Monday – The Trout Man



Tasmanian Roger Butler has been fishing since he was six. His father taught him the basics and charged the youngster for every fly he lost in a tree or bush while learning to cast. It didn’t take him long to master the art.

Butler’s 2007 Mitsubishi Pajero used to belong to the police. Now he runs his fly fishing tours out of Hobart, using the 4×4 as his home from home. It’s loaded with more fishing equipment than you can shake a rod at.

Why does he drive a Mitsubishi off-roader and not a Toyota, like the rest of Tasmania? Butler says it fits his 6ft 5ins frame perfectly and is an admirable workhorse.

Butler is also the loudest person I have ever shared a car with for three days. He is a real-life Foghorn Leghorn, if you can remember that cartoon. He also fished with Billy Connolly when the comedian was in Tasmania for three days in 2010.

And I like him because despite his endless banter, he taught me to fly fish and then land my first three fish. Thanks Roger.

Friday – Fisherman’s Friend

cropped-img_1743.jpgGreg French’s 1991 Holden is a terrible car. He’d be the first to admit that the rust and pale bluehatchback has seen better times. In fact, when he turned up to collect me at Launceston Airport – that’s Launceston Tasmania, not Cornwall – I thought he must have been collecting somebody else.

Nope, my fishing guide for two days was there to collect me and the horrible Holden was going to transport me across the island to a remote location on the even more remote central plateau. After 38 hours of flying without sleep, I can’t say I was that impressed.

Soon the tarmac road ran out, then the gravel track, until finally we were crashing along over a rocky lane through the woods, miles from anywhere.

The Holden has covered 250,000 miles and cost around £1400. Greg expects to get 400,000 miles out of it but that doesn’t stop him bundling along at 45mph over a road that would frighten a Range Rover owner.

Greg believes in using his cars to the full, regardless of the consequences. So while everybody else drives a rufty tufty 4×4, we bottomed out on boulders and roots with alarming regularity.

After 40 miles of rough stuff, I had relaxed my grip on the melted dashboard and realised the Holden was tougher than it looked. Greg told me he prefers to spend his money on travelling rather than cars. I expect he will still be driving the same car when I return in a few years time…

Thursday – Hidden Gem


Rare to find a hidden gem these days but the GT86 is a thrilling example of what car manufacturers can do – when they don’t concentrate solely on luxury features that water down the joy of driving enthusiastically.

The Toyota may be a tad slow when compared to some of the hot hatchbacks out there, and the interior does suffer from some cheap materials. However, I can forgive that when a car returns so much driving pleasure.

A two-year-old GT86 would be a bargain buy in my book. The coupe has a great warranty and provided you can find one with a full service history – and some rubber left on the tyres – it’s great value for money.

At £25,000 a new GT86 is a steal too. Compared to the Nissan 370Z and Audi TT, it’s more exclusive and will give you just as many exciting moments. Plus, being a hidden gem, very few people seem to know what the GT86 is…

Wednesday – Two Cars In One


Don’t live near a Toyota garage but like the idea of a GT86? There is one option – buy a Subaru BRZ. The cars are identical apart from the badge on the bonnet.

In this era of shared platforms and technology, the two manufacturers have teamed up to create a brilliant coupe. If you are in the market for an Audi TT or a Nissan 370Z, the Toyota is the better value option too.

The GT86 can’t compete with them for outright performance as the 2.0-litre boxer engine is gutless by comparison. However, you can beef up the looks by opting for the TRD model, which has the same performance but has wider wheels, extra body trim and a tweaked exhaust.

You can also opt for an automatic gearbox in the standard car, although flicking through the six-speed manual gearbox is the best part of this brilliant handling 2+2.

Tuesday – The Worst Road in Britain?


In a slightly vain attempt to be objective about the GT86, I should point out that it isn’t totally fault-free. I’ve just driven 192-miles to Southampton and back to interview Sir Nigel Shadbolt – an expert in artificial intelligence – and the trip did expose a few weaknesses.

The journey took in my least favourite road across Wiltshire, the A350 down from the M4, past Chippenham and Wiltshire. It’s a nightmare of a drive, slow moving traffic, poor road surfaces and too many traffic lights. The Toyota didn’t like it one bit, crashing over pot holes and delivering huge amount of tyre noise.

Fuel consumption topped out at 31.2mpg, which probably isn’t that bad considering the circumstances but the six-speed manual gearbox is so high revving that pulling away smoothly from a junction demands a great deal of care.

On the way I took the A34 and the GT86 was loud in the cabin. You can’t mask it with music either because the sound system is on the weak side. At least the sat nav and media interface is simple to use.

Otherwise, I still can’t get enough of the Toyota. I forgive it everything just because it puts a smile on my face every day…

Monday – A Car For The Purist


I remember the first time I drove a Caterham 7 – it was during a motoring journalist test day and I won a set of tyres for being the fastest hack around the handling track. The 7 blew me away. It was like being in a four-wheel motorbike, brilliant on the corners, raucous and outrageously good fun.

How many cars do you know that which take back to the basics? You could probably count them on one hand because safety laws, economy and ‘sensible’ design means modern cars aren’t designed for the purist.

The GT86 doesn’t have a turbocharged engine, it’s rear-wheel drive and it would be thrashed from the traffic lights by a Golf GTI. Yet, the Golf has so much electronic wizardry keeping it on the road that it can leave you rather cold. It also costs more than the GT86.

So the Toyota is a car you really can’t afford to miss if you like enthusiastic driving. It will reward you by the bucketload and at £25,000, is an absolute steal…

Sunday – Like Finding A New Episode of Father Ted…


They only made 25 episodes of Father Ted and it’s now almost 20 years since we first watched Crilly, Dougal and Jack upset the Catholic church. I wonder how many times those 25 episodes have been repeated on the BBC, Dave and every other comedy station?

I’m guessing I’ve seen every programme but I’m also hopeful there is an episode that I’ve missed too. There must be one gem out there – like a hidden Fawlty Towers… Discovering the GT86 has been a Father Ted moment, the car’s been on the market for two years but I’d totally overlooked it.

Maybe it’s because I just read the average 0-60mph time of 7.7 seconds and assumed the Toyota was dressed to thrill but didn’t actually have the performance to match?

The passenger seats are a little hard, tyre noisy is high, the trim is nothing like a BMW and the back seats are more of a parcel shelf. Despite all that, I just love this car – maximum fun for relatively modest money.

Saturday – Banned Toyota Ad


I’ve just been watching a Toyota commercial on YouTube which was banned in the UK. It’s animated and shows a ‘man in a suit’ driving his standard issue, dull car around a city. Bored with the electronic wizardry that has sucked all the pleasure out of his motoring, he then discovers the GT86.

I’m imagining it was banned because of what follows next. He climbs in the Toyota and screams around the city, rather fast and in a terribly naughty way. Because it flouts every road safety rule in the book, the ad was not allowed on your television screen.

Madness. The advertising standards people obviously haven’t watched an episode of Top Gear. You probably have a teenager in his bedroom right now playing a cyber war game that makes the Toyota ad look like an episode of the Magic Roundabout.

It’s simply enough to find the GT86 ad on YouTube – have a look and see what you think. I won’t be screaming around a city centre in such a reckless fashion but I can tell you the GT86 is the most exciting car I’ve driven in a long time…

Friday – Toyota GT86


You don’t need a week to get to know some cars – it took four miles to appreciate the fine handling and driver focused thrills on tap in Toyota’s fantastic GT86.

Once I’d discovered the coupe red lines at about 7000rpm, it was the only excuse I needed to push the GT86 along at a very brisk pace.

Here is a car that like the Mazda MX-5, doesn’t require a dazzling 0-60mph time to put a smile on your face. It’s beautifully balanced, with a short throw, precise gearbox that totally engages with the driver.

Some reviews will tell you that the rear seats and boot space are tiny, that the car has higher than average emissions and fuel economy is average. If that worries you, then yes, the Toyota isn’t the one.

But if ‘fun’ still registers on your driving radar, it’s definitely worth your hard earned cash.

Thursday – Panda Shoots & Leaves


Last, sunny day with the Panda 4×4. A memorable week which has left me totally undecided about the merits of a tiny four-wheel drive based on a supermini.

Whether you think the Fiat is cute or contorted, it does turn heads. The upright styling doesn’t do it for me, even with the extra body mouldings and chrome scuff plates front and rear. The Panda is just too small for the off-road make-over.

Inside, the ‘squircles’ design theme is taken to the limit and gives some of the dash dials an awkward look and feel. This is especially true of the heater dials, which look like they have melted in the sun. While the door handles are awkward to grip.

There’s room for four adults, just, but you wouldn’t want to be travelling too far in the back. The boot is a decent size and there are plenty of storage spaces – many more than bigger cars usually offer.

Overall, the Panda 4×4 works best in an urban environment, or as a second car for those bad winter days of ice and snow. As that is a luxury few of us can afford, I’m not entirely sure who will buy the Panda 4×4, despite it’s excellent off-road abilities.