Monday – A Henry Not A Dyson

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We took the Mazda6 to the Sculpture Trail in the Forest of Dean today – a sort of outdoor collection of random objects made out of wood and stone. Twenty years after I first walked the route, it was something of a disappointment.

A grey, miserable Gloucestershire day was brightened only by the journey in our inconspicuous Japanese saloon. The 6 may lack a killer punch in terms of styling or gizmos but it does everything expected of it.

If it was a vacuum cleaner it would definitely be a Henry. Nothing flashy but guaranteed to get the job done with the minimum of fuss. BMW would be Dyson, of course.

We still have a full half tank of fuel left after some 375 miles, which considering the way I have been driving the Mazda, is pretty remarkable.

 

Thursday – Oversize And Over Here

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Jessica… The Camaro is the epitome of all the stereotypes we relate to America and Americans.

Its big, its shameless and it hasn’t even tried to pretend that burning fossil fuels has an environmental impact.  Who cares how much fuel you burns on the open road when everyone has the right to live the American dream?

All that is missing is a hand gun in the glove box…

We are, however, fascinated by the uncompromising and openly brash nature of the American psyche. Secretly, we would like to be part of that dream.

The Chevrolet is very hard to dislike. The seats are big and comfy and the interior is retro, without any soft lines or compromise to a softer, contemporary look.

The four-dial, clock style information unit (featuring information that you really don’t need!) is cool and takes you right back to the seventies.

The drive is as brash as the look, fast, with a firm foot required to slow down the vast engine, it’s miles away from the soft touch driving we have come to expect from modern high performance cars.

But left-hand driving aside, plus the fact that you have to be aware of being very wide on our bijoux country roads, the Camara is fun, ridiculous and very hard not to enjoy.

I did once own a giant Chevy Blazer. Again the idea was fun, the smell of old leather, the shift stick on the steering wheel, the throaty engine of huge gas guzzling proportions.

But the reality of driving it on English roads meant it did not stay long.  But for a while being part on an American stereotype was highly amusing, though impossible to keep up.

Wednesday – The Small Issues

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We’ve already highlighted some of the quirky features of the Camaro which owners are just going to have to live with. As the days have passed, a few more have come to light!

I thought the large screen infotainment system would include a sat nav system but apparently it doesn’t. Well, if it’s there, you are certainly going to struggle to find it.

The boot is huge for a convertible, except the opening hatch through to the space is tiny. The boot lid doesn’t feature a proper internal handle either, so on a wet November day in England, you will get your hands dirty.

Access to the rear two seats – little people only – looks straightforward enough, except the handle to lower the front seat forward is situated in the wrong place, so you have to reach right in to the car to find it.

And finally, it has tiny sun visors, which are fixed forward. That means if the sun is shining in from the side of the car, you will be left squinting.

Individually, these little things don’t add up to much but together, they might become a daily headache…

 

Tuesday – Attention To Detail

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Here are a few random reasons why the 911 Cabriolet is the best soft-top on the market. First, when you open the door after a rainstorm, the water doesn’t drip in to the cabin. Does your car do that?

Second, if it rains when the top is down, provided you don’t come to a grinding stop, you will stay dry. Such are the aerodynamics of this car.

Thirdly, there is a second sat nav screen that pops up in the instrument binnacle when you come to a navigation instruction. So, you have an overall map in the main dashboard that affords a general view – then the second explains graphically where you need to turn.

And finally, the wind deflector really is a work of art. Instead of manually pulling a deflector out of the boot and fighting to install it at the roadside, this one works beautifully. The frame pops up automatically, then the fabric material stretches over it.

You see, it’s the attention to detail that makes a great car…

Saturday – Magnesium Sandwich Anybody?

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That’s right – every 911 Cabriolet comes with a magnesium sandwich as standard. You won’t find it in the glovebox but in the roof. One of the reasons why it’s so easy to forget this is a convertible not a coupe is down to the design of the electric hood.

Design in a 911 Cabriolet has always been incredible but this latest model takes it to new levels. Sandwiched between the fabric components of the roof is a layer of magnesium, which forms a coupe-style hard top when it is in place.

The result is minimal road noise but just enough to let you and your passenger enjoy the rasp from the 3.4-litre engine behind you. It’s nothing short of remarkable – although I’d dread to think what it costs to replace!

God decided to make it rain for the last 48 hours in the south of England, so that roof is staying firmly in place. My only problem so far? Remembering the seventh gear in the manual gearbox. To be honest, if I was buying I’d opt for the auto -a round the town you need Fatima Whitbread‘s legs to work that heavy clutch pedal

Sunday – A Man From Down Under

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One of the Australian branch of Jessica’s extensive family is in England at the moment. Young Freddie is a twentysomething chap who lives in Perth and works out his fuel economy in miles per kilometer. What better person to cast a youthful eye over the 2008?

I have to admit, I truly thought Freddie would dismiss the Peugeot at first glance – after all, he’s used to driving proper 4x4s and utility vehicles. But surprisingly, Freddie seemed to like the pseudo off-road image of the 2008.

Australian’s also aren’t used to stop-start engine technology, designed to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy. I suppose that’s because once you are out of an Australian city, you don’t have to stop very often.

Freddie was pretty amazed by the 67mpg we managed in the Peugeot today, although we couldn’t quite work out what it was in kilometres.

The 2008 is continuing to go up in my estimations too. It feels more comfortable on the road than the Nissan Juke and there is less wallow on fast corners. I think noise levels and general refinement would improve with a six-speed gearbox and the larger diesel engine – otherwise it should be on your list to test drive if you are searching for a crossover vehicle.

Freddie won’t be buying one though. He couldn’t fit his surfboards in the back.

Saturday – Buzz Bomb

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Wiltshire was gridlocked last night. A major downpour in this country and everything comes grinding to a halt – not much fun in a little motor like the Fiat 500.  We arrived at the exquisite Pembroke Arms in Wilton (www.pembrokearms.co.uk), parked the car in a puddle and dashed in.

The hotel has a first floor ballroom that comes straight from the pages of a Jane Austen novel. In the nineteenth century guests would have arrived by carriage, which made our entrance in a brightly coloured supermini even more comical.

However, don’t be fooled by the size of 500 or the TwinAir’s 875cc engine. What it lacks in stature it makes up for in style and performance. It’s the only retromobile that has an interior which puts a smile on your face – every time you get in. Much more exciting than a Mini.

It’s quite simply a masterclass in cool, even if our Colour Therapy model lacks steering wheel-mounted control buttons for the entertainment unit, plus a seat height adjustment lever mounted on the left of the seat that could easily be grabbed instead of the handbrake!

And if two-cylinders and 85bhp don’t sound much, in the lightweight 500 it adds up to a whole lot of fun. The engine note under acceleration sounds like a World War Two bomber coming into land – it would be rude to say sewing machine.

You have to work through the five-speed gearbox a bit but the results are amazing. The TwinAir just loves a sound thrashing and responds with loads of heart. Not only that but we’ve driven 65 miles around Wiltshire today and the fuel gauge hasn’t moved yet!

So what’s missing? Well, just a trip computer to tell us what the economy is – we have to be averaging more than 60mpg and I’m not exactly holding back with the right foot! More tomorrow…

Friday – American Pie

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Chevrolet – it’s a name that conjures up images of all things American, from Bruce Springsteen to apple pie. Chevy is at the heart of it, famed for producing bold and brash cars that really don’t have any place on the streets of England.

Until now that is. Today there’s a whole range of smaller Chevrolets out there to back up the feel-good Corvette and Camaro. Newest of them all is the Trax. In the US it would probably be used as a golf buggy but here, Trax is classed as a small SUV and competes against cars like the Nissan Juke and Skoda Yeti.

Chevrolet has the advantage of a great name though (would you rather own up to driving a Skoda or a Chevy?) and they’ve used it to full effect with the largest darn grille you will see this side of the Mississippi.

It’s the only feature that is big, bold and brash about this little car. You can’t miss it and the grille sets up the rest of the car’s curvy shape nicely. Our bright blue example seems a steal at under £19,000 and with a frugal diesel engine capable of more than 60mpg, what’s not to like about this baby Chevy so far?

 

Wednesday – Pulling It’s Weight

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Jeremy I’ve always towed boats but this is the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire and that means horseboxes. The ‘Glossy Possy’ who live here aren’t short of a bob or two and you are judged by the size of your horsebox – just like actors always want the biggest Winnebago mobile home on location.

There are no ponies grazing on our lawn but Jessica has owned a few in her time. Her grandfather, Jack, was the youngest member of the British equestrian team at the Berlin Olympics in 1936!

Mitsubishi UK are based just up the road in Cirencester, so hard-working Shoguns and L200’s are as common as muck with the equine set. But they shouldn’t rule out the Outlander, mainly because it has an impressive tow weight of two tons – more than many key rivals.

And with just the front two rows of seats in place, the boot space is massive. Plenty big enough for two or three large dogs, although if you pull out the two third row seats at the rear, luggage capacity is severely  limited.

 

 

Saturday – DABbling With The Radio

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Jeremy A frustrating day aboard the RXH. Even with the air conditioning running, it wasn’t the best time to be sat in the driver’s seat for an hour trying to work out how to get the DAB radio working. I should have walked away after 30 minutes but it’s the only way I can hear England retained the Ashes on Radio Live Live Sport Extra!

Like other Peugeot‘s we have tested with a DAB radio, the 508 has a retro-fit key-fob thingy which operates the system. I guess it’s because the Pug is a French car where they don’t have digital broadcasting, so something had to be added for the British market. Despite an extra three pages of instructions on A4, I still only found the correct settings by accident.

On top of this, the sat nav had a meltdown in the heat. The map kept disappearing off the screen and I had to re-set the location several times. There’s also a constant squeak coming from somewhere near the back seats. It sounds like a pack of mice having a tea party.

On the plus side, I am still marvelling at the occasions when the electric motor kicks in to drive the car forward, making the diesel engine redundant. It’s usually only around town at low speed but it’s impossible not to feel slightly smug and virtuous. Shame the fuel consumption is nowhere like the 68mpg claimed. I’m getting 48mpg at best and that’s genuinely driving carefully….