Friday, April 28, 2006

Service Announcement

Pay attention, this is important. No, seriously.

Work loads being what they are at University this term, I think I'm going to have to make the decision to reduce the number of major posts to one a week. I'm not totally sure how this is going to work yet, but the likelihood is I will simply take the bi-weekly format an alternate it; I like the discipline of writing to 800 words, but I also like the flexibility on Thursdays.

Anyways, there will be no post this Sunday, but there will be a post during the week (I even know what the title's going to be. So there).

Ok, announcement over. Back to work, people.

Electric Performance Cars - photos, video, and information

Hey, this is awesome.

Click here and you will get a forum thread at (that's exactly what it says on the tin: a drag racing site).

But before you start yawning, it's all about electric powered performance cars - in effect a huge archive of photos, video and information. Well worth a few minutes perusal.


Electric Cars are wicked fast, Video and photo proof included @

Picture is of a Commuter Cars Tango doing a burnout, from the above thread.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

T#24: Fiat Punto 1.9 Multijet 130 Sporting v. Skoda Fabia 1.9 TDI PD 130 vRS

Diesel do nicely

Aww, jeez. Hold on a second – I need a couple of minutes to get over the fact that I just wrote that…


There, that should do it. Right, what have we got here then? A pair of diesel engined hothatchamobiles: one well respected seasoned campaigner in the form of the Skoda Fabia vRS; one brand spanking new to market Fiat Grande Punto Sporting. The Fiat edges the Skoda’s £12,375 by coming in at £11,895 (though, as previous mentioned, you do have to fork out extra if you want the Punto to come with any paint…), but is it worth being miserly for a little under £500? Read on to find out.

The Fiat’s the new kid, so it gets to go first. Much has been made of this new Grande Punto model range – named not only for the larger dimensions it has over its predecessor, but also because that car remains in production for the next year – nicking its front end design from Maserati. My initial reaction to photos was, They Wish. I could see the comparison, but was otherwise pretty underwhelmed by my viewing experience; I thought the styling somewhat flaccid and generally kind of lame.

However, this opinion changed the instant I actually clapped eyes on the Sporting. Flaming ‘Caribbean Orange’ paint (one of the cheaper options at £200; and what, I though Fiat were Italian? Surely they could have picked a more culturally homogenous designator than that?) certainly helps, as do the minor additional body appointments afford by its position as speed-merchant top dog of the range. These give the car a very smooth, almost Euro-style modified look, especially if you don’t spend the extra £20 necessary to get the rubbing strips on the side. The Sporting standard 17” alloys finish the look very nicely indeed. A really slick-stylin’ machine.

The interior design is pretty funky as well. The dash is pleasantly swoopy, and I like the gunmetal colour they’ve gone with to interrupt the blackness. The steering wheel has so many buttons you won’t know what to do with half of them – I didn’t; it also has Bluetooth connectivity for handsfree communication via your mobile phone. And it matches the gearknob with its exposed stitching and “sporty” but not especially comfortable ergonomics.

This particular car also had the ‘orange/black’ cloth combination, meaning that the door inserts were almost as bright as the exterior. Those of a more delicate disposition may be pleased to note that a ‘grey/black’ alternative is available. Sports seats are fitted as standard; these have curious clusters of dots on the squab and the seat back – serving no apparent purpose except to add some extra flair, they are perhaps intended to remind you of the Ford GT’s holey buckets…but maybe not. Leather is optional.

The matter of seat accoutrement is a good point to re-introduce the Skoda. Much maligned in owner-forums everywhere, and persevered with much to the head-scratching of the automotive press, the Fabia vRS has its sports seats trimmed substantially in…grey. Not any old grey mind you, but a grey of so light a hue it could virtually be mistaken for white. Hands up who can explain why this isn’t such a bright idea – particularly for the bolsters? To be fair, they do look really smart, with contrasting black inner panels and the vRS logo stitched in the back. But white seats? In a car? It practically defines the automotive for impractical. A colleague who had one of these until very recently took the precaution of Scotch-guarding his – I suggest everyone else does, too.

There is, thankfully, about to be a leather option (though at present no-one seems sure what the cost is). The rest of the interior is as dull but functional as you’d expect a Volkswagen group product to be. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just grey – dark grey this time. The gearknob in the Skoda is a rather more hand-appreciating sporty wedge shape; the steering wheel does without the gizmos.

In the exterior department, the Skoda totally gets its backside walloped. It’s an old-looking design now, which perhaps wouldn’t matter so much if it hadn’t been boring in the first place. In comparison to the rest of the range, the vRS gets bigger wheels, a subtle bodykit – including new bumpers which mean you can’t have factory fitted parking sensors, should you care – foglights and a something the literature refers to as a ‘chrome exhaust end piece’.

The alloys may be big for a Fabia, but they’re still an inch under the size of the Punto’s: a trifling 16” in diameter – and nowhere near as nice to look at. (Though they will be easier to keep clean. Oh, shush – to some people that’s important). On the plus side, for £500 you can have Xenon headlights, which are not an option on the Sporting. But ignoring this inability to dazzle oncoming motorists, the Punto otherwise owns the ballpark as far as the outside appeal of the two cars goes. Eight out of ten baseball hat wearing youths preferred it. Probably.

So, we have here two hot hatches. Both with 1.9 litre direct injection turbocharged diesel engines, both with six-speed gearboxes, both with alloys and body-bits and sporty interiors. They even have the same 130 horsepower, and they’re within £500 of each other on the financial side of things. One looks a great deal better than the other on the outside, however, and of the two, there’s really only one that I’d want to spend my money on…

But before I get to the nitty-gritty of actually driving the things, a quick note on that price difference:

The Fiat comes fully-loaded on the acronym front, and includes such safety precautions in its asking prices as ESP, an electronic stability system – which features ASR/MSR, HBA and something else called ‘Hill-Holder’ (er, what? But presumably all good[1]). The Fabia only comes with traction control and electronic brake-force distribution – which helps you stop in a straight line – in the asking price. The vRS I drove was also fitted with ESP, a good precaution for a press car no doubt, but also a £400 option. The Punto is also three insurance groups lower. This deserves to be taken into account when costing the cars – though for me it makes little difference to the actual outcome.

I drove the Fiat first. It looks so good that you’re already willing it to be brilliant. But, unfortunately, it’s like they took a tea break after making it look tasty and forgot to come back and finish the rest of it. Whatever happened to involvement? At no point did it seem likely that I was about to chuck it off the road, so the chassis obviously holds on very well, you just don’t get any tactile reassurance – at all. The steering is so light that on a number of occasions I thought I’d left it in city mode by mistake – even though it’s supposed to cut-out above 19mph. This push-button function ups the assistance to enable easy manoeuvring at low speeds, but the Punto really doesn’t act like it needs it. The issue is compounded by an overly springy clutch pedal that’s so anti-positive someone should be sending out for Valium. I stalled this car on a number of occasions – do you know how difficult that should be in a turbo-diesel?

Once it’s actually moving, and you get over the unnerving lack of feel, the Sporting does go pretty well. The quoted 0-62mph time of 9.5 seconds seems about right, though it can feel a bit gutless unless you’re vigorous with the gearbox. This is nice enough to use, mechanically speaking, but the lifting collar that prevents you from accidentally sticking in reverse stops the knob from being properly comfortable. The steering wheel rim is heavily contoured, but my natural hand position found me accidentally activating the Bluetooth – which wouldn’t be so bad except this cuts out the stereo. The driver’s seat, while grippy, for some reason has this ridge that ran right across my upper back, making the car an uncomfortable long term companion. And the ride – squidgy in the corners, which doesn’t exactly add to confidence, yet strangely fidgety and harsh on motorways and b-roads; it’s very difficult to figure out what Fiat was trying to achieve. The driving experience just lets the Sporting down so badly. The brakes are pretty good, though.

The Skoda, on the other hand, is one of those cars you get into and – like its bigger cousin, the Golf GTi – immediately you feel comfortable. I don’t just mean the driver’s seat – though this is better than in the Fiat – but in terms of driving confidence. The steering is much more substantially weighted and far more communicative. The ride is harder, but the body control better; even though the Fabia seems to roll more in the bends, the manner in which this occurs is predictable and natural feeling in comparison to the activities of the Fiat. The clutch works like a clutch should, and the gearbox is a no problem tool.

The one performance statistic that separates these cars is the torque they produce – it’s what a turbo diesel is good at, and the vRS makes more of it. The difference on paper looks slight, 206lb ft against 229, and they post identical 0-62mph times in spite of it. But out on the road the Skoda feels far pokier, pulling much harder towards its redline, noticeably quicker on motorway sliproads, less inviting of a downshift. You can just surf on this wave of torque to get the job done.

You make fine, swift progress in this car – and it’s great fun while you’re doing it. The only thing missing in comparison to most petrol hot hatches is the rev range and the exhaust note (not that either of these derv-drinkers sounded particularly tractor-like). It’s a bit of a thug, with a rawer driving experience than the Fiat – you’re much more likely to provoke torque-steer in the Skoda – but I like that, somehow it exudes honesty. Much preferable to the Punto’s over-assisted synthetic gloss, barely glazing the roughness underneath.

The brakes aren’t quite as good as the Sporting’s, but the pedals are worth mentioning for another reason: well-spaced and with the corners cut off at the bottom you can even left-foot brake. Transferring from left to right is aided by the spacing and the missing corners means both feet can be on the middle pedal at once. Not sure the engine-management appreciates this much though, as when I tried covering the brake with my left and raising the revs with my right – to see if I could avoid downshifting during choppy motorway traffic – the turbo seemed to cut out. Bah, computers know best, eh.

Something else worth bearing in mind is that when buying the Skoda you’re buying a Volkswagen. (For the uninitiated, the Fabia is essentially an ugly Polo.) This means so called VW build quality – no, don’t let that put you off, the Czechs seem to make this work better than the Germans. Let me put it another way, in comparison to the Fiat, the Skoda really is a bank vault…

And lest you think I’m exaggerating, I shall give you some examples. Press car = hard life, yes? Just so, but that surely doesn’t excuse the number of stone chips despoiling the Sporting’s otherwise pretty nose. The paint on this thing is thin. Removing the towing-eye cover (to attach a camera, ye of little faith) removed the paint attached to it, giving a whole new meaning to the term “orange peel”, and the paint on the plastics was a subtly different shade to the paint on the bodywork. What’s more, the shutline on the bonnet was considerably skewed and the interior trim was falling off – in several places. The “flimsy Fiat” is alive and well.

More practicality issues? I’ve got them. Fiat: three doors; Skoda: five. Need to carry people in the back on a regular basis? That’s quite a plus. The Punto also has some pretty severe blindspot problems. The window profile on the side narrows considerably towards the rear, culminating in a mahoosive c-pillar. The a-pillars are also inhibiting when placing the car as they widen towards the base, where they’re split by more glasswork – but this is useless for anything other than decoration, you certainly don’t see out of it. Slightly more concerned about environmental matters? The Fabia makes more power but creates less pollution and has better official fuel consumption figures. The Skoda also has a better stereo – if you care about that sort of thing.

Come on, you can do it – you can get over the Fiat’s good looks. Because that, the level of standard kit, and its insurance group, are really all it’s got going for it. Don’t get me wrong, it is a stunning looking hatchback – especially in that orange – and I wouldn’t disrespect anyone for buying one on that basis. But the Fabia is the better vehicle. It’s better screwed together, better to drive, more powerful, more practical, more comfortable and more environmentally friendly. I’m not sure what else I can add. It’s a genuinely great car, not just a comparison winner – does that help?

Style Over Substance versus Plain Jane With Attitude. Attitude does it for me, every time.

Fiat Punto 1.9 Multijet 130 Sporting: on the road price £11,895

CO2 EMISSIONS: 154g/km
PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph 9.5s / Max Speed 124mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 48.7mpg

Skoda Fabia 1.9 TDI PD 130 vRS: on the road price £12,375

CO2 EMISSIONS: 138g/km
PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph 9.5s / Max Speed 128mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 52.3mpg


T#23: Hyundai Santa Fe CDX 2.7 V6 Automatic [internal]

T#22: Mk V Volkswagen Golf GTi [internal]

T#21: Honda Jazz 1.4 CVT Sport [internal]

Pictures are Skoda and Fiat press shots.

[1] No, I do actually know what they mean. ASR/MSR is Fiat’s version of traction control, which prevents the wheels for spinning when the lead foot to road grip balance is compromised. More interesting – sort of – is HBA, which stands for Hydraulic Brake Assist, and helps increase braking pressure in emergency situations. The Hill-Holder does away with the need for handbrake use when stopping and starting on hills. And I thought that something else did that…clutch control.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Hey, what?

Something is evidently up with Blogger.

Red post went up this morning but has yet to actually appear...

I look forward to this being sorted soon.

#22: Propping up progress?

I have spent the last few days reading books about online journalism – oi, no, stop snickering at the back there. The library resources here being what they are, all the books readily available are now three or four years old. What’s remarkable about this is how out of date aspects of the information has become.

It’s such a short period of time, in cosmic terms. But the world of information technology moves like nothing else on earth, and three years can be like a generation – there’re recognisable similarities over the distance, but expectations, predictions, and normalities are often considerably out of whack.

And people complain that the speed of advance in the automotive industry hasn’t matched up with the pace of change exhibited in computers? Can you imagine what this would actually be like?

The analogy suggests that if cars followed the same kind of rabid development as the personal computer, then we’d have much smaller, even more greatly efficient power units, standardised componentry and connectivity, and perhaps as esoteric a practical result as cars routinely capable of 100 miles per gallon, and so…yawn.


It is true that computing has come “a long way” but let’s consider the realistic implications of the auto industry following a similar pattern.

It’s the early in the year 2006. Just over a decade since Microsoft launched Windows 95. Yet to all intents and purposes, anyone still using this operating system is an anachronism. Trying to find compatible software? You can forget it. Trying to find compatible hardware? You’re out of luck. Even if you do rustle up an example to contradict this rule you’ll discover a snag. The machine running 95 will need to have been seriously top-end at the time of purchase for it to stand any chance of meeting the performance requirements necessary for today’s additions. And let’s face it; anyone still using such an antique is unlikely to have purchased the best model in the first place.

That’s obsolescence 11 years after inception (I resist the temptation to describe it as built-in…). This may be the kind of thing car manufacturers fantasize about in board meetings, but it’s hardly a realistic proposition for most motorists. It’s like saying all the periphery necessary to make a car into a functional device – tyres, replacement parts, maybe even lubricants and fuel – have become gradually unavailable, or rather, “incompatible.” All vehicles of that “vintage” would be confined to the fettling of hobbiests and collectors, all madly scouring eBay for relevant parts. This is how the classic car industry works – alright, probably not including eBay for most people – but after 11 years? You’ve got to be kidding me if you think people would be willing to accept that.

It gets worse. The whole false concept of standardisation would be a disaster area for the motor vehicle. This website, for example, is built using the supposedly universal medium of html, the basic foundation of the world wide web. But, open it in Internet Explorer and you will get a – sometimes wildly – different viewing experience in comparison to Firefox. And both of these are running under the same operating system; introduce the Mac OS, add the native Mac browser Safari, and you’ve got even more variation. This with a supposedly professionally approved template offered by Blogger, the company that allows this weblog to happen.

Transfer this over to the garage and you’d have a situation where the exact same tool has a differing effect depending upon the operating environment. For your main dealer the spanner will work one way; for your independent specialist the result will appear similar, but not necessarily entirely so – making the situation even worse through its apparent lack of predictability.

Performance, then? Surely that’s shown improvements in a way to make the auto industry green with envy? Well, not exactly.

An entry-level pc now costing about £400 is probably less than half the amount an entry level computer cost a decade ago, and many, many times more powerful – an economising of exploitable performance that car users can only sniffle at. But in terms of being really “green”, improvements in computing power have not exactly resulted in environmental efficiency.

Today’s pcs are vastly more powerful but also use much greater amounts of energy in terms of electricity demands and waste through heat that needs to be dissipated. Only recently are we starting to see companies, such as Fujitsu Siemens, producing computers that take environmental issues seriously, reducing the amount of harmful lead that goes into their production and making greater efforts to manage their power consumption.

Following this analogy out to the point where we came in, it’s a self-defeating exercise to try and predict the future. The apparent innovation of the moment may turn out to be unworkable – WAP mobile internet being the example these books bring to mind – while something else entirely may spring into popular being – WiFi, wireless networking anyone?

Everyday useable 100mpg vehicles remain a distant dream; wishful thinking isn’t the answer. Increasingly, designs such as this Massive Yet Tiny engine are poking their heads over the parapet, waiting to see if anyone wants to give them a hand up or take a pop at shooting them down. Then there’s the rumoured X-Prize for cars, and the claims surrounding the production of hydrogen fuelcell vehicles – which requires the kind of infrastructure and commitment to change typified by computing. But I wouldn’t like to guess where the automotive industry is going even at its current rate of development; if it changed at the pace of the pc I think we’d all be lost.


Angel Labs Massive Yet Tiny Engine: The Little Engine That Could? @ Gizmodo

Fujitsu Siemens Personal Computers

Honda drops the Hydrogen Future [internal]

Picture from v11; Jeffrey Faden is a part-time comic book artist- amongst many other things - and the image is on his fan art page.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

T#23: Hyundai Santa Fe CDX 2.7 V6 Automatic

Shallow be thy name?

The very first thing I want to say about the new Hyundai Santa Fe is this:

It’s much, much better than the old one.

Now, I know someone who owns a previous generation version of this vehicle and they like it just fine. There’s nothing actually wrong with it at all – it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect a Hyundai-made SUV of that vintage: nothing offensive, nothing too original, built to a price and with value in mind.

The new one, however, is whole postal codes ahead.

The exterior design, for example. It’s hardly going to win any originality contests – looking kind of like a growth hormone fed RAV4, with a little something something of the Mercedes and Lexus about it, add a touch of Honda to garnish – but you can’t say it doesn’t look good. In fact, accusations of badassness might accompany anyone who specs the black with black tints of my test car. But pick any colour and you’re getting a graceful set of lines backed up with more than a hint of muscle; a neatly-executed take on the modern SUV brief. Even the base model gets 17” alloys, while the CDX and above get natty-looking 18s.

Step up to the cabin, and the interior is even more of an improvement than the outside. The plastic quality is far higher than in the old model, and while the lightly coloured ‘Rich Maple’ veneer that dissects the upper and lower portions of the CDX-spec dash won’t be to everybody’s taste, it at least suggests that a designer was involved in the layout rather than just an engineer. It’s also a vast improvement over the ‘Cherry wood’ in the lower-end variants. The instruments are the best bit, though – in white with subtle touches of red and blue, the dials are elegantly scripted, well lit, and easy to read. Aside from the indicator stalk being on the opposite side (meaning idiot me kept signalling to turn with the windscreen wipers), the control layout presents no obvious problems.

Comfort levels are high, too – at least as long as your sat in the first two rows. There’s plenty of leg room behind the front seats, but the optional third row being suitable for adults? You can forget about it. These do fold flat into the floor, but if it wasn’t for the self-levelling suspension you also get for the extra £800 the seven-seater costs, they seem a bit pointless. The driver gets electric adjustment on the CDX, while everyone else has to make do with manual movement; these mechanisms aren’t exactly Honda-like integrity-wise, but seem likely to last well enough.

As with all new Hyundais, the Santa Fe gets a five year unlimited mileage warranty. This is transferable, helping resale value, and added reassurance comes in the form of RAC cover – although strangely this only covers the first three years of ownership. This means that anyone who buys a Hyundai should never be accused of making a mistake, because that is one fabulous aftersales package.

However, there is one slightly jarring aspect to all this good news – and it isn’t the ride quality. They may have upped their game, but Hyundai have also upped their price; the entry-level Santa Fe GSI opens up at over £20k, and the starting price for the CDX is £22,820; the seven-seat CDX petrol V6 automatic tested here rolls of the forecourt at £24,440. While it’s true you are getting a serious chunk of car for the money, that is a serious chunk of change for what many still consider a budget brand. You think that’s irrelevant? If we’re talking Chelseaquite be everything but it takes up a huge amount of almost. tractors, and we are, image may not So what, aside from the derivative – if classy – looks and the improved insides are you actually getting for your money?

This, for me, is where the Santa Fe starts to slide a little. It’s got the 4wd drive, and it looked great nearly getting there, but just when it needs that final push to get it over the top of the hill, it simply doesn’t have the grunt…

See, if you pop the bonnet, fight off the plastic cladding and physically look for it, you’ll find there’s a 2.7 litre V6 petrol propulsion unit. The trouble is, you may actually want to do this after you’ve driven the Santa Fe, coz, boy, does it not feel frisky. The figures are 186bhp (up 16bhp on its predecessor) and 183lb ft – sounds capable enough, but hauling around 1,820kgs of SUV seems to knock the life out of it somewhat. As does the five-speed automatic gearbox; supposed to be smooth and responsive, on the test car it actually proved jerky, reluctant to kick down, and is stuffed full of cogs big enough to allow an indicated 70mph in second. Tuned perhaps for economy instead of performance (official combined figure is 26.6mpg, not exactly ground breaking).

Uninspiring stuff, but on the plus side the V6 is certainly refined; newly fettled for 06, mods include a new balancer shaft, helping with the smoothness. This goes very nicely with the ride, which is impressively tolerant on the motorway, and only unsettled by the harshest of expansion joints. But, if you want more pull, better go with the diesel model; I haven’t driven it, but the new 2.2 litre common rail unit is apparently impressive. Boasting Variable Geometry Turbocharger technology (and you thought that only came on Porsches), this four-cylinder has fewer horses but 247lb ft of torque – a useful 64 more than its petrol-powered sibling. It also costs less – albeit only £20. Still, I suppose a V6 badge on the rump seems much more sexy than CRD…more fool the style-conscious.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s better not to be going too fast. Because sooner or later you’re going to get to a corner. Alright, alright, SUV-stereotyping nearly over, you can predict what I’m going to say: it rolls. A lot. But, then I can’t ever imagine wanting to hustle anything this big with any kind of enthusiasm; spirited cross-country driving will see your stuff sliding it all over the backseat. If you’re stupid enough to leave it there. Ahem. Steering feel is also conspicuous by its absence – I expect you knew I was going to say that.

However, when get up near the limit (on a test track, I’d like to point out. I’m not completely stupid), you might be in for a pleasant surprise. Grip actually is reasonably tenacious; Hyundai says it uses a ‘Torque on Demand’ system in the 4wd, and you can sort of feel this happening as the tires do their best to cling on to the tarmac. Obviously it understeers – but then so does everything; the benefit of it rolling around, though, is that it’s easy to tell when the Santa Fe is approaching the point of thinking about letting go, let alone actually doing it. This in spite of the lifeless steering, so it’s not all bad. Kind of scary, but I expect you’d get used to it if you’re the sort of person who likes driving their SUV like a stolen hot hatch.

Overall, the new Hyundai Santa Fe is a likeable automobile. The looks and the interior quality win over the lacklustre engine and transmission performance, and that warranty package is definitely appealing. The price still takes a bit of getting used to, but my friend who owns the previous version didn’t seem to think it too bad; I know he’d buy another one. So, I suppose the improvements can only mean that more people will come to a similar conclusion. And on balance, I think it’s a car that deserves to do well – just make sure you check out the diesel before deciding on the V6.

Hyundai Santa Fe CDX 2.7 V6 Automatic (Seven Seat): On the road price: £24,440

Hyundai Santa Fe Technical Specifications


2.7 V6


V6 cylinder CVVT

Capacity (cc)




Bore x stroke (mm)

86.7 x 75.0

Compression ratio


Max. power (kW/bhp @ rpm)

139/186 @ 6,000

Max. torque (Nm/lb ft @ rpm)

248/183 @ 4,000



MacPherson struts with coil springs


Multi-link type with anti-roll bar



Power assisted rack and pinion steering. Energy absorbing collapsible steering column.

Turns lock to lock




Dual diagonal split circuit, power assisted with ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution


16 in ventilated discs, floating calliper with pad warning device




Tyre type/size

235/60 R18

Wheel type/size

Alloy 7.0J x 18


Overall length (mm/in)

4,650 (4675 for CDX / CDX+) /183.0

Overall width (mm/in)


Overall height (mm/in)

1,725 (1,795 inc roof rack) /70.6

Wheelbase (mm/in)


Track - front (mm/in)


Track - rear (mm/in)


Turning radius (m/ft)



Luggage capacity, 7 seat models – seats down (SAE l/cu ft)


Gross vehicle weight – 7 seats (kg/lb)

2,495 (5,500)

Max. towing weight – braked (kg/lb)

2,000 (4,409)

Max. towing weight – unbraked (kg/lb)

750 (1,653)

Max. roof weight (kg/lb)

100 (220)

Fuel tank capacity (l/gallons)

75 (16.5)


0-62 mph acceleration (sec)


Max. speed (km/h/mph)



Urban mpg (l/100 km)

19.6 (14.4)

Extra urban mpg (l/100 km)

33.6 (8.4)

Combined mpg (l/100 km)

26.6 (10.6)

CO2 emissions (g/km)


(All specs from Hyundai UK)


T#22: Mk V Volkswagen Golf GTi [internal]

T#21: Honda Jazz 1.4 Sport CVT-7 [internal]

Picture is a Hyundai press photo. Suitably random, I thought.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Now I would usually try and avoid mentioning two Jalopnik posts in subsequent editions to my own blog, but this is just fantastic.

Coming via Iowahawk and Rocketman, here's a couple of links to pages dedicated to 60s Florida performance parts company, Turbonique. I say "performance parts," reputedly the sideproject of NASA technicians, they specialised in rocket engines - either on their own or mechanically attached to otherwise relatively sane bits of automotive engineering. That is to say, Turbonique produced rocket powered superchargers and, stark, raving, bonkers though it sounds, differentials.

Unless anyone knows different, that is uniquely off the chart in terms of motoring madness in the performance enhancing stakes.

Iowahawk has the full story here, while Rocketman has pictures, as well as reproduction technical manuals and catalogues that are available for purchase (a little steep, or I'd be tempted myself). Rocketman, otherwise known as Ky Michaelson, was actually a former distributer of Turbonique's products, which were used in such diverse dragstrip terrorisers as rocket-powered karts and a VW Beetle capable of turning 9.36 second quarter miles at 168mph.

What are you doing? Just go read the damn article - that stuff is just amazing craziness.

PS: Iowahawk has gotten his hands on an original Turbonique rocket supercharger and intends to try it out...I really look forward to hearing about it. Just hope it's not in the obituries. Irk.


The Real Acme @ Iowahawk

Turbonique @ Rocketman

Turbonique: Totally The Best Company In History and Now You're Playing With Power: Turbonique Madness @ Jalopnik

Picture is from the Rocketman site. That car has TWO rocket engines...

Accusations of randomness

As you might gather from the slightly irrelevent nature of that post, I am now properly re-ensconced in my university hovel- sorry, room.

This means proper broadband once again. It also means lots and LOTS of work this term, so don't expect me to be too chatty. But in celebration of the former, and in recognition of Jalopnik's rather random - but cool - Robert Farago posting this arvo on the road car, here are a bunch of pictures of the 1971 Mercedes Benz 300SEL 6.3 AMG race car, taken at the Geneva Motorshow.

Best thing on the Mercedes stand.

And, if you look closely at the second to last shot you'll see this car still has a full leather interior. Madness.


Required Riding: Mercedes Benz 300SEL 6.3
@ Jalopnik

The Truth About Cars, where you'll find more of Farago's most excellent work on the 300SEL 6.3

#19: The Geneva Motorshow [internal]

Spot the obvious "mistake"

By way of explanation for the lateness of the previous post, take a look at this picture. And tell me what's missing:

That's right, those are my keys - and what's missing are the car keys.

The BM finally had a pretty significant mechanical failure (not bad going for an £800 car bought two Christmas Eve's ago). It had to be recovered all the way to my home address in Dorset, and currently I am without it.

It's like I'm missing a limb.

In spite of all the pretentions I make towards environmenal friendlyness, I hate being carless; no matter how I'm actually travelling day-to-day, the thought of not being able to get in and drive if I want to, all honesty, it makes me grumpy.

Still, I'll try and make like the keyring there, and maintain some positive spirit while I await the diagnosis.



Cleaner than it'll ever be again [internal]

#21: Amsterdam

Think Amsterdam, and I expect it conjures up a number of different images. Different people, different kicks.

There’s the wholesome stuff – the canals, the flower market, tulips and so on. There are museums, displaying Van Gogh, and other grand figures from our artistic past; though we shouldn’t forget Anne Frank, either (whose life and Diary are memorialised in the house where she hid from Nazi persecution, surviving on silence and movie magazines until an unidentified source revealed her and her extended family to the occupiers, leading to concentration camps and death).

In a slightly unfortunate juxtaposition, Amsterdam is also full of diamonds; more museums, shops, the opening scene of Snatch. And beer. Big red Heineken signs are everywhere, glowing on the building tops like some kind of dubious halo. A pointer perhaps to the seedier side of the Dutch capital. Amsterdam to some will spell legalised cannabis consumption, fellows furtively hawking “charlie” on the street corners, sexual freedom, and a red light district of dubious distinction. There really are girls in the windows – more like patio doors, actually – but if that concerns you, maybe you’ll be comforted to hear that they mostly looked more like movie starlets than crack whores. Maybe not.

Annyway, I skipped something in the wholesome section. You probably spotted it, something Amsterdam has in common with, say, Oxford – and I don’t mean academia. Yup, bicycles.

I like bikes. There’s something extremely satisfying about propelling yourself along – at speed, obviously, if you’re me – under your own steam. Big cities in England, though, you’d also have to be of uncertain mental solidarity to consider the pushbike a serious means of transport. Coventry is bad enough; I can’t contemplate the bravery you’d need to cycle in London, even if they have painted the tarmac green in places, popping a little symbol on the ground there suggesting self-propelled friendliness.

In Amsterdam it’s completely different. Bikes are everywhere, so many in fact you’d be forgiven for thinking them the dominant lifeform in the city. Cyclists not only have their own lane – often protected from the other road users by substantially built-up curbing – but their own traffic signals and congestion problems; parking a pushbike in Amsterdam must be a nightmare.

Ranks and ranks of them are stacked together like a more complex variation of pick-up sticks. Heaven help you if yours is the one in the middle. The crush is so bad people will chain them up anywhere, much to the disgruntlement of many businesses, finding them attached to their shutters and railings preventing access for customers; I saw one bar owner outside taking an angle grinder to chains and locks in order to clear the two-wheeled clutter away from her doorway.

This probably explains the strangeness. For a city obsessed with the cycle, I was amazed at how few decent bikes I actually saw. In fact, I was there for four days, and I don’t think I saw a single bicycle I would actually have wanted to own. There were a couple of custom-built looking low-riding choppers (meaning West Coast, not Raleigh), which were ok cool, but not exactly my kind of two-wheeled transportation. There were no disk brakes, no carbon spokes, and hardly any suspension forks.

Everyone was riding around on the stylistic equivalent of the Austin Metro – old beaters based on an ancient design, scrappily painted and badly maintained. What’s the point, I guess, of owning anything new and shiny looking if it’s just going to get stolen or busted to bits in the maul of metal occupying every pushbike parking space? Just a tool, and who needs new one when the old does just the same job?

Outside of the bicycle, transport culture in Amsterdam has its other intricacies. Adding to the “alternativeness” offered by a canal network, the Dutch capital has a pretty excellent tram system. Trams are cool – I even know someone who is about to become a tram driver – what’s scary about them is that they can’t swerve out of the way, and I’m not all that convinced about their stopping distance either. However, a cheap way of experiencing the thrill of the fairground is to sit in the very back of one late at night, when the driver hasn’t got so much traffic to worry about. Excellent rail holding…

The other unusual sight on the Dutch streets are these funny little vaguely two seater cars, about half the size of a Smart ForTwo. I can’t say for certain but many of them seemed to have a vague resemblance to Commuter Car’s Tango – a high performance electric vehicle of diminutive proportions. (However, given the price, I imagine the Tango is somewhat better built. You can look at it here.)

Only saw one modified car the entire time (if you discount sporty tailpipes, of which there were many – on everything from the humblest Suzuki to SUVs), but that probably comes down to the high curbs as much as anything. Lowered bodywork would be asking for trouble; you’d make good friends with your nearest paint shop, that’s for sure.

Ok, so that’s a brief glance at Amsterdam from the perspective of an automotive enthusiast. Sorry if it wasn’t “exotic” enough for you…

Thursday, April 13, 2006

T#22: Mk V Volkswagen Golf GTi

As good as everybody says it is.

Aww, jeez. This is hardly going to be cutting edge reportage, but what the hell. I had the opportunity to spend a little time in the company of a new Golf GTi just recently, and…well, it’s pretty much a case of DO believe the hype.

This car is fantastic.

Frankly, Volkswagen got nearly everything right. After the dross that was the previous generation, the Mk V had a whole lot of slate clearing to do. The Mk IV was stodgy, numbing to drive, and blighted by engines that seemed far more suited to hauling around a minibus than a performance car – plus the build wasn’t exactly vault-like beneath the superficially quality veneer.

Indications that Wolfsburg’s engineers may have found a funny looking object at the back of the garage previously known as “the plot” came with the all singing, all dancing R32 (not enough to make my uncle part with his Subaru, but a step in the right direction at least). Is 4wd and VeeDub’s near-iconic narrow angle V6 really necessary to set the masses alight with a burning desire for that VW badge – this superstar Mk IV seemed to suggest so.

Fortunately, the Mk V turned up with a pretty big bucket and sponge, and has virtually erased all the bad memories. Some cars feel right just as soon as you twist the key in the ignition…and the new GTi is absolutely one of these. It’s such a cohesive whole, from the slinky looks to the steering feel to the punch under the bonnet, you almost want to hug it for the saving three of the most evocative letters in the automotive alphabet.

A fwd 197 bhp forced-induction four ought to come with a couple of minor “character traits” – torque-steer and turbo-lag. The GTi shows little sign of either. The steering, which is a revelation for a modern Volkswagen in terms of letting you know what’s going on, doesn’t tug, even when the inside front wheel is spinning because you’ve hotshoed it out of a junction. This is a pretty big tendency, but it doesn’t impinge on the direction of travel – only adds to the enthusiasm this car has for getting there quickly. Some have commented that there isn’t as much self-centring as they’d like, but I didn’t notice a problem here – perhaps I was too busy grinning at the rapidity with which the horizon was approaching. Bringing us to the other thing. The turbocharger.

Question for Volkswagen: are you sure it has one? There’s such linearity to the response it simply belies forced-induction belief. Next to the aforementioned plot, the engineers must have found the holy grail of engine mapping because the Golf possesses brilliantly confidence-inspiring foot-down and go response. Exiting a sideroad, overtaking in the countryside – nothing is hit-it-and-hope with this car: it’s packing a genuinely everyday-useable jolt of really wonderful juice. Enough to keep you entertained, but delivered so well you’re not likely to get too stupid with it. That just wouldn’t go with the image.

See, the GTi is definitely a smooth operator. There’s a slickness to its performance that if you can find me the fabled well-oiled machine, I’d love to make a comparison. I didn’t get to try the DSG transmission, but I expect that only adds to the illusion, making you feel even more like the central part of a sophisticated device. A vital piece, though – don’t get me wrong. It’s anything but anodyne to drive. Rather, everything is measured, precise; you know exactly what to expect when you turn the wheel or push your right foot in the direction of the carpet.

It’s this that helps avoid any overtones of hooliganism – you don’t have to drive fast in this car to appreciate the tactile engineering, and because you don’t have to wring its neck to get the power out, the Golf manages to maintain an alter-ego of civility without sacrificing its hardcore credentials. With no lag, great feel, and a reasonably cooperative traditional gearbox, the good stuff is on tap whenever you want it; you don’t feel the need to tap it all the time.

Looks great, too. I love it in white – even though others hate it, and I, as the current owner of a white car, have previously sworn never to buy another in this dirt sucking shade. The white just manages to be retro in a successful way, and goes so well with the red grill surround. The alloys are attractive to the point that the aftermarket must surely only be for those so determined to be different style is actually secondary.

Moving to the interior, I also love the seats: huggy sports types obviously, but more importantly trimmed in tartan – a respectful homage to the Mk I – and comfy. Inside, it’s really only these, the racy, shaped steering wheel, and a ride hard enough to make your grandmother disapprove, that give the hothatchery away.

The solid nature of the ride is, don’t worry, a perfectly acceptable trade-off for the grip level and tight way in which this VW changes direction. Unfortunately, even with the neat spring forward front seat design that allows relatively easy access to the rear bench for the nimble, legroom in the back isn’t massively luxurious. You’ll probably have to put up with grandma sat next to you, making it all too easy to hear her complaining.

Minor point of disapproval is the dashboard. First off, don’t bother with the Volkswagen-fit satnav – it’s fiddly and less than easy to use, something that it sadly passes onto the stereo controls integrated into it. Then there’s the design. It’s a bit…staid. I know, judging by the exterior, VW’re aiming for subtle, even aloof cool, but my God that dash is dark and angular. So much so it seems a step backwards from the Mk IV (although, the perception of quality there was certainly higher than the reality in my experience). Nothing exactly wrong with it, it’s just dull, and a car as otherwise exceptional as this one deserves much better. Same with the exhaust note – not rubbish, but it falls far short of stirring the soul.

Only other nit to pick is possibly a quirk of my own, rather than the Golf’s. The mirror mounted indicators for some reason caused me to continually think another car was signalling to turn behind me. Hardly a deal-breaker, but it nearly always made me look twice, taking my attention away from where it might be more usefully employed looking at the road. Guess I’d get used to it. ;-)

So. There you have it. The Mk V Golf GTi, as good as everyone else has said it is. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the achievement. Owning one of these would make me very, very happy – so, to those of you lucky enough to be permanently positioned in the driving seat: make the most of it.

Volkswagen Golf GTi ( three door): 'recomended retail price' - to quote VW's website - £20,360.

Engine cubic capacity 2000
Fuel Consumption
Urban 25.4mpg - 11.1l/100km
Extra-urban 44.8mpg - 6.3l/100km
Combined 34.9mpg - 8.1l/100km
Engine emissions 194g/km
Engine noise levels 75.0dB
Engine maximum Speed** 146mph - 235km/h
Engine acceleration 0-62mph 7.2secs
Maximum output bhp
at RPM 5100
Maximum torque 207 lbs.ft / 280 Nm
at RPM 1800
Insurance group rating 17

(All specs from VW's website)


T#21: Honda Jazz 1.4 Sport CVT-7 [internal]

Picture from What was I saying about it not being a hooligan kind of car? But that shot does look remarkably fake...