The VW Passat is the M&S of family cars. BMW is Waitrose and Skoda a worthy Tesco…


Volkswagen sell more Passats than BMW or Audi make cars, a staggering 1.1 million a year. The benchmark family-mobile is bought in huge numbers around the world – especially in the US and China.

After a week in the top spec GT estate, I think I can understand why. The Passat is the M&S of cars. It has a perceived quality in the UK which many people aspire too. BMW and Audi? Well, I guess they would be Waitrose. Skoda and Hyundai equals Tesco.

The British still believe a car says more about you than most of us would care to admit. And over the last 42 years, the Passat has built up an aura around itself that seems to appeal to that vast majority of people.

Our 4Motion GT model might be from M&S’s premium range but there are plenty of diesel-powered gems that cost much less lower down the range.

The bottom line is that the Passat is a class act. That’s especially true of this latest version which somehow manages to be all things to all people. Which I seem to remember is what VW was originally created to be…

You might think that the latest VW Passat is having something of a mid-life crisis to coincide with mine.


Does my bum look big in this? No, I thought not. The Passat may have a 650-litre boot that swells to 1780-litres with the back seats folded flat but it still manages to contend for the rear of the year in the estate category.

In fact, the changes to this eight generation model are so subtle that it’s only the rear view that gives the games away. Check out those neat, slit-eyed exhaust slots on either side – as pretty as a Jaguar XF estate.

With four-wheel drive and 237bhp of power on tap in the Bi TDI, this may lead you to think that the latest Passat is having something of a mid-life crisis to coincide with mine.

Not so. The car doesn’t have the sporty edge of a BMW 3 Series and still feels like, well, a Passat. It’s a brilliant buy, hugely practical and well screwed together but there’s still a dollop of excitement missing in the driving experience…

SEAT Leon ST FR – Yes Or No? But I’m The Only Voter…


Last day with the Leon ST – will it be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote? Hmm, tricky one but I think overall the Leon estate  is a car I would recommend.

As a piece of eye candy it doesn’t really work for me but as a no-nonsense, practical estate, the latest edition to the Leon family is every inch as good as a Golf estate (and it costs less too).

The Leon doesn’t boast any seriously mouthwatering features – it just does everything an estate should do very well. Spacious, frugal and well-built, it would make a good addition to any family home.

Not on that, it isn’t a Ford or a Vauxhall – which means it also has a bit more street creed too. Go Scotland!



SEAT Leon ST FR – Are You Sitting Comfortably?


There’s something not quite right about the driving position in the SEAT. I’ve been wriggling around all week, trying to find the perfect spot but it has yet to happen. I am not sitting comfortably.

Car seats these days are soooo much better than they used to be. It’s not so long ago that all we had to fiddle with was a lever to go for and aft, and a tilt for the back of the seat. Actually, my 1972 Land Rover has neither.

After 29 years of testing cars, all I can say is that the best, most ergonomically designed seats are no longer available. Saab were simply brilliant and a survey by the Back Pain Society discovered they had the best support.

Whatever it is about the Leon seat I just can’t identify. The rest of the interior is exceptionally good, even in the back. Maybe it’s just those 29 years of testing cars catching up with me…

SEAT Leon ST – Just What The Buddhist ordered…


I’ve just interviewed the Buddhist leader, his Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa. It’s not every day that you have a chance to speak to a man who is the head of a religion that has millions of followers around the world. He’s teaching nuns the art of kung fu – a great story for the Times.

The monks and nuns who live in 800 monasteries around the Himalayas enjoy a simple life of meditation, contemplation – and kung fu! They get up at 3am and their high kicking yelps can be heard around the town. Slightly annoying for the neighbours, I’ve read.

If the Drukpa Buddhists were in the market for a fleet of cars, I’d suggest the Leon ST. Why? Well, it’s not too flash, has plenty of room for kung fu followers in the back and won’t bust the budget.

The Leon also has a bit of a kick when you put your foot down. Our test car is the automatic DSG but it doesn’t need much encouragement to go very fast indeed. Only the tyre noise lets it down, ore intrusive than any car I’ve tested for a while…


Hyundai i40 Tourer – The Lidl of The Automotive World…


Let’s be honest, there was a time when people only bought an Hyundai because it was value for money. It was the Lidl supermarket of the automotive world – alongside Kia and Proton.

Now, just like Lidl, the Korean company is thriving and we are buying loads of them, instead of stalwart favourites from Ford and Vauxhall.

The i40 goes today and we think it’s one of the best offerings from the Hyundai stable. Great to look at inside and out, practical, reliable and still relatively good value for money.

With a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty, anyone looking for medium-sized family estate would be crazy not to take one for a test drive.

We have a SEAT Leon ST FR coming today – perhaps a good comparison for the Hyundai but with a more sporty edge…


Hyundai i40 – Beeping Cars, Do We Need Them?


Beeping cars – do we need them? Sounds like a good Tweet. It’s often American motors that have been designed for people who live their life surrounded by safety nets.

You know, cars that have phrases like ‘objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear’ stickers on them, or people who consciously note that a McDonald’s apple pie may have ‘contents that are hot’.

It seems the world is slipping towards a giant safety net to ensure corporations aren’t sued for building cars that ‘might run you over’ if you step out in front of them.

The i40 has it’s fair share of beep warnings. Most are linked to the keyless ignition and can be infuriating. I don’t need a car that tells me I have left the key inside, or in gear, or that I’m reversing too close to the car behind. I know, I can see it over my shoulder.

Where will we be in 50 years time I wonder? It could all be a beeping nightmare…