on the IS 300h’s door sills was boldly displayed on Toyota’s World Championship-winning WEC LMP1 racers.
I was there with Nissan (rival brand alert, etc), previewing its ambitious new Le Mans project. With a front-engine, front-wheel drive design, it’s like nothing else out there and, if the team realises its on-paper promise, could revolutionise Le Mans racing.
Lexus hasn’t quite done that with the IS but, sitting in traffic later on with the air con keeping me cool without the engine running (yet another example of what you can do with powerful on-board batteries), I did wonder why so few people see it as a 3 Series alternative. With the imminent new Jaguar XE, most consider a premium compact exec sector of three has swelled to four. Surely though, as the IS has been on sale for a few years now, it’s from four to five?
Maybe the upcoming group tests will give the feel-good IS the exposure it’s showing me it deserves…
- Rain-repellent front side glass is a lovely feature. The windows magically stay clear of rain and, even cooler, it’s a really satisfying geeky detail to hand-wash: behold the difference in beading pattern!
- The stereo was oddly cutting in and out for a while, which I put down to poor DAB coverage. Nope: it’s because I had the sat nav on mute, and it seemed to be affecting the audio each time an instruction was issued. To investigate: for now, I’m simply enjoying the non-staccato playback
- When you put the gearbox in P, the doors unlock; when you move to D, they lock again. Brilliant feature that means I don’t have to scrabble for the door unlock button each time Mrs. A gets out and in. She appreciates this
- Something the Lexus has, that no other car I’ve driven has; a permanently-illuminated green light saying the parking sensor system is active. No need for the default bleep when you stick it in reverse, then – so long as you don’t forget you previously turned it off, that is. Guess it’s a ‘quiet revolution’ thing
Lexus IS 300h long-term review: month 3
Unlike Peter’s Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, nobody stops me in the street to ask how I’m getting on with my Lexus. That’s despite the petrol-electric setup being almost as clever (all it lacks is the extra plug-in capacity for the batteries). Just goes to show how far ahead of the rest Lexus was with its hybrid tech: today, it’s taken for granted.
Indeed, it now doesn’t bother to offer a turbodiesel alternative at all: bold move in a sector dominated by diesel, but one that pays off in a sector also dominated by CO2 emissions. Pick a base IS 300h and you enjoy sub-100g/km CO2 emissions, and even BMW’s ‘black magic’ EfficientDynamics tech can’t beat that. Indeed, it’s taken until 2015 and the imminent new Jaguar XE for a rival to even match it.
Trouble is, the base 99g/km CO2 car gets small wheels, and this is sector that doesn’t like small wheels. So the business-focused Executive model I’m running as a long-termer gets 17-inch alloys that look much more like it – and a corresponding 103g/km CO2 figure combined. Still good, just not quite as good as that ‘emissions from’ headliner car.
In reality, nobody cares. There are no fleet advantages to buying sub-100g/km cars anymore (road fund licence is so cheap for low emissions cars, the extra cost is minimal) and the bits included in the Executive more than outweigh any BIK savings.
For here, we have sat nav as standard. Leather seats as standard – heated ones at that. Front and rear parking sensors as standard (they’re a bit slow to respond, mind – remember this if you’re parking ‘swiftly’…). Xenon lights and Lexus ‘L’ daytime running LEDs as standard. DAB radio as standard. I can’t think of anything else I need as standard. Can you?
For £30k, it’s remarkably good value, something that was brought starkly to home recently when we have a Mercedes-Benz C 300 Bluetec Hybrid: list price, £38k. Price with options brining it largely into like with the Lexus, nearly £42k. Crumbs.
And, as our upcoming twin test will show, I know which I’d rather have.
Loving the Lexus
Me and the Lexus get on fine. I was worried what seeds I was sowing when I chose it over the de rigueur turbodiesel, but the reality is economy exactly the same as the Octavia vRS that went before it – without the TDI rattle, external clatter and need to use gloves when you fill it up. It just somehow feels… cleaner.
Partly, this is influenced by the current anti-diesel rhetoric, which is largely nonsense when applied to new cars. I wrote a few weeks ago about all the new diesels that are cleaner than a Fiesta Ecoboost petrol – come September, they’ll be mandatory and you can bet most other manufacturers are looking to get parity with petrol cars.
It’s the old diesels that’s the problem, and this is what the legislators are focusing on. Those that aren’t Euro 6 (or, at a push, Euro 5) are the smokey ones, the ones putting out lots of nasty NOx: driving a Lexus petrol-electric hybrid means I distance myself from such cars, and at the moment get to feel that bit more righteous at the pumps. Until the next bandwagon comes along, that is.
My experiment, I admit, was partly influenced by deadly diesel demonisation. But it was also through curiosity: we’d had hybrids on short-term test and always been slightly disappointed by them. This was, of course, because we were trying to drive a full lifecycle in a few weeks, so the real-world equalisation to economy could never take effect. Driving it day to day for six months lets things correct themselves.
That’s why I’m getting 55mpg in easy commuting use, and 45mpg when I’m in a rush to get to Goodwood, and that’s also why Mrs. A also gets 55mpg when she drives the kids around in it (I reset the trip and don’t tell her; I’m impressed).
The real advantage with a hybrid is the chance to really notch things up in situations where you may not be able to with a diesel – namely, in town. The punch of the electric motor (and reserve of the batteries) means that a half-gentle right foot is enough to set you away on electric-only power and cruise you to 30mph if there are no hills or obstacles in the way.
Electric clock shock
If I were Lexus, I’d fit a timer that resets on every journey, just to show people how often the engine is switched off: I’m sure it would surprise them, as the seemingly constant glow of the green ‘EV’ light in the left of the instrument pack is something I continually find reassuring.
Now the weather’s warming up, I can even get underway using electric power only. Given how I get up at 3 and leave the house by 4.30am, this is appreciated by me but praised deeply by my neighbours, particularly the light sleepers who like to leave their windows open at night (TDIs are gruff things when cold, I’ve been told…).
Not that it’s niggle free. Far from it. Just as the parking sensors are a bit slow, so too is the infotainment system. It’s like operating treacle. The rotary controller is half-intuitive like a BMW, but not fully, and you’re always aware of the grace a 3 Series’ controller displays alongside the clunky IS. Mrs. A finds it indecipherable, and sometimes, I’m with her.
Other small things: the self-centring indicators are nice, but if you indicate in the same direction in a BMW, they cancel. They don’t in a Lexus. Minor gripe but irritating half way through a roundabout. The slidey heater temperature controls are a bit fiddly, but so lovely-looking and different, I’ll forgive them. The foot-operating parking brake seems very 1980s when so many rivals have electric buttons. And couldn’t tyre noise be a little less than it is? Spoils the wonderful refinement of the hybrid drivetrain at speed, it does.
CVT shock win
What, you’re thinking: is that is? No mention of the CVT gearbox? Well, no. That’s because, in daily use, it makes huge sense. I’m enjoying its linearity, enjoying driving with its seamless elasticity, even enjoying the fact it holds onto high revs when I want high-rev power, rather than fiddling around with gearchange that try to chase an ideal power peak.
You may think I’ve taken leave of my senses, but this is a perfect example of why a few days being the wheel of a car don’t give a fulsome representation of what it’s actually like. As I’ve commented on previously, motorway cruises can see barely 1,500rpm registering, which is eco-friendly and remarkable given the fact this is a revvy petrol engine. Yet, soon as you need more shove, the revs dial up and it’s there, lag-free and supported by a torque-laden electric backdrop. It makes huge sense, particularly when you get into my habit of pre-empting sporty driving and switching to geared-up sport mode – the effervescence it adds to the drivetrain is uncommonly satisfying.
By way of contrast, that Merc had a seven-speed automatic gearbox, and felt ‘odd’ to me from the off. It seemed as if it couldn’t find the right gear, was flaring revs and bogging down, seemed notably less perfect and ideal than the Lexus’ one-gear, constantly-varying gearbox. Maybe this is a sign of the aged Merc’s 7G-TRIONIC imperfections; maybe it’s just me ‘getting’ CVT after a decade.
Or maybe it’s Lexus’ engineering helping me like something I’ve loathed in previous incarnations. Whatever, it’s all coming together quite nicely and, while the IS still isn’t the driver’s car a BMW 3 Series is (nor, for that matter, the new Jag XE…), it does still have enough distinct qualities and depth of abilities to make it worthy of spending time with.
• What an elegant climate control system the Lexus has; it makes other cars seem a bit more route one. I sometimes don’t even realise I need a subtle refresh of cold air until it delivers it, and it’s the most set and forget system I’ve had on a long-termer.
• Those who remember old Lexus hybrids’ sorely compromised boots, at ease. Modern battery tech means the IS has 450 litres’ space, which is just 30 shy of a 3 Series. It’s commodious to take this family of four on holiday for a week, just (although the children did get a few bags between their seats and beneath their feet for company)
• For research purposes, I drove the 370 miles to Goodwood and back as quickly as sensibly possible one weekend. Economy average? 40mpg. Which, given my enthusiasm to get there (and get back for lunch with the family), I think is more than a little impressive. Yes, even when monstering it, I haven’t dipped into the 30s. Yet
• The cabin is as beautiful at night as it is at day. It’s a treat, those first few metres when pulling away at 4am, looking at the lovely ice-white lighting and glowing buttons. Quite the expert control deck, it is
The first question most people have when I tell them I’ve switched from diesel to petrol hybrid: what economy are you getting?
With diesel, there’s an assumption that cars will deliver strong mileage, even if the reality isn’t quite there. But with hybrid, it’s split. Some believe a Toyota Prius will deliver 60mpg day in and day out, even if it’s driven at 90mph inches from the rear bumper of a BMW 320d (a surprising number are).
But others are more cynical, believing that hybrid cars are test cycle stars that don’t deliver anything like that in the real world. So, which is it? Cue my regular 100-mile-each-way commute to work (TM), a standard test that allows me to directly compare almost every car I’ve had in on test since 2001.
The Lexus started off… um, pretty middling. The first few runs, the factory-fresh engine was averaging mid-40s mpg. Good for a 223hp petrol car that does 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds; not so good compared to the +10mph of my old diesel Skoda Octavia vRS.
But then a funny thing happened. The mileage clicked over 1,000, I stated to be a bit less circumspect in my running-in-minded control of the hybrid’s revs… and mpg started to go up. We broke a 50mpg average. Then, low 50s. And now? An even 55mpg on the motorway-laden run into work is easily achieved.
I’m a traditionalist. I like to take things gentle in cars for the first few miles, even though most say you don’t need to run modern cars in any more. Looks like the Lexus’ improving economy is proof of that. It also shows that, maybe, there is real-world logic in hybrid tech, too: see, that 55mpg commuting economy has already pretty much matched the vRS – and that’s before you factor in the price savings of petrol versus diesel…
Obsession with economy over: the rest of the IS 300h is fairing quite nicely. Certainly the interior quality is a constant delight. I reckon no junior exec is more special inside than this – not even the new Jaguar XE, that I had chance to drive recently. Soft leather, tactile plastics, tremendous solidity: the Lexus cabin aces all comers.
I’m getting into the swing of hybrid driving as well. You don’t really have to do anything different if you don’t want to, but a bit of adaptation can use the tech to your advantage.
For example, pulling away: it does so under electric, and will reach 30mph with the engine off if you’re steady. As the motor responds smartly and strongly, I’ve started feeding the accelerator in gently when moving off, to avoid the engine immediately flaring and, I sense, benefitting from the electric motor doing the heavy lifting of getting the car rolling without wasting fuel.
Slowing down is satisfying too, because so long as you’re below 50mph, the engine will switch off until you need it again. Cruising through traffic on the motorway is thus a little more satisfying as, again, gentle use of the accelerator can keep the green ‘EV’ light glowing for a satisfyingly long time.
What the Lexus doesn’t do is show the chassis finesse of the new baby Jag. Nor the BMW 3 Series. Compared to those brilliant two rivals, the ride is lumpier, steering more distant, handling less incisive. It’s OK, with sporty initial crispness to make it feel quite lively, but doesn’t have the expertise of its two key rivals.
Really, though, I’m not testing the chassis. I’m seeing if hybrid can be a genuine alternative to diesel in this diesel-dominated sector. And, right now, I’m happy.
- Few things are more satisfying than pulling the doorhandle of the IS, or feeling the soft leather steering wheel, or adjusting the stereo volume using the Japanese hi-fi-style knob. Tactile attention to detail is superb.
Lexus IS 300h long-term review: introduction
Boris Johnson. Islington Council. France. The EU. Diesel is facing attacks from all quarters at the moment, and all because some claim it’s not quite as green and clean as we have been led to believe.
Diesel is great for reducing CO2, and the switch to diesel is a major factor behind Britain’s new cars emitting far less of the greenhouse gas than they were even just five years ago. One of the greenest things you can do is simply swap a decade-old car for a brand new one – and as CO2 relates directly to fuel consumption, you’ll enjoy a healthy saving at the pumps too.
Trouble is, diesels emit higher levels of some other pollutants, including NOx. And it is an excess of NOx that causes inner-city smog on hot sunny days (it’s been linked to other respiratory diseases too). Exceeding limits on NOx, along with particulates, is what the European Union is all set to fine us big for.
It’s not that simple, of course. Brand new diesel cars are not the problem. Indeed, buy one of the latest Euro 6 diesels and you’ll have a car that pretty much matches a petrol car for tailpipe emissions – including NOx. It’s older diesel cars, and HGVs, and buses, and taxis, that are the problem. ‘All diesel cars’ are simply getting rounded up and scowled at by umpteen naysayers.
I love diesel. I love its torque, its range, the fact even small diesels feel like much bigger ones. Every long-termer I’ve ever had has been powered by diesel. But the current furore has got me thinking. Is there really an alternative to diesel for the person driving upwards of 30,000 miles a year?
Hybrid: the alternative to diesel?
Enter Lexus. To the befuddlement of many for years, it’s steadfastly eschewed diesel in favour of petrol-electric hybrid. There’s a hybrid version of every Lexus on sale; usually, it’s the best selling version in the range. Lexus matches its rivals for claimed fuel economy, and CO2, and tax-friendliness, without straying near the black pump.
The current best-seller? The compact executive IS 300h, which goes up, against the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class and which, until the reveal of the Jaguar XE, has been the only genuine alternative to the dominant German brands (sorry, Infiniti).
(Comparisons with the XE and the other compact execs were another reason for picking it, I admit. It’s going to be a five-way battle and I wanted to get to know the outsider as well as I’m getting to know the upstart Jag…)
I’m thus now a custodian of one for six months. An IS 300h Executive, the best-selling variant whose bountiful standard specification includes sat nav, heated leather seats, Xenon headlights and a feast of electric buttons. All for £29,995 (plus £610 for metallic – the only option we’ve had fitted), whose appeal swells further to tax-conscious company car driver through CO2 of just 103g/km and no 3% diesel surcharge to factor in.
It’s a bargain and yet, stepping into it for the first time, you’d swear it cost £5,000 more. Japanese factory-fresh with just 187 miles on the clock, my Sonic Titanium (cool name) was flooded with showroom appeal; so-soft leather steering wheel, firm and low-set seats, centre console that looks as premium as a Japanese hi-fi. You know when you’re in a lower-end 3 Series. Not here.
Then there’s starting it up for the first time. Press the button: it bleeps. That’s it. No diesel shudder, no faint tickover rumble. Hybrid means pull-away and slower-speed gentle-throttle driving is done under instant-response electric power, smoother than the greatest V12. The four-cylinder petrol eventually kicks in but, by then, you’re rolling and moving and so barely even notice it.
As I dropped the delivery driver off at the train station, it was a comprehensive thumbs-up for my first drive. First impressions of my diesel sojourn hadn’t revealed any nasty surprises or confirmed any worries. Now to find out what it’s really like to, for the first time in a decade, consistently reach for the green pump…
- The first motorway trip had me worried: it was low-40s mpg. Since then, however, it’s improving…
- Firm seats felt a bit too firm at first. I’m either getting used to them or they’re wearing in; no such complaints now
- Was upset by the lack of a rev counter – until I discovered that switching to Sport mode changes the ‘chargeometer’ into a proper tacho. This revealed…
- … 70mph could see it pulling less than 1,400rpm if you took it steady! With tricks like this, I could yet come round to the idea of CVT
Specification: 2015 Lexus IS 300h Executive Edition
Price (January 2015): £29,995
Price with options: £30,605 (metallic paint £610)
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid
Power: 184hp (system total: 223hp)
Torque: 221lb ft
0-62mph: 8.4 secs
Top speed: 125mph
Mazda CX-3: Overview
If there is one type of car that seems to define current motoring trends, it has to be the crossover. Take a normal family hatchback, add some SUV-inspired height, and you arrive at this increasingly popular segment. It’s no surprise, then, that Mazda is gunning for the Nissan Juke with its all-new CX-3.
It adopts Mazda’s current ‘KODO’ design language, so you see the common theme of swooping sides and a five-pointed front grille throughout the company’s range of cars. It makes the CX-3 an attractive proposition in a sector where image counts for a lot.
Engine choices for the CX-3 are fairly simple. In the petrol corner is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit, offered in either 118hp or 148hp flavours. The more powerful version is reserved exclusively for the all-wheel-drive CX-3, with the 118hp engine powering front wheels only. The four-wheel-drive model only comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the front-driver also has the option of a six-speed automatic.
There’s only one diesel option, a 104hp turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine. This can be had with either front- or all-wheel drive, and a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes.
Mazda is keen to position the CX-3 as a premium option, with prices reflecting this. The cheapest 2WD manual petrol SE starts at £17,595, with prices rising all the way to the range-topping AWD Sport Nav diesel automatic at £24,695.
Mazda CX-3: On the road
While manufacturers increasingly aim to market their products as sporty, the end result isn’t always achieved. Mazda, on the other hand, has nailed it with the CX-3, creating what can certainly be described as a sporty crossover.
We tried the 118hp petrol engine first, fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox that you could be convinced was from the MX-5 roadster. The gearshift is tight, precise, and features a short throw that makes changing up or down a pleasure.
With a low kerb weight of 1,230kg, the 2.0-litre petrol is able to propel the CX-3 along at a decent pace – a 0-62mph time of 9.0 seconds almost borders on warm-hatch territory. Peak torque is low down at just 2,800rpm, meaning the petrol CX-3 is an easy car to hustle along without feeling flustered.
Less appealing is the 1.5-litre diesel that, while benefiting from the same great manual gearbox, doesn’t quite fit the CX-3’s sporting intent quite so well. Under acceleration you are reminded of the diesel beneath the bonnet, and there is a degree of lag before the turbocharger responds.
Whichever engine you choose, the relative lack of body-roll from what is quite a tall vehicle is impressive. In keeping with the sports image, the CX-3 maintains a surprisingly upright attitude through twisty corners. Bends can be tackled with far more enthusiasm than expected, with the three-spoke steering wheel giving decent levels of feedback.
We found the petrol Sport Nav spec car with 18-inch wheels produced the best overall body control, in comparison to the diesel SE-L equipped with 16-inch alloys. The smaller wheeled car was more prone to bouncing over bumps, and also lost the crisper initial steering turn-in, too.
It’d be wrong to say the CX-3 is as enjoyable to drive as the iconic MX-5, but it successfully delivers on the promise of being sufficiently sporty to add driving pleasure to your journey.
Mazda CX-3: On the inside
Starting at £17,595, the CX-3 is pricier than both the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur, with Mazda unashamedly pitching it as an upmarket product.
Carbon-fibre trim covers parts of the steering wheel and doors, while neatly stitched leather makes an appearance on the dashboard, arm rests and centre console. Combined with chrome detailing and eyeball air-vents, it all adds up to produce a cabin that can genuinely claim to feel more premium against the CX-3’s rivals.
Further helping justify the premium price is a high level of standard specification. All cars feature air conditioning, DAB radio, cruise control, power-folding door mirrors, and a 7in touchscreen multimedia system. With Bluetooth connectivity, two USB ports, a single-CD player and internet app integration, the CX-3 comes with a lot of equipment that would be expensive options on some competitors.
Rear parking sensors, heated front seats, auto lights and wipers, privacy glass and lane departure warning join the party at SE-L spec, whilst the top Sport Nav adds LED headlights, a seven-speaker Bose stereo system, keyless entry and a useful head-up display. Logically, Sport Nav trim also includes standard satellite navigation with three years of free map upgrades.
Front interior space is more than ample, with enough adjustment in seats and steering wheel for drivers of any shape to get comfortable. Being supermini sized means the rear seats are better suited to children, rather than adults. Also, while a coupé-style roofline may help the CX-3 look cool, it does eat into rear headroom.
Boot space of 350 litres in SE and SE-L trim is identical to that of the MINI Countryman, although Sport Nav trim lowers this to 287 litres due to a subwoofer being mounted in the cargo space. Standard 60:40 folding rear seats offer an increase of space to 1,260 litres (1,197 for the Sport Nav car), with SE and SE-L models also gaining a height-adjustable load floor.
Mazda CX-3: Running Costs
In a world where everything is now downsized, finding a naturally aspirated petrol engine in a small car is a rarity. In fact, Mazda expects the 2.0-litre petrol engine to account for 60% of all CX-3 sales. Its ‘Skyactiv’ philosophy of reducing weight where possible is intended to allow a bigger engine with no fuel economy penalty.
Officially, the 118hp petrol achieves fuel consumption of 47.9mpg, with CO2 emissions of 137g/km. That matches the MINI Countryman 1.6 petrol, and places the CX-3 into the £130-a-year car tax bracket.
Naturally, the 1.5-litre diesel is the fuel miser on paper, with official economy of 70.6mpg, and C02 emissions of 105g/km – sufficient for £20 a year road tax, and on par with class competitors. However, given the £1,400 premium charged for the diesel engine, it may be best suited to those doing substantial annual mileages.
Residual values after three years and 60,000 miles are predicted to be 39% for the petrol engined car, with the diesel slightly stronger at 41%.
Mazda CX-3: Verdict
Does the CX-3 deliver on the promise of being a sporty and premium small crossover? Yes, and indeed, yes.
In fact it’s far sportier than you would imagine a crossover can be, while staying within the realms of everyday usability. Mazda has channelled the influence of the MX-5 into the CX-3, with sharp steering and a snappy manual gearbox.
Add to that stylish good looks, an upmarket interior and a generous level of standard specification, and the CX-3 begins to make a very strong argument for itself in a competitive market. For many, the only barrier to entry will be the strong starting price, despite the actual value for money delivered.
Specification: Mazda CX-3
Engines: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol and 1.5-litre 4-cylinder diesel
Gearbox: Six-speed manual and six-speed automatic
Prices from: £17,595
Power: 104hp – 148hp
Torque: 150 – 199lb ft
0-62mph: 9.0 – 11.9 seconds
Top speed: 107 – 119mph
Fuel economy: 44.1 – 70.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 105 – 150g/km
Next time you go walking past a dilapidated barn, take a peek inside. Chances are, there could be something of real interest lurking inside. Like a car, perhaps.
We’re not entirely sure why you’d put a car in a barn and then forget about it for decades, but the number of so-called ‘barn-finds’ suggests it happens more often than you’d think. And no, we’re not talking about the dubious ‘barn-finds’ listed on internet auction sites. Deciding to sell a car that’s been parked on your driveway or in your garage for a couple of years doesn’t count.
Selecting the 10 best barn-finds of all time is harder than you might think. We could have included countless Aston Martins, Ferraris and Jaguars. Sure, there are four Ferraris in our top 10, but each one has a remarkable story to tell. So, grab a torch, dust off the cobwebs and join us as we take a tour of the greatest barn-find cars in the world.
Ferrari 250 GT California
This 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider was part of the remarkable Baillon barn-find collection unearthed in France last year. More than 60 cars – including the Ferrari 250 GT – were stashed away by a wealthy collector, but then forgotten about. Roger Baillon, an entrepreneur who ran a transport company, had started assembling the collection in the 1950s. His aim was to build a collection of pre-war cars in a museum environment, but when his business fell on hard times, Baillon was forced to mothball the collection. Sadly, he died 10 years ago.
The Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider was undoubtedly the star of the collection. Its first owner was comedian Gérard Blain, who later sold it to actor Alain Delon. He was photographed in the car alongside Shirley MacLaine and Jane Fonda, giving the Ferrari added provenance. The car was considered lost forever and was indeed written off by historians. It sold for a record-breaking £12.1 million at auction. Forget cash in the attic, this was more cash in the barn.
Barn-find Ferrari sells for record £12.1m
Lotus Esprit ‘Submarine Car’
What’s the best Bond car of all-time? No, not the Aston Martin DB5, it has to be the Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me. Its appearance in the film didn’t happen by chance. In a classic example of product placement, the Lotus PR team had positioned a de-badged pre-production model of the Esprit directly opposite film producer Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s office at Pinewood Studios. Broccoli liked what he saw and a deal was struck for Lotus to supply two production vehicles for the movie. Seven extra body shells were supplied, one of which had been sealed all round for the famous underwater scenes.
The body was shipped to Perry Oceanographics, where it was converted to underwater use. The rest is history and, once the filming was complete, the Esprit was shipped to New York where it remained in a storage unit for 10 years. Amazingly, it was bought in a Storage Wars-style blind auction and the couple who had won it couldn’t quite believe what they had unearthed. It’s the only functional Lotus Esprit Submarine Car. In 2013, it sold at auction for £616,000. The buyer? A certain Elon Musk of Tesla fame.
James Bond’s submarine car goes up for sale
The Aristotle Onassis Lamborghini Miura
Internet auction sites are littered with unwanted presents. Clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, Lamborghinis… Wait, Lamborghinis? OK, so here’s the story. Stamatis Kokotas was kind of a big deal in Greece in the 1970s. What do you mean, you haven’t heard of him? Kokotas was to the Greeks what Tom Jones is to the Welsh. The singing rally driver was even nicknamed the ‘Greek Elvis’. Yes, you read that right – Kokotas was part rally driver and part singer. What a guy.
Turns out Kokotas also had friends in high places, such as the Greek shipping millionaire, Aristotle Onassis. Amazingly, Onassis gifted his friend a metallic brown Lamborghini Miura P400S. Records suggest that the Miura was confined to an underground car park at the Athens Hilton after an engine fire at 52,000 miles. There it stayed until 2004, when the Athens Olympic Games saw it moved to another location. In 2012, it failed to reach its reserve at auction and hasn’t been seen since. A potential barn-find of the future?
Bugatti Type 57S Atalante
In 2009, this Bugatti Type 57S Atalante hit the headlines after being discovered in a garage where it had been gathering dust for 50 years. The car was originally owned by Earl Howe, the first president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club. Dr Harold Carr bought the Bugatti in 1955 and drove it for a few years before leaving it in a garage near his home in Gosforth for the best part of five decades. Dr Carr suffered from a form of OCD and hoarded everything he owned. After his death, his relatives also found an Aston Martin and a Jaguar E-Type. The Jag was in such a sorry state, it had to be scrapped.
Only 17 of these Bugattis were built, so it was no surprise when it sold at auction for £2.8 million.
Citroen 2CV prototypes
The Citroen 2CV went on to become one of the world’s most successful cars, but this was largely thanks to a game of wartime hide and seek. With the outbreak of war and the German occupation of France, Michelin and Citroen were keen for the Nazis not to discover the original prototypes – or TPVs. They were squirrelled away in barns and outbuildings, where they stayed until the end of the war. In fact, the cars were so well concealed, it was felt that they were lost forever.
But Citroen’s management team knew of their whereabouts and sent orders for them to be destroyed. Upon hearing this, some workers decided to hide them away, realising they had immense historical value. They remained in their hiding place until 1995, when they were found in French barn.
Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta
Only 25 Ferrari 166 MM Barchettas were ever built, which made the discovery of one sat in the Arizonian desert all the more surprising. The Ferrari was shipped from Switzerland to America, where it was used regularly until an engine failure forced it off the road. It stood in the desert, covered in old rugs and pieces of plastics, until the rugs were removed for use elsewhere.
So there it remained, basking in the searing heat of the desert. When the Ferrari’s owner died, his children alerted the world to its whereabouts and it eventually ended up at auction in Arizona. It sold for $1.87 million. OK, so we admit no barns were involved with this discovery. But you don’t find a Ferrari in a desert every day.
Mercedes-Benz 600 ‘Six Door’ Pullman Landaulet
We could have included more valuable barn-finds. Heck, we could have featured more beautiful barn-finds. But there’s just something about this Mercedes-Benz 600 ‘Six Door’ Pullman Landaulet that makes it a fascinating discovery. The fact that it sold at auction for £450,000 means that we’re probably not alone in that assessment.
The 600 Pullman Landaulet was ordered almost exclusively by heads of state, dictators or the incredibly wealthy. Many would have had the car designed and built to their own exacting standards. So what’s the story behind this particular 5.5m-long saloon car? Who rode in the back of it? What stories could it tell? We’ll have to leave that to our imagination.
This Porsche collection attracted a huge amount of attention in 2013. In fact, it was a bigger story than Kim Kardashian’s bottom. Allegedly. The collection was built up over a ten-year period and included a range of 911s, 912s and 356s.
Some were in a state of disrepair while others could have been described as rolling projects. We’d never seen anything quite like it before. The collection was broken up in lots by Anglia Car Auctions and sold over a 12-month period.
Dino 246 GTS
The story of the buried Dino 246 GTS is one of our favourite things on the internet. If you haven’t read the story on Jalopnik, we suggest you wander over there today and have a look.
The 1974 246 GTS was quite literally buried in a Los Angeles garden before being unearthed in 1978 and subsequently restored. The 246 GTS shown here isn’t the actual car. It’s another 246 GTS that forms part of The Pinnacle Collection being auctioned in Monterey this summer.
Ferrari 250 GTO
And finally, a story that’s more ‘garden-find’ than ‘barn-find’, but is no less compelling. According to the website, The RetroMobilist, the Ferrari 250 GTO had sat on a front lawn for 15 years and few people gave it a second thought. Indeed, locals and Ferrari enthusiasts the world over knew of its whereabouts. The car was originally sold and raced in the UK, before arriving in Texas and – wait for it – being donated to a Texas school.
It was then sold at auction to a chap who put it on the back of a trailer and left it in his front garden, totally exposed to the elements. Eventually, the owner was encouraged to sell it and it now belongs to a Swiss collector. Want to know how much this garden ornament was worth? Well a Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta sold at auction last year for £25 million. Time to check that barn?
The cars were all made between 1997 and 2013, their calculations producing a fascinating list of losers. Top of the pile was the tiny Smart ForTwo, which at that point appeared to have lost Daimler, its makers, £3.35bn euros.
In the number two slot was the Fiat Stilo, produced from 2001-09 and a car that burned 2.1bn euros-worth of its maker’s money.
The rest of this fine array of automotive hardware will be reserved for subsequent Great Motoring Disaster stories. For now we’ll linger over the sorry device that was the Stilo. In fact, it was three cars, the three-door decidedly more stylish than the deliberately dull five door – we’ll come to the dullness later – these two later joined by the Stilo Multiwagon estate.
Though a troubled car, the Stilo was the descendent of an impressive if disappointingly rust-prone machine born 32 years earlier. The 1969 Fiat 128 may not look very exciting today, its three-box silhouette simple enough that it could have been drawn by a child, but this was a modestly radical car back in 1969.
It was front-wheel drive, its engine transversely mounted as in the Mini that part-inspired it. But unlike the Mini, its gearbox did not sit under the engine to share its oil, but was positioned at the end of it, a layout that would be followed by almost every front-drive hatchback that has come since.
In fact, the 128 wasn’t the first car to use this layout, Fiat first trying the mechanicals on the Autobianchi Primula, Autobianchi selling mostly in Italy and France. The thinking was that if there were reliability troubles, they wouldn’t damage the Fiat brand, which sold cars in vast numbers.
Anyway, the Primula functioned without trouble, clearing the way for the 128, whose crisply revvy engines, tidy handling and generally enthusiastic personality won it a huge following, despite its neatly detailed but decidedly ordinary shape. Fiat won the 1970 European Car of the Year award for its troubles too.
Why is all this relevant to the Stilo? Because Fiat’s first 21st century small front drive family car was by then the fourth model aiming to emulate the 128’s success, the Strada, Tipo and Bravo/Brava having not quite managed it. And that had a bearing on the way the Stilo turned out.
So did the Bravo and Brava, which had plenty going for them when they debuted in 1995. The three-door Bravo and five-door Brava benefited from quite significant styling differences, the Bravo memorable for its large rear lamp clusters – pioneering then, if commonplace today – and its neatly pretty styling.
The Brava shared the same front section, but its rear was distinguished by a slightly tub-like lower tailgate and taillamps composed of three stacked ellipses per side. That looked even more radical, although the Brava was not quite as visually pleasing as the Bravo. It was also aimed at buyers who were almost depressingly conservative in their shopping habits, as revealed by Fiat’s subsequent research data.
Still, the duo got off to a good start, aided by appealing if slightly quirky interiors, decent enough manners and some rather moribund competition. But the honeymoon faded when another car with highly distinctive taillights appeared in 1998, the Ford Focus arresting not only for its red and orange identifiers but for the fact that it was way, way better than any Ford of this size that had been before. Not to mention all of its competition.
The Focus hit the Fiat hard, as so did the Mk4 Golf, whose unbelievably high cabin quality made the Italian car’s interior look cheaply finished despite its imaginative sculpting. Couple this onslaught to the fact that buyers didn’t much like the Brava’s back-end (although millions loved the weird new Focus), and Fiat reckoned it knew what it had to do for Project 192, the Barvo/Brava’s replacement.
A sexily styled three-door it would keep, but this time the five-door would be decidedly more rational, functional and useful. The aim was to provide it with many of the convenience features of an MPV, this task eased by a new modular platform enabling it to be usefully taller and longer than the three-door.
You sat higher in it, making it easier to get in, its split rear seats slid back and forth and its front passenger seat folded forward. That was for long loads or a chaise longue, Fiat’s press kit optimistically reckoned, its occupant presumably lighting up to muse on why they were reclining there.
Less indulgently, there was also a drop-down table in the rear for scribbling kids. All of which made the five-door Stilo five-door a pretty versatile thing.
But that was nothing to the effort that Fiat put into its equipment, starting with a telematics system called Connect. This concierge service was well ahead of its time, and in this class so was the ultimate 7in colour sat nav screen, and the four lower-grade infomatic systems on offer.
Mobile phone connections, internet access, sat nav and the ability to play MP3 files were advanced stuff for a car in this class in 2001.
The Stilo could also be had with a so-called skyroof, a series of glass louvres electrically tilting skywards, radar-governed cruise control, electric front seats, climate control with a digital LCD display, eight airbags and more.
Fiat’s product planning logic looked impeccable. Its modular platform allowed it to develop two kinds of car for relatively modest extra investment, and it was bang-on with its view that connectivity was about to invade the car’s cabin.
Trouble was, the Stilo five-door looked about as exciting as a bag of flour, and that made the idea of spending indulgent sums optioning it unappealing. It just wasn’t that kind of a car. And though the three-door appealed, especially with its pleasingly blocky taillights, it wasn’t quite as temptingly bold as the previous Bravo.
The Stilo’s black, grey and gloom cabin wasn’t especially tempting either. This despite Fiat spending a heap on a soft-feel facia that was certainly a comfortingly pliant thing to prod, but had the texture of ancient petrified wood. And much of the hardware hanging around it was disappointingly low grade.
Driving the Stilo was a low-grade experience too, especially after a Focus. It was a little too heavy, its rear axle had been was an unsophisticated twist beam rear axle rather than the Brava’s independent set-up and its smaller engines lacked zest.
Frustratingly for enthusiasts, the warm hatch 2.4 litre five cylinder three-door Abarth, actually quite a cool thing in the right colour, could only be had with a Selespeed automatic that made its user look like they were driving in clogs.
Because Fiat had driven deep into a pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap strategy in many markets, Britain included, buyers simply wanted the boggo versions and an irresistible price to go with it. Which meant that the long options list mostly went unticked.
To this day I have yet to see a Stilo with a Skyroof, nor any of the myriad intermediate Connect systems. And the radar-controlled cruise was soon deleted for misreading the road ahead.
Sales bombed across most of Europe, although the three-door didn’t do badly. But by the time Fiat offered the Abarth with a manual gearbox the moment had passed, even a fanciful Michael Schumacher limited edition part-engineered by Prodrive failing to heighten its appeal.
The Stilo fell so far short of its sales projections that Fiat even offered a struggling MG Rover the chance to use the platform and some of the company’s manufacturing capacity to produce its ultimately mythical new medium car.
Fiat sold 767,000 Stilos during its nine-year run, many of those in Brazil where it enjoyed a three-year afterlife, one version unconvincingly badged ‘Attractive’. It’s not a number that compares well with the 3.1m 128s built between 1969 and 1985.
The tragedy of the Stilo is that a lot of deep thinking and money was sunk into this project, either in the wrong areas, or with the wrong execution. But the worst failing, and the one that usually kills the chances of any car, was that the five-door Stilo had no style. And that was the version that was supposed to bring home the bacon.
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