Archive for the ‘automotive’ Category

As the snow continues to tumble out of the sky and more people drive gingerly, my front-wheel drive car has encountered little problems. I’m not showing off, I have had a few instances of lost traction but it’s light enough to skirt over the snow with no real grief. I have watched a lot of heaver cars struggle, especially those with rear-wheel-drive. So the solution, surely is a 4WD.

But what if you don’t want a Chelsea Tractor? Surely there must be something out there that has that capability that would look more at home in the fast lane than on a farmer’s field? There is, this:

I’ve seen a few examples of the new Alfa Romeo Brera in Kent and I would never have guessed it was 4WD. Then again, why should I? There’s no rule that every car with such capability has to look like an old Land Rover Defender and absolutely NO reason why Alfa Romeo couldn’t combine it with their undeniable gift for styling.

Even that pube-headed, loud-mouthed Jeremy Clarkson rated it amongst the top 25 cars he’d ever driven. He said that “as you drive along you can feel the Alfa-ness of this car, the little tingles and the droplets of feedback that you don’t really get from anything else in this class” and that “what makes the pleasure so doubly satisfying is that you have a four-wheel-drive car, yet no one can tell.”

It’s a gorgeous car and one that I’m sure would leave many people stuck with wheels spinning in the snow understandably jealous as it moved through with no problem at all while looking like a slab of pure Italian style.

alfa romeo brera kent

When you’re giving way to oncoming traffic, there is an unwritten rule that is polite for all drivers and that is the thank you ‘wave.’

I was giving way to a loooong line of traffic at rush hour thisy morning – this is how nice I am – or how little of a hurry I’m in to get to work. The people behind me weren’t so sure but the feeling any we get for doing a good deed is quite pleasurable, and if someone doesn’t say thank you it makes you feel quite bitter (well it does me) – I will always wave ‘thank you’ to traffic letting me pass.

When letting this long queue go past of approximately 10 cars, all but but two said thank you, and in all different ways. Some flashed their headlights – so frustrating to be blinded though, some even gave me an entire palm of wave, some lifted a finger or two off the steering wheel, some bared all 4 fingers and some even nodded, but given all those little ways of saying thank you, you realise that no one was taught this during their driving lessons, this little habit has just caught on.

This isn’t something I’ve observed driving on the continent. Certainly not while pulling of a do-it-yourself international removal last month from France to England. If anything I’ve rarely been so angered by both traffic and lack of common courtesy. Given I was driving a giant of a Citroen van I could’ve quite easily thrown my weight around on the road.

Is this unwritten but widely observed driving practice just a sign of our general, good English manners?

The two moody cars this morning that refrained from saying thank you were,  shockingly both Hondas. One a new CR-V. Obviously enjoying the extra amount of condescending allowed by the driving position or had recently read my less-than-positive comments about their looks. I’ve seen increasing amounts of the new Honda CRV in Kent lately. Still not too keen on them and this morning’s experience has just added to that.

I’m starting to wonder how automotive companies perceive the UK and our car-buying market. I was reading up on the dreaded “h word” and the various models now available to us. While there are more and more hybrids sneaking on to the market over here they all have a certain look about them.

mazda tribute

So my digging landed me on a list that came from the States, the best Top 10 Fuel Efficient SUVs and Crossovers for this year. It was topped by a car I’d never heard of – the new Mazda Tribute Hybrid. Apparently the new Tribute hybrid has the best mileage of the lot from this year’s crop of SUVs. Great, except that it’s not a car that Mazda think we’d want in the UK.

Why? We’re already quite into the hybrid thing, more and more manufacturers are throwing SUVs at us and MPVs have replaced the term “people carriers” as Toyota’s Previa and Renault’s Espace near elder-statesman like status in the market. So why don’t we get the Tribute?

Yeah, we’ve got a lot of congestion zone, higher tax things for owners of gas guzzlers but it doesn’t deter people. Isn’t the Range Rover a British car?! Not only that but this is a hybrid and shouldn’t fall prey to such regulations.

It can’t be the look of the thing, compared to a Prius I’d welcome being stuck behind the new Mazda Tribute on Kent motorways. Plus, it’s based on the Ford Maverick which went down pretty well here. It’s not exactly “wow” but it’s pretty rugged and tough looking, especially when compared to the usual crop of hybrids.

Same story as the Mustang I guess – any mass-production car over 2.5 litres is considered too big for us.

Whilst catching up on my weekend’s email and news I came across a review for the Mazda CX-9. As I was sat there reading it I couldn’t help thinking that I hadn’t seen much of this Mazda in Kent. Or anywhere before for that matter. There’s a reason for it too.

For some reason, despite the market that’s patently juicy for the likes of VW, Ford and even Porsche with their Cayenne, Mazda doesn’t let us have the CX-9 in the UK. Or Europe. Buy why??

cx-9

I really can’t undestand this. While I’m all in favour of more eco-friendly cars and consider such large vehicles as a display of money over taste, it strikes me as odd for a company that needs usually finds as many ways as possible to turn a penny not to market a car in the UK. Especially given how positive reviews of this car have been.

The standard car delivers about 273hp from a 3.7 litre V6 for just $30,000 – still less than £19k though it’s unlikely they’d price it so equally. All that power comes along with aircon, powered everything and keyless entry and the option for All-Wheel-Drive. Not only that but it looks pretty damned good too.

Given the prices it’s available at it, the fact that there is a market, Mazda seem to be in a hole finance wise and it’s got a lot of things going for it, why can’t we Brits stroll down to our nearest Mazda dealer and drop a deposit?

If somebody can actually tell me why we don’t get it, I’d love to kow.

Heading home last night I got followed all the down the motorway through Kent by a Honda. At the time I didn’t know what it was. It didn’t overtake me or get too close but it sat on my tail all the way and left at the same junction. Up until this point I was thinking that it looked pretty good, as SUVs go.

honda cr-vNot being all that aware of Honda’s new cars as I am with other brands, I hadn’t registered seeing it before. Then I saw the rest of it as I joined a different lane on the exit. It was CR-V, Honda’s “SUV with a difference.” Granted, it’s not the worst looking thing on the road and isn’t without charm, I was, frankly, dissapointed. From the front I think this car looks great. Side on: not so much.

It got me thinking, it can’t be the only car to suffer from that sympton. There’s the Focus Coupe-Cabriolet, looking at it front-quarter on it’s a good looking car but any other angle and it’s as attractive as an early Proton in my eyes.

The Mercedes SLK also falls in to this catergory for me. From the front it looks capable of being a real power-house but side on it looks a but mis-proportioned and stunted. As powerful as a chocolate wafer bar. It could be worse, the Fiat Multipa looks like dog’s dinner all they way round.

They can’t be the only 3, what other cars fall into this catergory?

Mazda’s chirpy little MX5, the world’s best selling open-top roadster, is now twenty years. Plenty of reason for that cheeky grin the 2009 model sports.

It’s easy to see why the MX5 has done so well. It appeals to a wide audience (though I’m not a member of that audience), is cheaper than a lot of competitors and it looks pretty good too. In fact, its looks are considered so good that Mazda have given it only 3 adjustments in its two decades of production. Pretty rare in car terms. mazda mx5

But did you know that there’s a special connection between this Mazda and Sussex, England? The small coastal town of Worthing, in fact. This was news to me. Having been through the town many times I would never thought of it as a leading design centre for the automotive industry, especially for a Japanese manufacturer.

Well, the MX5 was designed to compete with those quintessentially British sports cars the MGB, Triumph’s glorious Spitfire and the Lotus Elan. The idea was sprung between a American journalist and engineer Bob Hall and Kenichi Yamamoto.

International Automotive Design in Worthing were commissioned to develop a running prototype based on an idea from Mazda’s California team for a rear-wheel-drive lightweight sports car to give the Japanese firm their own Elan-type car. They named the prototype V705, used a glassfibre body, a 323’s engine and other Mazda components and the car was completed and sent to the states in 1985. There it was driven around Santa Barbara to see what the public reaction was .

Approval for the MX5 was granted in January of ’86 and production plans sprung into action, it was given its name in early ’89 ahead of its Chicago Motor Show launch which, clearly, went down a storm. After all, it’s shifted 857,200 units. Though I still don’t know anyone that owns one of these Mazdas in Sussex or anywhere else.