Saturday – Honey I Lost the Car!

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I’ll admit it. I’ve just walked past the rear of the IS300h thinking it was a BMW 3 Series. I was on the mobile and distracted but I suddenly found myself down the wrong end of the car park looking for a Lexus.

Have a peep at the boot in our photo above – is there a BMW designer moonlighting in Japan I wonder? No mistaking the front end though, with those bug-eyed headlights on the IS.

There are also more welcome similarities with the BMW when it comes to handling. This latest IS is incredibly precise around corners and feels every inch a driver’s car, although it’s not as fast to 60mph as the diesel Beemer.

And then there’s the artificial noise generator! The Lexus delivery driver told me our SE had a system that sent sound into the cabin to simulate the sound of the engine, sometimes missing in a hybrid. As of today, I’m not entirely sure when the SE has it or not.

To be honest, I don’t want to know if it is fitted because it’s much more fun trying to work out whether it is there or not! I’ll get to the bottom of it, once I’ve had time to open the manual….

Friday – The Nike IS300h?

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Pretty from most angles and, it seems, sponsored by Nike? Subliminal advertising has obviously reached new levels of cunningness when you consider the shape of the IS300 daytime running lights.

Yes, I should be writing about the petrol-electric lump sat under the bonnet, the stylish bodyshape that will have BMW 320d drivers spitting blood, and the bizarre engine noise switch in the cabin (more on that tomorrow!).

However, as we are talking couture here, look at those swooshy lights! Maybe the designer was checking out his sneakers when he found that moment of inspiration…

What the front lights do well is distract your attention from the bizarre grille. The shape suggests that it has melted in the middle. Weird and slightly scary, if you suffer from migraines.

That aside, the styling of the Lexus is light years ahead of the corporate BMW. Of course, most buyers of both will spend their days in a suit but the baby IS is genuinely a thing of beauty.

Tuesday – Coupe On Steroids

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There are moments when I’ve really enjoyed the DS5 – it’s usually when I’m passing a shop window and see the reflection in the glass. There are admiring glances because the Citroen looks like a rather outsize coupe on steroids.

I’m desperately trying to resist using the phrase form over function but with the DS, it really does come down to that. The driving experience is best described as average and that’s a huge shame considering how much attention went in to creating a car that looks so darn good. Inside and out!

It is very practical and with the back seats lowered, also swallows up a large amount of anything. The subwoofer in the boot eats into space a little but nothing too intrusive.There are storage spaces everywhere, including a massive bin under the centre armrest.

If the DS5 had been designed by the French but engineered by Germans, I rather feel it would have been a much better car than it is…

Monday – Sun Out, Top Down

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It’s been a long wait but the sun has finally got his hat on over the Cotswolds today – perfect weather for woolly chapeau and a Porsche 911 Cabriolet. And I actually have to drive to Banbury for a reason, so I don’t feel bad about leaving the office and ‘making progress’ in the Porsche.

I believe the sign of a great cabriolet is when it looks as good with the top up and is does down. With the Porsche it’s the other way around. The 911 is sensational roof on – and just exquisite with it tuck away under the automatic tonneau cover.

The roof mechanism is fast too and there’s a separate button for the wind deflector which keeps the draught away from the back of you neck and deadens the noise front the rear-mounted engine. Although that rather adds to the excitement…

One fact I have found about the 911 is that either the seats or my backside need a little extra padding. While the Porsche can be a very usable everyday car (unlike a Ferrari F430, for example), my bum is numb after 45 minutes behind the wheel. They are great sports seats for throwing the 911 around a corner, just not soft enough for a well-trimmed driver…

Sunday – Sixth Sense

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I can’t help but compare our 911 to the Jaguar XKR-S we tested earlier this year. While the Big Cat has a much bigger engine, the Porsche feels more refined, agile and surefooted on the road – probably thanks to its smaller body dimensions and the addition of four-wheel drive.

For some reason, I’ve also found the 911’s seven-speed manual gearbox a bit tiresome around town. It’s not just the heavy clutch but using sixth gear and has become a bit of a struggle for me. I can only describe it as similar to looking for the gate to a reverse gear – tricky at high speed!

I thought the seventh gear would be fairly redundant in a car like this but you can cruise along a congested A-road in top gear with the engine still responding to the slightest tweak. A remarkable engine, it’s barely audible at cruising speeds, even with the sport exhaust in operation.

There still hasn’t been a chance to lower the hood, every time the sun comes out today it seems to be followed by a cloudburst! The acoustics of the hood are so good, I’ve almost forgotten this is a convertible…

 

 

Thursday – Fine Tuning

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What is it about the Veloster that’s missing? All week I’ve been trying to put my finger on it. Maybe the lack of power, the okay steering, or the trim materials that are way behind an Audi TT perhaps?

It’s hard to find a major fault with this Hyundai but there are a lot of niggling issues which, when added together, make this feel like a car that falls just short.

And that’s a shame because the edgy styling, both inside and out, suggest the Veloster is going to be a lot better than it actually is. I really wanted it to be a great car but it needs some work to compete with key rivals in the coupe sector.

People just love to stare at the Veloster and you can understand why. However, it’s only when you live with it for a week that the realities of ownership appear.

I wanted to love the Hyundai – it deserves to be loved – but it’s a car that needs some fine tuning to find a place in my heart.

Monday – Living Up To The Promise?

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The Veloster doesn’t quite live up to it’s promising looks. While the interior is refreshingly different, there’s enough space to carry four adults and it really does turn heads, the 186bhp 1.6 turbo lacks the punch a funky coupe like this needs.

It’s zippy enough around town (0-60mph in 8.4 seconds) but get it on a motorway and the Hyundai feels like it is straining. Not only that but the fuel consumption drops away dramatically to around 33mpg. Not quite what I expected, if I’m honest.

There’s also an issue with the suspension in this Turbo model. It’s been beefed up compared to the standard car, which is great for cornering but firm otherwise – especially if you are carrying a full complement of passengers.

And unlike an Audi TT or an Astra GTC, the Veloster somehow doesn’t sit comfortably on the road at high speed. It’s more susceptible to cross winds and fidgets.

Still, at this price, the Hyundai does represent great value for money. And unlike an Audi TT or Astra GTC, you are driving something just that little bit different…

Tuesday – More Fuel For Thought

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Last week I heard from an old friend who I knew as a teenager in Ross-on-Wye. He used to service my father’s Citroen CX – a car so complex under the bonnet that not even Haynes sold a user manual!

The CX has a spinning ball speedometer, self-centering steering and was, quite frankly, bonkers. My  friend was brave enough to risk tinkering with crazy French engineering.

I just wonder what he would make of the X1 engine. Like every modern car, it’s so complex that filling the water bottle is about as far as most people go these days. Besides, it makes a mess of your warranty.

The 1.6 diesel in our X1 is a lot more lively than I thought it was going to be, at 11.5 seconds to 60mph. I’d probably opt for the 2.0d if I was buying an X1 but the 1.8 would be a good compromise.

We are currently averaging 43mpg, rather less than the 57.6mpg that BMW claim. However, I’m expecting over 550mpg from this tank of diesel, which is excellent. BMW claim 772 miles, which would be quite remarkable.

Sunday – Model of Refinement

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The X1 sits just a couple of inches higher than a 1 Series hatchback and it drives more car-like than SUV too. The steering is well weighted and precise (although some might find it heavy) – the brakes offer lots of feel and are reassuringly firm on the pedal.

I’ve been trying to find the X1’s Achilles Heel but I’m struggling to be honest. I can’t remember the last time I was disappointed by a BMW and the X1 is cut from the same cloth.

Everything inside the cabin is tasteful and beautifully laid out. Refinements to the rotary-controlled iDrive system mean there is no longer much need to reach for the handbook when you want to adjust the entertainment or sat nav system either.

For a small car with raised suspension, it’s remarkably comfortable. The seats are manually adjusted but with a bit of playing round you will find the perfect driving position, which leaves plenty of room for two passengers in the back as well.

Of course, all those extras fitted to our test car are expensive in a BMW – so choose you model and spec it up carefully. I can recommend the panoramic sunroof though.

 

 

Friday – X Marks The Spot?

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It’s no surprise that BMW decided to cash in on the runaway success of the X3 and X5 with a smaller, beefed up version of the 1 Series. X1 has been around for four years now, although it hasn’t lived up to the acclaim of its bigger siblings.

The X1 on my driveway this morning is the entry level version. As you might expect for a car costing almost £24,000, it oozes BMW quality from every angle. The key problem with this mini SUV is that it just doesn’t quite look the part, like an X3 or X5.

The smaller dimensions don’t allow the designers much room for creativity and, consequently, the X1 doesn’t sit as squat and robust on the road as an SUV should. There’s an awful lot of bonnet but not much cabin, which means the X1 looks a little front heavy and awkward.

The goods news is that inside, the X1 is a masterclass in premium brand quality. From the ‘X’ embossed seats to the matt wood trim on the dashboard, it feels like a very classy vehicle indeed. And this is just the SE trim!