Opinion: The days of parking kindness could be over

Pay and display parking sign

Nobody likes paying for parking. Discovering somewhere to park for free is one of life’s little pleasures, like finding an old fiver in your jeans pocket or when your mate finally decides it’s his round.

I rarely pay for parking in my local towns: I know where I can park for nothing, in bays that will give me enough time to have a haircut, consume a couple of overpriced coffees or browse the charity shops for second-hand car books. What else is there to do in town?

However, last Friday, when the weather was particularly British, I decided to park in the centre of town. Having dusted the cobwebs off my wallet, I found £2 for a two-hour stay – who said the days of highway robbery were over – and wandered over to the pay and display machine.

Before purchasing the ticket, I was told to enter my registration number, which proved to be rather tricky, as the keypad was at a height designed for Lilliputians. I headed back to the car in need of a physio and contemplating the beginning of the end for a common random act of kindness.

Put up a parking lot

Pay and display sign

Most of us have returned to a car to find unspent time on a ticket. With an hour or two left, not only does passing the ticket to somebody else feel like a nice thing to do, it also feels like the right thing to do.

Sure, the ticket says ‘non transferable’, but who’s to know? Saving a fellow motorist a few quid is a good deed for the day and, admittedly, an opportunity to get one over on the establishment.

But those days are drawing to a close. The rise of number plate-controlled pay and display machines and the ‘pay by mobile’ car parks will bring an end to this opportunity to deliver a gesture of goodwill. It’s the end of an era. Soon, letting people out of junctions and allowing room for cyclists and motorcyclists will be all we have left to share the love on the road.

No big deal in the great scheme of things, but I for one will miss the rare example of motoring fellowship.

2020 new Honda Jazz

Opinion: I’m in love with the new Honda Jazz

2020 new Honda Jazz

Confession: I think I may have fallen for the new Honda Jazz. In a week when the great and the good of the motoring world have tripped over their travel bags and squabbled over frozen party food to bring us the latest news from Wolfsburg, I’ve been pondering the simple beauty of the Jazz.

It’s beautifully simple. Honda hasn’t lost sight of what makes the Jazz so appealing. Like it or not, this is the car you’d want your parents to drive when they retire. It’s as familiar as The Archers theme tune, as dependable as a Golden Retriever, and as practical as a Cub Scout leader.

We don’t want the Honda Jazz to be quick (unless we’re stuck behind one on a B-road). We don’t want the Honda Jazz to be snazzy. We don’t want the Honda Jazz to be exciting. Which is why Honda appears to have nailed the fourth-generation model.

What’s up, Doc?

2020 new Honda Jazz

Take the styling, which is almost exactly how you’d want the Mk4 Jazz to look. The front end is a bit goofy, with a hint of Bugs Bunny, but overall, it puts right the wrongs of the outgoing Jazz.

The Jazz has always felt like a supermini XL – like a pair of beige slacks with an elasticated waist. Honda is promising ‘class-leading’ levels of interior space, thanks to the position of the fuel tank below the front seats and the hybrid tech in the engine bay.

Oh yeah, did I mention that the new Jazz is powered by a two-motor hybrid system? Honda hasn’t released any figures, but has promised ‘impressive fuel economy’. Needless to say, Jazz drivers won’t be making regular trips to the petrol station, so that plastic loyalty card can be recycled.

2020 new Honda Jazz

The Magic Seats are retained, because removing them would be akin to chasing away the ravens from the Tower of London. The flexibility afforded by the rear seats is one of the joys of Honda Jazz ownership.

Yes, I just used the word ‘joy’ in the context of the Honda Jazz.

Which brings me on to the dashboard. I suspect the press photos show a top-spec interior with all the bells and whistles, but notice how all the switches and buttons are positioned in a neat and driver-focused manner.

Volkswagen reckons the world is ready for a Golf with virtually no physical buttons. I beg to differ. Such an approach would see Jazz loyalists voting to leave for the sanctuary of the Yaris, leaving the remainers to wonder what on earth just happened.

2020 new Honda Jazz

Note the two USB ports, the deep cupholder in front of the air vent, the positioning of the LCD touchscreen and the two-spoke steering wheel. Jazz, if I’m honest, you had me at the two-spoke steering wheel. 

There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for when the grandchildren come to visit, wireless smartphone charging, and even a wifi hotspot. Now, Jazz owners can browse the online version of the Daily Express as they enjoy tea from a Thermos on the East Sussex coast.

The unfortunately named Crosstar is a faux crossover I could do without, but no doubt Honda has done its homework. To be fair, the Jazz wears the two-tone paint job rather well. It’s like ‘man at C&A’ has wandered into H&M by mistake.

2020 new Honda Jazz

I’m fully aware that this declaration of love for the new Honda Jazz merely cements my reputation as the odd uncle who is always left off the guest list. The one who’s estranged from the extended family. I’m not concerned.

The world doesn’t need another compact SUV, million-dollar hypercar or ‘Ringmeister. What it needs is an efficient, sensible and clever supermini that’s easy to park, cheap to run and is unlikely to let you down. Jazz hands to that.

2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport

Opinion: Don’t be too sad about missing out on the VW Atlas Cross Sport

2020 VW Atlas Cross SportSUVs with coupe styling are growing trend and Volkswagen has just revealed a brand-new high-riding model with a sportier profile.

The upside is that, unlike many contemporary SUV coupes, the new Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport manages to look like a good piece of design.

However, the bad news for some is that only customers in North America will be able to buy it from early next year.

Made in America, for Americans

2020 VW Atlas Cross SportVolkswagen has been building the regular large seven-seater Atlas SUV in Chattanooga, Tennessee for almost three years. Designed to cater for American tastes, and to fit on generous U.S. roads, the normal Atlas is longer and wider than an Audi Q7.

The new Cross Sport version is shorter by only 58 mm, and also keeps the same width and wheelbase. Imagine Audi’s sizeable Q8 crossover for the closest representation of scale and styling. Big haunched wheel arches and a tapered rear windscreen do channel elements of the Q8, although the bluff front end and rear chrome detailing are pure American SUV.  

Perhaps exposure to the growing numbers of SUV coupes has dulled the shock of them, but the Atlas Cross Sport manages to look fairly well resolved. 

More metal for your money

2020 VW Atlas Cross SportWhilst there might not be a big V8 engine powering the Atlas Cross Sport, the engine options are still suitably American-flavoured. There is a choice of a naturally aspirated 3.6-litre V6 with 276 hp, or a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol with 235 hp. Forget any ideas of diesel power.

An eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard, as is Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system. Choose the right options package and the V6 Cross Sport can tow over 2,200 kg.

Volkswagen will also offer a range of luxury options, including wireless smartphone charging, a 12-speaker audio system, and the Digital Cockpit instrument display for the dashboard. 

Although Volkswagen has not yet confirmed prices for the Cross Sport, but the regular Atlas begins at $30,895 – equivalent to £24,500 in the UK. For comparison, here in the UK an entry-level Tiguan costs from £25,350.

Freedom to choose

2020 VW Atlas Cross SportWhether UK buyers would plump for the Cross Sport is debatable. We may still be in love with SUVs, but the Cross Sport is perhaps too American in flavour to find broad appeal this side of the Atlantic. 

More significant is how the Volkswagen Group has finally embraced the trend for SUVs. A decade ago, the collection of brands offered just 6 SUV models for sale. Today, that has swelled to more than 20, with even more new releases set to come in the near future. 

From the Seat Arona, through to the Bentley Bentayga, there is now an SUV or crossover option for seemingly everyone in the Volkswagen family. It means we don’t need to be too downhearted about this Atlas Cross Sport passing us by.  

Opinion: Mazda MX-30 is an apology to the planet for the RX-8

Mazda MX-30 doors open

Calm yourself, because the use of the ‘MX’ prefix doesn’t herald the arrival of a new Mazda sports car to sit alongside the MX-5.

That may come, but in the meantime, the MX-30 is yet another SUV, albeit one with an all-electric powertrain. It’s Mazda’s way of saying sorry for the RX-8 and its lust for petrol, oil and rotor tips.

“With the MX-5 we created a sporty two seater when the roadster had been dismissed by other manufacturers,” says Mazda, as it attempts to justify the ‘MX’ prefix. That’s as maybe, but an electric SUV is hardly akin to challenging convention and going against the flow.

Mazda MX-30 opinion

Still, it is Mazda’s first electric car, so it’s breaking the boundaries of ‘Zoom Zoom’ at the very least. ‘Hush Hush’, perhaps?

Mazda hasn’t launched a bad looking car for a very long time. Its crossovers are desirable, its hatchbacks are smart, and the company has managed to achieve the unthinkable by making a compact saloon look elegant.

The jury is out on the MX-30. Far be it for me to comment on aesthetics, but it’s not the most cohesive of designs. The roof reminds me of the Mazda 121 ‘bowler hat’ (no bad thing, granted), the ‘suicide doors’ (labelled ‘freestyle’ by Mazda) are a practical nod to the RX-8, while the rear end just looks startled and surprised.

Mazda MX-30 rear

There are no such concerns on the inside, with the MX-30 featuring eco-friendly materials – no cows need to lose their jacket in the name of this Mazda. The vegan-friendly seats look superb, the cork-based centre console is excellent, and the overall effect reminds me of a new take on the BMW i3 formula. Nice job.

So far, so good. Not that you’ll be driving that far on a single charge. Mazda says the ‘right-sized battery’ provides a range of 125 miles, arguing that this exceeds the 30-mile average daily drive of the European customer.

That’s as maybe, but I believe the current crop of electric cars are hampered by what I’d call ‘Cinderella anxiety’. Just as Cinderella’s coach would be turned back into a pumpkin if she wasn’t home by midnight, many motorists believed a car would reach the end of its useful life at 100,000 miles.

Mazda MX-30 cabin

A range of 100 to 150 miles is the modern ‘Cinderella’. We’ve grown accustomed to getting 400 or so miles out of a tank of fuel – 125 miles is the kind of level you start to think about filling up. Although fuel and electricity cannot be compared, it will take a major shift for motorists to think differently.

Which is why research suggests that more buyers will be turned on by electricity when 300 miles of range is the norm. The MX-30’s range would be acceptable in a city car or supermini, but not so much in a five-seat SUV. An estimated £30,000 is too much for a car that doesn’t offer the prospect of visiting the in-laws at the weekend.

I have little doubt that the MX-30 will be great to drive – Mazda’s range of cars tend to be class-leaders in that department. Engineers have integrated the battery into the body structure to improve body stiffness and rigidity. An electric SUV that’s as good to drive as the Mazda 2 and 3? Don’t bet against it.

Mazda MX-30 seats

The thing is, most buyers care more about range than they do about dynamics, so the MX-30’s figure might be too much of an obstacle. Two years on, when the MX-30 goes on sale in the UK, 300 miles of electric range might be the norm, while a network of ultra-fast chargers should make EV ownership a more realistic proposition for more people.

The Mazda MX-30 might feel as outmoded and out of touch as the RX-8, although the prospect of a range-extender with a rotary engine is as appealing as an electric sports car. Bring it on.

Green number plates opinion

Green number plates: the answer to a question nobody asked?

Green number plates opinion

Green number plates: the answer to a question that was never asked or another step on the way to the normalisation of electric cars?

By 2030, the government wants between 50 and 70 percent of new cars sold to be ultra low emission. There’s a long way to go: year to date, battery electric vehicle sales account for a 1.3 percent market share, albeit up 122.1 percent on the same period in 2018.

The will is there, with a growing number of consumers expecting to buy or lease an electric car within the next five years. But barriers remain.

Limited driving range, an inadequate charging network and high list prices are common complaints and reasons not to adopt. These won’t be obstacles forever.

Next-generation EVs can offer 300 miles of range, the supply of rapid chargers is up 43 percent, and the likes of the Vauxhall Corsa-e, Peugeot e-208 and MG ZS EV have the potential to bring a new breed of mainstream customers to the EV party.

‘Do as I do’

Green number plate on electric car

So how do green number plates support the mass adoption of electric vehicles?

The government says they offer a “very visible way of distinguishing such vehicles and raising their profile”, arguing that they will “help inform road-users and normalise the idea of clean vehicles”.

Around half of all respondents in a recent survey said the visibility of electric cars on the road is a key factor in the normalisation of the technology. Electric versions of the 208 and Corsa could look too similar to the conventional versions to stand out. Right now, the EV sector needs vehicles to act like mobile billboards – a kind of ‘do as I do’ or ‘follow my leader’ approach.

In this context, the proposed green number plates don’t go far enough. Rather than replacing the traditional yellow and white plates with a green background, the government’s preferred option is for a green flash on the left hand side of the plate.

A green background is unlikely to work, it says, because to make it suitable for ANPR, it would need to be a shade that is less visible to the human eye, reducing the awareness benefits. It would also be slower to implement.

Without the awareness, what’s the point? The government says cars with green number plates could enjoy access to bus lanes or low emission vehicle lanes, reduced rate parking and entry to electric charging bays. But aren’t these enforceable by ANPR cameras?

Enter a bus lane or low emission zone in a non-compliant diesel and you can look forward to a PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) gracing your door mat within a few days. Slapping a green sticker on your diesel car’s number plate isn’t going to stop that.

On the subject of bus lanes, isn’t the plan to grant access to electric cars missing the point? As the adoption of electric cars increases, won’t this cause congestion, reducing the benefit of using public transport? In the short term, it’s likely to raise the blood pressure of commuters queuing to get into town while a bus lane sits empty alongside them.

One thing that isn’t immediately obvious in much of the online coverage is that the government is unlikely to make green plates compulsory. Instead, it would prefer a non-mandatory but opt out approach, where the plates are encouraged but not essential.

Green, black and white

electric cars in London ULEV

This has the potential to cause confusion, especially when it comes to local authorities offering free parking or access to certain roads to electric vehicles. Would a zero emission car without a green number plate be fined for using a free parking space? If EVs are exempt anyway, what’s the use of the green plates, aside from building awareness?

One obvious benefit is that it should be easier to identify cars that shouldn’t be parked in an electric charging bay. This might shame some drivers into parking elsewhere, although, once again, if the green plates aren’t mandatory, who’s to say that the driver hasn’t opted out?

As for awareness, the government will need to launch a campaign to support the rollout of the green number plates. If a consumer isn’t informed or bothered about the increasing number of electric cars, a thin green band on the side of a number plate isn’t going to catch their eye.

Maybe the government would be better served investing in a campaign that promotes and raises awareness of the growing electric charging network, while further incentivising the adoption of electric vehicles. Seeing friends and family switching to EVs will do more for the industry than a green number plate.

Green number plates might be the answer to a question nobody asked, but finding the solution is far from black and white. You have until 14 January to share your views.

How to spend two days with a Volkswagen Touareg for FREE

Volkswagen Touareg test drive

A large SUV might be as socially acceptable as a plastic carrier bag, but there’s never been a better time to buy one.

A quarter of a century ago, buying a large SUV meant driving a car with the thirst of Oliver Reed and the luxury of a Soviet bus station. Today’s large SUVs are (relatively) efficient, graceful on the road, accomplished off-road and offer the luxury of a first class lounge.

Which brings us on to the Volkswagen Touareg. Launched in 2002, Volkswagen’s difficult-to-spell large SUV has never quite hit the mark. The first-generation Touareg was good, the second one was forgettable, but the third-generation, launched in 2018, is the best yet.

It’s not cheap – prices start from just below £50,000 – but it pays to distance it from the rest of Volkswagen’s SUV range. Forget the T-Cross, T-Roc and Tiguan, because the new Touareg is a flagship in the style of the Phaeton.

Like the Phaeton, the original Touareg was the brainchild of Ferdinand Piech, but while the luxury saloon disappeared like a white elephant in a snowstorm, the Touraeg – sorry, Touareg – has finally come of age. In fact, it’s a bit of a ‘bargain’.

It shares its platform with the Porsche Cayenne, Lamborghini Urus, Audi Q7 and Bentley Bentayga – a quartet with pedigree and enough kerb appeal to grace the finest restaurants in Kensington and Chelsea. The cheapest Audi Q7 costs £56,310, but that’s before you’ve spent quality time with the options list.

Life with a Cayenne begins at £57,195, but few will leave a Porsche showroom south of £70,000.  Some command a six-figure price tag. As for the Urus and Bentayga – if you have to ask…

Standard kit on the Touareg SEL extends to three pages in the brochure, while the R-Line and R-Line Tech pack more sexy toys than a branch of Ann Summers. A fully loaded Touareg costs £57,000, which is the price at which an Audi or Porsche dealer would be willing to discuss a Q7 or Cayenne.

Volkswagen Touareg: ‘Grade-A luxury’

Volkswagen Touareg 48-hour test drive

The Touareg isn’t all fur coat and no undies. Our Richard Aucock labelled it a “grade-A luxury machine”, arguing that “it’s a very fine way to carry five people and their stuff in luxury comfort”.

But don’t take Richard’s word for it. Right now, you can take an extended test drive in a Volkswagen Touareg for two days, which should be enough time to try the large SUV for size.

Brian Luckie, Touareg product manager at Volkswagen UK, said: “The Touareg is a car that can rise to any challenge – it’s comfortable, capacious, capable, and quick. A 48-hour test drive allows customers to find all of this out for themselves, and to get to know all of the luxuries and technology that the Touareg has to offer.

“By giving customers the opportunity to live with a Touareg for two whole days, we’re hoping they will get to bond with our flagship car. We’re confident that once the 48 hours are over and the car is returned, customers will be convinced by its skillset.”

The free 48-hour test drive on the Volkswagen Touareg is available until 17 December 2019 at participating retailers only.

Opinion: the Copen GR Sport is the sports car we need

Daihatsu Copen GR Sport

Life is full of disappointments. Like discovering an absence of Chomp bars in a Heroes variety pack. Or arriving at a pub with locked doors after a 12-mile walk. Or realising that there’s little chance of buying a Copen GR Sport.

Toyota Gazoo Racing – a company most famous for making the Yaris appealing – has turned its attention to the tiny Daihatsu Copen.

The opening paragraph atop the press release is wonderfully Japanese: “A new lightweight feel sports car combining the joy of the open air with the Toyota Gazoo Racing delight of handling at will.“

In other words, Gazoo Racing’s wizards have focused on body rigidity and suspension tuning by adding a front brace, changing the shape of the centre brace and tweaking the spring rate.

Further upgrades include tuned electric power steering, aerodynamic tweaks, BBS alloys and Recaro seats. Basically, the kind of things you’d demand from a lightweight sports car.

The intercooled, turbocharged 660cc engine is unchanged, and you have a choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or seven-speed CVT with paddle-shifter.

Sounds perfect, especially when you consider that it costs the equivalent of £17,500 – about the same as a mid-range Ford Fiesta. At least it would be perfect if we could buy the blimmin‘ thing.

‘Handling at will’

Copen GR Sport

But you can’t, because the Copen GR Sport is reserved for the Japanese domestic market. Boo, hiss, etc. No “handling at will” delights for you, Minasama.

Still, at least we’ve got a plentiful supply of affordable, lightweight sports cars to choose from. Only we haven’t. Not today.

Fiat’s Mazda MX-5-based MX-5 rival has bitten the dust, leaving the Mazda MX-5 as the sole flag-bearer for affordable roofless fun. These days you need to keep your top on to enjoy maximum thrills, although the Alpine A110 – the current king of the lightweights – costs upwards of £48,000.

Even the Lotus Elise – the former benchmark for cheap(ish) thrills – will set you back at least £42,000 in its rawest form. A lightweight gem for a heavyweight price.

Cast your mind back 20 years to the summer of 1999. You were spoilt for choice: Alfa Romeo Spider, BMW Z3, Caterham 21, Fiat Barchetta, Honda S2000, Lotus Elise, Mazda MX-5, MGF and Porsche Boxster were just some of the sports cars bugging you for your pre-millennium pound.

An unlikely Hethel-built Vauxhall sports car was also waiting in the wings, making this a golden period for wind-in-your-hair joy. Meanwhile, the Ford Puma was acting like an appetiser for the main course – serving up front-wheel-drive delights to prepare drivers for the joy of rear-wheel-drive heaven.

How many Ford Puma owners spent time on the nursery slopes before tackling the black runs offered by the preeminent sports car manufacturers?

Million-dollar paperweights

Copen GR Sport interior

Where are the affordable sports cars of 2019? Hardly a week goes by without a carmaker unveiling another unattainable and inaccessible hypercar that you can’t afford, can’t buy and can’t drive. Million-dollar paperweights destined for air-conditioned basements and the auction catalogues of 2029.

We’ve allowed this to happen. By falling at the heels of crossovers and SUVs, we’ve sent sports cars spiralling into oblivion, rendering them uneconomically unviable for many manufacturers. Christ knows how lucky we are that Renault had the balls to launch the Alpine A110, but where’s the Copen GR Sport equivalent for the UK market?

Don’t hold your breath. Even Mazda MX-5 sales are down nine percent in Europe over the first half of 2019, so it would take a brave marketing department to propose the launch of a sub £20,000 sports car in the UK. 

Saying you can have fun in a small SUV is like saying you can enjoy telephone hold music. Both are there to serve a purpose, but you wouldn’t want to spend longer than you have to enduring them. The Copen GR Sport looks like fun even when it’s standing still.

“Toyota Gazoo Racing will continue to make efforts to create attractive cars for car fans through dialogues with customers, utilising the voices of many car enthusiasts to ‘create ever-better cars‘,” says Toyota.

Open a dialogue with UK buyers, Toyota. We’re ready for your ‘ever-better cars‘.

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.