Classic Land Rover Defender Works V8_170118_24

Opinion: You wait years for a new Land Rover Defender…

Classic Land Rover Defender Works V8_170118_24

“We’re dropping the S from SUV,” said Ineos Automotive’s commercial director Mark Tennant. “This is going to be a Marmite design, a bit anti-trend. Grenadier is going to be an uncompromising 4×4.” Sound familiar? 

The event today in London, where I heard confirmation Ineos isn’t simply going to build an all-new 4×4 but is going to assemble it in Wales, couldn’t have been better timed.

Less than a week ago, I was over in Frankfurt, standing in the crowd as cheers, whoops and applause welcomed the new Land Rover Defender. That’s an icon reinvented, a 21st century version of the original. Someone I was speaking to thought it was the concept car on the stand, and gasped when I said it was actually on sale.

New Land Rover Defender design director Gerry McGovern

It’s on sale for £45k, though. The smaller 90 is going to be around £40k, and you can bet most sold will be £50k and up. It’s that sort of machine – a wonderful possession… that many may not bear to put to work.

After the original Defender died, buyers switched to double cab pickups, a market that nudges 50,000 a year in the UK. It’s these people, and not new Defender buyers, that Ineos Automotive is going after with the Grenadier.

Hence the perfect timing. Land Rover is making the future, but the Grenadier will ensure those looking to do something the Defender was originally designed for won’t be left out. Farmers will surely queue up to push the considerable design tolerances of Grenadier. Fleets such as the Forestry Commission will use Grenadier like any other tool on the job: a piece of work equipment, to respect, but not love.

Some, of course, will never see a hard day’s graft in their lives. They’ll plough posh Wilton Road in London, where you’ll find the Grenadier pub after which this 4×4 is named.

But because it’s designed first and foremost to work for a living – and because it’s likely to cost tens of thousands less than the Defender – Grenadier seems set to do just that.

Ineos Automotive Bridgend factory - artist's impression

In being so proudly ‘UV’, Grenadier Defender might just complement the sleek new Defender uncommonly well. It’s even going to be built in Wales. And on which Anglesey beach was the concept for the original Series Land Rover sketched out? You’ve got it.

We’ve already got one new-age Defender. We don’t need another.

But a new iteration of the original Defender, with an accessible price tag to boot? Now you’re onto something, Ineos…

Opinion: Of course Stuart Pearce drove a Ford Capri

Stuart Pearce drove a Ford Capri

Stuart Pearce drove a Ford Capri. Of course he did. You can’t imagine ‘Psycho’ behind the wheel of anything other than a Ford Capri.

This isn’t news. Pearce hung up his boots in 2002 and hasn’t put on a managerial suit or tracksuit since 2015. But the story of Pearce and his Capri was the most interesting part of a recent press release.

Green Flag is celebrating its 25th birthday this year and has enlisted the help of the former Nottingham Forest and England left-back as a campaign spokesperson. Pearce played for England 25 years ago when Green Flag sponsored the national team.

The motoring organisation was the first brand to sponsor England in 1994, with the deal ending with the FIFA World Cup tournament in July 1998. Pearce didn’t make the squad, but he took part in the subsequent Euro 2000 qualifying campaign.

From Betsy Loo to Cruella de Ville

“Driving has always been a massive part of my life,” said Pearce. “I bought my first car in 1979, her name was Betsy Loo, it was a blue Aston [sic] Morris 1300 which cost me just £225.

“When I turned professional at the age of 21, I treated myself to a Ford Capri, named Cruella de Ville. This was my favourite ever car that I’ve owned – even though it refused to start in the cold weather.”

Let’s be honest, the Capri was made for geezer like Pearce. The only car more suited for a tough-tackling left-back from Hammersmith would be a Mk1 or Mk2 Ford Granada, but a Capri just feels right for a footballer of the 80s and early 90s.

Put it this way, you can’t imagine Pearcey in an Opel Manta, Volkswagen Scirocco or Toyota Celica. Given his penalty miss at Italia ’90, it’s probably best if we don’t mention that British Capri production ceased in 1976, meaning his Capri was almost certainly built in Germany.

This Guardian article references Pearce’s steadfast refusal to fall “for the rich man’s trappings” of a professional footballer, and how his Capri was “stubbornly parked among the Porsches” in the players’ car park.

He was almost certainly the last to leave the home ground, not because he was in the club bar or tied up signing autographs for young Coventry City or Nottingham Forest fans, but because the Capri would often fail to start.

“It used to take an eternity to start the car in the cold weather, my older brother would put his donkey jacket over the car engine in the winter so that it wasn’t as cold when he went to start it the following morning.

“I also remember having to start cars on hills in cold weather to get them going. Defrosting windscreens also took an age, as did warming up the inside of the cars – we didn’t have the luxury of heated seats!”

Please tell us that tough-as-nails Stuart Pearce doesn’t enjoy the ‘luxury’ of a heated seat. That would be like telling us that Dwayne Johnson has a knitted toilet roll cover in his downstairs cloakroom. Or Jason Statham insists on having fondant fancies served to him on a paper doily.

‘Flying cars will become the norm,’ says Stuart Pearce

Flying cars will become the norm

Still, if there’s one thing you didn’t expect to read today, it’s Stuart Pearce’s vision of what cars will look like in 25 years time.

“In the future, I have no doubt that cars will keep getting ‘greener’ which is really important considering the environmental issues we currently face. The research shows that 50 percent of Brits think that that cars will be self-driving in the future, and I count myself in that number.

“Likewise, the way that technology is developing, flying cars will become the norm in the not too distant future – although I don’t think I’ll be giving that a try any time soon”.

We’ll leave you with the news that Pearce has a “large punk collection in [his] car to help keep [him] entertained on long journeys”.

If you’re not imaging the footwells of a black Mk3 Ford Capri 2.8i loaded up to the air vents with cassettes of The Stranglers, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and The Clash, you’re not trying hard enough. 

Main image courtesy of Austin Osuide.

Volvo and Lotus at Bicester Heritage

Why Volvo is so exciting for Lotus

Volvo and Lotus at Bicester HeritageJust a few years ago, Volvo was a minor player in the premium car sector. Its biggest hit, the XC90 large SUV, was ageing badly, and other models such as the S60 and V70 were off the pace.

Even its best-selling car, the XC60 mid-size SUV, was ready for replacement, while its newest model, the V40, was basically a Ford Focus in drag.

Today, Volvo is a different company.

It started with the all-new XC90, a radical reinvention that took everyone by surprise and set the template for everything since.

The XC90 was stylish, sophisticated and a quantum leap on in terms of quality and ability – suddenly a fierce rival to alternatives from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Hit after hit has followed: the S90 and V90, XC60, XC40, S60 and V60. Volvo has replaced almost its entire model range, with only the V40 waiting for reinvention.

We’re promised a surprise there, too.

The Geely magic

Volvo and Lotus at Bicester Heritage

What’s behind all this? Ford’s decision to sell Volvo for $1.6 billion in 2010, to a company then relatively unknown in the west, but a giant in China: Geely.

Geely gave Volvo serious financial backing, scrutinised its development plans, but then seemed happy to oversee things from afar. Geely didn’t interfere and Volvo has thrived.

The Geely magic has since benefited another company on its knees: the London Taxi International.

Geely rescued it, renamed it the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC), and funded development of a plug-in hybrid taxi that London cabbies, a notoriously tough audience to please, are raving about.

LEVC is now planning to do the same in the commercial vehicle sector with a plug-in hybrid van

It seems, if Geely commits to a company, it’s sure to prosper. 

Lotus sunbeam

Volvo and Lotus at Bicester Heritage

And the latest company set to demonstrate the Geely magic? Lotus. Next month, it will reveal a brand new £1 million-plus electric hypercar.

Next year, it will start replacing its current dated (albeit still brilliant) sports cars. It is even likely to make an SUV (although the company has yet to confirm this).

I visited Lotus this week, to drive some of its current cars. The mood amongst the team? Buoyant. It is already seeing what Geely is bringing to the firm, and can’t wait to start talking about new products.

As I drove home in a Volvo test car – the excellent new S60, a convincing BMW 3 Series rival at last – I got it, too.

Watch Lotus with interest: it’s getting ready to do a Volvo.

Volkswagen T-Cross TDI

New Volkswagen T-Cross TDI proves why diesel is doomed

Volkswagen T-Cross TDIVolkswagen recently confirmed it is bringing a diesel-engined version of its T-Cross small SUV to the UK.

Up to now, it’s been petrol-only, and there was speculation on the launch that diesel wouldn’t make it across the channel at all.

But now, it’s here, a decision perhaps swayed by cost-conscious decision-makers in company car fleets demanding a diesel alternative.

Related: How to find the cheapest petrol and diesel near you

Thing is, crunching the numbers actually shows why diesel is done for.

Volkswagen T-Cross TDI

Helpfully, Volkswagen makes comparisons easy. A T-Cross 1.6 TDI 95 SE, with a five-speed gearbox and 95hp output, costs £21,065.

A turbo petrol-powered  T-Cross 1.0 TSI 95 SE, with, erm, a five-speed gearbox and 95hp output, costs £18,815.

That’s a whopping £2,250 premium for diesel, right away. And this is a cutting-edge turbo petrol engine, too, not some wheezy old clunker.

You can narrow the gap to £1,500 by choosing the 1.0 TSI 115 six-speed 115hp variant, but that’s not quite a fair comparison (and insurance is two groups higher, 10 versus 8), so we won’t.

Ah, but diesel has an economy advantage, right? That’s the whole point of picking diesel instead of petrol, no? Well, not really. The TSI 95 does 47.9-48.7mpg on the new WLTP cycle. The TDI 95 does 51.4-53.3mpg.

8 percent better economy, for a 12 percent higher list price.

Tax is taxing

It gets worse. Because the government hates diesel, it charges fleets 30 percent BIK company car tax. The petrol car is rated at 26 percent. As the tax take is based on the list price, dearer cars are taxed more.

For the 20 percent taxpayer who may get a T-Cross as a company car, this means a yearly tax bill of £978 for petrol… and £1,263 for diesel. A £285 difference, or almost £24 a month.

And for 40 percent taxpayers, it’s £571 a year, or nearly £48 a month.

Quite apart from the fact diesel is also noisier, rattlier and generally less pleasant to live with than Volkswagen’s world-class 1.0 TSI engine, it’s not hard to see why new diesel sales are dropping.

People bought them to save money. More parsimonious petrols and burdensome tax penalties mean that’s no longer the case. It’s no wonder savvy British motorists are moving away from them in droves.

Question is, can anything now save the diesel?

Every rooftop tent needs a good roof rack

Rooftop tent on a Citroen C5

The rooftop tent industry is big business. Having gained popularity in Australia, these roof-mounted living quarters are now popping up across the world, as travellers embrace the upstairs and outdoors life.

While a rooftop tent is certainly cheaper than a motorhome or a caravan, it’s not an inexpensive purchase. A recent post on Outside showcased four tents, with prices ranging from $2,895 (£2,285) to $6,450 (£5,095). Strewth.

You can understand the appeal. While rooftop tents have their roots in the Australian Outback – where elevated sleeping keeps you safe from dangerous critters – climbing ‘upstairs’ to bed has a unique appeal.

It’s also easier than lugging a caravan around with you or spending a small fortune on a motorhome.

There are, of course, pros and cons associated with rooftop camping: this Popular Mechanics article provides a good summary. But whether you opt for a hard or soft shell, or spend a few hundred bucks or a small fortune, there’s one thing every rooftop tent requires: a roof rack.

Up on the roof

Rooftop tent

Which is where the German firm Rameder comes in. The company, which is famous for selling towbars and bike carriers, also offers a comprehensive range of roof racks. 

It says you should check the associated manufacturer’s recommendations before choosing a roof rack for your rooftop tent. To achieve good weight distribution, the roof bars should be as far apart as possible and the tent wight should be placed on it evenly, it says.

As for the maximum roof load: the figure is only relevant while the vehicle is in motion, the company advises. The weight could be multiplied when cornering or braking, meaning an overloaded rack could compromise the safety of the vehicle.

Living in a box

MINI Countryman with rooftop tent

You’ll have to excuse us, because we’ve disappeared down a rooftop tent rabbit hole and we might be gone some time. You could lose an hour of your time browsing the various options on the Autohome website.

The Mini Countryman has never looked more desirable. Because all cars look better with a roof box, right?

Dim and dimmer: why car headlights leave drivers in the dark

headlight stalk

Prepare yourself for one of those ‘old man yells at cloud’ opinion pieces, because I’m about to go off on one regarding the misuse of daytime running lights.

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend, which means we’re being bombarded with advice pieces designed to keep us safe and to ensure we arrive back at work on Tuesday without setting fire to the shed, murdering the mother-in-law with an axe, towing a caravan into a lake or taking somebody’s eye out with a canoe. 

But here’s some additional advice for the unilluminated drivers of Britain: turn your blimmin’ lights on.

It used to be simple: when it got dark, you twisted a stalk on the steering column or a turned a dial on the dashboard to turn on your car’s headlights.

And, aside from those embarrassing occasions when the orange glow of the sodium street lights meant that you forgot to light up after exiting Sainsbury’s car park, you rarely got things wrong. Thankfully, there was always a helpful Rover 200 driver on hand to give you a friendly flash before you reached the suburbs and ended up with a double bend sign inserted in your head.

Today, things are different. Daytime running lights (or DRLs) have been mandatory since February 2011, so modern drivers are never in the dark. What used to be the preserve of Scandi-cool geography teachers and architects is now commonplace, linking everything from low-rent Dacias to high-end Jags.

The problem is, a small number of drivers seem to think that DRLs are a substitute for common sense. Because the dashboard is illuminated, the lights must be on, they think, before turning their attention to the Whatsapp messages on their smartphone-enabled touchscreen.

Last year, a survey of 2,061 motorists found that more than six in 10 (62 percent) of motorists claimed to see other cars and vans driving in dull overcast conditions without any rear lights on, but noted that the DRLs were burning bright.

The dazed and the confused

Peugeot 3008 GT Line

And they certainly burn bright. As the government points out, they are too bright for use at night and will cause “dazzle and discomfort” for other road users.

Some cars, particularly those with fancy-pants light clusters, feature rear lights that are always on, so the chances of going up the back of them are slim. Others are plunged into darkness, which is less than ideal when the sun goes down or the road is draped in a thick layer of fog.

Only last night, I followed a nearly-new Peugeot 3008 (with fancy-pants lights) along the A30 and into that notoriously dark section before Honiton. For a while, I was wondering why the driver was frantically flashing at the road ahead, like the aforementioned old man shouting at clouds.

I soon realised that the DRLs he had been relying on for the past 15 or so miles were no longer up to the task, so he was flashing his lights in a vain attempt to engage main beam. Fat chance when you’re running with a pair of DRLs.

He worked it out – eventually – but not after some erratic driving and, I suspect, a few choice words.

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re one of the many illuminated drivers who have seen the light. In which case, please pass the message on to your not-so-bright neighbour or that person in finance who drives the Qashqai. If they can’t be trusted with DRLs or a car’s ‘auto’ lights, tell ’em to take the bus.

That way we’ll all get to where we want to be this Bank Holiday weekend, even if that does mean having a barbecue with your mother-in-law. Does anybody have a match?

Opinion: I don’t hate the Cupra Formentor

Cupra Formentor revealed

The world needs another performance SUV like it needs another reality TV programme, a Michael Buble album or a president with a penchant for walls. Which means the Cupra Formentor should be as welcome as a toaster in the bath.

Indeed, I received news of the Formentor via a friend, with a supporting comment along the lines of “Arrgh, another pointless fast SUV.”

I was tempted to respond with a knowing nod emoji – I know I shouldn’t be using emojis at my age – but on this occasion, I was prepared to leave my mind, if not entirely open, then slightly ajar. Crikey, the Cupra Formentor actually looks rather appealing.

Or maybe it’s just me?

Stick it alongside the existing Cupra Ateca and it’s like comparing a running shoe with a heavy boot. If nothing else, it highlights what Cupra could achieve if it’s given free rein. Ask yourself this: does the Formentor look like a product of the Volkswagen Group? I’d suggest it doesn’t, and it’s been a while since we’ve been able to say that about the glut of SUVs from the German giant.

La Tormenta

Cupra Formentor rear

Sure, there are hints of other brands in the styling. A touch of Alfa Romeo here, a bit of Mazda there, with glimpses of Lexus chucked in for good measure. The Cupra badge will always look like a hastily-produced afterthought, but the Formentor’s rear end is muscular and almost attractive. Almost.

Two hundred words into this automotive confessional, it’s time to talk about the name. In keeping with Seat’s naming strategy, Formentor is a beautiful sun-kissed peninsula on the island of Majorca, but Cupra may have missed a trick here.

Change the ‘F’ to a ‘T’ and you have one of the greatest car names on the planet. The Cupra Tormentor: perfect for chasing down unsuspecting Porsche Macan and Skoda Kodiaq vRS drivers. If it’s good enough for Mater, it’s good enough for Cupra.

The press release for the ‘Tormentor’ says a lot without giving much away, but the concept will make its debut at next month’s Geneva Motor Show. At its heart is a 245hp plug-in hybrid powertrain, with a pure electric mode delivering up to 30 miles of zero-emissions range.

Cupra Formentor interior

Inside, the Formentor looks remarkably restrained and tasteful, with the dashboard dominated by a 10-inch ‘floating’ display and a digital cockpit similar to that in the Cupra Ateca. The badge on the steering wheel has the whiff of an aftermarket accessory, mind.

Give the people what they want

I’m sure we’d all like Cupra to build a driver-focused three-door coupe, but that market is about as buoyant as a rock in a paddling pool. And a Cupra sports car would be nice, if only to give motoring journos the opportunity to say it’s not as good as a Mazda MX-5 or a Porsche 718 Cayman, depending on the power output.

A crossover with a sloping roof, bling wheels and an infotainment screen the size of a television set thus makes perfect sense, because that’s what people want and are buying.

Cupra Formentor concept

I’m not sure I’ll be joining the ‘tribes’ forming a queue to buy a Formentor when it goes on sale in 2020 – my heart belongs to the Volvo XC40 – but I doff my Cordovan hat to Cupra for forging ahead with plans to create its first standalone car.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the bathwater has gone cold and the toast just popped up.

Zip merging: are we a nation divided?

zip merging

‘Merge in turn’. We’ve all seen the signs at the end of a two-lane section of road, but how many of us actually do it?

Based on the response from BBC Radio 5 Live listeners this morning, we’re all wonderfully polite and follow the ‘zipper merge’ technique without fuss or bother. But anecdotal evidence would suggest this isn’t entirely true.

For example, how many times have you seen a lorry driver move across to block the two lanes, resulting in two lines of heavy traffic behind the trailer and an entirely clear lane ahead of the cab?

Or, in what appears to be an example of Britain’s obsession with queueing, you find a long line of drivers sat picking their noses and Snapchatting photos of the tailback in one lane, while the other lane lies empty, save for a few crows and the occasional wagtail.

There is a third method, which involves hurtling along the asphalt equivalent of the Mary Celeste, only to barge in at the last minute. According to social media – so often the voice of common sense, balance and reason – this method invariably includes an Audi of some sort.

But, aside from the retina-burning LED lights and the apparent lack of courtesy, isn’t Mr or Mrs Audi doing the right thing?

Divide and conquer

lane closed roadworks

‘Zip merging’ or the ‘zipper merge’ originated from the US as a traffic flow measure designed to ease congestion when a road narrows from two or more lanes to one. In simple terms, drivers should merge at the point of closure, rather than merging in as soon as possible.

In 2008, a study conducted by Ken Johnson, a state work zone engineer in Minnesota, found that the length of the queue is reduced by up to 50 percent when drivers merge in turn. Sounds compelling enough.

And yet, on this evening’s commute home from work, you will find some motorists sat shaking their heads and tutting to themselves as an Audi driver (other German brands are available) shows a total disregard for the rules of the road and our nation’s reputation for politeness.

But while the terribly polite and courteous driver sits behind the wheel of their Hyundai/Skoda/Kia/Suzuki/Lexus (delete as applicable), it is they who are failing to observe the guidance of the Highway Code. Not to mention missing the first 20 minutes of Pointless.

Joined-up thinking required

happy driver

In the section marked ‘Lane discipline’, the Highway Code states: “You should follow the signs and road markings and get into the lane as directed. In congested road conditions do not change lanes unnecessarily. Merging in turn is recommended but only if safe and appropriate when vehicles are travelling at a very low speed, e.g. when approaching road works or a road traffic incident. It is not recommended at high speed.”

Far be it for anyone to accuse the government of sitting on the fence, but the use of ‘recommended’ is the hardly the conclusive evidence we were after. But the signs asking us to ‘merge in turn’ and ‘use both lanes’ couldn’t be any clearer.

You’ve seen what can happen when the nation is divided, so on the subject of merging in turn, can we engage in a little joined-up thinking? If nothing else, you might get home in time to see the first round of Pointless.

The Grand Tour season 3 review: if you like it, watch it. If you don’t, don’t

The Grand Tour season three episode one

I’m going to come straight to the point: I’ve never really seen much value in a review of a television show. Which might seem like a strange admission at the beginning of a piece focused on examining the first episode of season three of The Grand Tour, but hear me out on this.

The return of the #amazonshitcarshow – clever hashtag, guys, very clever – will guarantee at least three things. The Guardian will post a largely negative review. The tabloids will revel in the show’s silliness. And Prime Video’s viewing figures will shoot through the roof.

I was asked to watch the first episode and then provide my thoughts. There are clicks at stake here and everybody is hoping to hitchhike on the back of the bandwagon that will be streamrollering online viewing figures for the coming weeks and months.

There ain’t much room on this wagon, so be prepared to get cosy with your neighbour if you’re taking a ride.

Detroit Spinners

May Hammond Clarkson

Which brings me back to point about being asked to review The Grand Tour. I’m not complaining – spending the first hour of a Friday morning watching Clarkson, Hammond and May mess about in Detroit was fine by me. But, honestly, do you care what I think?

Put it this way. If you enjoyed the first two seasons, you’ll undoubtedly love series three. As teasers go, the near-on two-minute montage at the beginning of episode one is pretty conclusive. And it scores points for the use of Do the Strand by Roxy Music.

If there’s one thing The Grand Tour does very well, it’s delivering a balance between the sensational and the incidentals. The muscle cars in Detroit segment is a feast for the ears and eyes – the sound of Hammond’s Demon echoing off the crumbling walls of ‘Motor City’ is a particular highpoint.

But the smaller reference points remain at the heart of what makes The Grand Tour tick. Even the demise of the celebrity segment is brushed aside courtesy of a sharp but cruel reference to Howard from the Halifax ads and Adrian Chiles. Not that the global audience will have a clue who they are. Google it.

Which is something you’ll be doing a lot following the first episode. Whether it’s watching footage of rock concerts at the Michigan Building on YouTube, trawling through images of the Conner Avenue assembly plant in its heyday, or wandering through the suburbs of Detroit on Google Street View, you’ll almost certainly lose another hour or so on the net.

So that’s your Friday afternoon sorted.

Happy little plants

Jeremy Clarkson in Detroit

I’m sure the detractors will make some wisecracks about three old farts hurtling through a once rich and powerful town as some kind of metaphor for The Grand Tour’s tried and tested formula. And that’s their prerogative.

But if, within the first few minutes of the show, you’re not enjoying it, why not switch it off and watch The Man in the High Castle? Or The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.

The Grand Tour exists to make people happy. “Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news,” as the painter with the big hair once said.

Renault Laguna Sport Tourer

Opinion: my £100 car is the best thing I bought this year

Our man spends £100 on a Renault Laguna Sport Tourer and reckons it is the best thing he has bought in 2018. He’s a little strange.