12 ways drones could change your life

12 ways that drones could change your life

12 ways drones could change your lifeYou’ve probably heard about personal drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) — you may have even seen one flying overhead on your travels.

They’ve managed to capture the imagination of gadget-lovers everywhere, but there’s more to these contraptions than stunts and overhead photography…

Delivering packages

12 ways drones could change your life

Amazon is just one of many companies looking into drone deliveries. It sounds like a crazy concept at first, but it could significantly speed up the time it takes for packages to get to remote corners of the country, saving the delivery firm and you money along the way.

If the drone could track your smartphone, it could bring the package straight to you, and you wouldn’t have to wait in at home.

Responding to natural disasters

12 ways drones could change your life

What if the package is far more urgent than the latest Blu-ray box set or a pack of batteries? Drones could literally save lives if they’re able to deliver medicine and other supplies to parts of the world that have been cut off by natural disasters — if roads and railways are destroyed, drones can still reach their targets, and as we’ve already mentioned they can zero in on particular people or places.

Spotting exam cheats

12 ways drones could change your life

Don’t laugh: drones have actually been deployed to spot exam cheats in certain parts of China. From their high vantage points they can see much more than a human invigilator can, and they can also scan a room for suspicious smartphone activity (just in case one of the students is trying to get answers via text message).

Don’t be surprised if you see a drone hovering over you during your next exam.

Patrolling borders

12 ways drones could change your life

Drones can be used to keep an eye on borders as well as exam rooms — the USA authorities already use UAVs to cover the vast US-Mexico border, and their use is only going to increase in the years ahead.

Remember that drones don’t need to sleep or eat or take time off, they can cover vast distances, and they can be fitted with sensors that are much better at spotting people than the naked eye is.

Sports events

12 ways drones could change your life

From illegal immigrants to sporting occasions — drones are set to transform the way that live sport is filmed, and they’ve already been used in the World Cup finals and at the Olympics.

With high-resolution cameras fitted to them, these flying machines can capture some incredible footage, and they’re even capable of accurately and automatically following players or athletes as they move around.

Aerial photography

12 ways drones could change your life

Perhaps the most obvious use of drones and the one you might be most familiar with. These machines are great for capturing photos and videos from high in the sky, whether you’re filming a blockbuster movie or just getting a better look at your local neighbourhood.

Assuming drones haven’t been banned in the park or beauty spot you’re in, they’re a great way of capturing the local area.

Real-life games

12 ways drones could change your life

UAV owners have already started getting together to hold small drone racing contests, something that could get bigger and bigger in the years to come.

Add augmented reality to the mix — perhaps a smartphone app overlaying graphics on top of the camera feed coming from a drone — and you could try (virtually) shooting down enemy fighters and objects that come into the drone’s field of view.

Wildlife research

12 ways drones could change your life

Think about the benefits that drones have over you and me — they can get to the remotest of locations and hover discreetly in the sky without disturbing anything on the ground.

That makes them eminently suitable for wildlife research, whether that involves the spread of a rainforest habitat or the travelling patterns of a group of buffalo. Many researchers have already started using the technology.

Weather and science research

12 ways drones could change your life

Sticking with the research theme, another benefit of drones is that they’re easier to replace than human beings.

If you need to take some scientific readings from the middle of a hurricane or from inside a volcano, then an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is the perfect solution — the drones can be packed with sensors and measuring devices, feeding back data wirelessly in case they get destroyed.

Farming

12 ways drones could change your life

If you’re farming several acres of land then drones can be useful in all kinds of ways: checking where your livestock are, monitoring the conditions of your drops, dropping water or fertiliser on your fields, and so on.

Farmers are finding all kinds of innovative ways to make use of drones, and as the technology improves (with added range and added abilities) their use is likely to keep growing.

Space exploration

12 ways drones could change your life

There’s one other difference between drones and people that you might not have thought about, and that’s their ability to operate without oxygen.

From measuring the edges of the earth’s atmosphere, to venturing across the surface of foreign planets, Unmanned Aerial (and ground) Vehicles are going to play an important role in finding out more about our universe and exploring new places ahead of us.

Medical assistance

12 ways drones could change your life

An ambulance might not be able to get around the streets of a crowded city very easily, but a drone certainly can, swooping over the heads of passers-by to bring medicine and assistance to where it’s needed most.

Of course you’re going to need a human being at the other end to operate whatever bit of equipment it is or administer the medicine, but drones could still be the difference between life and death.

The 20 best hot hatches to suit all budgets

The 20 best hot hatches to suit all budgets

The 20 best hot hatches to suit all budgetsThe all-new Honda Civic Type-R has reignited our interest in things of a hot hatch nature.

But while Honda’s £300 per month PCP deal is tempting, we’re instead turning to the classifieds to hunt down some bargains on the secondhand market.

We’ve got something to suit all budgets – from a £700 Ford to a 300hp monster costing upwards of £30,000. Which one will you choose?

Less than £2,500

Renaultsport Clio 172: prices from £1,000

RenaultSport Clio 172

The Renaultsport Clio 172 is proof – if proof were needed – that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get your hands on one of the greatest hot hatches of all-time. Arriving at the turn of the millennium, the lightweight and immensely chuckable Clio redefined the hot hatch for a new generation. Opt for the 172 Cup for a more hardcore experience.

Ford SportKa: prices from £700

Ford Sportka

When pub chat turns to the subject of affordable hot hatches, it’s often a while before the conversation turns to the Ford SportKa. There then follows a collective nodding of heads as folk remember just how good this pocket rocket actually was. Think of it as a modern-day MK1 Golf GTi, with a wheel at each corner and a 1.6-litre 8v engine. A bargain, with prices starting from just £700.

Citroen Saxo VTS: prices from £1,000

Citroen Saxo VTS

Don’t knock it, because the Citroen Saxo VTS – along with its Peugeot 106 GTI sibling – followed the old school hot hatch recipe. It weighed just 935kg, had a 1.6-litre engine and – thanks to its love of lift-off oversteer – could catch out the unwary. Thanks to an image problem, numbers are dwindling fast. Catch one while you can.

Ford Puma: prices from £500

Ford Puma

Yes, we know the Ford Puma is a coupe, so shouldn’t be included on a list of hot hatches, but by virtue of the fact it can shame many an illustrious hatchback, it deserves its place here. Quite simply, the Puma is one of the best driver-focused front-wheel drive cars you can buy and prices start from £500. Opt for the 1.7-litre version but look out for terminal rust.

£2,500-£5,000

Renault Clio Williams: prices from £3,500

Renault Clio Williams

Already well on the way to classic status, if it isn’t there already. The Clio Williams set the blueprint for all future Renaultsport cars and indeed, it was Renault’s sporting arm which handled the makeover. Power was sourced from a 2.0-litre 16v engine and the one to have is the original Clio Williams, of which 500 were made.

Peugeot 205 GTi: prices from £3,000

Peugeot 205 GTi

If the MK1 Volkswagen Golf GTI represented the birth of the hot hatch, the Peugeot 205 GTI saw it come of age. Whether in 1.6-litre or 1.9-litre form, the 205 GTI represents the pinnacle of the hot hatch. Peugeot has been trying to recapture the magic ever since.

Fiat Panda 100HP: prices from £2,500

Fiat Panda 100HP

Choosing between the next two cars on our list will be tough, but the Fiat Panda 100HP just edges it in terms of charm and style. It’s Italian, after all. Power is sourced from a 1.4-litre engine and develops – you guessed it – 100hp. As an extra bonus, the six-speed gearbox means you’ll easily achieve 40mpg, so matter how much fun you’re having.

Suzuki Swift Sport: prices from £3,500

Suzuki Swift Sport

You can buy a new Suzuki Swift Sport from as little as £13,999, which is undeniably a bargain. But for pure enjoyment we prefer the original first generation Swift Sport. It was less powerful than its replacement, but it required more work to get the best from it. And that’s a very good characteristic in a junior hot hatch.

£5,000-£10,000

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5: prices from £5,000

Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5

The fifth generation Golf GTI saw a welcome return to form for the car that practically invented the hot hatch formula. It helped that the MK5 Golf provided a good platform, but the 2.0-litre engine and suspension provided the necessary ingredients for success. And the interior was well executed – a fitting tribute to the MK1 and MK2.

Volvo C30 T5: prices from £6,000

Volvo C30

Wait, what? A Volvo on a list of great hot hatches? Well they say variety is the spice of life and the C30 T5 offers something different. A more grown-up approach, if you like. Put it this way – you get the quirky looks and delightful interior of a C30 with the same 2.5-litre 5-cylinder engine you’ll find in a Ford Focus ST. Tempting, isn’t it?

Renaultsport Megane R26: prices from £7,000

Renaultsport Megane R26

Frankly, we could have loaded this entire feature with different Renaultsport Meganes, because they’re amongst the best hot hatches of all-time. There have been many special editions along the way, including the not at all clumsily-named Renault Megane Renaultsport 230 F1 Team R26. For the ultimate experience, opt for the R26.R – the most hardcore of the lot. But you will need to spend much, much more.

Alfa Romeo 147 GTA: prices from £7,000

Alfa Romeo 147 GTA

We admit there are better hot hatches available and the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA isn’t perfect. But the hot Alfa has one ace up its sleeve and that’s the creamy 3.2-litre V6 engine. It also looks a million dollars and has that all important Alfa Romeo badge on the bonnet.

£10,000-£15,000

Skoda Octavia vRS: prices from £10,000

Skoda Octavia vRS

You can spend significantly less and get your hands on the original Octavia vRS. You can also spend less to get an early and leggy MK2. But we’d suggest spending at least £10,000, which will get you a three-year-old petrol or diesel in either hatchback or estate form. Both are super-practical and are backed by one of the best dealer networks in the country.

MINI Cooper S Mk2: prices from £10,000

MINI Cooper S

You can pick up an early first generation MINI Cooper S for a few grand, but we’d suggest opting for the second generation R56 version. The 1.6-litre turbocharged engine is punchy and when combined with the raspy exhaust, emits a better soundtrack than the supercharged Cooper S of before. They hold their value tremendously well, too.

Ford Fiesta ST: prices from £13,000

Ford Fiesta ST

The new Ford Fiesta ST is, quite simply, the best hot hatch you can buy new. And with some tempting PCP offers, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy new. But Fiesta STs are now starting to appear on the used car market and prices start at just £13,000. Wow.

Ford Focus RS (MK1): prices from £10,000

Ford Focus RS

We’ve been saying for a while that the original Ford Focus RS is sure-fire future classic with proper investment potential. We may have missed the boat, because prices are heading north of £10,000 and showing no signs of retreating. Never fear, you can always buy the MK2 Focus RS or opt for the equally good ST. Or just wait for the all-new RS…

Over £15,000

Audi S3: prices from £30,980

Audi S3

The Audi S3 produces a delightful soundtrack and offers bags of grip. Sure, it’s not the most involving of hot hatches, but it has a rock-solid image and 300hp from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. And don’t forget there’s a new and even more potent RS3 Sportback to consider, too.

BMW M135i: prices from £31,725

BMW M135i

The BMW M135i offers something different to the other cars on the list – rear-wheel drive. Power is sourced from a silky smooth 3.0-litre 6-cylinder engine and it’ll rocket to 62mph in just 5.1 seconds. The chassis is so well balanced and the car is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Volkswagen Golf R: prices from £30,820

Volkswagen Golf R

A 300hp Volkswagen Golf, whatever next? Fortunately it makes use of the 4Motion all-wheel drive system, so you have every chance of keeping this thing on the straight and narrow. Available in three or five-door form, the Golf R isn’t exactly cheap. But it’s very, very good and can be ordered in super-practical wagon form, too. All the car you’ll ever need?

Honda Civic Type R: prices from £29,995

Honda Civic Type R

And finally, the newest kid on the block – the all-new Honda Civic Type-R. We absolutely adore the latest incarnation, awarding it a maximum five-star review. The engine produces a massive 310hp and yet it remains 100% useable. Drive one – you will want one.

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

Windows 10: the 12 biggest improvements

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvementsIt’s hard to overestimate the importance of the Windows 10 launch today (29 July).

Representing Microsoft’s bold vision of the future of computing, the new version marks a watershed for Windows as an operating system, as its makers switch to a more continuous and incremental upgrade policy, and it’s packed with features designed to help you get more out of your devices.

Here are a dozen things you need to know about Windows 10.

Switch from touchscreens to keyboards

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

One of the biggest perceived problems with Windows 8 was the awkward way it tried to combine a touchscreen tablet interface with a traditional desktop one controlled by a mouse and a keyboard.

Windows 10 brings with it Continuum, a new feature that detects whether a keyboard is connected and then rearranges and optimises the interface accordingly. On two-in-one hybrid devices you can use Continuum to switch between the two modes almost instantly.

Cortana on the desktop

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

Cortana is Microsoft’s digital assistant, designed to take on Siri and Google Now head on, but up until now it’s been restricted to Windows Phone. With Windows 10, Cortana spreads its wings to the desktop too, and you can access all of the same features — smart Web searches, intelligent responses to natural language prompts (“remind me to email my wife tomorrow”) and much more.

With Cortana apps on the way for iOS and Android devices too, it’s going to be crucial to Microsoft’s future.

The return of the Start menu

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

One of the biggest outcries when Windows 8 arrived centred on the removal of the Start menu — or rather its transformation into the Start screen. Microsoft has listened and brought the Start menu back in desktop mode, though tiled, animated apps can still be pinned to it alongside more traditional shortcuts.

When Windows detects you aren’t using a keyboard (see the first improvement we mentioned), the touch-friendly Start screen mode automatically returns as the default.

A brand new browser

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

It feels like Microsoft has been playing catch-up in the Web browser stakes for a long time now, as young upstarts like Firefox and Chrome steal users away from Internet Explorer.

The company wants to change that with Microsoft Edge, a new browser for Windows 10 (though Internet Explorer will still be lurking in the corner for the benefit of those who still need it): Microsoft Edge is fast, it’s streamlined, and it includes extra features such as the ability to annotate websites as you view them.

New ways to log in

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

If you didn’t get the memo, passwords are definitely on the way out at last. Windows 10 includes a host of new ways to log into your account when you boot up your computer, including fingerprint reading technology and facial recognition support, so you can definitively prove you are who you say you are.

Which options are available to you will depend on the type of laptop, desktop or tablet you buy, but support for these methods is going to be built right into the software.

Xbox One and Oculus Rift integration

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

Microsoft is going big on gaming with Windows 10 too: it’s going to work seamlessly with the Xbox One and the forthcoming Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. You’re going to be able to stream and record games live from an Xbox to a Windows 10 machine on the same network, and that’s just the start for console integration.

On the VR side, from next year gamers will be able to plug a Rift headset into a Windows 10 computer and jump into a fully immersive digital world.

Improved apps that run anywhere

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

Windows Phone’s big flaw has always been its app selection, something that Microsoft wants to fix with Windows 10 — the Mobile version of the platform is going to roll out shortly after the desktop edition. Apps can run seamlessly across all kinds of devices, and Microsoft recently announced tools for developers to make it easier to port apps over from iOS and Android.

In the not-too-distant future, you could be running Instagram, Snapchat and Gmail across every Windows 10 device.

Enhanced desktop features

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

Desktop users might have felt a little neglected and overlooked when Windows 8 came out, but the focus is now back on the traditional Windows interface with the next edition. Modern, universal apps (which work everywhere) can now be run in windows on the desktop, and it’s possible to snap windows into the corners as well as to the sides of the screen.

Microsoft has revamped notifications too, which now appear on the right-hand side of the display where the Charms bar used to be.

Streamlined settings

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

Another area where Windows 8 wasn’t quite a successful mix of the old and new was in computer settings.

Thankfully, the integration between the new options pane and the old Control Panel is much more straightforward in Windows 10, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the settings you’re after: the most important ones are given priority and the more obscure ones are hidden away so you don’t have to worry about them. It makes for a PC that’s much easier to configure.

A companion to your smartphone

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

Microsoft knows you’re probably not running Windows on your smartphone (at least not yet) so it’s created a whole new Phone Companion app to connect up your Windows 10 PC with an iOS or Android mobile device.

You can transfer files, contacts, music and more with ease, and the aim from Microsoft’s perspective is to get all of its software (OneDrive, Office, Outlook, Skype, Cortana) on your smartphone whether or not you’re actually using Windows 10 Mobile on it.

Free and automatic updates

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

For the first time, users of the Home edition of Windows aren’t going to get a choice when it comes to installing software updates, and that’s good news for just about everyone. It means your operating system is going to be patched and protected on a regular basis, and there’s less chance of a security vulnerability staying unfixed.

Windows 10 is a free upgrade for the first year that it’s going to be available, and Microsoft has confirmed it’s going to support the operating system for the next five years.

Better OneDrive integration

Windows 10: 12 of the biggest improvements

OneDrive is going to be more important than ever in Windows 10 as Microsoft looks to compete with Google Drive and Apple iCloud. Thanks to the apps available for iOS and Android you can access your photos and files from anywhere, and of course having your files in OneDrive means they’re automatically backed up.

Everyone gets 15GB of storage space for free, and you can pay if you need more (subscribe to Office 365 and you actually get an unlimited amount of OneDrive space).

Ferrari 488 Spider

2016 Ferrari 488 Spider revealed ahead of Frankfurt debut

Ferrari 488 Spider

Hot on the heels of the 458-replacing Ferrari 488 GTB, the Italian manufacturer has revealed its most powerful convertible ever.

Powered by a turbocharged V8 engine, the Ferrari 488 Spider produces 660hp and will hit 62mph in 3.0 seconds flat – exactly the same as its coupe equivalent. And it’s good for 203mph.

Despite a trick folding hard-top that Ferrari claims is 25kg lighter than a conventional soft-top, the 488 Spider is 50kg heavier than the GTB – but 10kg lighter than its 458 predecessor.

Is it for posing?

Traditionally, serious drivers have preferred their Ferraris in coupe flavour for the extra structural rigidity. Ferrari says the 488 Spider’s spaceframe chassis is made of 11 different aluminium alloys along with materials such as magnesium, meaning it boasts identical torsional rigidity and beam stiffness figures as the coupe.

In simple terms, it should be as good to drive as the coupe – with chassis performance improved by 23% over the 458 Spider.

As well as the GTB-matching performance figures, the Spider is equally efficient. It’ll return a combined 24.8mpg and emit 260g/km CO2.

Ferrari 488 Spider

Can it do any tricks?

Like the 488 GTB, the Spider will feature Ferrari’s trick SSC2 side slip angle control system. The manufacturer says this results in 12% faster acceleration out of corners than the 458 Spider.

This works by controlling the electromagnetically-controlled dampers through the 488’s traction control system. Essentially, torque can be transferred between the rear wheels to create more grip out of bends. And, if the driver so wishes, it’ll let them play at going sideways.

When will we see it?

Ferrari has released these first official pictures of the new Ferrari 488 Spider today in new ‘Blu Corsa’ paintwork. We’ll see it for the metal for the first time in September at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show.

Prices are yet to be confirmed, but expect it to cost a premium of around £20,000 over the GTB coupe – making it around £200,000.

UK deliveries will start in spring 2016.

Inverness to Dartmoor in a Skoda Superb

01_Skoda_Superb_Journey

Arrival time: 7:42pm. Whatever you say about the Skoda Superb, you have to admire its optimism. The sat nav looked at the 640-mile journey from Inverness to Dartmoor and reckoned it could be polished off in ten hours. Needless to say, I didn’t telephone the children to tell them daddy would be home to read them a bedtime story. Instead, I concluded that what will be, will be. And if I reached the Devon border by midnight, I’d be doing pretty well.

I’ll admit that the A9-M74-M6-M5-A30 isn’t the most gruelling of endurance rallies in the world, but I had an overwhelming sense of driving into the abyss as I ventured south. One thing you don’t do on the eve of the school holidays is tackle the M6 and M5. Not through choice anyway. You’d encounter fewer obstacles and nasty surprises on the Baja 1000.

Things started very well indeed. As Ken Bruce spoke of wind, rain and traffic chaos in the south of England, I was enjoying sun-drenched Scottish roads and Skyfall scenery. In the first couple of hours I travelled a mere 80 or so miles, delayed not though traffic, but the constant urge to take the long way to the border. It was all-too easy to slip into holiday mode and follow the ‘tourist route’ signs.

03_Skoda_Superb_Journey

Skoda Superb SE L Executive 2.0 TSI

I was at the wheel of an all-new £27,020 (plus options) Skoda Superb SE L Executive complete with the same 2.0-litre TSI engine you’ll find in the Octavia vRS and Golf GTI. What’s more, the car was fitted with the optional six-speed DSG transmission and Dynamic Chassis Control – a first for Skoda. This really is a new breed of Skoda Superb.

Once out of Inverness and on to the A9, it soon became clear that the warnings I had been given were all too true. The main road through Scotland is both magnificent and frustrating in equal measure, with the view out of the window pockmarked by the endless stream of average speed cameras. To compound the misery, lorries are – in places – restricted to 50mph, making progress slow and miserable. It’s not difficult to appreciate why the 273-mile ‘spine of Scotland’ is known as one of the most dangerous roads north of the border.

No matter. The ultra-clear map on the excellent Columbus sat nav highlighted a number of alternative routes running alongside the A9, so I did the right thing and engaged Sport mode. Blimey, I don’t remember my old MK1 Skoda Superb 1.9 TDI Comfort feeling like this. Skoda told us it won’t be building a Superb vRS, but on this evidence it doesn’t need to.

02_Skoda_Superb_Journey

It sets off like the proverbial scolded cat, making the 0-62mph time of 7.0 seconds seem a tad pessimistic. The tyres screech and the engine delivers a throaty roar, the kind of which you won’t get from the 2.0-litre TDI, which is likely to be the big seller in the UK. It’s no vRS or GTI, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

I’ve read reports that the Dynamic Chassis Control isn’t worth the £750 outlay, but on the evidence of my epic drive, it most certainly is. There’s a huge amount of difference between Comfort and Sport, while you can also feel the benefits of Eco and Normal. In Sport, the steering gains more weight, the throttle is more responsive and the suspension is much firmer. Occasionally the DSG gets bogged down, but for the most part it’s the perfect accompaniment to the big Czech.

You’ll want to spend an extra £95 for the 3-spoke leather multifunction steering wheel, which also adds the DSG paddles to the mix. Changes via the DSG shifter aren’t as satisfying, but the paddles seem to provide quicker up and down shifts, while being more in tune with what’s going on under the bonnet. It’s not perfect. Occasionally there’s a delay as the transmission attempts to second guess what you want it to do, which can ultimately ruin a good string of corners. But let’s remember this is a Superb.

07_Skoda_Superb_Journey

Still 522 miles to go…

The steering is nicely weighted, if a little artificial in feel, but body roll is kept in check and the Superb feels much lighter than before. It has shed 75kg compared to the Superb of old and you can feel the effects of the weight-loss diet when you’re behind the wheel. The new Superb has enjoyed fewer working lunches and more time at the office gym.

I could have quite easily played on the Scottish roads all day, but soon realised I was making little progress. By 12:30pm I had reached only as far as Perth, still with 522 miles to go. I’d also lost 30 minutes off my estimated time of arrival. I stopped at a Wild Bean on the outskirts of Perth, but was greeted by a queue for drinks that stretched out of the door. I didn’t want to wait.

The first coffee was consumed at Kinross, by which time the heavens had opened. It would continue to rain for the entire length of the journey. All of a sudden the joys of Sport model and circling the numerous lochs of Scotland felt like a distant memory. Now it was all about getting home. Fortunately I could call upon the Skoda Superb’s trump card: an ability to waft.

Few cars offer such brilliant long-distance comfort as the Skoda Superb. From Glasgow to Staffordshire, the journey should have been absolute torture, lifted only by the delightful surrounding and food at Tebay services. The Superb’s live traffic information warned of dozens of delays on the M6 and M5, with Radio 5 stopping just short of telling people not to bother driving anywhere at all.

06_Skoda_Superb_Journey

But it’s a mark of a true wafter that you don’t mind being delayed in the Skoda Superb. Heated seat set to the max, adaptive cruise control set to motorway speeds and climate control set to ‘just so’, the Superb is as comfortable as it is easy to drive. Special mention must go to the driving position, which I didn’t have to alter once on the entire journey. I could have quite easily driven all night…

Come to think of it, I nearly did. The M6 was as horrid as I had expected. Worse, in fact. By the time I reached the north west of England, the commuters had joined the holidaymakers, presenting the perfect storm of nastiness. All washed down with the very worst of the British weather.

But no matter, because the Skoda Superb keeps you safely cocooned and sheltered from the outside world. The delays also gave me a chance to suss out other people’s reactions to the new car. I suspect in part it’s because it’s so new, but the Superb is a proper head-turner. It received a thumbs up from a van driver and a nod of appreciation from a chap in a Passat.

The Skoda Superb is now a good looking car

Some could argue, with some justification, that Skoda’s new design language is getting dangerously close to Volkswagen and Audi, but there’s no denying this is a sharp looking car. Gone is the frumpiness of the old TwinDoor hatchback, replaced by a confident, almost elegant profile. Now you don’t have to opt for the estate simply to avoid giving fellow motorists nightmares.

And it’s not as though you’ll need the estate for its luggage capacity. The huge tailgate (electrically operated on SE L Executive and above) opens to reveal 620 litres of space, which extends to 1,760 litres with the rear seats folded down. Fit the optional Virtual Pedal and you can open the tailgate by waving your foot under the tailgate. Clever.

It’s at this point that I should hold my hands up and admit that I did send and receive texts at the wheel of the Skoda Superb. But before you go running off to the authorities, let me point out that it’s all thanks to the quite brilliant Apple CarPlay system. This is, without question, the simplest and most effective smartphone link I’ve ever used.

05_Skoda_Superb_Journey

Simply plug your iPhone into the USB port and that’s it. The system will immediately recognise your phone, presenting a familiar home display on the Superb’s infotainment screen. All the phone’s primary functions are accessible and there’s no need to bother with Bluetooth settings or passwords. A couple of scrolls and two buttons later, I was listening to my Spotify playlists. Brilliant.

And speech texting works, to a point. Occasionally I had to change the text message prior to sending, but such is the quietness of the Superb’s cabin, there’s little chance of being misheard. Only once did the system replace Superb with Sceptical. “I’m at the wheel of a new Skoda Sceptical”, I told my mum. I let that one go for the amusement factor.

Suffice to say, I would now like Apple CarPlay on my own car.

M6 TOLL CLEAR

In Staffordshire, three words I longed to read appeared on the overhead gantries: “M6 TOLL CLEAR”. This was to be my one shining light in the middle section of the journey, a chance to break free of the relentless traffic. £5.50 well spent.

Sadly, everybody else had the same idea and I encountered most of them in the service area. Yes, I know it kind of defeats the object to stop on a motorway where you’ve paid to avoid congestion, thus cutting your journey time, but I really did fancy an injection of caffeine. And I figured it would be quieter than the common or garden service areas and their lengthy queues for refreshment. I was wrong. It was bedlam in there. I grabbed a drink and got on with the journey. It was still raining. Hard.

By now it was 7:30pm, so I had a little over ten minutes to get home before the sat nav’s original estimated time of arrival arrival. Needless to say I wasn’t going to make it and midnight was now the most optimistic forecast.

08_Skoda_Superb_Journey

Yet despite being on the road for close to 11 hours, I wasn’t feeling the slightest bit jaded or desperate to get home. In fact, when the sat nav warned of yet more delays on the M5, I made a snap decision to leave the M42 and head down to the M4 via Redditch, Evesham, Cheltenham and Cirencester.

All of a sudden I had the roads to myself. Sure, the sat nav was now telling me I wouldn’t be home before 1:30am, but I had kind of given up hope of getting back at sensible o’clock. Once again, the Superb proved itself to be an unlikely B-road companion. It’s whippet-like off-the-line pace will be alien to drivers of Superbs of old, but it’s a truly fabulous thing to drive quickly.

Proper ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ car

There’s a composure and sense of calmness about the way it goes about its business. It’s a proper ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ car. It’s just a shame that most people will opt for the diesel versions, because there’s a hint of a Q-car about the Superb 2.0-litre TSI. Goodness knows what the 280PS version will feel like.

The Smart Light Assist means you can have main beam on all the time, as demonstrated by the fact that I didn’t receive any flashes from irate drivers. And the Lane Assist is rarely obtrusive and does come into its own in contraflows and slow moving traffic.

From the M4 to when I eventually peeled off the A30 for home, the journey was uneventful and supremely comfortable. I walked in the door, 13 hours and 18 minutes after leaving Inverness, having completed the 693-mile journey at an average speed of 52mph and an average economy of 35.5mpg.

Given I spent the first couple of hours playing in Scotland, during which time the economy dropped to 22mpg, these are pretty good figures. Even at 1:21am, I could have easily driven on to Land’s End and beyond. Sadly, the Skoda Superb offers many toys, but the ability to float isn’t one of them. Though given the conditions I encountered in the Midlands, it did a pretty good impression of a boat.

09_Skoda_Superb_Journey

I emerged from my 13-hour drive filled with respect for the Skoda Superb. There’s so much to admire about the new car and it’s almost laughable that Skoda sees it as a rival to the Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo. Spend some quality time with this car and you’ll realise it is much, much more than that. This is no built-to-a-budget sales rep special. In SE L Executive trim at least, the Skoda Superb is more than a match for its illustrious German rivals. Seriously, it really is that good.

Crucially, Skoda has added even more space to the Superb (boot capacity is up by 60 litres, rear legroom remains unchanged), yet it somehow feels smaller on the road. It retains a formidable presence, but when you’re at the wheel it feels more engaging. More willing to entertain. And I never thought I’d write that about a Skoda Superb.

Is the Skoda Superb a true game changer?

I’ll readily admit that I’m a bit of a Skoda Superb fanboy, having owned a nearly new MK1 and emerging deeply impressed with the MK2 1.8 TSI 4×4 I drove a few years back. Skoda is calling the new Superb “a game changer”, a tired phrase we hear all too often in press conferences and in media packs. But in the Superb, Skoda does have a car to take the brand to uncharted heights. Only the blinkered and the ignorant would view this car with anything other than admiration and respect.

04_Skoda_Superb_Journey

As I write this, the Skoda Superb is sat outside the office, waiting to be returned to Skoda HQ. It’s taking all my willpower not to jump behind the wheel and head off for another 600-mile drive. It’s not flawless, but it comes close. The ride quality doesn’t feel quite as sumptuous as before and there’s a noticeable amount of road noise, not helped by the 18-inch alloys and 235/45 tyres. I’d also like the driving mode selection button to be accessible via the steering wheel controls, but given most Superbs will spend their entire lives on motorways, I’m probably alone with this request.

I fully expected the Skoda Superb to be comfortable, spacious and well-equipped. But I didn’t expect to be tapping its dashboard in appreciation of its dynamic qualities. Yes, I did indeed let the car know how much I enjoyed driving it. Hey, it was late and I was probably feeling a tad delirious by that stage. To paraphrase the late Roy Orbison, I could have driven all night. Part of me hopes the 2.0 TSI remains an undiscovered gem of the Superb range. Let the masses have the diesel versions.

We’ll keep this as our little secret, OK?

Read more:

Skoda Superb review

Skoda Superb stars in latest Euro NCAP tests

Skoda Superb SE Business launched for company drivers

Vauxhall Corsa 1.0T 115 (July 2015): does it beat the Viva?

Vauxhall Corsa 1.0T 115 (July 2015): does it beat the Viva?

Vauxhall Corsa 1.0T 115 (July 2015): does it beat the Viva?

Just how many small cars does Vauxhall need? It’s got the fashionable Adam, the ‘sporty’ Corsa (their words), and now the sensible and conservative Viva.

There’s clearly a business case for it, though. The A-segment alone has doubled in size since 2005 and now accounts for 10% of new car registrations in the UK.

I recently headed to Vauxhall HQ in Luton for the launch of the Viva. Of course, it’d be rude not to grab the opportunity to drive our long-term Corsa ‘home’, so to speak.

As a result, I got to drive the Corsa and the new Viva back-to-back. They’re not clear rivals – the Viva starts at £7,995 while the Corsa will set you back £9,175 (or £14,460 in SRi VX-Line trim with the 1.0-litre turbo engine).

But, do buyers really stick strictly to segments? Is a Vauxhall salesman really doing his job if he doesn’t try to upsell a potential Viva buyer into the bigger (and pricier) Corsa?

It’s worth doing a quick, unscientific comparison, then.

For a start, the Viva and ‘my’ Corsa have the same 1.0-litre engine. In the Viva, it produces 75hp and accelerates to 62mph in 13.1 seconds. But in the Corsa, it’s turbocharged, producing 115hp and hitting 62mph in 10.3 seconds. It’s surprising what a big difference that 2.8 seconds makes.

Vauxhall Corsa 1.0T 115 (July 2015): does it beat the Viva?

After a period of driving the Corsa, it’s an odd sensation driving a Viva with the same engine without the turbo. It drives the same, until the revs rise, and you expect a turbo to kick in. But it doesn’t, and it feels a bit flat.

Vauxhall will tell you that Viva buyers won’t be bothered about its lack of go. And that’s true to a degree. But it gets tiring have to work the Viva quite so hard. If you’re a young person being bought a Viva as your first car, you might want to persuade your parents to dig a deeper for a Corsa.

Both cars have had their handling tuned for UK roads. The Corsa feels sportier – no doubt helped by the sports suspension fitted to our VX-Line model but the Viva rides extremely well.

It doesn’t enjoy being chucked around the same as the Corsa, but on urban streets its narrow dimensions definitely give it an advantage.

So to conclude? If you want a sensible, affordable city car, buy the Viva. If you want something slightly sportier and more enjoyable to drive, buy the Corsa. Er, exactly what Vauxhall said then…

Revealed: the speed cameras most likely to cause a crash

High-mileage drivers dismiss speed cameras as ‘money-making tool’

High-mileage drivers dismiss speed cameras as 'money-making tool'

Research by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has discovered that drivers who cover high mileages are more dismissive of speed cameras – with more than half saying they felt they were little more than a ‘money making tool’.

With 6,000 fixed speed cameras in operation across the UK, the IAM said it felt the ‘time was right’ to commission a white paper on the views of those who use the roads the most.

Some 60% of respondents thought there were other reasons why speed cameras had been installed, other than at accident black spots.

IAM chief executive officer Sarah Sillars said: “It is clear that there is a very big task when it comes to making high-mileage driver see the worth of measures to reduce speeding. While we know that speeding is not the only cause of accidents and injuries, it is one of the major ones.”

When asked how acceptable is it for authorities to use speed cameras at the side of the road to identify vehicles involved in speeding offences, 28% of high mileage drivers said it was unacceptable, compared to just 18% of medium-mileage drivers and 17% of low-mileage drivers.

Revealed: the speed cameras most likely to cause a crash

High-mileage drivers dismiss speed cameras as 'money-making tool'

High-mileage drivers dismiss speed cameras as 'money-making tool'

Research by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has discovered that drivers who cover high mileages are more dismissive of speed cameras – with more than half saying they felt they were little more than a ‘money making tool’.

With 6,000 fixed speed cameras in operation across the UK, the IAM said it felt the ‘time was right’ to commission a white paper on the views of those who use the roads the most.

Some 60% of respondents thought there were other reasons why speed cameras had been installed, other than at accident black spots.

IAM chief executive officer Sarah Sillars said: “It is clear that there is a very big task when it comes to making high-mileage driver see the worth of measures to reduce speeding. While we know that speeding is not the only cause of accidents and injuries, it is one of the major ones.”

When asked how acceptable is it for authorities to use speed cameras at the side of the road to identify vehicles involved in speeding offences, 28% of high mileage drivers said it was unacceptable, compared to just 18% of medium-mileage drivers and 17% of low-mileage drivers.

DfT cuts red tape for cycle races on public roads

DfT cuts red tape for cycle races on public roads

DfT cuts red tape for cycle races on public roads

Following Chris Froome’s Tour de France victory this weekend, the Department for Transport (DfT) has announced plans to encourage a new generation of cyclists.

The DfT today revealed the results of a consultation which will make it easier to host cycle races including future Tour de France stages.

It includes cutting rules that prevent races being held through areas with low speed limits (40mph below) and allowing races of more than 100 cyclists, subject to risk assessments being carried out.

Cycling Minister Robert Goodwill said: “As last year’s stages of the Tour de France in England has shown there is a great appetite for cycle racing in this country. We want to help inspire a new generation of cyclists, rather than act as a headwind. That way we can make sure there’s always a Brit in the yellow jersey.

“These common sense reforms will simplify the process for the holding of races and will make it easier for the best riders in the world to race in England.”

The UK hosted 680 road races last year, and the Government is investing more than £200 million in cycle lanes and infrastructure over the next five years in a bid to encourage people to take up cycling

1983 Austin Metro HLE: new arrival

1983 Austin Metro HLE: new arrival

1983 Austin Metro HLE: new arrival

I bumped into an acquaintance in Tesco. Having not seen him for a few years, conversation wasn’t forthcoming, so I excitedly told him about my latest purchase. “I’ve bought a Metro!” I said, showing him a few snaps on my phone.

“Oh,” he said. “Well it’s a set of wheels to get you from A to B.”

I looked for a hint of humour on his face, but it wasn’t there. He genuinely thought I’d fallen on hard times and resorted to BL’s ‘British car to beat the world’ as a way of getting about.

So why have I bought a Metro? Well, can you think of a more significant classic car I could have bought for less than £1,000? Significant for British Leyland, yes, but also significant for so many of us. We all know someone who owned a Metro. So many of us learnt to drive in a Metro. Many of us had Metros stolen back in the day.

Passing my test aged 17 in 2009, I missed out on Metro mania back in the 80s. But I still think it’s a culturally significant car that too many are happy to see go extinct because they were a bit rubbish.

But are they still rubbish? My latest purchase, bought unseen over the internet from the secretary/treasurer of the Metro Owners’ Club, is the HLE no less. That means it’s the economy model – with an extra long fourth gear (or ‘E’ as Austin called it) and various aids to aerodynamics. It’s the bigger 1,275cc, though – logic being that a bigger engine will be less strained at higher speeds.

1983 Austin Metro HLE: new arrival

And, having never driven a Austin Metro before, I’m surprised how fun it is. Not only does it keep up in traffic, I’ve even seen the speedo nudge 85mph on occasions. In the interests of preventing the comments light up with wannabe law enforcers, I should point out, 85mph on the Metro’s slightly erratic speedo is somewhere around a GPS-verified 70mph.

I’ve driven it 300 miles this weekend – doubling its mileage over the last couple of years according to the MOT history. And talking of history, there’s loads of it. With one lady owner from new, it’s been serviced yearly – sometimes with just a few hundred miles between services. It’s covered a total of 45,000 miles over its 32-year lifespan.

Plans? I’ve not got many. There’s a bit of rust (of course) that needs sorting. It’s only cosmetic – on the wings, mainly, but I’d like to get it seen to before it gets more serious.

Have I bought a dud or is it a genuine classic car that deserves saving? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @_MRFleet.