Opinion: Too few of us care about mobile phone use

Opinion on mobile phone use at the wheel

Around a quarter of all drivers said that they have made or received a call on a handheld phone at the wheel. That’s one of many depressing findings of the RAC’s study of UK drivers.

This year’s Report on Motoring found that this is the most commonly cited concern among drivers, with 12 percent of those surveyed (the equivalent of five million people), saying it’s their biggest worry.

Just 12 percent? It needs to be higher, especially when 17 percent of drivers admitted to checking texts, emails or social media while driving. I suspect the percentage would be greater if drivers were prepared to confess their sins.

Predictably, younger drivers appear to be the worst culprits. Just 49 percent of 17 to 24 year olds said they never make or receive calls, with 62 percent claiming they never text, email or use social media at the wheel. That leaves far too many drivers who have.

New drivers have grown up with smartphones and find it harder to leave their phones alone for any length of time. The government urges drivers to place their phones in the glovebox, but the likes of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto encourage us to plug in and place the device in the centre console.

When the traffic slows and the journey becomes tedious, grabbing the phone becomes all too tempting. 

Just 15 percent of drivers put their phone in the glovebox, 45 percent use a pocket or bag, with a quarter placing it on the passenger seat. Not out of sight and not out of mind.

Anecdotal evidence would suggest the problem is far worse than the figures suggest. Go for a drive and it won’t be long before you see a driver flouting the law.

Only last week, during the WLTP Challenge, I witnessed the driver of an all-terrain crane driving along the M6 with a phone pressed to his ear. The crane in question is fitted with a hands-free kit, so why did the driver choose to break the law? One can only imagine the devastating effects of a 50-tonne crane ploughing into the back of a family hatchback.

Is the driver unaware of the risk? Does he believe that the left-hand-drive crane allows him to ‘hide’ from onlookers as he crawls along in the slow lane? Does he feel that he’s above the law?

Maybe the penalties aren’t strict enough: the threat of six penalties points and a £200 fine isn’t a sufficient deterrent. Discuss.

Nodding donkeys and two-fingered salutes

Driver using a handheld mobile phone

Some drivers do little to hide the fact that they’re on the phone. A phone up to the ear is a blatant ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude to other drivers – a kind of two-fingered salute to the law and the obvious risks.

Others are more discreet. You’ll have seen the ‘nodding donkeys’ parked at traffic lights, as drivers glance up and down from their phone while they wait for the lights to change.

Some will hold their phone at steering wheel height, in an attempt to maintain some degree of control of the vehicle. Then there are those who place the phone on their lap, oblivious to the length of time they’re spending with their eyes diverted from the road.

Last year, a study revealed that young people check their phones every 8.6 minutes, more frequently than any other age group. Little wonder that so many drivers are finding it hard to resist the lure of their smartphone, even on the shortest of commutes.

Around a third of drivers felt stressed and “cut off” without their phone and 29 percent “felt lost” without it. With such a strong reliance on our devices, how can we expect motorists to turn them off and chuck them in the glovebox?

As the RAC report highlights, mobile phone use is just one of a number of ‘menaces’ on Britain’s roads. Road rage, drink-driving, drug-driving and dangerous driving are just a few of the other risks of the road.

Rover and out

Drivers flouting mobile phone use laws

What’s the common thread? The motorist.

Our cars are safer than ever, to the point that they will do their upmost to keep us out of trouble. Maybe that’s part of the problem – we feel safely cocooned in our Euro NCAP-approved boxes, oblivious to the dangers and with little sense of the speed of travel.

Perhaps drivers should be forced to spend six months driving a Rover 100 or G-Wiz before being allowed to drive a safe car or travel with a mobile phone. 

Or maybe all cars should be fitted with an orange flashing light that illuminates when a handheld phone is in use. A kind of Dom Joly ‘I’m on the mobile’ approach to the legislation.

That ought to stop drivers from being too trigger happy with their mobiles.

Mercedes-Benz

Opinion: Premium cars are now mainstream in Britain

Mercedes-Benz

The September new car registrations figures are out, and many big car brands are gloomy despite the on-paper increase in the second-best month of the year for new cars.

It’s easy to see why: volumes fell by over 87,000 cars last year; in 2019, just 4,421 of them have been recovered, with the market up a measly 1.3 percent.

Brexit is behind it, says the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders (SMMT). Chief executive Mike Hawes told the BBC car makers need it “like a hole in the head”.

But some big carmakers are suffering not just because of Brexit, but because the tastes of UK car buyers have shifted. We want premium badges and value for money: the brands in between are suffering as a result.

Back in 2009, for example, Ford had a market share of over 17 percent. In September 2019, this fell to less than 10 percent. And Vauxhall, which once vied with Ford for the top spot, is now back in fourth place, on 7.9 percent.

This is despite the Corsa being Britain’s most popular car in September, with the Fiesta in second. 

What sits between Ford and Vauxhall? Those icons of premium luxury, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with 8.8 percent and 8.1 percent market share respectively.

September 2019 new car market share

  1. Ford: 9.4%
  2. Mercedes-Benz: 8.8%
  3. BMW: 8.1%
  4. Vauxhall: 7.9% 

Premium brands are pretty much as popular as two stalwarts of the British new car market. And the shift shows little sign of tailing off: how long before Mercedes-Benz or BMW actually overtake Ford to become Britain’s favourite car brand?

Dacia, meanwhile, grew 75 percent in September, and MG was up 35 percent. Both like to say ‘value’ is their middle name. Kia is nibbling on the heels of Toyota and even Skoda has grown nearly 25 percent, edging closer to a noteworthy 3 percent market share.

Where does this leave those in the middle? Squeezed, certainly… but it’s whether they can fight back that’s the real question. Because as things stand, it won’t be long before premium really is the mainstream norm in Britain.  

New Kia XCeed

Opinion: Why the Kia XCeed is surprisingly perfect for British families

New Kia XCeed

The most rewarding new car launches are the ones that genuinely surprise you. And so to Newbury, for the first UK drive of the new Kia XCeed, the high-rise, crossover-look version of the Ceed family hatch range.

Expectations were for something perfectly commendable, as all Kias generally are these days. What I actually discovered was something nigh-on perfect for British family car buyers, and for British roads.

New Kia XCeed

Years ago, the family hatchback was king. These days, they still sell, but their share has been diminishing due to the rise of the SUV. Indeed, Kia’s best-selling car in Britain, by far, is the Sportage SUV. The Ceed? Some way back, vying with the Picanto for third.

We all know why: high-rise seating position, rugged looks, practicality for growing families (at the near-complete death of the previous family hatch alternative, the MPV).

But there are downsides of SUVs. They’re thirstier than hatchbacks, and more expensive, and generally don’t drive as well because of their extra weight, higher centre of gravity and need to at least show some willingness to go off-road.

New Kia XCeed

Enter the XCeed, which slots into the price gap between Ceed hatch and Sportage. For starters, it looks great, with a bespoke body that’s easily sportier than any SUV. As it’s lighter, it can use smaller engines, delivering better economy and lower CO2.

It’s an inch and a half higher than a normal Ceed, giving nearly seven inches of ground clearance and the all-important higher stance; this extra height also gives a more confident feel behind the wheel and better visibility in town, so it’s easier to drive.

But the real revelation is how Kia’s used this extra suspension travel to perfect the suspension. The ride, perhaps a touch bumbly on smooth A-roads, comes into its own when surfaces worsen. It brilliantly cushions potholes, broken surfaces, sunken drains and all the other random road detritus UK roads serve up. 

There are times where it feels like a premium Mercedes-Benz. It’s exceedingly satisfying. 

It also handles just like a regular Ceed too, with sophisticated suspension giving agile handling and a wieldy nature. Those coming from an SUV will feel like they’ve got behind the wheel of a hot hatch.

Kia Ceed, ProCeed and XCeed

So there we have it: the Kia XCeed, and other such crossover-style family hatchbacks, are the perfect middle ground for the modern British family car buyer, delivering a drive that copes uncommonly well with our roads.

No wonder Kia is now predicting it to now take half of all Ceed range sales. I for one won’t be surprised if it does.

Opinion: Now is the time to buy a used Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Unless you’re buying a new car, depreciation is a wonderful thing. The faster a car sheds its value, the more attractive it becomes to used car buyers. Which brings us on to the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

You could spend upwards of £65,000 on a new Giulia Quadrifoglio, and we wouldn’t blame you. After all, who wouldn’t want to own a rear-wheel-drive ‘four-door Ferrari’ with 510hp on tap? But there are two good reasons why you shouldn’t.

Firstly, used examples start from around £33,000. That’s not for a well-used and well-worn Quadrifoglio with many miles on the clock and several careless owners to its name. That’s for a 2017 car with 5,000 miles on the clock.

Admittedly, that’s a one-off, but low mileage 2017 cars tend to cost between £35,000 and £40,000. Got a niggling doubt about Alfa Romeo reliability? Don’t worry, those cars are still in warranty.

Don’t take our word for it: the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio has just been crowned Performance Car of the Year at the What Car? Used Car Awards 2019. 

“With its fantastic performance and that thrilling handling, it’s no wonder we love the Giulia Quadrifoglio.”

Not our words, Carol, but the words of What Car? magazine. Niggling doubts begone. Time to visit your local Alfa Romeo showroom?

Time to buy a used Giulia Quadrifoglio

It might not be the most sensible choice, but sensible people buy beige slacks from M&S and drive Honda CR-Vs. They don’t buy an Alfa saloon with a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged engine and enough power to hit 191mph, and 62mph in just 3.9 seconds.

‘Remarkable value’

Steve Huntingford, editor of What Car? said: “Even in a category that was jam-packed with so many truly exciting cars, the Giulia Quadrifoglio stood out, thanks to its fantastic performance and thrilling handling.

“It sounds great too, thanks to its wonderful 503bhp [510hp] twin-turbocharged V6, and its undeniably massive appeal, whether you’re driving it, sitting in it or even just looking at it, is only increased further by the remarkable value it offers as a used buy.“

Andrew Tracey, marketing director for Alfa Romeo added: “Winning an award as a used car is testament to the quality of the Giulia Quadrifoglio. With its impressive performance credentials, coupled with a five-year warranty, the Alfa Romeo Giulia remains a great buy long after it has left the showroom”.

Still want that German performance saloon?

2019 Ford Puma ST-Line

Opinion: the internet is wrong about the new Ford Puma

2019 Ford Puma ST-Line

It’s a good job the new Ford Puma cannot read. If the internet is anything to go by, the ‘not a coupe’ is doomed to failure before it hits the streets in January.

“It’s a fat Fiesta on stilts,” cries one commenter. “What a pathetic waste of a model,” says another. “The new Ford Puma is nothing like a Ford Puma,” bemoaned a ‘Welsh Brummie’ on Twitter, earlier.

Only it is a Ford Puma – it says as much on the boot lid. And, like it or not, Ford can do whatever it likes with a name from its back catalogue. 

Does it really matter? More than two decades have passed since the Ford Puma coupe arrived in all its Steve McQueen glory, and much has changed. Three-door cars are as hard to find as a reasoned opinion in a Wetherspoons, while small coupes are as current as a Blockbuster store.

2019 Ford Puma ST-Line

Sure, Ford could build a three-door coupe with the driving dynamics of a Fiesta ST and the same visual appeal as the original, but what would happen? Motoring journalists would dish out five-star reviews like a foodie influencer in a restaurant before a grand total of 63 people actually buy one.

A new Ford Puma coupe would fall from grace faster than a semi-finalist on The Voice.

“The world doesn’t need another bloody crossover” appears to be the most common complaint, and I have some sympathy for that argument, but here’s the thing: manufacturers are building them because YOU are buying them.

And if you’re not buying them, your neighbour is. As is your neighbour’s best mate in Cheltenham. And your neighbour’s best mate’s aunt in Widnes, etc. In a depressed market, the crossover segment continues to grow, which is why cars as unpleasant as the Vauxhall Mokka X are littering our streets.

Imagine the analysts and marketeers at Ford studying the data that says launching a small crossover would be a good idea, only to unveil a three-door coupe. That would be like Apple turning its back on smartphones and launching a fax machine (ask your parents).

Here’s one they made earlier

Not the new Ford Puma

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much a fan of the original Ford Puma as the next internet commenter. I bought one new in 2001, before trading it in for a Racing Puma less than a year later. Some of my most memorable drive involve a Puma – it deserves the hype.

But rather than sully the great name, I think Ford has struck gold. Some of the new car’s target market were still wearing disposable Pampers in 1997, so they won’t carry the INTERNET RAGE baggage of others. For others, the name will have a whiff of nostalgia.

And we know what Ford + nostalgia equals: ££££££££££s.

2019 Ford Puma ST-Line

I also happen to love the look of the new Puma. In ST-Line spec, it manages to pull off the coupe-crossover thing far better than BMW or Mercedes, and I like the subtle nods to the original.

Heck, it even has a cheerful face, like some kind of Happy Eater and Pacman crossover. In profile, the Puma looks compact, well proportioned and almost alluring. And if it drives as well as the Fiesta and Focus, it’ll be a welcome addition to a segment filled with too many makeweights.

I know list prices are irrelevant in this age of PCP deals, but it looks like excellent value, especially given the level of standard spec. And if people buy this and not the horrifically mediocre EcoSport, that’s another positive.

‘A number of directions all in one go’

Look, if the original Puma means that much to you, go out and buy one. They cost about the same as a deposit on a PCP deal and will leave you grinning like a trio of middle-aged Top Gear presenters.

You can even have some fun repairing the rear wheel arches before the next MOT.

On the another hand, if you’re desperate to own a fast, frantic and frenetic three-door Ford that’s based on the Fiesta, you’re left with one glorious option: the Ford Fiesta ST.

Sorted.

Opinion: top speed records are still relevant

Speed records are still relevant

Some time has passed since Bugatti broke the 300mph barrier with its special Chiron prototype. Now legitimised as the Super Sport 300+, the limited run has been allocated, finally shutting down all the ‘it’s not a production car’ onlookers.

In that time, I’ve had a chance to mull over the questions we all ask ourselves whenever a new top speed record is set. Do I care? Is it relevant? Does it matter?

There’s the practical side of things where these sorts of achievements are relevant. A car that travels at such speed requires the strongest tyres in the world, the most efficient cooling in the world, the cleanest aerodynamics in the world. All cars benefit from advances in these areas, eventually.

Then there’s the philosophical relevance. A great many online naysayers have said ‘no’, ‘no’ and ‘no’ to all of the above. I did find myself wondering if that was the case. Then I thought back to headline-grabbing top speeds of the past and my reaction at the time.

Speed records are still relevant

In 2005, when the Veyron did the business at 253mph and cemented itself in the history books, it also threatened Year Six friendships as debate raged over whether it was the greatest car ever made.

With the Super Sport in 2010, again, Bugatti reaffirmed itself as the undisputed king of speed, and on top of dominating at Ehra Lessien, dominated whispered conversations during my GCSE graphics class for a week.

Then, when Koenigsegg set a two-way record at 277mph, hitting 284mph along the way, it was a spine-tingling moment. Scenes of Koenigsegg boffins wearing big headsets celebrating in the Nevada desert reminded us of mission control when Mr Armstrong took one small step.

These VMAX figures have a significance beyond all else. Would the McLaren F1 command the respect – and values – it does today, had it not years at the top of the speed tree to its name? What makes the Veyron quite as legendary as it is, besides that world-beating record?

Speed records are still relevant

Let’s look at other metrics by which we measure cars. Acceleration, while impressive, is much of a muchness these days. A decade and a half ago, getting to 62mph in under four seconds was the preserve of the most exotic six-figure machinery.

These days, with the wind blowing the right way, you can do that in a hybridised Porsche SUV or an Audi hot hatch. Some high-performance electric cars are knocking at the back gates of two seconds to 62mph. Pretty soon, the physics of current tyres won’t let them get there any quicker.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy incredibly rapid modern cars, or the fact that hypercar-level performance in this sense is now widely available. It is, however, precisely the mass production of this performance metric that knocks the wind out of any mythical feel the very fastest accelerators had. Would Formula 1 be Formula 1 if every other road car could set comparative lap times? Not likely.

Speaking of lap times, let’s talk about the Nurburgring. Okay, they’ve never been worth much more than the A4 sheet the press release was printed on, but today, strong performance credentials at the ‘Green Hell’ are less of a commodity than ever before. That Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid, once it’s beaten a 15 year old 911 GT3 to 62mph, could probably munch it round the Nordschleife, too.

Cars have outgrown these units of measurement. They’ve near as makes no difference ‘completed’ them. As such, performance so-measured nonpluses me, at least in comparison to VMAX.

Speed records are still relevant

Top speed is the game that never gets old – the final automotive frontier. More speed is always possible, with more power, cleverer tyres and cleaner aerodynamics. It’s quite literally the very limit of what a car can achieve. It’s that level of performance, and the engineering it demands, that still remains beyond the attainability of mere mortal.

It’s the preserve of a certain calibre of car and a certain calibre of driver. Yes, you can get to 62mph in a contemporary BMW M5 quicker than in a Ferrari F50. What an M5 won’t do, is catch a Veyron at the top end, or a McLaren F1, or a Koenigsegg.

These are cars at the very top of the food chain, headed by that mightily impressive Chiron SS 300. Scoff all you want, it’s the speed king, and it changed the conversation.

Records like this change our silly little car world in ways no other performance metric can. They’re once, twice, three times in a generation, if we’re lucky. Most importantly, it’s the metric that still musters that child-like wonder in all of us. It stretches our imaginations. It reminds us all just how impassioned we are with these machines. 

Speed records are still relevant

I envied the young car lovers of today the day they read the headlines about the Chiron. Then I realised I shouldn’t have, because I remember exactly how it felt, not only from when the past masters did their thing, but because it broke my adult cynicism and mustered that same feeling all over again. Not to mention the heated debates between my colleagues, friends and I.

I was right there with them, along with many others, staring in wonder and muttering ‘wow’ under my breath.

For that, this record, those that came before, and those that are still to come, are invaluable, and more relevant than ever before. It’s a shame, then, that shortly after setting this one, Bugatti bowed out. I do wonder how long that abstinence will last. Over to you, Mr Koenigsegg.

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?