Saturday – The BMW Factor

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The Saturday morning run along Wiltshire‘s Great Ridge almost came unstuck today. Not because of the large number of shooters out, or the horse that spooked my dog. No, I just completely forgot that this X1 isn’t four-wheel drive.

So when I parked on the slippery bank, about 100 yards down a farm track, I didn’t take into account the ‘BMW Factor’. As everyone knows, rear-wheel drive Beemers are just rubbish on anything other than tarmac. Really rubbish.

My 6 Series refused to budge on a virtually flat track in the Cotswolds last winter  – an older 3 Series Touring was even worse, unless you chucked a couple of bags of coal in the boot.

My problem with any car that looks like a four-wheel drive is that it SHOULD also behave like a 4×4. What’s the point of paying for all that extra ground clearance if you can’t even pull away smoothly from a grass bank?

So while our xLine X1 is loaded with £5,000 of extras, I’d ditch the lot and go for the four-wheel drive model. Then I could park on grassy banks without any worries.

Thursday – No Place To Hide!

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If Car Couture is giving out prizes for the oddest moment of the year, it must surely have occured this morning when I came back to the Forester after a long run.

Wiltshire has plenty of quiet spots but the behind a Subaru on a hectic B-road is obviously not one of them. I went to open the boot and stumbled across a woman who was relieving herself on the kerb!

She picked the Forester over a BMW 3 Series estate and a SEAT Leon because it is much taller and provides a good deal more cover. Obviously, not enough in this instance!

Final day with the Subaru. In a nutshell – loads of space, practical interior and genuine off-road ability, without the bling. On the downside, it won’t appeal to image-conscious buyers, the prices look a little high and the engine is noisy when pushed hard.

Despite that, I’d buy one over a ‘pretty’ SUV anyday.

Friday – Laughing Stock

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I think it was Richard Hammond who said the Mini was the saddest looking car on the road – thanks to the downbeat front grille. It’s a beautiful, sunny day here in Wiltshire and, as you can see from the photo, the 208 GTi seems to have plenty to smile about.

Peugeot hasn’t really modified the GTi grille much from the standard car but I wonder if a psychologist would say that driving a car with a cheery front end makes you feel better when you see it parked on your driveway in the morning?

It must do because yesterday I had a potential sense of humour failure when the passenger seat in the 208 decided to go on strike. The adjustment mechanism just packed up, so the neither the seat back or base could be locked in place!

It’s an odd feeling driving round with a ‘dead’ seat next to you. It rolls backwards and forwards at will whenever I brake or accelerate.

Who’s to blame? Well, it was that nice driver from Fiat who came to pick up last week’s 500, of course. I collected him at the station and, when he went to adjust the seat, well, we had a comical moment.

Obviously industrial espionage. Fiat 1 – Peugeot 0.

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…

Thursday – Happy Returns

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Jeremy I never thought hitting 50 could be so much fun. A day out in London, with visits to the V&A, Tate Modern and assorted restaurants inbetween was topped off with a drive back to Wiltshire in the sublime XKR-S.

The strange thing is the Jaguar doesn’t look at all out of place in London, where the streets are littered with exotica to rival the Big Cat. That said, I don’t think I heard anything from Porsche, Aston Martin or Mercedes to rival the scream from the XKR-S tailpipes.

For the last 30 miles home, I switched the car to dynamic mode, stiffening the suspension, then turned the gear select dial to ‘sport’. Suddenly the ‘sedate’ Jaguar takes on a whole new personae. The revs pick up, the exhausts cackle and it takes a lot of restraint to hang on to your licence.

What I like most about the XKR-S is that it is just that little bit different. I haven’t seen any on the road yet and, apart from the mad colour, it really does tick all the boxes.

What red-blooded petrolhead wouldn’t want one of these parked on the driveway. More subtle than a Ferrari, more refined than 911 and less corporate than a Mercedes, it’s definitely shot to the top of my most desirable lust of supercars.

 

Monday – Stormy Weather

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Jeremy Thunder and lightning are sweeping across Wiltshire today but after a wonderful July it’s going to be flooding next for sure.  The Discovery is the perfect machine for this type of weather – as I discovered in Northern Ireland six years ago.

Driving back from the Mountains of Mourne in appalling weather, I came across a family who were stranded in flood water which was lapping up around the side of their Mondeo. I was in a V8 petrol Discovery 3, drinking fuel at 14mpg! However, I was very glad to be in the Land Rover because a guy in an Audi allroad seemed to be going under in his own rescue attempt too.

We managed to pull the Mondeo out but the car was a write-off, with water pouring out of the doors when we reached safety. The allroad survived but the owner was a bit miffed his 4×4 hadn’t lived up to expectations…

I know people who own off-road vehicles and never, ever go further than a muddy field at a party. Having driven across Mongolia twice in a Discovery, I can tell you there are few cars that will get you anywhere AND is such comfort.

 

Thursday – Driving With Duckface

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Jeremy I found a little bit of the ocean in Wiltshire yesterday that almost outshone the Pacific blue paint job on our Golf. The sleepy village of Ashmore, near Salisbury, has been cleaning up it duckpond and as a result, the water has turned a lovely shade of Mediterranean blue. It was such a bright blue that I completely forgot to take a photo with the car beside it.

I spent the morning walking with Anna ChancellorDuckface from Four Weddings and a Funeral – for a feature for the Financial Times. We had a two-car convoy through sunny countryside, which ground to  halt as we came face-to-face with another Golf travelling towards us.

What happened next was fairly comical. The woman driver politely started reversing down the lane and kept going, and going and going! But her trajectory wasn’t in a straight line – it was up one bank, back onto the road and then up the other bank. Not surprisingly, her Golf had the scars of previous reversing operations, probably down the same lane…

What she needed, of course, was our new, Mk VII Golf because it’s equipped with VW‘s optional touchscreen sat ‘nag’ system (£1,135) and rear view camera (£165). The 8-inch screen projects what is behind the car when you engage reverse gear, with track lines showing where the car is heading. I have to say, it does take some getting used to but for narrow Wiltshire lanes and Waitrose car park, it’s invaluable.

I’m still loving the Golf. The TDI is still returning 51.3mpg for everyday driving, which includes being pushed quite hard on A-roads and  ‘sport’ mode being set on the gearbox. I can’t remember the last time I drove a car and achieved over 50mpg!

Thursday – Swapping the XC60 For A Bobsleigh

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Jeremy This isn’t some new dealer incentive but a chance to go very fast down an icy tube with my eyes shut. Volvo has invited Car Couture to take part in the British Bobsleigh Championships in Innsbruck this weekend. Jessica was suddenly ‘otherwise engaged’ and so I’m scribbling this from Gatwick Airport. Hopefully, I won’t do a John Noakes flip the thing over – but I’m pretty sure I will have my eyes shut. Volvo sponsors British bobsleighing and, at the moment, the UK No. 1 team is fifth in the world.

The XC60 has just averaged 47mpg on the run down from Wiltshire, which I think is more than respectable for an SUV. And those blind spot warning lights on the doors are proving very useful – especially with kamikaze courier motorcyclists on the M25. Now Saab is no more, I’m also give my ‘Most Comfortable Seat’ award to the R-Design set in our XC60. Let’s hope the bobsleigh is equally as relaxing…