Saturday – SUV With Attitude

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Apparently, I’m young at heart. Well, according to Kia who designed the latest Sportage for people like me, who want to drive a compact SUV that looks that little bit different.

It has an understated ‘attitude’ which is urban-centric and aerodynamically pleasing to the eye. The Sportage is also the first Kia that I have actually wanted to drive, as well as launching a new design era for the brand.

If you can remember the nondescript former model, this one is light years ahead. It looks more sleek, athletic and is topped off at the front with the ‘tiger nose’ grille that is designer Peter Schreyer‘s trademark.

And it’s also good to be driving  a vehicle that isn’t a bland colour! The one parked outside today is sunburst orange. Normally I’d run a mile but on the Kia, it sort of works…

 

 

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 – Power Play

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The big front grille on the Veloster Turbo suggests this is a happy coupe – it’s certainly a cut above the normally aspirated versions further down the range, which only have 138bhp to play with. The Turbo’s 184bhp gives it a decent turn of speed, although in the US the same engine has been tweaked to 204bhp!

What a shame that American model isn’t available here. The Hyundai feels like it could handle a lot more performance. It would help give the Veloster the edge over key rivals like the VW Scirocco and Astra GTC.

Our Turbo pulls well from low revs and is pretty smooth too. You have to work the six-speed gearbox on twisty A-roads but it will reward you with decent handling – if only the flat sounding exhaust pipes added a more exciting soundtrack!

And despite the Star wars looks, the Veloster lacks features many of us are becoming used to, like stop-start technology and an electronic handbrake. Although, that might tempt some people to consider it more seriously…

Wednesday – Your Reliable Friend

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The best two words to sum up the Forester? Rugged and reliable. Yes, if you want chrome tailpipes and fancy stuff, go buy a Ford Kuga. You’ll regret it in the long run if you hanker for an SUV that actually does what it is meant to do.

There are times when I wish the Forester had a bit more style but I’d really rather  go for substance when buying a four-wheel drive – especially one that is obviously built to withstand whatever you can throw at it.

The 2013 version is a little noisy when pushed hard under acceleration but we’re still managing 42mpg in everyday use. This is helped by the six-speed gearbox, which is surprisingly slick for a chunky estate.

OK, so it doesn’t go around a corner with the poise of a Honda CR-V but the chances are you will be carrying a large dog, or a couple of sheep in the back anyway.

And it’s all backed up by a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty too. What more could you want?

 

 

Friday – Ugly Betty?

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I’m not sure the great British car-buying public really understand Subaru. Seriously, the company has carved out such a niche for itself that there are still a long of people out there who are still uncertain about the brand.

In a search for a family-friendly SUV, they either pay a premium for an image-conscious BMW or Audi all-wheel drive, or they go for a cheaper, pseudo 4×4 from Nissan or Renault that looks the part but will be left in the dirt when set against a Subaru.

Hopefully over the next seven days we can try and persuade you that despite the Ugly Betty looks, the Forester should definitely be on your list of options. It may not be as pretty as an X3 or a Q5 but it will prove ultra reliable, practical, brilliant off-road and kind of cool, in a slightly alternative type of way.

I’ve just driven our XC back from Heathrow. It has excellent road manners, takes a corner well and is surprisingly good fun on a twisty A-road. It may look a Plain Jane but the Forester is worthy of being regarded as much more than just a farmer’s car for carrying damp Border Collies.

Saturday – No Legs

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You know that feeling on a dual carriageway when you move out to overtake and realise the power just isn’t there? That happened today when  the 92bhp 2008 just didn’t have the legs to get past a lowly old Volvo.

I can’t say our 1.6 diesel feels sluggish around town but at motorways speeds, you really need the 115bhp model – or the 1.6 VTi petrol that produces 120bhp.

The 2008 isn’t a car that I’ve really warmed to yet. It feels more like a small minibus than an innovative, mini estate that will fulfil the motoring requirements of Peugeot’s global family.

It just doesn’t have enough going for it to put it above the crowd of urban crossovers out there, like the funky Renault Captur and the bug-eyed Nissan Juke.

A car like this needs more than a crazy interior headlining and a rather annoying aircraft-style handbrake lever.

 

Sunday – The Dog’s Do Das

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I don’t think I’ve ever driven a car as small as the Fiat 500. That’s small on the outside because inside, it seems to stretch to accomodate all you can throw at it. The back seats would certainly take two toddlers, or a couple of young teenagers.

Jessica and I managed to pack weekend bags, coats and assorted wet eather gear into the boot easily. Our backseat was a more than comfortable platform for a large, brown Vizsla who accompanied us to the Pembroke Arms in Wilton, near Salisbury.

Fitting Malin into an assortment of cars can be a test of nerve and ingenuity. I feared the worst with the 500 but he seems happier in it than most cars.

It’s either because he can sit upright with plenty of headroom, or because he read the blurb for the Pembroke Arms, which provided him with a dog bed, his own canine menu (steak, saugages – can you believe it!) and some biscuit treats as part of the deal.

You have to accept a few idiosyncracies with the Fiat interior. It’s tricky to find the slot for the safety belt, the white steering wheel and headrests are going to get grubby pretty quickly and the 500 really should have steering columns controls for the music system.

But I still sit very comfortably on the wide fabric seats and there’s a tremendous ambience about the cabin. If colour, form and function affect your driving mood, you really need to try a Colour Therapy.

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?

 

Sunday – CR-V Does Dorset

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Jeremy This weekend we have brought the CR-V on a trip down the A303 to beautiful Beaminster, in Dorset. We’re visiting friends who organise Buckham Fair (www.buckhamfair.co.uk) with their neighbour Martin Clunes.

If you were trying to tell an American how beautiful England is, you would probably end up describing the area around Beaminster. Thatched cottages, local events every weekend and the sort of winding, narrow roads American’s hate!

The CR-V is perfect for this kind of terrain – it’s not a monster like the Range Rover or X5 and can squeeze into passing places on country lanes. There’s a lot of that going, especially in the summer when the tourists descend on the coast area around Bridport.

The CR-V has a really useful reversing camera that lights up the navigation screen when in use. It’s especially good because the CR-V does have some substantial rear pillars that restrict over the shoulder visibility.

And we are getting 45mpg out of the 4×4, which I think is pretty decent too. It’s too hot to have the sun blinds open on the glass roof but in the cooler evenings, the extra light it affords is brilliant.

Monday – My Daily Commute

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Jeremy – The great part of being a freelance journalist is that you get to work from home. I left my last full-time post in 1997 and never miss the daily commute in and out of Bristol – no matter what test car I was driving back then.

The bad part of the job is that sometimes you do have to be somewhere early, joining the millions of other drivers making their daily drive to the office. This morning I had a two-hour drive to Gloucester, which was 76 miles of hell on A and B-roads.

You learn a lot about a car in that situation. Minor niggles become major gripes and you can fall out of love with even the most alluring supercar. Today’s 150 miles in the A3 were pretty sweet all things considered. I felt as fresh getting out of the car at my destination as I did when I first stepped in.

The Audi has excellent, supportive seats that seem to fit every type of driving. They grip you firmly in place on a tight bend and meet your back in all the right places on the motorway.

I found the driving position first class, with height adjustable steering column and telescopic adjustment too. No electric seats though, which seems like an oversight in a car cost this much. There is a neat fold down centre armrest that can be adjusted forwards and back as well.

It’s the same in the rear. I’m 5ft 10ins and had masses of knee room in all three seats. There are plenty of cubbyholes and spaces for driving paraphenalia, with a large boot included.

I’ve no desire to do a daily commute ever again but if I did, the Sportback would be on my list of options.