Mazda3 – Wins A Sobering Award From The Clan Of Scottish Motoring Journalists

749120_260913-1-mazI can only imagine the carnage at St Andrews this morning following last night’s Scottish Car of the Year Awards (ahem, that’s SCOTY for short). The illustrious gentlemen of the press who live north of the border are famous in motoring circles for not leaving so much as a drop in their glasses.

At least they could rub the sleep out of their eyes knowing they had done a good job by picking the Mazda3 as the car of the year in the Family Car category. It beat the Citroen Cactus (reviewed elsewhere on Car Couture) and the Peugeot 308.

A good choice and a brave one, considering what’s on offer from Ford and Vauxhall. Personally, I’d have called it a tie with the Cactus – a car that dares to be different.

The Mazda’s brilliant Skyactiv engines were highly commended but I would disagree with judges who said the 3’s interior was ‘Mazda’s best yet’. For me, the plain dashboard does nothing to excite the senses and is the one weak point of the car….


Mazda 3 – Shaped Like A Clown’s Boot – Or A Golden Slipper?


Here’s a fact – the Mazda3 costs considerably less than a VW Golf. It’s arguable much prettier, holds its value well and keeping it on the road won’t cost a packet either.

This week’s test car is a top spec Sport Nav model costing in excess of £21,000 but opt for one of the cheaper versions and the 3 starts to look like a very good deal indeed.

I also happen to like the styling of the ‘big-mouth’ Mazda’s front-end. Unlike the ‘sad-faced’ MINI it’s a car that seems to welcome you to the driveway every morning. Sweet.

True, inside the 3 is less than dazzling, with a plain uncluttered dashboard that does little to set the pulses racing. However, on Day One of Mazda ownership, I’m more enthused than I thought I might have been…

Jeep Wrangler Overland – Bouncy, Noisy And Uncouth – The Most Fun Car Of 2014!


How do you decide on which car to buy – is it the badge, price, practicalities or something else? Because I don’t have to make the school run or even commute to work, the number one factor for me is fun.

Which is probably why the Wrangler has been the surprise car of 2014. I was expecting a rugged workhorse with little to offer as an everyday drive. Most of the reviews on the web seem to pour scorn on the Jeep.

If I was in the market for a new Land Rover Defender, I would certainly consider the Wrangler as a viable alternative. It’s fun enough for me to ignore with the bouncy suspension, the body roll on corners and the noisy engine.

The Jeep may have been around for more than 70 years but this latest version is more refined enough to enjoy both on-road and off. That and the cool looks give it the edge over the current Land Rover….

Jeep Wrangler Overland – Takes You Back To The Days Of John Wayne And MASH

jeep5The Wrangler makes me want to watch an episode of MASH – or one of those old war films where John Wayne steps out of a Jeep in full military kit, chewing a fat cigar. Yep, from the front, the basic Jeep hasn’t changed much in 70 years.

What is very different about this 2011 update model is that it’s now available as a five-door too. We’re driving the three-door, which does have rear seats but only offers a decent amount of luggage space when that bench is tumbled forward.

Wayne might have walked better if he had driven this current model too. Yes the Jeep bounces and shimmies on the road but the leather-clad seats of the Overland model are soft and comfortable, soaking up a lot of the pain.

He could have made it to the front line a lot quicker using the standard sat nav and the heated seats are among the hottest I’ve experienced too…

Jeep Wrangler Overland – Whatever Happened To The Handbrake? Always Good To Grab In A Crisis

349280_250210jee.jpgFreezing cold trip to the train station this morning – ice covered Jeep but still slightly more tempting to drive than the 1972 canvass-topped Land Rover parked next to it. Mainly because the Land Rover doors had frozen shut in the first serious frost of the year!

Watching the Wrangler defrost, I noted a few features which are becoming increasingly rare on modern cars. The first is an aerial – remember when every car had a whip of metal waiting to be broken off by a passing vandal?

Inside, there’s also a handbrake. Now, I long for the return of the handbrake because so many new models opt for the electronic version which seems to have a mind of its own most of the time and just isn’t as reassuring as hauling a lever upwards.

So I drove off with the Jeep handbrake engaged this morning. I guess that’s one of the consequences when you climb back into a vehicle with old technology. Still, I miss having something to grab in a crisis…


Jeep Wrangler Overland – Dated In Every Way But Perhaps That’s Part of the Charm?


352148_040310jeeThe last time Jeep made significant changes to the Wrangler was back in 2011. The upgrades were all to the interior, adding such luxuries as heated seats and steering wheel controls – plus some sound insulation, which really works!

This may explain why Jeep (now part of the Fiat family) don’t offer any up to date photographs of the Wrangler – nearly everything on their official press site dates back to 2011.

As a journalist, that’s kind of weird. You might notice the images Car Couture are using have 2011 number plates – very dated and hardly conducive to encouraging readers to rush out and buy a new Wrangler!

I imagine the theory is that if you have a vehicle that looks almost the same as it did in 1941, they why worry about a few press images being out of date…


Jeep Wrangler Overland – More Chic Than A Land Rover In The Cotswolds…



There’s some writing inscribed on the dashboard grab handle in the Wrangler. It simply states ‘since 1941’. Not even Land Rover can match that – the first Series I didn’t arrive until 1948.

And while the latest Jeep is a darn site more comfortable that that first model, it still looks very much like that 74-year-old machine that drove the Americans into the Second World War.

Oddest thing is, I am actually enjoying the Jeep so much more than expected. It’s attracting plenty of attention too. The Wrangler is almost chic, in a rough and tumble sort of way. The Cotswolds is awash with Land Rovers of every shape and size – driving the Jeep is that little bit different.

As well as that, the Wrangler is also just as capable in the rough stuff as a Defender. It also happens to be a lot more comfortable, thanks to a softer suspension set-up. Both it and the Defender crash over potholes and can be jolly bouncy but somehow the Jeep edges it.

Land Rover can’t introduce their replacement for the Defender fast enough, I’d say. It’s due in 12 months time…

Jeep Wrangler – Rather Better Than We Expected For A Dirt-Loving Beast


I’ve read the ‘other’ reviews and today I’ve experienced the on-road antics of the Wrangler. Nobody seems to like the ride, the jittering nature of the steering and suspension, or the suspect handling. I’ve read all that and today I’ve felt it first hand.

However, what you have to remember about the Jeep is, that just like the Land Rover Defender, it’s not been designed for tarmac. No, it’s a workhorse first and foremost. They can carpet the floor, stitch leather to the seats and add a decent infotainment system but the Wrangler and Defender are essentially beasts that love the dirt.

Anybody who buys either for serious, everyday use really needs rewiring themselves. So, all I can tell you having driven it is that the Wrangler has been a pleasant surprise. It’s a lot softer on the road than a Defender, rather more comfortable and this 2.8 version is pretty quiet too.

So, yes, it’s a lot better than I expected. My spine hasn’t been jolted out of place, my ears aren’t ringing and I haven’t slipped off a wet road into a hedge. Yet.

Fact is, I’m pleasantly surprised. We have a Defender coming in early February and I’m already wondering how it will compare…

VW Golf GTI Performance Pack – Why LSD Can Be Good For Your Driving Skills!


If you want one very good reason to opt for the Performance Pack it should be the one that is the least obvious – the limited slip differential, which is a first for the GTI.

Now, most LSDs are mechanical devices, designed to stop the driven wheels scrabbling for grip when you start to lose it on a corner.

However, the VW system is a much cleverer affair that is electronically controlled. All you need to know is that it works exceptionally well and saves embarrassing tyre squeal at junctions too!

All GTIs have incredible traction anyway but the Performance Pack takes raises the bar, especially if you like to drive your Golf hard and enjoy the occasional track day…



VW Golf GTI Performance Pack – Loves Bends, Hates Traffic


There are certain stretches of road that seem to have been left untouched by the ravages of traffic. We all know one – today I drove via Tewkesbury to Eastnor Castle for the unveiling of the Range Rover Holland & Holland special edition. Yours for £180,000…

The GTI wasn’t the most eye-catching vehicle in the car-park but I can tell you that road from Tewkesbury towards Ledbury just makes you want to buy a set of string-backed leather driving gloves.

It just proved to me what I already knew – that the latest GTI is simply the best handling hot hatch out there. I’m not sure the extra 10bhp on offer from the Performance Pack made that much difference because the Golf just sits beautifully on the tarmac through a sweeping bend.

Until the Focus and Astra, the VW has sporting DNA that just comes with the course of time. The Ford and Vauxhall may be quicker but neither take a bend like a Golf GTI…