We rewind the clock by 11 years for a drive in the new-at-the-time B7 Audi RS4
As the new Aston Martin Vantage is revealed, we head back to 2005
|As the all new Tesla Roadster makes its surprise reveal, we’ve raided the MR archives and discovered this review of the original model written for Performance Car magazine in 2009. The electric sports car was the first all-electric production car capable of travelling more than 200 miles but sold in very small numbers here in the UK.
This review on the Tesla Roadster was first published in Performance Car in 2009.
Electric car motoring is not for those terrified by the sound of silence. Gone is your V8 blare, your straight-six growl, replaced by, well, a faint whine. A distant hum. There’s nothing to report on how an electric ‘engine’ sounds. It doesn’t.
Surely that’s missing half the fun of a performance car? Well, hang on. Think of the alternative.
The ‘green’ 30-plus mpg biodiesel supercar. It fills enthusiasts with dread. Sure, we buy TDIs, i-DTECs, CDTis as our everyday cars. But really, who’s going to idolise a poster of a Ferrari JTDm? Will Mark Hales ever record Into The Rev-Restricted Red to support his words on the most iconic diesel machines? Does Nick Mason even own a classic oil-burner? And, judging by the aurals at BTCC meetings, or at Le Mans, would car nuts want to buy it?
No, for petrolheads, diesel isn’t the prettiest path to environmental righteousness. But we need one. It’s a valid point, saying supercars’ impact on global warming is invisible. Ferraris saving fuel is going to change the situation of dwindling oil supplies not one jot. Nevertheless, fuel will, soon, either run out, or become both economically and ethically unviable. Like chain-smoking in kindergarten. Then what? It’ll be no good proclaiming single-mpg petrol is the only way then. No, we need to find an alternative for our supercar sporting thrills, that doesn’t involve refined chip fat. That uses no fuel. Tesla may just have it.
The Tesla Roadster is something of intrigue. We know Lotus build them, and that it’s a bedfellow of the Elise. But until now, nobody’s got their hands on one in the UK. That’s why I was buzzing like a dodgy transformer to be stood outside the SMMT’s Central London base, with the keys to a pre-production Roadster.
I’d already been briefed, and my head was spinning. An electric car’s spec sheet is certainly different. Top speed of the Roadster limited to 125mph; an issue for track-dayers, but not generally on backroads. 0-60mph, though? 3.9secs, or hypercar-fast. It’ll do the quarter mile in 12.9secs, too. That’s made possible through 280lb/ft of torque at… well, zero rpm. Electric motors’ maximum twist action is there right away, which makes it fortunate Tesla’s fitted traction control.
It rotates at up to 14,000rpm – which means you still get a rev counter in the dash. And it operates at 87 per cent efficiency, which is something regular combustion engines can only dream about. Further losses are saved by the use of a single-speed gearbox. Don’t worry about supercar servicing bills here: it’s all dead simple. Compare, if you will, to the complexity of even a basic 911…
The 250hp AC three-phase induction motor, mounted between the rear wheels, is a bespoke design controlled by a Power Electronics Module – that’s the bit you can see when the wobbly rear panel back-hinges up. This contains the DC-AC inverter and charger. No regenerative braking, but lifting off the throttle turns motor into generator, putting up to 100amps back into the batteries.
Ah, the batteries. Here’s the really clever part. They’re lithium ion, meaning, at last, mobile phone batteries have come to cars. Consider their composition in three levels: there are individual lithium ion cells, a bit like ‘AA’ batteries. 621 of these are used to form a single sheet – and, for a truly modular design, 11 are then gathered together to form the battery pack. It punches out 53Kwh and is guaranteed for 100,000 miles; Tesla has prioritised longevity and power output.
Oh, and safety. The trick to making lithium ion batteries that don’t go on fire is managing the energy, ensuring they don’t become too hot or cold, avoiding lithium ‘flare’. The battery pack is even air-conditioned, all as part of the Tesla’s thermal management. This is basically massively complicated software that’s Tesla’s own IP; each sheet has its own ECU, as well as an overall battery pack ECU, which has sensors for pressure, inversion, smoke, accelerometers, temperature and so on. Mobily has none of this.
Finally, I blink into the sunlight. First impressions? Elise. It shares the same windscreen and dimensions (oh, and, eventually, production line), but while every (carbon fibre) panel is different, the profile, stance, height and dimensions are familiar. Not that this is a bad thing – and besides, it does ‘look’ different.
It seems much like what a start-up company’s first sports car would resemble. No classic, heavily influenced by others, but certainly enough to have passing cyclists shouting “nice car, mate”. Air inlets on the rear wings are pure F430 (that’s what you think each time you spy them in the doormirrors), as are the lights and rear buttresses. Spot the cues elsewhere.
Overall, it’s very American and a bit soft, but not inoffensive – and that’s vital when you think of how significant this car is. It needs to be an electric car flag-bearer. And if most of the population think it a pig-ugly brick, flags will soon be at half mast.
The cockpit is Elise. Same massive sills, same dash, but a nicer, swoopier centre console (and full carpeting). Dials are similar but next to the driver’s knee is a touch-screen display. It’s for PIN security, and to monitor the power management of the car. There is even a ‘fuel saved’ meter. Enter the mpg of your ‘other’ car and Tesla will tell you how many barrels of oil you haven’t consumed. Genius.
Turn the key and nothing happens, of course. Save for a ‘wake-up’ bleep, a bit like a computer starting up, that signals you’re ready. Select Drive, release the handbrake; then things become very different.
Attenborough often films weird sea creatures, motionless, which suddenly spear along at comet-like speed in an unfeasible flash. That’s what accelerating in a Tesla for the first time is like. Leaving you suddenly travelling at 75mph in Central London, seemingly in silence, completely at a loss as to what’s going on. Totally baffling. No noise, no vibration, no gearchanges, no sensations – just delirious speed, like being on a rollercoaster.
This is electric ‘go’. It’s soon apparent the switch-like intensity of response to the throttle, and the ensuing reaction, defines the Tesla. It is, I’d imagine, like an F1 car’s. You hear it on Hamilton’s in-camera shots through bends: when he’s back on power, it’s a digital, zero-to-one nose, no fluff or faff. Here, you feel it. Accelerator response is incredibly clean and crisp, and proportional, like very few IC engines. It’s like Broadband. It’s always on. The ‘mid-range’ effect is just sensational.
Don’t forget, there are no gearchanges, either. Just total linearity. The same sustained rush from zero to speed x. In silence. Alien? Totally. Such alacrity infuses the rest of it, too.
Initial dynamic impressions are of familiar Elise-like steering precision and delicacy, firm and lag-free response, a more supple and compliant setup, perhaps – but with a newfound trick: the best throttle-adjustability, ever. Going on the power gives so much force, which can be varied and modulated with unheralded precision and immediacy, it becomes a rear-driver you drive like a front-driver.
Accuracy exudes. Elise-derived kit always does, but the unique drivetrain enhances it here. This is a hi-tech feel, very future-gen. Besides, as there is no engine tune to connect with, here, your emotional hook is even more so with the chassis. It’s the bit supplying all the thrills, so you hone in on it with added intensity. More race car mentality similarities.
Mind you, something else felt is the cleanliness of the drive. Not just in the obvious – but, in lacking oily bits, somehow it becomes easier to grasp, to feel, to sense. All the complexity has been stripped back, meaning you just get in and drive. It just works. It’s like an iPod. They have no instruction book; with this, I got in, was told about the start-up procedure by a sandwich-munching Tesla man, and was away, feeling like a hero. More simple it could not be.
Nor more thrilling. That, in a nutshell, describes the Tesla. It gives the same tight feelings in your stomach as, again, a rollercoaster – such is the intensity of acceleration, the g-laden forces from cornering. It’s as if the electromagnetic impulses are being fed into you, too. It’s a performance car like no other. Which, dammit, works brilliantly.
And no noise? Here’s the elephant in the corner. But, what is noise, but waste? Why do racing car drivers wear earplugs? If you’re really on it, wouldn’t one less distraction be welcome? Great engines sound magic, but did I miss one here? No – because the rest of the car was feeding me so much more. And isn’t driving by tactile sensations, rather than aural ones?
The debate, I know, will run. But our time was limited. Oh yeah, because of a dull range? No – they reckon well over 200 miles. Yes, 200 miles. Sports cars, they say, rarely do more in a day: such a range for something hitting 60 in under 4secs is pretty blistering. They’re some batteries indeed – the ‘fuel gauge’ was still three-quarters full when we brought it back. Battery cooling fans zizzing like a hard-worked PC, I exited the Tesla, bewildered, but still buzzing. If this is the future, then bring it on.
But Tesla has. For £92,000 (make that two elephants), you can take delivery next May, of a 100-run European launch special, with custom leather, bespoke paint colour (any DuPont hue) and other goodies. The series model will be around £88k. If you’re an entrepreneur with a clean tech fund, or a supercar fan with a conscience, you’ll be right there, say the bosses. Buying into the world’s first ecologically sustainable performance machine.
Common sense says £92k is a massive amount to pay for an Elise with doors that clang shut. But is Aston V8 money really that boggling, for what could be the most significant performance car to hit these shores? For that’s how utterly convincing the Tesla seems.
And it doesn’t sound like a diesel. I think it might be time to make some noise.
19th century brainbox Nikola Tesla began the second industrial revolution by inventing the AC electric motor. Apparently, he’s known as the patron saint of modern electricity. His genius is not required to guess which stall Tesla Motor is setting itself out upon.
It all started five years ago; a true Silicone Valley start-up. Co-founder, Californian Martin Eberhard, had made his fortune, and wanted a sports car to spend it on. But he’s an environmentalist, and was uneasy about the idea of a thirsty Italianate and such like. Luckily, he was rich: I can build the car I want, he mused.
So he did. The rest followed through a mixing of minds, very much right time, right place. “In Silicone Valley, if it’s a great idea, you can attract capital. It celebrates entrepreneurialism,” explained Tesla Europe Marketing Manager, Aaron Platshon. Further cash, for example, came from Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal.
The company’s roots are in consumer electrics, not cars. This gave it a wealth of experience in lithium ion battery technology: “We understood that the batteries give massive energy density – so long as you know how to control and package it.” The automotive expertise? Expert recruitment bought it on board.
“Our worst-case scenario will be that we’re acquired. But we don’t intend for that to happen.” Instead, Tesla wants, by 2010, to make 20,000 £30k+ sub-6sec to 60mph performance 5-Series rivals a year – a five-door coupe-hatch developed (indeed, under development right now) by itself, using suspensions and other components from major manufacturers, but produced in-house. Now that is some undertaking indeed.
Tesla has been run for the past five years on $150m, and reckon it will cost $200m to get the sedan into production. That is not a lot by modern car standards. “We call upon automotive expertise from specialists, but we’re also a Silicone Valley company. We do things more cheaply.” Access to further funds, should they be required, is not an issue.
After that, there will be an even smaller, more mainstream car. All using Tesla’s ingenious and uber-efficient powertrain. We’re not talking millions of cars a year, but enough. No, the mega volumes may come from Tesla licensing its drivetrain to other manufacturers.
So groundbreaking is the performance of the Roadster, other supercar manufacturers simply have to take it seriously. And, if the idea of an electric Scuderia really switches Ferrari on, Tesla will consult. This is where the money will be made.
Tesla (Nikola) was derided as a mad scientist back in the day: fitting that Tesla (Motor) is, by some, suffering the same. An electric performance car? Bloody bonkers. And maybe just as revolutionary.
The used car market is four times the size of the new car market in Britain. We buy more than 8 million secondhand cars every year, which means that the research activity around used cars is also huge.
Auto Trader is Britain’s biggest online used car marketplace, so its insights count. And it has just released figures that reveal Britain’s most searched for cars in 2017.
It is claimed 4 in 5 dealers selling used cars in Britain advertise on Auto Trader. Interestingly, 7 in 10 people using it do so via a mobile device: the smartphone is powering Britain’s used car searches more than ever before. There are a lot of them, too: 60 million cross-platform visits every month, says the analytics data.
Which, then, are the top 10 most searched for used cars in 2017? From the top, join us as we count them down.
10: Vauxhall Astra
The Vauxhall Astra has been built in Britain in years, and has been a top 10 new car best-seller for decades too. Needless to say, it’s a popular used car purchase as well – although perhaps not as popular as it used to be…
9: Mercedes-Benz E-Class
As the most-searched rankings of 2017 prove, Brits love their secondhand premium cars. The first entry in the top 10 is for Mercedes-Benz, with the executive-sized E-Class range.
8: Audi A3
The only Audi in the top 10 used car chart is the premium hatchback A3. It’s a posh alternative to cars such as the Ford Focus (and the Vauxhall Astra), and it was the eighth most-searched used car on Auto Trader in 2017.
7: Ford Fiesta
The Ford Fiesta has topped the new car rankings for, literally, years. It’s no surprise to see it also appear in the top 10 used car searches, but it is a surprise to see it down in seventh place. Used car buyers are less eager to own a Fiesta than new car buyers, it seems.
6: BMW 5 Series
The first BMW is, as with Mercedes-Benz, the executive-sized 5 Series. The 5er beats its arch-rival from Stuttgart though, with its driver-focused appeal seeming to hit the spot for more secondhand buyers than the plush Merc.
5: BMW 1 Series
Following up the big 5 Series is BMW’s family hatch contender, the 1 Series. It’s not the most practical of cars, with rear seat space compromised by its rear-wheel drive layout, but the resultant enthusiast-pleasing drive impresses many a used car buyer.
4: Ford Focus
The Ford Focus trails the Fiesta in the new car sales charts, but the tables are turned in the used car rankings. That’s despite the Fiesta brand name being around since the 1970s; the Focus only arrived in the late 1990s. Ford’s family fave also outranks its Vauxhall Astra arch-rival.
3: Mercedes-Benz C-Class
It’s an all-German top-3 in the most-searched used car rankings 2017. First up is the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, a classy mid-size executive car that’s also a regular visitor to the top 10 new car sales charts.
2: Volkswagen Golf
In second place is Britain’s most sought-after used family hatchback, the Volkswagen Golf. It’s been sold since the 1970s and the firm has built more than 36 million of them: despite the Volkswagen ‘dieselgate’ emissions scandal, many thousands of secondhand car buyers still hanker after a Golf.
1: BMW 3 Series
Britain’s most searched-for used car in 2017 is… the same as 2016. And 2015. And… indeed the BMW 3 Series has been the most searched for secondhand car in Britain for seven years running. We really do love the 3 Series.
We also love our premium brands – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz appear six times in the top 10 used car searches. Ford? Just twice, with Vauxhall appearing just once. When it comes to the used car market, secondhand buyers are hunting for luxury premium brands more than ever.
Diesel cars: most searched for
Auto Trader has also broken down its search rankings in 2017 by fuel type. This is in recognition of the increased demonisation of diesel in 2017. So, which is the diesel we’re keenest to search for? Why, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the BMW 3 Series.
10: Volkswagen Passat
9: Audi A4
8: Ford Focus
7: BMW 1 Series
6: Audi A3
5: Mercedes-Benz E-Class
4: Mercedes-Benz C-Class
3: BMW 5 Series
2: Volkswagen Golf
1: BMW 3 Series
Petrol cars: most searched for
It might be encouraging for Volkswagen to see that in the petrol car rakings, the Golf actually leads the BMW 3 Series. For more than 8 million secondhand car buyers, the scourge of dieselgate may already have been overcome…
10: Vauxhall Corsa
9: Honda Civic
8: Vauxhall Astra
7: Mercedes-Benz C-Class
6: BMW 1 Series
5: Audi A3
4: Ford Fiesta
3: Ford Focus
2: BMW 3 Series
1: Volkswagen Golf
Hybrid cars: most searched for
Want to ditch diesel and petrol to go for an alternative fuel car instead? A hybrid is a great stepping stone to fully-electric cars, but the leader of the British market for hybrids perhaps isn’t the car you’d think – yes, the Toyota Prius has the awareness, but sales of the British-built Toyota Auris Hybrid still better it in the UK, which carries through to the used car market.
10: Volkswagen Golf
9: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
8: BMW 3 Series
7: Lexus CT 200h
6: Toyota Yaris Hybrid
5: Mercedes-Benz C-Class
4: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
3: Mercedes-Benz E-Class
2: Toyota Prius
1: Toyota Auris Hybrid
Electric cars: most searched for
Zero-emissions electric cars comprise an ever-greater proportion of new car sales. The market leader is the Nissan Leaf, and it carries through this advantage to used car searches too – but there are some surprises amongst the top 10 cars. Predictions for the electric Mercedes-Benz B-Class coming out in third place, beating the Renault Zoe, anyone?
10: Vauxhall Ampera
9: Tesla Model S
8: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
7: Kia Soul
6: Hyundai Ioniq
5: Volkswagen Golf
4: Renault Zoe
3: Mercedes-Benz B-Class
2: BMW i3
1: Nissan Leaf
To some people, the auction catalogue for the forthcoming sale of 65 cars from the Citroen Conservatoire collection might seem like one of those chocolate selection boxes you’ll receive this Christmas.
It promises so much on the outside, but once you’ve prized open the box, you discover an awful lot of filler and not much in the way of tasty treats. I say to ‘some people’ while acknowledging that to Citroen enthusiasts, this remains a rare and exciting opportunity.
Exciting, and perhaps a little dispiriting. Allow me to explain.
Back in the summer – remember that? – I was fortunate enough to spend a morning in the Citroen Conservatoire, surrounded by some of the firm’s all-time greats. From concept cars to presidential limos, and motorsport heroes to true icons, the warehouse is like a dimly-lit spotlight on the history of Citroen.
While there, I was told about a ‘reserve’ collection: more cars in another part of the building, off-limits to anyone beyond Citroen circles. I tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access. If your name’s not down, etc, etc.
Fast forward a few months and Citroen has thrown open the doors to the reserve collection, as it prepares to move away from the sprawling Aulnay-sous-Bois site and to L’Aventure Peugeot Citroen DS in Sochaux.
With a collection of more than 400 cars and associated memorabilia, something has to give, which is why 65 vehicles and 90 items of automobilia are deemed surplus to requirements.
It all feels a bit like clearing the attic following the loss of a loved one. It’s not that anybody or anything has died – although no cars have been produced at Aulnay-sous-Bois factory since 2012, and the Citroen and DS divorce was a little awkward – it just seems a tiny bit sad to see the collection split up.
I’ve seen the auction lots described as ‘weird and wonderful’, but to casual onlookers and non Citroenians, the collection will be more ‘weird and a little underwhelming’. You won’t find a proper DS, SM or 2CV in the sale. There is a Traction Avant, mind, which is very much the genesis of modern Citroen.
You’re unlikely to find the items of automobilia featured in any auction previews, but there are some genuinely significant lots. Racing overalls worn by the likes of Jacky Ickx, Timo Salonen and Hubert Auriol are expected to fetch between €200 and €500 each.
There are numerous photos, brochures, models and dealer display items on offer, along with spare parts for a Citroen ZX Rallye Raid, if you feel the urge to take your ZX Aura to Dakar. Fancy the bonnet from Sébastien Loeb’s Xsara WRC car? It could be yours for between €500 and €1,000.
But, as ever, the cars are the stars, so what will see me hovering over the ‘bid’ button come 2pm on 10 December? Nobody asked me to create a list of my top 15 auction cars, but here are my favourites anyway.
Citroen GS: €2,500 – €5,000 (£2,250 – £4,500)
I managed to grab a brief go in a Citroen GS X3 during my visit to the Conservatoire, realising a lifelong ambition to drive one of the best cars my father owned when I was a child. You can read about it here.
This Spanish-registered GS is much older than my father’s, and indeed the X3 I drove in July, but it has covered just 921km from new and features the same red interior I remember from my youth.
Sbarro Berlingo Flanerie: €9,000 – €11,000 (£8,000 – £10,000)
Franco Sbarro has done some wild and crazy things with Citroens over the years, with the Berlingo a particular favourite of the Swiss coachbuilder. The Flanerie is like some kind of theme park safari ride that has managed to end up in a game of Crazy Taxi.
Citroen AX: €3,000 – €6,000 (£2,750 – £5,250)
There’s an electric Citroen AX available in the auction, but this one appeals because it was donated to the collection by Auguste Genovese, a former director at the Citroen plant in Rennes. It has covered just 11,414km since it rolled off the production line in 1991.
Citroen Visa Super: €1,500 – €3,000 (£1,250 – £2,750)
When was the last time you saw a Citroen Visa, let alone one as early as this? As a Super, it’s powered by a 1.1-litre four-cylinder engine, and features the wonderfully idiosyncratic dashboard of the early cars. Also, note the polypropylene bumper and grille.
Citroen BX GTI: €6,000 – €10,000 (£5,250 – £9,000)
Given the crazy prices being achieved by certain performance cars of the 80s and 90s, this Citroen BX GTI has a reasonable pre-auction estimate. It has picked up a few battle scars in storage, but there are only 21,499km on the clock.
Citroen Xantia Activa V6: €5,000 – €8,000 (£4,500 – £7,250)
Just 2,600 Xantia Activa V6 models were ever produced, all left-hand drive. Which means the V6 was never officially exported to the UK, making this the holy grail of the Xantia Activa world. There are just 1,575km on the clock. *Bites the back of his hand*
Citroen ZX Reflex: €800 – €1,500 (£725 – £1,250)
You have to wonder where the likes of this ZX Reflex will end up. It’s in excellent condition, as you’d expect from a 20-year-old car with 1,765km on the clock, but will it be used on the road or stored away in a private collection?
Citroen XM V6 Exclusive: €5,000 – €7,000 (£4,500 – £6,250)
This isn’t the tidiest or lowest mileage Citroen XM in the auction, but it’s arguably the most interesting. It was owned by Roger Hanin, who played the lead role in the French TV police drama, Navarro. Hanin was also the brother-in-law of President Mitterrand.
Citroen Ami 6: €800 – €1,200 (£725 – £1,000)
Being polite, this 1961 Ami 6 is blessed with a delightful patina, but in truth, it’s in need of a complete restoration. These were incredibly popular in France, but less so in the UK.
Citroen CX Pallas: €6,000 – €10,000 (£5,250 – £9,000)
Simply wonderful. In mileage terms (15,220km), this is effectively a one-year-old Citroen CX. Not only that, it’s a Series 1, complete with the idiosyncratic dashboard layout and desirable Pallas trim. Oh, to be able to drive home from Paris in this.
Citroen C-Cactus: €8,000 – €12,000 (£7,250 – £10,750)
The C4 Cactus is arguably the most Citroen of modern Citroens, although the facelift version will see it lose some of its eccentricity. This is the C-Cactus concept of 2013, which built on the original design from 2007. It wasn’t a massive leap from concept to production.
Citroen C5: €3,000 – €6,000 (£2,750 – £5,250)
This appeals more than it should, but to me, the original Citroen C5 has ‘future classic’ written all over it. It features clever active hydropneumatic suspension – so it’s a proper Citroen – while the 3.0-litre V6 petrol is the ‘right’ engine. A €6,000 upper estimate for a C5 with 1,151km on the clock seems like excellent value
Citroen Xsara Coupe VTR: €3,500 – €5,500 (£3,000 – £4,900)
There’s no Xsara VTS in the auction – although I was told about one in the ‘reserve’ collection – so this phase 2 VTR will have to do. With 477km on the clock, it’s practically brand new, and you’ll stand more chance of becoming friends with Claudia Schiffer if you buy it. Probably.
Citroen Xantia 16v: €3,000 – €5,000 (£2,750 – £4,500)
I make no apology for featuring a second Citroen Xantia because this is essentially a brand new and very early 2.0-litre 16v model. The mileage: an incredible 89km. Stick a Ford badge on the front, and you could add a zero to the upper estimate. Don’t be surprised to see this break into five figures.
Citroen Tubik: €20,000 – €30,000 (£17,750 – £26,750)
The Tubik was unveiled in 2011 and soon became part of the furniture at subsequent motor shows. My highly original plan for this: turn it into a mobile deli and tour festivals like some kind of Type H van from the future.
Restricting myself to 15 cars was tough because the other 50 vehicles hold strong appeal. The C-Elysee WTCC car could be fun, and I’m drawn to the Citela, Iltis and FAF, not to mention the Meharis, in various states of repair.
One thing’s for sure: I’m very, very tempted to register for online bidding, with the Xantias top of the wish list. Or maybe I should concentrate on perfecting the cars I already own.
It might be sad to see the Citroen collection being broken up and moving away from the famous old factory, but there’s no denying that this is a terrific opportunity for fans of the weird and wonderful.
Or maybe it’s the fans who are weird and wonderful. About that low-mileage ZX Reflex…
It’s a parent’s worst Christmas Eve nightmare: the presents wrapped under the tree, you’re about to settle down with a sherry and a mince pie, and you realise you’ve forgotten the batteries. Tomorrow could be ruined.
But, if you live in London, allow us to throw you a lifeline. Renault plans to ‘electrify’ Christmas for Londoners by carrying out emergency battery deliveries on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. All you have to do is tweet the @Renault_UK Twitter account with #SOSBattery and the French car manufacturer will dispatch an electric Renault Zoe to your household with a pack of batteries.
There’s no catch – all you need to do is live within the M25 and drop them a tweet. Stocks are limited, though, so get tweeting as soon as possible if you want a visit from the Renault elves.
The electric Renault Zoe is a five-door supermini capable of returning 250 miles of electric-range with the new Z.E.40 battery. In real-life conditions, that’ll drop to 186 miles in summer and 124 miles in extreme cold winter conditions. Fortunately, if Renault’s emergency battery drivers run out of juice, the Zoe can charge from zero to 80 percent in as little as 60 minutes.
UK demand for British-built cars plummeted by more than 28 percent in November 2017, as the effects of Brexit uncertainty and the demonisation of diesel continued to have an effect in showrooms.
Even a 1.3 percent rise in exports wasn’t enough to stop an overall 4.6 percent decline in UK car production. 161,490 vehicles were built here in November – and the proportion going overseas for export is now up to 85 percent.
November’s decline in home demand was the largest yet seen in 2017, and mirrors the slowdown in new car sales. It means that, year to date, home demand for British-built cars is down 9 percent, leading to an overall 2 percent decline in overall UK automotive manufacturing.
1.25 million of the 1.57 million cars built in Britain this year have been exported overseas, says the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Brexit uncertainty, coupled with confusion over diesel taxation and air quality plans, continues to impact domestic demand for new cars and, with it, production output.
“Whilst it is good to see exports grow in November, this only reinforces how overseas demand remains the driving force for UK car manufacturing. Clarity on the nature of our future overseas trading relationships, including details on transition arrangements with the EU, is vital for future growth and success.”
The SMMT also wants to see clarity over “negative government policies towards diesel”. In November, diesel cars sales declined 30 percent.
It’s the season for the festive-themed automaker press release. Groan. Which SUV are we told Santa would approve of this year? More often than not, it’s a case of pull other cracker.
Enough of this makebelieve, fairytale nonsense: everybody knows that Father Christmas would prefer to drive a Subaru BRAT. Why? Let’s examine the evidence.
You’d think that, with a name like BRAT, the King of Presents would avoid this particular Subaru like a child avoids thank-you letters. He does, after all, have a thing against naughty children, favouring kids who appear closer to the top of the nice list.
Of course, Little Saint Nick has delivered enough copies of the Observer’s Book of Automobiles in his time to know that BRAT stands for ‘Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter’, and is well travelled enough to know that it goes by different names across the world.
Brumby, Shifter, MV, Targa, 284 and MPV are the names Santa may have stumbled across in his epic journey around the globe. But BRAT is the name most people remember with great affection. Santa included.
That’s, er, Santa Barbara, by the way. None other than former President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, owned a Subaru BRAT, keeping one on his beloved Rancho del Cielo in California.
For Subaru and Reagan, it was a perfect match. The President had full use of a tough-as-old-boots, go-anywhere pick-up for the 688-acre ranch, while Subaru had its very own test driver, who would provide regular updates on the behaviour of his little BRAT.
Not that Reagan would have scored too many political points for driving a Japanese tax-dodger. His presidency coincided with a time when Japan’s carmakers were trouncing Detroit on its home soil, which is why you’ll never see a photo of Reagan at the wheel of the Subaru.
Oh, and that thing about tax dodging. Subaru fitted a pair of rear-facing jump seats, seatbelts and carpets to the bed of the BRAT, which transformed the pick-up into a passenger vehicle. As a result, the BRAT was exempt from the so-called ‘chicken tax‘, saving the company thousands of dollars in import duties.
Fun, fun, fun, in the sun, sun, sun
Subaru of America was keen to ram home the ‘Fun in the Sun’ message, with the ad team taking the ‘if we keep saying the same thing over and over again it will become the truth’ approach to marketing. Dear American taxman, it’s not a light truck, honest.
Which is why you’ll see promotional literature featuring the BRAT with a set of golf clubs in the back, or a pair of California girls doing the whole Beach Boys thing in the flatbed.
Over in the UK, the Subaru MV 284 was less about dolls by a palm tree in the sand and more about Mid-West farmer’s daughters. Mid-West Wales, to be precise.
One brochure image showed a Subaru MV tackling a slight incline with a flat cap-wearing gentleman at the wheel. “This really tough one has gentle ways and a generous 1,250-pound payload deck,” proclaimed the headline.
It was about as far away from French bikinis on Hawaii island as you could get. More John Deere overalls and warm beer in Haworth, to be honest.
Thanks to their no-nonsense approach, these selectable-four-wheel-drive pick-ups struck a chord with the rural community. Economical 1.6 or 1.8-liter flat-four petrol engines, a transfer ‘box offering a set of low ratios, and that chuck-in-and-go load bed made them a hit with the world’s farmers.
And because they looked cool – in a Ranchero or El Camino kinda way – they worked off the farm, too.
Sadly, the BRAT’s go-anywhere spirit extended to its ability to rust, with corrosion able to take hold just about anywhere. Although many were well maintained, cosmetic sympathy was at a premium, and there’s so only so much tinworm a friendly safety inspection officer would be prepared to overlook.
Better than a one-horse open sleigh
Which brings us back to the original point: Santa would drive a Subaru BRAT. Consume one too many brandies, squint hard, and the pick-up even looks like a sleigh. And because it’s a Subaru, it will be able to dash through the snow better than any one-horse open sleigh ever could.
It’s more practical and flexible than Prancer, Dancer and whatever the other reindeer are called, and it won’t need mucking out after a night parked in the stable. And remember, a Subaru is for life, not just for Christmas. You can’t say the same about Rudolph, whose glowing red nose – no matter how clever – is only relevant once a year.
Amazingly, Subaru of America even thought to provide transport for Santa’s little helpers, launching a range of ‘Mini BRAT go-karts’ for the elves. If this isn’t the best period press photo you’ll see today, we’ll eat our Betamax VCR and wash it down with a glass of Brussels Sprout juice.
The Subaru BRAT: if it’s good enough for ‘Gipper’, Joy Turner of My Name is Earl fame, and the farmers of Wales and the English Yorkshire Dales, it’s good enough for Papa Noël. And it’s good enough for you, too.
Merry Christmas, BRAT lovers.
More on Retro MR
BMW promised to deliver 100,000 electric vehicles in 2017 and, a few weeks ahead of New Year’s Eve, it’s hit that goal – and has lit up its Munich HQ like a giant battery to celebrate.
The illumination of the ‘four-cylinder’ building was, said BMW AG chairman Harald Krüger, a 99-metre high signal that “we deliver on our promises”.
The 100,000 electrified car total in 2017 also saw BMW pass the 200,000 mark for i3 sales. That’s only the start of things, it reckons. By 2025, it’s going to have 25 electrified models on sale and “electro-mobility will continue to be my measure for our future success” said the boss.
BMW’s electrified models include plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and full battery-electric EVs. In preparation, the firm has secured naming rights for all ‘i’ models from i1 to 19 – plus, intriguingly, iX1 to iX9, suggesting electrified SUVs will be just as important as electrified conventional cars.
There will be an i8 Roadster in 2018, a Mini EV in 2019, a full EV BMW X3 in 2020 and the BMW iNext, previewed at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, will be revealed in 2021.
The Mini EV will be produced here in the UK, at Mini Plant Oxford, in a big win for UK automotive in 2017.
Electrified cars are becoming big business for BMW. In both Western Europe and the U.S, they account for 7 percent of overall brand sales; in Scandinavia, 1 in 4 new BMWs is electrified. 10 percent of current BMW 3 Series sales are iPerformance plug-in hybrid models and, overall BMW Group has a 21 percent market share of electrified models in Europe – the best of any premium car maker.
Looks like its early, hugely expensive gamble on being an early adopter with the i3 is starting to bear fruit…
Vauxhall has given its Viva the faux-SUV treatment. But why would you buy one?
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