Easter Sunday – The Untamed


Jeremy I’ve just driven 57 miles in a Mini GP and achieved the impossible – 39mpg. Not that impressed? Well, the official figure in the combined cycle is 39.8mpg but believe me, unless you are driving downhill with a tailwind and slipstreaming a large lorry, you will never achieve it.

Why? Because it’s damn near impossible to drive the GP – the fastest Mini ever built – at anything but breakneck speed. While there are plenty of hot hatchbacks that will destroy the GP’s 0-60mph time of 6.3 seconds, there are few that feel so untamed.

And it’s even worse when you take GP out on a public road. Everybody wants to race the little car splattered in decals – so to achieve 39mpg is no mean feat. It’s a fearsome ride too. I’ve crashed through a dozen potholes already and the suspension is totally unforgiving.

While I can’t imagine living with this Mini on a day to day basis, I’m totally smitten by its little car, big performance. It simple shocks other drivers on country A roads – for once, the decals don’t lie. The GP has is one crazy sports car.

Saturday – Mini GP. Just Don’t Ask Why


Jeremy Anders Warming is the head of Mini Design. At the launch of the car, he was asked one question more than any other – Why?

“Within the fan community, it’s really been something that everybody has been talking about,” says Anders.

And that just about says it all. With a limited run of just 2,000 GPs worldwide, this is one car that any Mini fan lucky enough to have £29,000 burning a hole in their pocket would want to own.

“This is a Mini that was born to race. All the features – like the red air intakes to cool the brakes and the rear roof spoiler for optimum ground force – have a purpose,” he added.

After a couple of days in the GP, I’m just starting to get the feel of the car. There are no flappy padels on the steering column, no satellite navigation as standard and, of course, it lacks a back seat to save weight.

If you want to use a sporty Mini as an everyday car, then a standard Cooper S will save you a small fortune and prove a better bet. Yet the GP is so extreme, you can’t help but get a buzz from driving it.

It reminds me of the first time I drove a Caterham 7. That car has no radio, no doors and a comedy roof. But as we move towards an age when cars are so safe and sanitised we might as well take a bus, the GP replaces every comfort that it lacks with one joyous extra.


Good Friday – Straining At The Leash


Jeremy Removing the backseat from a Mini is an extreme weight-saving measure just to improve performance. However, as our GP model is really a track day car in disguise, Mini enthusiasts won’t worry too much about the lack of passenger carrying space.

Besides, if you were daft enough to buy a GP for everyday use, then a huge rear load area does have its uses. You can squeeze in a bike, an enormous amount of Easter shopping – or a large dog. Just not at the same time.

Day one of our GP test started with delivery by a charming, elderly gentleman who had driven the car cross country in hellish, Bank Holiday traffic. It’s fair to say he was probably a teenager when the original Mini first appeared back in 1959. Stepping from the car, he looked as if he had just covered a hundred miles in a shopping trolley. The rock hard suspension must have proved a handful on potholed roads.

So, first impressions are that this really is the ultimate Mini. Fast, powerful and constantly straining at the leash, you need all your wits about you to keep it tamed. This is especially true around town, where the GP grumbles through heavy traffic and longs for the open road. The 17-inch alloys and sports tyres provide a constant soundtrack, with a subdued rumble from the exhaust pipes when required.

To either love or hate the shape of new generation Mini – I happen to rather like it. I’m not so keen on all the decals and badges splattered over the GP but having never been a labels man, that might explain why. More tomorrow when I hope to get the car out on some twisty A-roads…



Thursday – Chequered Flag Ready

Jeremy – My Easter present is on its way from Oxford. All the stats suggest the Mini GP is going to be a load of fun over the Bank Holiday weekend and I’m just waiting for the doorbell to ring.

There are plenty of faster cars for the money but what is it about the Mini that brings out the spirited driver in us all? I never owned an original Mini but I’ve enjoyed a couple of the new generation. Styling on the GP suggests maximum fun from every angle. Can’t wait to get inside and get moving…



Wednesday – The Way To Santa Fe

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Jeremy It’s the last day for the Santa Fe – an SUV I wouldn’t normally have considered on my list of possible buys. However, after a week behind the wheel, the seven-seat version has ticked so many boxes it would be hard to ignore its potential as a family mover.

The 2013 version gets the thumbs up primarily because it does look incredibly good. Compared to the 2012 version, it’s exceptionally pretty, well-styled and dynamically shaped. And while our top of the range Premium test car comes in at a weighty £32,000, some of the lesser Santa Fes are much more realistically priced.

Inside, the Premium is best described as adequate. The cheap plastics and clunky buttons are a let down, while the leather seats just don’t have that luxury feel. Unlike Jeremy Clarkson, at least we found the off switch for the satellite navigation easily enough!

Well-equipped and user friendly, BMW X5 drivers could save themselves a small fortune driving a Santa Fe. If you can get your head around the badge on the boot, the big Hyundai makes perfectly good sense.

Tuesday – Max Headroom

Jeremy – Ever had that worrying moment when you drive a new car into a multi-storey car park? The ‘max headroom’ sign says 6ft 8ins but you still duck your head in anticipation of a crunch.

The underground car park in Bath looks safe enough – except the metal height limit sign hanging above the entry point was dented and scratched by other drivers who thought they also had room to spare.

The Hyundai Santa Fe is one of the more squat SUVs on the market. Although Jessica measures 5ft 10 ins, she has plenty of headroom in the drivers’s seat. It’s not so roomy sat in the rear fold down seats, where headroom is limited if you have two tall teenagers to contend with. At least they are easy to fold out and there is decent legroom.

The long wheelbase version we are testing this week also has a fantastic load area. It’s just a shame I can’t get the auto boot opening to work from the keyfob – is it something I’m doing wrong? Whatever the answer, there’s a button that doesn’t seem to work however hard I press it.

Monday – From Unlikely Beginnings

Jeremy – About the same time my father acquired his second Datsun 120Y (not easy to own up to), Hyundai launched the Pony hatchback on an unsuspecting British public. It was Korea’s first mass-produced car and, thankfully, you won’t see many around today because the Pony never achieved classic status.

It was developed by George Turnbull – the former MD of Austin Morris – and a team of five other Brits hired by Hyundai. Styled in Italy by Giugiaro, it was instantly forgettable, apart from the headlights, which did a good impression of a Ford Capri.

That was 1982 and how times have changed. Hyundai Motor Group (which incorporates Kia) is now the world’s fourth largest car manufacturer. It operates the world’s largest car plant too. The Ulsan site can produce a staggering 1.6 million cars every year and employs 35,000 people.

Our third generation Santa Fe must be one of the best Hyundai models ever produced. In long wheelbase, seven-seat form it really is a masterclass of an SUV – a fact confirmed by huge sales in the USA, where they know their SUVs. You’re not getting German design standards on the inside but in terms of looks, value-for-money and equipment levels, I think you would be hard pushed to find a better option.

Fortunately, CarCouture has escaped the worst of the weekend snow so we can’t report on its 4×4 abilities. We have the Santa Fe for another couple of days, so you never know…

Friday – Fashion Wagon Or Get Away Car?

Jessica Imagine shopping on a budget and finding a piece of furniture that looks well designed, has good lines and appeals to the expensive side of your nature, for a modest price.609648_santafe_050

That’s what this car feels like…………from the outside!

Once you get inside you realise you have been shopping in IKEA, everything is basic, utilitarian and clunky although the drivers seat feels like a guilty pleasure as it is like siting in a battered old arm chair.

This week the car and I have sat in London traffic visiting a London, back to its fashion roots ( it is used by models for London Fashion Week) where it was easy to handle, a good height for keeping an eye on cyclists, ignoring irate taxi drivers and avoiding buses.  We have covered the motorways, from the South West to Newmarket the home of British horse racing.

The car goes well enough, however you would not use it as a get away car and I don’t feel confident overtaking on a main roads as we are not talking throughbred under the bonnet here.  Once you are up to speed it is relatively responsive and there is some power there.

I wonder if, being basic inside it would be a good country car, mud no problem, space for dogs, lambs, children (their friends) and the paraphernalia of pony clubbers.

How it would manage pulling a trailer I don’t  know but it would be worth finding out.With the coming snow I am looking forward to seeing how it manages en route back to the South West!

Thursday – Screen Test


Jeremy Poor old Jeremy Clarkson. He had such a terrible time trying to switch off the ‘voice’ on his Santa Fe’s satellite navigation that he Tweeted for help in frustration. With 870,000 followers, it wasn’t long before the Hyundai press office got back to him with simple instructions.

Our Santa Fe Premium has sat nav built in to the dashboard. A couple of the touchscreen buttons are  small and fiddly but it’s still better than many BMW systems I’ve battled with.

What I’ve discovered this week is that Jessica and I have a different approach to switching on sat ‘nag’ in the first place. Whilst I tend to drive around with the map permanently on, she only uses it when she has to. As soon as we swap places at the steering wheel, the screen is turned off.

For Jessica – and Jeremy Clarkson – this is very straightforward in the Hyundai. Click one button on the centre console and the job’s done. I’ve even managed to set up the voice-operated Bluetooth and operate the rear, fold-in-the-floor seats without losing a finger.

Car manufacturers have a tendency to over-complicate these days but operating the controls of the Santa Fe is intuitive, no-nonsense common sense. Next time to sit in a new car for the first time, see if you think the same.

Wednesday – An Alternative BMW X5

Jeremy It took me a couple of days but I’ve finally worked out what the latest  Hyundai Santa Fe looks like – a  cheap version of the BMW X5. I say ‘cheap’ because even this top spec Santa Fe costs some £13,000 less than the entry model X5.

Yes, of course, this isn’t a luxury brand German vehicle but a Korean pretender. Yet look at the stylish lines of the Santa Fe and you can understand why it’s a hugely popular SUV in the UK. I wasn’t a fan of the previous model, especially the rather naff rear end. However, the 2013 version is massive leap forward.

I’ve clocked up another 80 miles in the big Hyundai and, while I accept the interior may not have the same quality or refinement as a BMW, it is excellent value for money. The Premium version really wants for nothing and the seats are among the best I’ve sat in for months.

Today I’m heading in to London with the Santa Fe for the opening of the David Bowie costume exhibition at the V&A. Follow our tweets and pictures through the day at Twitter.