The cars that go furthest with the fuel light on

Fuel light roulette

Have you ever played fuel light roulette? That’s how far you can get after the fuel light has flashed up on the dashboard – it’s a game of chance and risk.

Research from Compare the Market showed 37 percent of drivers believe they can drive for just 20 miles once the fuel light comes on. In fact, you can probably drive twice that distance – and more in the right car.

Here, we reveal the best (and worst) cars for fuel light roulette, starting with those to avoid if you don’t fancy being left stranded at the roadside.

10. Ford Fiesta – 41.1 miles

Fuel light rouletteOn average, you can expect to cover 40 miles in a Ford Fiesta with the fuel light on.

A total of 96 popular cars were compared as part of this study. Remember, driving on empty can cause mechanical problems for your vehicle, as well as leaving you stranded without fuel.

9. Nissan Juke – 40.8 miles

Fuel light roulette

Obviously, the figures provided by Compare the Market are just averages – there are many factors associated with how far you can get once the fuel light has lit up. The size of the engine, whether it’s a petrol or diesel car, how fast you’re driving, and the topography of the landscape are just four of the variables at play.

In the outgoing Nissan Juke, you shouldn’t need to panic until you’ve hit 40 miles in the red.

8. Peugeot 108 – 39.1 miles

Fuel light roulette

It’s a similar story in the Peugeot 108, a car that will spend much of its life in towns and cities. Which means you shouldn’t find yourself too far from a fuel station.

The 108 manages 39.1 miles with the fuel light on.

7. Citroen C1 – 38.8 miles

Fuel light roulette

Predictably, the 108’s platform-sharing cousin, the Citroen C1, will cover a similar distance with the fuel light on.

In truth, it’s a good idea to refuel your car long before the gauge hits the red. That’s because the fuel pump is designed to be submerged in fuel for its cooling properties and can overheat without it.

6. Jaguar XK – 38.4 miles

Fuel light roulette

Knowing how far your car can travel when the fuel light comes on could prove to be very useful if you find yourself in a remote part of the country, such as inland from the north-west coast of Scotland. You might discover that you don’t have enough fuel to reach the nearest petrol station. And when you get there, it might be shut.

At least if you’re in a Jaguar XK, you’ll be enjoying yourself.

5. Mitsubishi Shogun – 38.2 miles

Fuel light roulette

Of course, many modern cars will feature a sat-nav with a handy ‘find the nearest fuel station’ when the range drops below a certain level.

That said, we’d stop short of calling the dated Mitsubishi Shogun ‘modern’. It manages 38.2 miles.

4. Mini Cooper – 37.5 miles

Fuel light roulette

The average range across the Mini brand, including the popular Mini Hatch seen above, is 37.5 miles.

The Ford range offers the most at 55 miles, followed by Lexus with 54.9 miles.

3. Fiat 500 – 37.1 miles

Fuel light roulette

If you’re driving a Fiat 500 and the fuel light comes on, you should be good for another 37 miles.

With a figure of 41.5 miles across its range, Fiat is second behind Mini on the list of manufacturers that can drive the shortest distance while on red. Porsche is third (43.6 miles), then Mitsubishi (44.5 miles) and Kia (46.1 miles).

2. Kia Picanto – 32.1 miles

Fuel light roulette

Speaking of Kia, the little Picanto offers an equally minuscule 32.1 miles of range with the fuel light on. And you thought range anxiety only affected electric car drivers.

The Picanto has a 35-litre fuel tank.

1. BMW M3 – 32.0 miles

Fuel light roulette

This is it: the car that will travel the shortest distance with the fuel light on.

Something to consider if you’ve taken your BMW M3 off to a remote part of the country in search of epic driving roads.

Cars that travel furthest with the fuel light on

Fuel light roulette

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the following cars can travel the longest distance with the fuel light on.

These are the cars for you if you’re not a fan of rolling the dice and playing fuel light roulette.

10. Audi A6 – 62.1 miles

Fuel light roulette

In 2015, Andrew Frankel and Rebecca Jackson set a Guinness World Record for the most countries visited on a single tank of fuel.

They visited 14 countries in an Audi A6, which manages 62.1 miles in the red.

9. Mazda 6 – 63.0 miles

Fuel light roulette

When the fuel light comes on in the Mazda 6, you have enough range to get you from Nottingham to Northampton.

Other locations beginning with ‘N’ are available.

8. Range Rover Sport – 63.4 miles

Fuel light roulette

In 2017, Fergal McGrath and Paul Clifton drove a Honda Jazz 1.3 from Land’s End to John O’Groats and set a Guinness World Record for the lowest fuel consumption in a petrol car. They achieved a remarkable 95.336mpg.

In other news, a Range Rover Sport can cover 63.4 miles with the fuel light on.

7. Audi Q5 – 63.8 miles

Fuel light roulette

When the low fuel light comes on in the Audi Q5, you’ve probably got enough juice to cover 64 miles.

As mentioned at the start of this article, however, there are a number of factors that influence how far you can actually get.

6. Mercedes-Benz E-Class – 64.0 miles

Fuel light roulette

All things being equal, you should be able to travel 64 miles with the fuel light on in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

And a very comfortable 64 miles it will be, too.

5. Toyota Prius – 66.6 miles

Fuel light roulette

The Toyota Prius can travel around 2.6 miles further than the luxurious Mercedes-Benz, though.

No wonder Uber drivers love this hybrid hatchback.

4. BMW 5 Series – 68.3 miles

Fuel light roulette

The BMW 5 Series also beats the E-Class, it’s arch-rival in the executive saloon class.

It can stretch to 68 miles with the fuel light on.

3. Ford Mondeo – 70.0 miles

Fuel light roulette

Amazingly, a Ford Mondeo can cover 70 miles, which is enough to get you from Exeter Airport to Bristol Airport.

Handy if you’re a cabbie (who lives in Devon).

2. Volvo V40 – 70.1 miles

Fuel light roulette

The Volvo V40 can travel 70.1 miles with the light on.

An impressive result, but it’s not the star performer on this list…

1. Volkswagen Passat – 75.0 miles

Fuel light roulette

That accolade belongs to the Volkswagen Passat, with a huge 75 miles of range available with the fuel light on.

In 2011, a Volkswagen Passat 1.6 TDI BlueMotion set a Guinness World Record for the greatest distance driven on a single tank of fuel, covering 1,581.88 miles in Croatia.

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Eunos Cosmo

How Mazda launched five car new brands – and all of them failed

Eunos Cosmo

Do you remember when Dany Bahar and Lotus rolled into the 2010 Paris Motor Show armed with five new models? At the time, it was surprising, not to mention a little bizarre, but with the benefit of hindsight, it was overly ambitious and foolhardy.

Now imagine something similar, not with five cars, but with five entirely new brands, and spread across an entire decade. This was Mazda’s world in the 1990s, with the company embarking on a project that could be dismissed as a huge leap of faith.

That’s a tad unfair because Mazda’s strategy wasn’t without merit. It’s easy for us to sit here and judge things on the strength of a Wikipedia page, but fortune favours the brave, and nobody ever got anywhere in life without taking a risk or two.

This is a tale of Mazda’s infamous five: Amati, Eunos, Xedos, Efini and Autozam.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

Mazda wasn’t content with being Japan’s fourth-biggest car manufacturer – it had eyes on the number-three slot behind Toyota and Nissan. There was every reason to be optimistic, not least because Japan was enjoying its ‘bubble economy’, in which stock and property prices soared to new heights.

The story of Ryoei Saito, the head of Japan’s second largest paper manufacturing company, paying $82.5m for Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Gachet, only to spend another $78.1m for Renoir’s Au Moulin de la Galette two days later is just one example of the extreme wealth associated with certain quarters of society.

Mazda didn’t pay the over the odds for a Van Gogh or Renoir – although this may have been a better ‘get rich quick’ scheme – but the finances are just as eye-watering, with the company reportedly spending $1 billion a year from 1990 to 1992 on its mission to become number three.

Portrait_of_Dr_Gachet

It couldn’t end well. Japan’s Nikkei stock average hit an all-time high in 1989, only to experience a catastrophic crash shortly after. The boom times following the Second World War were over – the 90s was a decade of belt-tightening, austerity and bank bailouts.

The car industry was quick to react to the implosion, with manufacturers hastily slimming their model ranges and focusing on beige econoboxes, but like a moth chasing the light of a bonfire, Mazda seemed oblivious to the impending doom.

By 1992, in the wake of substantial financial losses, Mazda’s position in the Japanese car industry had slumped from fourth to sixth, with Mitsubishi and Suzuki playing leapfrog with the Hiroshima-based company. In 1996, Ford invested $481m to increase its equity stake from 25 percent to a controlling 33 percent and effectively killed the sub-brands.

This is a very potted history of Mazda’s ill-fated attempt to dominate the market by creating all of the brands. But what became of the companies?

Amati

Eunos 500

Amati promised so much but delivered so little. Indeed, of all the Mazda brands, Amati is the one that appears to have vanished without a trace. It’s a tale of high hopes and great expectations, but one that ends in failure and huge losses.

This was to be Mazda’s assault on the burgeoning North American luxury car market, following the lead of Acura in 1986 and Lexus and Infiniti in 1989. The plan was announced in 1991, with a launch scheduled for 1994.

There were to be four new models: a luxury coupe, two executive saloons and a high-end luxury car. Offices were secured in California, a new assembly line was created in Hofu at the cost of $500m, and 82 North American dealers were signed up to sell the new Amati range.

The plan was to target American customers with incomes of $75,000 or more, assisted by an advertising agency armed with a budget estimated to be $60m to $70m. Even in a growing market, the costs would have been astronomical, but Mazda was swimming in a dwindling pool against some of the industry’s big fish.

In October 1992, Mazda arranged a press conference in Hiroshima to announce that the Amati brand was dead before it had even started, a victim of Mazda’s falling sales, dwindling profits, a depressed market and the Japanese economy.

Twenty-five years later, members of the Amati management team, including general manager Mr Colliver, attended a reunion in California. Colliver said the death of Amati was “the saddest day of my career.”

Faced with budget cuts, Colliver felt Amati lacked the resources it needed to succeed. “We ran out of money,” he said. “I had to basically fire 50 people.”

The Amati name may have died in 1992, but the ghost of the failed luxury brand lives on in Xedos, Eunos and Mazda products.

Mazda Millenia

Take the Amati 500, which emerged a year later as the Mazda Xedos 9 in Europe, as the Eunos 800 in Japan and Australia and, in 1994, as the Mazda Millenia. The North American ad campaign was a tad disingenuous, proclaiming: “We put the money into the car and not into a luxury division and all that overhead.”

A dig at Lexus, Acura and Infiniti, but one that failed to recognise its own stillborn luxury division. At least Mazda had one valid point: customers could buy the Millenia for a price considerably lower than it would have cost with an Amati badge.

In the UK, we were offered the 2.5-litre V6 and the more interesting 2.3-litre V6 Miller Cycle. In short, the inlet valves are closed later at the beginning of the compression stroke, raising the cylinder capacity and increasing power without increasing fuel consumption.

Mazda Sentia

Sadly, the fabled Amati 1000 never saw the light of day. This was to be the brand’s flagship – a Lexus LS in an Amati suit. Power was to be sourced from a remarkable 3,981cc W12 engine with an aluminium block, heads and oil pan made of magnesium, and pistons and valves made of ceramic.

The W12, made up of three banks of four cylinders, debuted at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show with a quoted engine power of 280hp. In reality, it was probably much more, but the output was limited by a gentleman’s agreement at the time.

As for the Amati 1000, it shares a striking resemblance to the second-generation Mazda Sentia/929, which in turn became the Kia Enterprise. If only a W12 motor had powered them…

Eunos

Eunos Roadster

Eunos will be familiar to anyone who has imported a Mazda MX-5 from Japan, as this was the name given to the roadster in its domestic market. As an aside, Amati is an anagram of ‘Miata’, the North American name for the MX-5.

There’s some overlap with the Amati brand because the achingly cool Mazda Eunos Cosmo was destined to be the luxury coupe for the failed North American brand. It would have been a fitting car for a brand focused on sporting luxury.

It featured a touch-sensitive computer, the first twin-rotor Wankel engine and the world’s first in-car GPS navigation system. In 1990, renowned motoring journalist LJK Setright as near as makes no difference declared it the best car in the world. High praise.

The Eunos story began in 1989 when Mazda established a dealer network for its new Roadster. In the family tree, Eunos was to be the playful brand, focusing on upscale, fun-to-drive cars.

Eunos Presso

Future models included the Presso, known in the UK as the Mazda MX-3, as well as the Eunos 500 and 800, known here as the Xedos 6 and Xedos 9 respectively, and two further examples of Amati hand-me-downs.

By the mid-90s, the writing was on the wall for Eunos and dealers were integrated into the Mazda and Efini network in 1996. Two years later, the Eunos 800 became the Millenia, signalling the end for the sub-brand.

Efini

Anfini RX-7

More upmarket than Eunos, but one of three luxury brands in the portfolio, Efini (or Anfini) operated between 1991 and 1997. Most models were rebadged Mazdas for the Japanese domestic market, but one bespoke car stood out – the MS-8.

It featured pillarless doors, which immediately catapults it up the list of cool cars, with a transmission shifter located on the dashboard, creating a front bench seat for that ultimate feeling of luxury.

It died along with the Efini brand, while the other cars went back to existing as common or garden Mazdas. That’s if you can class the RX-7 as ‘common or garden’, which of course you can’t.

Xedos

Mazda Xedos 6

Look, mom, another brand! Even without the benefit of hindsight, the decision to launch three separate luxury brands looked doomed to failure. Although each one was targeted at different continents, Amati, Eunos and Xedos were chasing a slice of the same pie, albeit with Efini’s sporting angle.

The Xedos 6 and Xedos 9 would have been the Amati 300 and Amati 500 in North America but were also the Eunos 500 and Eunos 800 in Japan. Mazda hoped to convince UK buyers that this was a credible alternative to Lexus and the established European players.

‘This summer sees a rather special event in the motoring calendar. The launch of a car that is genuinely different from the rest. It’s called the Xedos 6,’ proclaimed Mazda in 1992, before laying into the Germans with a direct reference to their ‘spartan interiors’.

It was a fine looking car, featuring a low front end, subtle curves, flush-fitting glass and deep and glossy paintwork, with more than a hint of a two-door coupe in the overall look. Certainly better looking than the somewhat anonymous but admittedly handsome Xedos 9.

Sales didn’t come easy. Consumers failed to grasp the concept of an upmarket Mazda without a Mazda badge – let alone know how to pronounce ‘Xedos’ – and many stuck with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and the increasingly popular Audi.

There was no doubting the quality of the products, but you have to wonder if they would have been good enough to cut it in the North American market.

Autozam

Autozam AZ-1

To car enthusiasts, the Autozam name means one thing: the AZ-1. Launched in 1992, the little sports car was built and powered by Suzuki and featured a pair of gull-wing doors. Just 4,392 were made before the AZ-1 and the Autozam brand fell victim to the recession.

Mazda established Autozam in 1989 as a brand focused on entry-level and kei cars, many of which were rebadged Suzuki vehicles. For the Autozam Carol, AZ-Wagon and AZ-Offroad, read Suzuki Alto, Wagon R and Jimny respectively.

The cute and curious Autozam Revue made its way to the UK as the Mazda 121, while the Autozam AZ-3 is more commonly known as the Mazda MX-3. As an aside, the Autozam dealer network also offered Lancia products to the Japanese market (Eunos sold Citroens).

Bursting bubbles

Whatever your thoughts on Mazda’s product strategy of the 90s, it represents a fascinating chapter in the history of the Japanese car industry. In a parallel universe, Mazda may have succeeded, and it could have realised its dream of becoming Japan’s third-largest automotive company.

You have to admire the ambition. Mazda even established a boutique brand focused on allowing customers to speak to designers and engineers about their ideal car. The M2 brand is evidence that Mazda aimed to do things the right way – and that it valued feedback from its buyers. How refreshing.

Mazda 6

Today, Mazda seems more content in its skin and isn’t a company known for taking wild flights of fantasy into the unknown. Its days of building sub-brands and playing ‘monkey tennis’ are over.

Instead, Mazda is responsible for the world’s most successful roadster, some of the most dynamically sorted hatchbacks and small SUVs you can buy and, in the case of the Mazda 6, one of the best looking saloon cars in the world.

We’re just left to wonder what might have been had the bubble not burst.

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In pictures: celebrities and their cars

Gordon Ramsay and Ferrari

Celebrities and expensive cars go together like, well, spaghetti and bolognese. TV chef Gordon Ramsay apparently sampled the bolognese tagliatelle when he visited the home of his beloved Ferrari in Maranello, Italy.

Here he poses with a 458 Italia on the famous Fiorano test-track. 

Gordon Ramsay’s Ferrari F12

Gordon Ramsay and Ferrari

Ramsay’s enviable collection of Ferraris includes a LaFerrari Aperta, 812 Superfast, F12 TDF, 488 GTB and 355 GTS.

The three-star Michelin chef and swearing enthusiast also owns an Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, Porsche 918 Spyder, McLaren Senna, McLaren 675LT and BAC Mono.

X-Factor stars in a Morgan Plus 4

This is Simon Cowell at the wheel of a Morgan Plus 4 ahead of another season of The X Factor. Along for the ride are former judges Rita Ora and Nick Grimshaw, with Cheryl Cole/Fernandez-Versini/Ann Tweedy in the front. 

Surely that number plate is better suited to a Jaguar XF?

Prince Harry’s Jaguar F-Type

Speaking of Jaguars, here’s Prince Harry behind the wheel of an F-Type roadster.

Harry created the Invictus Games for wounded servicemen to take part in an Olympic Games-style competition. It’s been an enormous success – and, from the inaugural event, has been well-supported by Jaguar Land Rover. 

Paul Hollywood’s Ducati

Great British Bake Off star Paul Hollywood is an unashamed petrolhead. He races Aston Martins, has a garage full of supercars and is also a committed bike nut.

His favoured ride is Ducati. Here he is choosing his next superbike.

Mary Berry on Paul Hollywood’s Ducati

Former Great British Bake Off judge and baking legend Mary Berry also tried out Hollywood’s Ducati for size.

Her views on it are not on record but, if you ask us, it perhaps suits her better than her former colleague…

Katie Price’s Range Rover

Everyone has seen Katie Price’s pink Range Rover. It’s one of the most distinctive celebrity cars, and Katie takes every opportunity for a bit of publicity.

The former glamour model was charged with drink-driving after crashing another pink Range Rover in Woolwich, London.

Jay Leno’s McLaren

Here, American TV host Jay Leno is seen with his McLaren 12C.

Leno has his own YouTube channel, where he reviews an eclectic range of modern and classic cars. It’s a must-watch for petrolheads.

Puff Daddy’s Bentley

Sean Combs, the hip hop mogul better known as Puff Daddy or P Diddy, likes his bling.

Here he is posing in a convertible Bentley Azure – with chromed rims, of course.

Paris Hilton’s Bentley

You know what they say about money and taste? Here’s Paris Hilton’s pink Bentley Continental GT to prove it.

Sorry, but that front grille could hardly look more ‘Halfords’… 

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Jeep

Arnold Schwarzenegger is known for liking Hummers, but here he is in a retro Willys Jeep. 

If you see this view in your rear-view mirror, best pull over. Now. 

Charlie Sheen’s Mercedes-Benz

This was actor Charlie Sheen’s Mercedes-Benz S-Class limousine, until he stuffed it in a ditch. 

We’re sure the damage polished out…

Jeremy Clarkson’s Range Rover

Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson is known to be a fan of Range Rovers.

Here, he folds his long frame into a modified Overfinch version.

Jay Kay’s Lamborghini

Old Italian cars aren’t the most reliable, as Jamiroquai star Jay Kay discovered.

He caused a paparazzi frenzy when he broke down on London’s King’s Road in his Lamborghini Miura.

Wayne Rooney’s BMW i8

Here’s former Man Utd and England ace Wayne Rooney in a BMW i8.

The footballer was forced to sell the car when he was given a two-year driving ban after being caught drink-driving in Cheshire.

David Beckham’s Porsche 911

Followed by bodyguards, David Beckham gives wife Victoria a lift home in this Porsche 911 Cabriolet.

The combination of sunny day, open roof and woolly hat is a strange one. Blame, er… fashion.

Deadmau5’s Ferrari

Music producer Deadmau5 wasn’t satisfied with a regular Ferrari 458 Spider, so he wrapped it to create a unique Nyan Cat-inspired ‘Purrari’.

Ferrari didn’t like it, threatened legal action, and it was replaced by a McLaren 650S Spider.

Kim Kardashian’s Bentley

Tuned by Platinum Motorsport, Kim Kardashian’s Bentley Continental GTC is a serious bit of kit for cruising the streets of Beverly Hills.

We wonder if the parking valet was tempted to go for a blast?

Rowan Atkinson’s Rolls-Royce

Comedian Rowan Atkinson loves his cars, so it’s no surprise that he’s owned quite a variety.

Here he is with a Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe. Famously, he also owned a McLaren F1.

The Queen’s Bentley

Do celebrities come any more famous than her Majesty The Queen?

This is one of her two Bentley State limousines, created by the Crewe manufacturer ahead of the 2002 Golden Jubilee.

Chris Evans’s Mercedes-Benz

Chris Evans is one of the UK’s most famous petrolheads.

Here he is parked outside the BBC Radio 2 studios in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series.

Carol Vorderman’s Vauxhall Ampera

Back in 2014, Carol Vorderman took delivery of a ULEV.

No, that’s not a Countdown conundrum, but an ultra-low emission vehicle. In this case, the Vauxhall Ampera.

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Modern classic Audis driven: a Retro Road Test special

Princess Diana Audi L541 GJD

How Princess Diana transformed Audi’s image and doubled sales

Princess Diana Audi L541 GJD

World rallying, four-wheel drive, gilt-edged branding and killer product placement deals are often credited as the reasons behind Audi’s meteoric rise to the top. But while they all played a part, Princess Diana’s role in the story is underestimated.

Audi had spent the 1980s riding the crest of a Quattro wave as the quieter, more considered German car company. Its cars were well engineered and understated, appealing to those who didn’t long to see a Mercedes-Benz or BMW parked on the gravel driveway of their mock-Tudor commuter belt home.

Little changed in the 1990s. There were high points – the S2, S6 and RS2, for example – but these felt like token efforts, akin to Colin from accounts undoing his top button and loosening his tie, before downing half a pint of Beck’s.

Colin’s shirt collar wasn’t going to cut it. Audi needed an injection of glamour. Some sex appeal, if you like. Step forward the most famous person on the planet: Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana falls for a German

Before Diana, the royal family drove British cars. It was the done thing. But all that changed in 1991, when Diana leased a thoroughly German Mercedes-Benz 500 SL. It’s not clear whether Charles choked on his Laurent-Perrier, but the tabloids were up in arms.

This was 1991, the year in which, coincidentally, Audi launched the cabriolet version of its steadfast but abstemious 80 saloon. The roofless 80 could breeze past The Ivy without anyone looking up from their seared foie gras or beetroot carpaccio. No, when it came to topless glamour, the SL, 3 Series and 900 were the main courses.

But nobody banked on Princess Diana taking a shine to Audi’s first production drop-top. Legend has it that Diana fell in love with the model having borrowed one belonging to the wife of Viscount Linley.

Never one to tow the line, and with her relationship with the Royal Family growing increasingly fractious, Diana set about bagging her second German. She wasn’t short of willing suitors.

Dovercourt Audi of St John’s Wood was quick to realise the potential of the world’s most photographed woman being seen at the wheel of its slow-selling cabriolet. Majesty magazine estimated that Princess Diana generated £14.5 million worth of publicity for products she was seen with, a fact not lost on the canny team at Dovercourt.

Dovercourt Audi

It was a match made in heaven. Diana had the car of her dreams, and Audi had a passport to riches. In 1994, Audi reported that sales virtually doubled after Diana was seen driving the car. Hardly surprising, when a magazine with the Princess on the cover would expect to see a circulation increase of between 30-40 percent.

As Jeremy Clarkson said at the time: “She alone has turned what might have been just another nice car into by far and away the coolest and most sought-after-four-wheeled status symbol of them all.”

But this was no stage-managed exercise in product placement. Photos of Diana and her Audi captured moments in time, most famously with the young princes in the back, roof down, showcasing Audi’s reinforced windscreen surround, which provided enough roll-over protection without the need for an ugly superstructure.

Not that readers of Hello, Tatler or Vanity Fair were interested in roll-over protection and superstructures. They simply saw Audi as a chance to live the life of a Princess, albeit without the constant gaze of the paparazzi.

These were different times when column inches were the media’s currency, long before the days of sponsored tweets and paid Instagram posts. Diana drove an Audi because she fancied one. As a result, the relationship felt more authentic. More believable.

Don’t pay the Ferry, man

Sure, Iron Man ‘chose’ an Audi R8, but when Loren Angelo, director of marketing for Audi of America, justified the product placement, there was a shallowness to the rationale. “When we read the script for Iron Man, he was someone who was self-made. He utilised technology and a certain level of personal intelligence to create things,” Angelo told Automotive News.

“That was a perfect fit for Audi because that’s exactly what we’ve done with our brand.”

Whatever. Just admit it, Tony Stark is a cool dude, and you kinda knew that a film that would gross nearly $100m in its opening weekend would be really beneficial for your profile. Oh, and everybody likes Robert Downey Jr, right?

And when Bryan Ferry drove to Sheffield, did he have to cc @Audi?

Back to Diana. In 1991, Audi sold 14,344 cars in the UK. By 2008, that number had increased to 100,845. Vorsprung Durch Umsatz, as Geoffrey Palmer nearly drawled.

Was Diana responsible for Audi’s ascent to the automotive top table, where it would rub shoulders with BMW and Mercedes? Not solely. But did she play a part? Absolutely.

Fit for a Princess?

Princess Diana Audi cabriolet

The 1994 Audi 80 Cabriolet seen here is one of at least three examples driven by Diana in the mid-1990s. Back in 2016, L449 TRP sold for £54,000, having been cherished as a piece of royal history for its entire life.

L541 GJD passed into private ownership and was used a family car between 2004 and 2009. It was then stored away once the link to Diana became apparent.

Princess Diana’s charitable work left a lasting legacy following her death in 1997. Twenty-three years on, Audi is still benefiting from her brief fling with an unassuming German.

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‘My dad borrowed a Bond car’ – Lotus veteran on life at the firm

Richard Hill

Spoiler alert: this story is mostly about aerodynamics. From downforce to drag, venturis to ventilation, and splitters to, yes, spoilers. 

If you don’t recognise Richard Hill, you’ll know his work: the Lotus Evija hypercar, for example, or the bicycle Chris Boardman rode to Olympic glory. These are just two highlights of a lifetime at Lotus, studying the science of speed.

Having joined Lotus in 1986, Richard has risen to the role of chief aerodynamicist (Chief Engineer of Aerodynamics and Thermal Management, to be exact).

Here, he talks through a remarkable career, ending with thoughts on where car design goes next. And it all started with ‘Wet Nellie’…

His dad borrowed Roger Moore’s underwater Esprit

Lotus Esprit

“I can remember the exact moment of deciding I wanted to work for Lotus,” reminisces Richard.

It was 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. But while Johnny Rotten sneered “there is no future in England’s dreaming,” Richard thought otherwise. He dreamed of being Bond, James Bond.

“My father was general manager for a paint company that supplied Lotus,” he explains. “Somehow, he managed to borrow the Esprit S1 from The Spy Who Loved Me, released that same year, for display at a show. I’ve no idea how he pulled it off.”

Known as ‘Wet Nellie’ and driven by Roger Moore, the aquatic Lotus captured the young Richard’s imagination. “It inspired me to pursue a career in cars.”

His first job for Lotus was a Corvette

Richard’s big break came nine years later – but his first job at Hethel wasn’t a Lotus.

After studying aeronautical engineering and composites at university (including work on the Ralt RT30 Formula 3 car) his wife-to-be spotted a recruitment ad for Lotus. “They were looking for engineers, so my first job wasn’t in aerodynamics.”

Instead, Richard was tasked with designing a torque tube for a Chevrolet Corvette concept – likely the 1986 Indy (pictured) or subsequent 1990 CERV III. Lotus, you will recall, was owned by General Motors at the time.

Both the Indy and CERV III were futuristic, mid-engined design studies. Ironically, it would be early 2020 before a mid-engined Corvette finally reached production.

‘Aerodynamics was very important to Colin Chapman’

Lotus Esprit and Colin Chapman

No car company is so inextricably linked with aerodynamics as Lotus. Along with ‘lightweighting’ (used as a verb at Hethel), it defines the marque’s approach to performance.

“Aerodynamics was very important to Colin Chapman,” says Richard. “In the Formula One world, Lotus pioneered the use of wings and ground-effect – with amazing success.”


The trophy cabinet at Classic Team Lotus (located opposite the new Evija production facility) includes silverware from seven F1 constructor’s championships, won between 1963 and 1978. 

Notable high-points include the 1963 Lotus 25 (the first racing car with a fully stressed monocoque chassis), 1968 Lotus 49 (the first to use an aerofoil wing) and 1977 Lotus 78 (the first with ground-effect downforce). All these innovations later appeared on Lotus road cars.

He helped design Team GB’s Olympic bike 

Lotus Engineering and Hope Technology track bike

“My claim to fame is being the second person Chris Boardman hugged when he won Olympic gold in Barcelona,” says Richard. “His wife was rightly first!”

The famous Lotus Type 108 bicycle used carbon composites and advanced aerodynamics, helping Boardman to gold in the 4,000m pursuit – and a new world record. “It was a good platform to demonstrate our engineering skill.”

Those skills were called upon again for Team GB’s latest track bike, a joint-project with Hope Technology. Pictured above with Ed Clancy, it’s a more conventional design than the revolutionary 108.

“Racing bike design took a big step backwards after the 108 and 110,” Richard explains. “We went from monocoque frames to a more traditional tubular, triangular design. That was dictated by regulations, and demands a different approach. With the 108, we aimed to separate the airflow around the bike from the rider. Now, we treat man and machine as one.”

Look out for the new two-wheeled Lotus at the postponed Tokyo Olympics in summer 2021.

The Esprit is very close to his heart

Lotus Esprit

Asking Richard to name his favourite Lotus elicits a long pause. So we settle for a selection of cars that have meant the most.

“The Type 18 in 1960 was the first true mid-engined Lotus Formula One car, which led to our first mid-engined road car: the Europa of 1967. My favourite of those was the JPS twin-cam special of the early 1970s. They were the genesis of all mid-engined Lotus sports cars.”

Despite his admiration for the Europa, though, I sense the Esprit tugs hardest at Richard’s heart strings. “I saw that car through much of its production life and had some amazing road trips. Believe it or not, we worked through 17 different rear wing designs between 1987 and 1993. Each one a nickname”.

Honourable mentions also go to the Elise (“The first Lotus engineered with zero lift. We spent so many hours in the wind tunnel”) and Evora (“It developed our dynamic handling strategy”). 

‘Lotus looks at aerodynamics differently’

Wet Nellie

“Most companies focus their efforts on drag reduction: achieving a low Cd figure. That’s what car buyers tend to look at”.

A low coefficient of drag helps reduce fuel consumption and increase top speed. However, as Richard explains, Lotus looks at the bigger picture.

“Inspired by motorsport, the balance of downforce and lift is our main priority. It’s about high-speed stability, both in a straight line and when cornering. We minimise drag where we can, but that’s our secondary focus.”

This philosophy is taken to extremes in the new Evija, a car that “literally breathes the air”.

The Evija is ‘a fighter jet in a world of kites’

Lotus Evija

Unless you have seen self-isolating for the past year, you’ll know the 2,000hp Lotus Evija is the most powerful production ever. The £2 million electric hypercar will hit 62mph in ‘less than three seconds’ and exceed 200mph.  

Such performance requires a radical approach to aerodynamics. “The front acts like a mouth. It ingests the air, sucks every kilogram of value from it – in this case, the downforce – then exhales it through that dramatic rear end.” 


The word “porosity” crops up frequently, particularly with reference to the dramatic rear venturis. “Without them, the Evija would be like a parachute, with them it’s a butterfly net. And they make the car unique in the hypercar world.”

Lotus hasn’t revealed drag or downforce figures for the Evija yet, but it goes way beyond conventional sports cars. “It’s like comparing a fighter jet to a child’s kite,’’ says Richard.

Electric tech will change the shape of cars

Lotus Evija

Few cars will harness airflow like the Evora – “It wouldn’t be possible in a car you drive to the supermarket with a family of five” – but elements of its design will appear on future Lotus models.

“We’ve learned a lot from this project,” Richard adds, “and some of its aerodynamic concepts will be carried forward.” 

Indeed, Richard is excited about the future of car design in a world increasingly populated by EVs. “Packaging an electric car is very different. You don’t have a bulky engine and cooling system to accommodate. There’s more freedom.”

With huge investment from parent company Geely and a new Esprit due in 2021, the future looks bright for Hethel. And thanks to Richard and his team, the forthcoming range of cars should stay faithful to Lotus’ aero-led legacy.

Who knows, maybe even 007 will place an order. The Evija would look awesome as submarine…

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Volvo 480 ES side

Volvo 480: remembering the Euro wedge that wasn’t sensible or square

Volvo 480 ES side

There’s something wonderfully Swedish about the Volvo 480, and yet its development was a truly international affair.

Built in the Netherlands, penned by a Dutchman, interior designed by a Brit, mechanicals supplied by the French – and with a thoroughly Swedish badge tucked away below the front bumper.

With its pop-up headlights and wedge-like styling, it’s as though the 480 came out of nowhere, but it borrowed from the past while laying the foundations for Volvos of the future.

Today, the Swedish oddball is a bit of a cult classic and a retro bargain to boot.

Volvo Galaxy

Volvo 480 ES

Volvo rejected proposals submitted by two Italian styling houses before designing the 480 in-house at Volvo Car BV (Holland). It was a product of the Galaxy project, which began in 1978 when the company started considering replacements for the 240, 340/360 and 740/760.

Internally, Volvo had accepted that its future would be driven through the front wheels, but externally the message was entirely different. Just a couple of years before the front-wheel-drive 480 went on sale, Volvo was extolling the virtues of rear-wheel-drive to its American audience.

“In an era when just about everyone seems to be touting front-wheel-drive as the greatest thing ever to come down the pike, there’s one thing you should know. Virtually every car in the world today that’s famous for performance and handling uses rear-wheel-drive”, proclaimed a press advert.

“Of course, a Ferrari or Formula 1 car may not exactly fit your family’s driving needs. So why not consider a Volvo Turbo? When it comes to handling and performance, you’ll find it leaves a lot of front-wheel-drive cars bringing up the rear.”

To ram home its message, Volvo positioned its car alongside a Ferrari, Corvette, 911 and a couple of race cars.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Volvos weren’t exactly known for their whippet-like pace and apex-kissing cornering capabilities. Its smallest cars, the 340 hatch and 360 saloon, were more geriatric than a packet of Werther’s Originals wrapped in a knitted toilet roll holder.

Volvo 480

Unveiled at the Geneva motor show in 1986, the 480 didn’t so much send jaws dropping to the floor as leave onlookers scratching their heads. The shooting brake design, penned by John de Vries, tipped its hat to the 1800ES, most notably the all-glass tailgate, but the pop-up headlights were straight out of an Amsterdam coffee shop.

It’s perhaps a little generous to reference the Ferrari Daytona when considering the front end styling, but if you see it, you’ll get it. It’s also worth remembering the two-door coupe segment of the time: you could still buy a new Ford Capri, for goodness sake, while the cool kids drove around in Sciroccos and Celicas.

But let’s not give the 480 ideas above its station – this was no sports coupe. It was a proper four-seater, albeit with the inconvenience of entering the rear seats via the front. In fact, its closest rival was the cheaper and remarkably similarly styled Honda Accord Aerodeck. In profile, it’s as though the pair were separated at birth.

Volvo 480 ES interior

The interior was the work of Peter Horbury, who managed to create a roomy cabin, complete with a dashboard layout that, by today’s standards, would be considered cluttered. On the plus side, the two-spoke steering wheel of the early cars was a nod to Swedish eccentricity.

It’s easy to focus on the pop-up headlights and glass tailgate when gawping at the 480, but more in-depth scrutiny will reveal a host of neat touches. Take the ‘hockey stick’ rear lights, which combine to create a single strip running along the back of the car. Above it is a grab handle, which looks entirely at odds with the clean design.

Also, note the pillar-mounted door locks and the side markers situated at the edge of that long rear section. It has been suggested that the Volvo grille was a last-minute addition at the request of the board, but regardless of whether or not this is true, it became one of the 480’s hallmark features.

Volvo 480 ES

Other nods to Volvo’s safe and dependable heritage include the impact-absorbing front and rear bumpers and the stone-resistant plastic bonnet and front end. As you’d expect, the 480 far exceeded the safety standards of the time.

That’s not to say that cars rolling out of the Nedcar factory were built to the same high standards of Gothenburg. By Volvo’s own admission, the Renix (Renault and Bendix) engine management system was a particular weak point. “Volvo 480 was very well equipped in standard version, filled with practical and personal solutions. A lot of them were electronically controlled which in turn caused its fair bit of reliability problems.”

Even allowing for what is perhaps a slightly clunky translation from Swedish, that’s hardly a glowing endorsement.

Initially, all 480s were powered by the same Renault-sourced 1.7-litre engine, which provided adequate performance at best. With 109hp available, the 480 could top 118mph (eventually), crawling to 60mph in, well, how long have you got?

But did anyone genuinely arrive at a Volvo showroom expecting sports car levels of performance? Given Volvo’s image and audience, it’s unlikely. Besides, the 480 had other qualities.

Volvo 480 ES rear

Cleverly, Volvo turned to Lotus for help with the suspension, which resulted in a car with excellent driving manners. Motor Sport commented on the “absolutely superb handling” before praising the ride quality.

“The 480 ES rides almost as well as a heavier 700 series saloon, taking high-speed bumps without flinching. It also handles as well as most pedigree sports cars, flicking through tight turns and hairpin bends like a rally-tuned Mini of yesteryear. But it would not understeer. Volvo’s first FWD model truly feels like a rear-drive, which is exactly what the engineers intended.”

If that doesn’t result in you turning to the pages of Car & Classic in search of some Swedish wedge, nothing will.

Things got even better in 1988 when Volvo added a turbocharger to the mix. A blown version had been promised from the outset, with Porsche called in for help with its development. It increased the output to 120hp, giving it the performance to match the chassis.

In 1993, a hugely improved 110hp 2.0-litre version was introduced, although this was never treated to a turbocharger. Volvo even toyed with the idea of convertible and Targa versions, but these never progressed beyond the concept stage. Shame.

Volvo 480 Turbo

There had never been a Volvo so unlike a Volvo

Production ended in 1995, by which time 76,375 480s had rolled out of the Dutch factory. With 22,000 sold over here, the UK was its biggest market, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of all global sales.

Unfortunately, neglect and general apathy towards the 480 during its banger years means that Volvo’s oddball is living on borrowed time. Although How Many Left isn’t entirely accurate, there are thought to be fewer than 300 on the road, with a more substantial number listed as SORN, presumably in varying states of decay.

Buying a cheap one is fraught with risk. Build quality was patchy when new, so up to three decades of use will have only made things worse. And while servicing parts are easy to source, others are either obsolete or hideously expensive.

Better to spend a little extra on a good example, ideally one owned by a Volvo Owners Club or Volvo 480 Club Europe member. You could even buy a ‘brand new’ 480 ES, although you might want to check the price first.

More than just a turning point in Volvo’s history, the 480 is a quirky, oddball classic, with styling that seems to get better with the passing of time. Until its arrival, all Volvos built since 1927 had been rear-wheel drive, while all vehicles manufactured from 1998 have been front- or four-wheel drive.

To borrow a line of copy from a press advert for the 480 Turbo, not since the 1800ES had there been a Volvo so unlike a Volvo. Unfortunately, there’s unlikely to be anything like it ever again.

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Cadillac Allante: Great Motoring Disasters

Cadillac Allante
When it comes to building cars cost-efficiently, it’s generally a good idea to manufacture the body somewhere in the vicinity of the final assembly line.

Next door is ideal, the freshly stamped and welded body immediately making its way to the paint shop, before being baked, undersealed and despatched to a moving conveyor that sees it built into a complete car.

It’s a manufacturing sequence that most carmakers follow, although there have been a surprising number of models whose bodies have been built on sites some distance away.

Rolls-Royce used to buy in shells for its Silver Shadow and Silver Spirit from British Leyland, which manufactured them in what is now the BMW Mini factory in Oxford. And today, a Roller’s body shell comes from Germany.

Ferrari sourced bodies from coachbuilder Scaglietti, and Lamborghini from Goldencar, both of them local to their factories.

Less clever was British Leyland’s habit of transporting primered bodyshells around the Midlands during the 1960s and 1970s, a pretty inefficient activity when most of a raw shell is air.

Cadillac and PininfarinaCadillac Allante

But that was nothing to the manufacturing process that produced the Cadillac Allante. This two-door convertible, which debuted in 1986 as an alternative to the Mercedes-Benz SL and Jaguar XJS, was the progeny of America’s most upscale carmaker and design house Pininfarina.

Cadillac had flirted with the Italian company before. The body of its 1959 Eldorado Brougham saloon was hand-built and assembled in Turin on a chassis sent from the US. Once Pininfarina had finished with it, the Brougham was shipped back to America for final finishing.

This was the last hand-made, coachbuilt Cadillac and you certainly paid for it. The Pininfarina Brougham cost three times the price of the (spectacularly flamboyant) standard version, which was made in the US.

Unsurprisingly, this American-Italian hybrid sold slowly, despite its more tasteful elegance, with only 200 finding homes in 1959-60.

There were quality problems, too. The lead-loading used to smooth its hand-beaten bodywork caused the paint to fracture.

Not learning from history

Cadillac Allante

Despite such mixed results, GM decided to have another crack at creating something special with Pininfarina a couple of decades later.

This time, Italy got the task not only of designing a classy two-seat roadster, but also of building and painting its body as well. The broad basis of the Allante was Cadillac’s front-wheel-drive V8 Eldorado, although its body, and most of its platform, were unique to the convertible.

And the name? That was generated by a computer that produced 1,700 possibilities, the chosen badge being meaningless – although its did sound rather like the sea that the Cadillac’s body had to cross.

Cadillac Allante

That body was neat, slender, crisp and excitement-free, the Allante’s potential athleticism undermined by an over-short wheelbase, a curiously high-riding stance and a powertrain that was never going to threaten a sprinting SL or XJS.

There may have been 4.1 litres of V8 beneath its long bonnet, but this engine was good for no more than 170hp and 0-60mph in 9.8 seconds, languidly delivered via four-speed automatic.

All of which meant that the most dramatic aspect of the Allante was not the car itself, but the crazy method of its construction.

Building cars with Boeing

Cadillac Allante

Once Pininfarina had finished the bodies, which were painted, fully trimmed and equipped with their folding roofs, they were transported from Turin to America by jumbo jet.

GM called it the ‘Allante Airbridge’, a trio of Boeing 747s specially modified to carry the part-finished Caddys across the pond. Detroit then installed the sub-frames, suspension, drivetrain, fuel tanks and wheels to complete the car.

However, it was not quite complete when launched in autumn 1986, Pininfarina having realised that the soft-top was prone to leaks and squeaks. They wanted to delay the launch and fix the problems, but GM insisted on sticking to its timetable.

Cadillac Allante

 

Sadly, Mother Earth stuck to her familiar weather patterns, unhelpfully showering the Allantes bought by eager owners. They soon found that some of that rain wasn’t returning to earth, but pooling in the footwells of their prized new convertibles.

Stemming the leaks cost Cadillac tens of thousands of dollars, besides staining the Allante’s reputation. And its carpets.

Leaks were not the last of the Allante’s functional troubles. Bosch discovered problems with its anti-lock brake system, and the Bose hi-fi made strange cracking noises that could have been mistaken for failing trim.

Cadillac didn’t give up

Cadillac Allante

By the early 1990s, the Allante’s reputation was glittering like an old tyre. But Cadillac didn’t give up on it, despite slow sales.

The pushrod 4.1-litre motor was tuned to produce 204hp, before being replaced in 1992 by GM’s excellent new 4.5 litre 32-valve quad-cam Northstar V8, which delivered a far more convincing 285hp.

Despite its front-drive chassis, the Allante drove well, too, blending refinement with a decent show of twisty road agility.

And it had plenty of the toys that Cadillac owners expected, including sumptuous power leather seats, digital LCD instruments, traction control – necessary, with front-drive and 285hp – and later in life, electronically controlled suspension.

‘Quite decent’, eventually

Cadillac Allante

By the end of its career, the Allante had become quite a decent grand touring convertible. Trouble was, the 1989 Mercedes-Benz SL, a tour de force of engineering and quality, had the one thing that the Allante was missing: a one-shot power roof. That didn’t leak.

Cadillac ran hard to fix and improve the Allante in the first few years of its life, but it never ran hard enough to keep up with the SL and XJS despite some substantial improvements.

Like most cars that gain an unsavoury early reputation, it never fully recovered. Still, the 1993 model-year Allante was the best yet, featuring revised rear suspension with electronic dampers, upgraded brakes and myriad detail improvements.

It was also the best sales year for the car, the 4,670 sold far higher than had been achieved in earlier years. But Cadillac nevertheless announced the Allante’s demise in the same year, the model still falling short of its 6,000 annual sales target.

Profligate, yet loss-making

Cadillac Allante

It’s hard to imagine GM making much money on this car when it sold an average of around 3,000 a year, was produced by such tortuously profligate methods, shared relatively little with other Cadillacs and almost nothing with Oldsmobiles and Buicks.

The total Allante production tally was 21,430. Today you can find them on sale in America from around $8,000, while the best examples, often with mileages well below 40,000, cost under $20,000 – a third of the $60,000 or so that this Cadillac cost at the end of its career.

The Allante was not Cadillac’s last two-seater, the company taking another shot at the SL with the XLR. But this time without the help of Pininfarina and a small fleet of jumbo jets.

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Audi TT Quattro Sport

Modern classic Audis driven: a Retro Road Test special

Audi TT Quattro Sport

Audi made some of Europe’s most glamorous cars in the 1930s, but faltered in the post-war years and merged with Volkswagen in 1964.

The models that followed were, in some cases, simply rebadged VWs, which left Audi with a middle-of-the road image, lacking the sporting pedigree of BMW or upmarket kudos of Mercedes-Benz.

What a difference a few decades makes. Today, Audi is one of motoring’s most-wanted marques, its cars both exceedingly popular and emphatically premium.

So, what’s changed? There’s been some clever brand-building, for sure, but the roots of Audi’s renaissance lie in its products.

We cherry-picked four modern classic Audis from the company’s fantastic heritage fleet: the TT Quattro Sport, R8 LMX, Cabriolet and A1 Quattro. Each one is a significant part of the recent Audi story, yet all are decidedly different. Here’s why they matter.

Audi TT Quattro Sport

Audi TT Quattro Sport

“Fire up the… oh, hang on.” This isn’t that red Quattro, but it’s very nearly as cool. The limited-edition Quattro Sport was the last hurrah for the Mk1 TT. Now a sought-after cult classic, just 800 were sold in the UK.

This first TT is still a fabulous piece of design: a rare example of a production car looking better than the concept. Launched in 2005, the Quattro Sport has an S Line bodykit, contrasting black roof, black tailpipes, bespoke 18-inch alloys and red brake calipers.

Inside, Alcantara swathes the steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake, hard-shell Recaros were optional and the – virtually useless – rear seats were binned, replaced by a strut brace and luggage net. The total weight saving is 49kg.

There’s more power, too: the familiar 1.8-litre turbocharged engine gains 15hp for 240hp in total. Driving all four wheels via a six-speed manual ’box, it hits 62mph in a swift 5.9 seconds – 0.3sec quicker than the flagship TT 3.2 V6. Stiffer S line supension and a relocated battery (now in the boot) sharpen up the chassis.

On the road, the Quattro Sport is agile and engaging, with lively steering, a snappy gearshift and confidence-inspiring brakes. It feels more akin to one of today’s 4WD hot hatches than a traditional rear-drive sports car, offering formidable point-and-squirt pace.

Ultimately, a Porsche Cayman delivers a purer driving experience, but the Audi is rarer and feels more exotic. Be quick, though: the Quattro Sport is the most desirable Mk1 TT and values are on the up. Expect to pay £6,000 for a high-miler, rising to around £15,000 for the best of the breed.

Audi R8 LMXAudi R8 LMX

The 2006 R8 was Audi’s answer to the Porsche 911 and, in 550hp V10 guise, arguably Ingolstadt’s first supercar. This R8 is one of the crown jewels of Audi UK’s heritage fleet: a 570hp R8 LMX – number 23 of 99 made.

Like the TT Quattro Sport, the 2015 LMX is a run-out special edition. Costing a hefty £160,025 when new, it came with every virtually option available, including carbon-ceramic brakes, Bang and Olufsen audio and quilted Alcantara headlining. Most were painted Ara Blue, with a front splitter and fixed rear wing in bare carbon fibre.

The LMX also boasted ground-breaking new laser headlights – the first production car to offer this technology as standard. They deliver searing white light and a 600-metre range on high beam: around twice that of LED lamps. A camera system dips the lights automatically when it detects oncoming cars.

Our test-drive was conducted in glorious sunshine, so the LMX’s lasers were somewhat redundant. Fortunately, I made full use of its snarling, naturally-aspirated V10.

Audi R8 LMX

Revving to 8,500rpm, this remains one of the great modern engines: fantastically responsive and brutally rapid (0-62mph in 3.4sec and 198mph). My only wish was for an open-gate manual gearbox, instead of the paddleshift auto fitted here.

The R8 has already joined the super-sports establishment, and the achingly desirable LMX is the original car at its zenith. Finding one will be a challenge, but the good news is that V8-engined R8s now start from £30,000. That’s a seriously special car for the price of a Golf GTI. Tempted?

Audi CabrioletAudi Cabriolet

Discussing the Audi Cabriolet without mentioning Princess Diana is like talking about the Reliant Scimitar without mentioning Princess Anne. It simply can’t be done.

Diana’s decision to drive a German car was controversial at the time (what was wrong with a Rover 800?), but it gave the Cabriolet a huge boost. In 1994, sales nearly doubled after Diana was repeatedly photographed by the paparazzi, sometimes with the roof down and the young princes in the back.

Inadvertently, she thrust Audi into public consciousness, and helped build the aspirational, upmarket brand we know today.

Many of the cars on Audi’s 50-strong heritage fleet are scarcely run-in, but this 1995 Cabriolet has 152,000 miles under its wheels. Thankfully, it still feels rock-solid: clichéd ‘Teutonic build quality’ present and correct – even if Milton Keynes’ many roundabouts reveal some chassis-flex when cornering.

Indeed, despite its 150hp 2.6-litre V6, the Audi doesn’t like to be rushed. Throttle response is wooly, the steering feels vague and 0-62mph takes a leisurely 10.2 seconds. 

Audi Cabriolet

Better to retract the electric hood, recline the supportive seat and bask in the admiration of onlookers. Two decades on, this is still a great-looking car.

More than simply a footnote in Audi history, the Cabriolet hasn’t yet graduated to classic status – and that means they’re still very affordable. A good one will cost £2,500, while even the best examples are less than £5,000.

Audi A1 Quattro

Audi A1 Quattro

Coolest alloy wheels ever? The rally-style turbines on the 2012 A1 Quattro are certainly in with a shout. This one-of-333 supermini also packs a 256hp punch, with a manual gearbox and, naturally, Quattro four-wheel drive. Even the 231hp S1, launched in 2015, can’t top that.

The A1 Quattro has its steering wheel on the wrong side and cost a wallet-wilting £41,020 when new. No wonder Audi only sold 19 in the UK. Today, however, such rarity is key to the car’s appeal; only the cognoscenti realise what it is. It’s also the reason that A1 Quattros simply haven’t depreciated. Assuming you can find one, expect to pay near-as-dammit list price.

In terms of oily bits, the uber-A1 is essentially an S3, with a 2.0-litre TFSI engine that delivers 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and 152mph flat-out. Audi ditched the A1’s torsion beam rear suspension for the S3’s four-link axle, making substantial modifications to the floorpan and fitting a new, saddle-style fuel tank.

Standard equipment was comprehensive, including leather trim, sat nav and a Bose audio system.

Audi A1 Quattro

Unsurprisingly, the A1 is fiercely quick across country. A neutral and forgiving chassis, combined with limpet-like grip and Quattro traction, means you can take huge liberties with cornering speeds. The engine is obviously turbocharged (it doesn’t fully wake up until nigh-on 4,000rpm), but there’s much fun to be had in riding that wave of boost. Shame the suspension is too stiff for broken British B-roads.

For most, the S1 is a far better option: cheaper, more comfortable and almost as quick. But the A1 Quattro showed Audi could do limited-run, hardcore hot hatches just as well as parent company Volkswagen. It’s not a rational purchase, but the most interesting cars rarely are.

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Ford Scorpio

Ford Scorpio: Great Motoring Disasters

Ford ScorpioFord knew it had a problem. How it got to have this problem is a little harder to understand.

Nonetheless, in the few remaining months before the 1994 Scorpio’s launch, Ford’s communications machine realised that it must try to adjust the media’s minds – and fast.

What it had to talk up, explain or, at worst, excuse, was the look of the company’s new big car. A few scoop pictures had appeared in the press, and with them some uncomfortably acidic words.

Before all this, the Granada had been a comfortably familiar machine, the population well used to the bold, almost Citroen-esque car that arrived in 1985.

This smooth-nosed, curve-windowed hatchback was an arresting contrast to the quietly handsome, square-jawed Granada that had gone before. However, people were better prepared for the shock of the Blue Oval’s new, the jarring arrival of the Sierra three years earlier thoroughly softening their senses.

Ford Scorpio

The Granada sold well, its spectacular cabin space, comfortable ride and hatchback practicality winning sales, as did its standard ABS brakes and a long list of equipment. Those unable to adjust to its hatchback silhouette were eventually offered a saloon.

The birth of the Scorpio

By the mid-1990s, though, the Granada needed renewing. Ford had already performed one minor facelift and should really have replaced the car completely, given its age. But the market for executive models from mainstream makers was dying, so it chose a light mechanical upgrade and reskin instead.

With this came a rebadging to Scorpio, this name used for the high-end Granadas in Britain and the entire model line-up elsewhere.

The word ‘reskin’, however, doesn’t really describe the transformation effected. The usual battery of words from the designer’s lexicon, like ‘stance’, ‘dynamic’, ‘looks like it’s moving when it’s standing still’, ‘proportion’ and ‘muscular’ didn’t really do it either.

Instead, you had to reach for adjectives used for some of the less winsome of Earth’s creatures; the Scorpio resembled something that David Attenborough might reveal from a dank cave in Borneo.

The front end was particularly troubling, your eyes irresistibly drawn to it before your brain fought over whether to focus upon the globular triangles of its headlights, or the reptilian gurn of its grille.

Ford Scorpio

With a face like this, the new Scorpio’s oddly fat flanks were easy to pass over until you arrived at a plump rear end resembling a giant cushion.

Decorating it like an ill-chosen necklace was a gratuitously narrow strip of chrome-capped lights. Apart from the uncertain use of glitter, this was a tail that seemed to have nothing in common with the Scorpio’s nose beyond the doors that joined them.

This, of course, prompted many to mouth that old cliché about the car’s front-end being designed by people who had never been allowed anywhere near its rear.

‘Gargoyle-ugly’

Ford Scorpio

So, the new Scorpio was gargoyle-ugly. And all of a sudden the press was going to be shown the car, months before any test-drives, in an effort to persuade them that black was actually white. The (re) education was to take place at Ford’s Cologne engineering and design centre.

New European design boss Fritz Mayhew, who defended the car stoutly despite having no hand in it, kicked the proceedings off. And he gave the assembled hacks, your reporter included, an interesting and very plausible account of where car design had been heading during the past decade.

This was towards a uniformly bland, identikit look with grilleless noses, flat flanks and rounded corners that made loads of European cars – Fords included, although he didn’t say that – look two-dimensional, rather than three. And he was not wrong.

Prescient Ford?

The antidote to this, Mayhew reckoned, would be the re-emergence of the radiator grille (as per the facelifted Rover 800 now outselling the Granada), the dawn of more sculptural lamps and the return of chrome.

Mayhew was right about all of this – these trends are still in vogue today – and he was right about the shift towards more sculptural, less blocky dashboards, too.

Ford Scorpio

Then came a quick-fire sequence of pictures of handsome classic cars, each with distinctive grilles. Surprisingly, given what the 800 was doing to Granada sales, the first of these was of a Rover P5, followed by an Austin-Healey 3000, a Bristol 401, a Jaguar XK120, a Facel Vega and an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider.

There was much admiration in the room for Ford’s willingness to acknowledge the existence of good design from other carmakers, something that big corporations can rarely bring themselves to do. But admiration was in short supply when the new Scorpio was unveiled, mostly to looks of wonderment. And not of the positive kind.

Ford Scorpio

But you couldn’t argue with the design’s content. The new Scorpio was distinctive rather than Euro-clone in its looks. It had a face, it had chrome and it had a strikingly curvaceous dashboard, though much of this was filled with nasty ‘Timberlex’ wood rather than the aluminium that Ford’s designers had presciently reckoned it should flaunt.

A struggle for sales 

Mayhew considered the Scorpio a signpost towards a newly individual design trend for Ford, rather than a breakthrough look – even if this was a worryingly unpromising start.

The Scorpio also proved worryingly unpromising in the showroom, the new car struggling to sell despite a considerable improvement in the way it drove.

Ford Scorpio

Ford’s designers gave it one more tweak two years before its death in 1998, darkening its headlights to make it look less bug-eyed.

Yet despite its unsettling aesthetics, the Scorpio previewed a rich era for Ford styling, the company’s adventurous ‘New Edge’ design philosophy producing ground-breakers such as the 1996 Ka and 1998 Focus. The success of these soon eclipsed the embarrassment of the Scorpio.

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Gocycle GX

Gocycle GX (2020) review: the supercar of electric bicycles

Gocycle GX

Gocycle is a British electric bicycle manufacturer founded by a former designer of McLaren racing cars. It has produced several bikes since being founded in 2002, but the Gocycle GX, introduced in 2019, is easily its fastest-seller.

The GX’s secret is a commuter-friendly fast-folding design. You could fold older Gocycles, but the process took several minutes. With the GX, it takes as little as 10 seconds. Then, simply grab the saddle and wheel it away.

Gocycle GX

Now, with the post-coronavirus world potentially leading to a boom in commuting (or part-commuting) by bicycle, many will consider riding a bike for the first time in years – perhaps ever.

An electric bike, or e-bike, could be the answer these rusty riders are looking for.

Added bonus of electric assist? The potential for businesspeople to avoid buses, trains and the underground without getting sweaty. It’s a genuine barrier to cycling for some.

To find out what commuting by electric bicycle is like, we have been living with a Gocycle GX for the past few weeks. Here’s what we discovered.

What is the 2020 Gocycle GX?

Gocycle GX

The Gocycle GX costs £2,899 (a Brompton Electric, a rival premium electric bicycle, costs from £2,595). It is driven by a custom-designed front hub motor, producing 250 watts. There are three Shimano Nexus gears sealed in a patented Cleandrive transmission – so your trousers won’t get covered in oil.

Top speed before the electric assist cuts out is 15.5mph (or 25kph), limited by European law. It is powered by a 300 Watt-hour lithium-ion battery hidden in the frame. This gives a range of up to 40 miles, depending on pedal input. Charging time is seven hours. Gocycle says it costs 4p per charge.

A simple five-LED display indicates battery charge, but the Gocycle GX also connects via Bluetooth to a comprehensive smartphone app.

The 2020 GX model has improvements over 2019 bikes. There is a new front fork design that makes it easier to ride and (along with changes to the frame) saves 0.4kg. The whole bike now weighs 17.4kg: light enough to lift into a car boot with one or two hands without tweaking your back.

Gocycle GX commuting

The folding mechanism is also smoother, and Gocycle has reduced external cabling down to one thin cable, making it easier to fold and stow away, as well as cleaner-looking.

It is a genuinely stylish and head-turning bike, as modern-looking as a Brompton is traditional. 

Unboxing the Gocycle GX

Gocycle GX unboxing

Buyers can order a Gocycle from a local dealer or online. Our test model was delivered, and unboxing it was a fun process in itself.

Importantly, it was fully assembled. We simply opened the box, folded back the protective padding and lifted out the GX. The folding mechanism is so intuitive, we didn’t need instructions: flip the frame sideways and click the clasp, then lift up the handlebars and do the same.

We slotted in the saddle and tightened the clasp using the slightly fiddly thumb wheel, then adjusted it for height with an Allen key. If you want to let someone else ride it, you need the Allen key, which isn’t the smoothest solution, although there is a stowage slot for it beneath the saddle.

The bike arrived fully charged. Once we found the ‘on’ button – a black rubber pad on the other side of the folding clasp – we were ready to go. 

Riding the Gocycle GX

Gocycle GX

This is a premium bicycle to ride. It is smooth, sturdy and stable. Unlike some folding bicycles, you barely feel any trace of flex, and it rolls along serenely.

It’s child’s play to ride. Simply step over the low frame and push away on the pedals. It’s exceedingly easy to roll along wobble-free. Those who haven’t ridden a bike in decades should have no trouble – proven by a willing volunteer.

It has a firm but absorbent ride, taking the edge off broken roads without shaking the rider or causing any instability. In fact, it has a similar rolling feel to a McLaren supercar, with the same feeling of controlled accuracy. The disc brakes are also superb, and a tactile pleasure to use.

Gocycle GX

But what about the electric part? To be clear, this is not a pure electric bike where you press a button and sit back: you still have to pedal. Indeed, you don’t actually get any electric assist for the first couple of pedal rotations after pulling away – Gocycle believes human legs are best for getting going.

However, you soon feel the assist kick in. This takes the load off your legs and makes acceleration much easier. There are several modes, allowing you to vary the amount of assist given, and it eases out at 15.5mph (you can legally go faster in America, though).

Even without assistance, this is an inertia-free ride. The really clever bit comes when you reach a hill. As your speed drops, you’ll feel the electric assist kick back in, easing you up the hill without making you out of breath. A little button on the left handlebar grip gives you an on-demand e-boost, provided your speed is below 15.5mph.

On faster roads, more gears would be nice, so you could go more quickly. But then, this is a city commuter bicycle, so perhaps that’s not so relevant. Certainly, first gear is low enough to help you pull away easily even before the electric assist starts up.

Oh, and being electric is no cop-out. You still pedal, still get fit, still burn calories. What the electric assist does is take away the spikes in effort that put many off cycling, and make it too much of a burden in everyday use for others.

The Gocycle takes away the excuses and fear factor of cycling, opening it up to many more people. That’s not such a bad thing, is it?

No sweat

Gocycle GX review

What about the sweat aspect? I put on jeans and a shirt, then went for a 13-mile ride. It was a hot day, too.

Verdict? Barely a trace of sweat – and I was putting the bike through its paces. This is the secret of cycling: once you’re up to speed, the wind keeps you beautifully fresh and cool, while the Gocycle’s e-assist means you don’t have to ramp up the effort going up hills.

I would not think twice about using it to zip around the city between meetings while suited up for work. Don’t forget the added bonus of relieving stress while out cycling, either: it’s far preferable to catching a busy tube – or, indeed, getting anxious in traffic.

The folding aspect is crucial here. The GX collapses in seconds to be popped into a car boot, meaning you can do the long-distance stuff by road, then last-mile it into the city by bicycle. When things get back to normal, this is absolutely what I’ll be doing.

2020 Gocycle GX: Verdict

Many commuters will now be investigating bicycles as an alternative to public transport. The Gocycle brand aims to capitalise on this by easing them into something that could transform their daily routine.

Yes, it’s expensive. But electric bicycles do cost more, and premium machines cost more on top. This is a quality item, the British supercar of electric bicycles, with a head-turning design and impeccable riding characteristics.

There’s also the government Cycle to Work scheme (of which Cyclescheme is the biggest provider). This now allows bicycles costing more than £1,000 to be purchased. It works by employers buying the bicycle and employees ‘hiring’ it via a salary sacrifice scheme. After 12 months, employees can then buy the bicycle at a ‘fair market value’. It’s a tax friendly-way of buying a Gocycle without forking out upfront costs.

It saves you between 25 percent and 39 percent on the price of a bicycle: on a Gocycle GX, that’s many hundreds of pounds. You can calculate here how much you could save

You might not be able to commute in a supercar in this world of staying alert for coronavirus. But the Gocycle GX means you can certainly ride one. Swap that public transport season ticket for one of these instead. It’s one of the easiest ways to finally make cycling one of your main forms of transport. 

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