WED • 02 AUG 2017
Government needs to understand the facts on pollution
Personally I struggle to put the whole blame on the car manufacturers in that if they are asked to meet certain standards, which are poorly thought through, and more importantly measured or acted upon. Certainly the rush to hybrids is not going to solve the problem, I recently owned a Golf GTE (1.4 litre petrol and electric motor) which managed 200 mpg if I plugged it in all the time and only drove it a few miles or 25 mpg if I didn’t – certainly a Golf GTI or GTD provides better economy and lower emissions overall. I know of a few drivers who have received huge tax breaks for buying a hybrid only to not plug it in ever and just pay more for fuel, thus undermining any environmental benefit.
The problem is that we now have a backlash to diesel which still provides better economy and certainly with the larger cars offer as good as NOx emission results due to the addition of urea into the exhaust gas. We have had an Audi SQ7 on order for the best part of 9 months (blame the custom blue colour!) and I was seriously considering cancelling the order due to all the news on diesel. This is a car with a V8 triple turbo 4 litre engine capable of towing a mountain. If I had cancelled it my only choice would have been a select few SUVs with petrol engines that barely manage to get over 12 mpg. As it is we have taken delivery of the ‘beast’ and just returned from a weekend on the coast where it managed 600 miles to a tank and thanks to the urea technology emit no more NOx than a small petrol engine. It doesn’t mean I won’t be lambasted for having a diesel car, but the fact is, even to a petrol head, the technology and progress the industry has made is outstanding.
I am sure government however will push through stupid plans that are epitomised by the move in recent years to convert our coal power stations to biofuel. Take Drax, our biggest power station, which is being converted from coal to biomass wooden pellets. Not only does this new fuel require specialised storage (hangers to keep the pellets dry and filled with nitrogen to stop it combusting), whereas coal could be left outside in the rain, but it takes the fuel from Canada rather than the mines around the UK. The pellets are less energy dense so a larger proportion of them are required ton for ton to produce the same energy as coal and let us not forget the huge government subsidy we are paying to the owners.
Getting back to the issue around transporting all these pellets comes in the form of shipping which apparently is to blame more than 30% of inorganic particles in Europe’s air. Apparently 160 transport ships produce the same pollution (particulates and smog) as ALL the cars in the world. But there are not 160 ships transporting goods around the world, there are 6,000. So we are providing huge subsidies to companies to convert coal power plants to ship (at huge environmental impact) wood pellets from around the world so we save our environment?
After doing some research I was quite happy with our SQ7 purchase – certainly until there are some rules or regulations around shipping anything we do with cars is insignificant. I am not saying we shouldn’t be striving for the best when it comes to pollution and supporting our environment but on the basis of government policy over the last few decades we don’t seem to be making very many smart choices.
THU • 20 APR 2017
The majority were earmarked for Audi’s driving experience team who tour the country putting on great events, one went to each dealer and the handful left went to a few lucky customers. I was one of those and although I didn’t get to choose my specification I was able to nab the obligatory blue one.
While I am not a fan of dark car interiors, the car is super comfortable and even though it runs on 20 inch wheels the ride is respectable. And while it may not get the kind of respect the R8 received it does get the occasional ‘in the know’ nod from a passer-by which suits me and means I can be less precious about where I drive and park it.
I have even managed to fit my wife, daughter and dog in the car – and while we were not all superbly comfortable it was possible, something I couldn’t achieve in the R8! They all were able to enjoy with me the superb acceleration and that amazing engine noise courtesy of some rather fat sport exhausts.
On reflection I think it was a great buy but it has left me hankering for something more exotic and surprisingly my mind has turned back to Ariel and the fabulous Nomad…
THU • 21 JUL 2016
No such thing as too much power
I recently got the opportunity to visit Bentley’s factory up in Crewe and I hadn’t realised how similar the Continental GT’s V8 engine is to the RS7 with similar power outputs and even the clever cylinder deactivation technology so that we achieved an average 27 mpg. Not that economy in cars like this really matters but it certainly would help me get over using it every day as I wouldn’t need to fill up every few days. While the RS7 isn’t as plush or special feeling as the Continental, it is a substantially cheaper car with more space and Audi’s superb build quality. Unusually for a lot of Audi’s this one seemed to have quite a character and I warmed to it like an old friend (as I had a number of A7s while waiting for the R8) with a noisy bottom. The exhausts are just incredible with cracks and pops on the overrun it certainly was characterful and my wife was subjected to lots of short burst of acceleration so I could really enjoy the sound.
With the Audi brand moving to digital dashboards and with technology in general around cars taking a substantial leap I was worried that the RS7 would feel dated, but actually I think it is a great blend between old and new. The engine is more than half of this car and is a fantastic piece of engineering, with the rest of the package delivering up a comfortable and spacious cockpit I started to doubt my decision to go for a TT-RS when actually the RS7 does so much, so well.
MON • 13 JUN 2016
Is less more?
Granted the Audi TT RS coupe had already just been revealed at the Beijing motor show but for me this was a welcome treat and ended up with me placing a deposit for one. So it was an expensive trip, and granted this is probably why Audi Concierge will be a great success, but actually I am very excited about this purchase. Hopefully delivery will be before the end of the year.
So why when I have an Audi R8 am I all excited about its baby brother? Well firstly I have owned the previous generation Audi TTS a great car, and one of the few that I actually kept for over three years. I had four-wheel drive, great performance, a usable boot and even back seats for small people (or people without heads). And while it was a special car, it wasn’t so special that I couldn’t drive or park it anywhere and so with its ability to carry my wife and daughter I am hoping this new one will be just as perfect.
I think I have persuaded my wife that this car should be in addition to the R8 but with the new car sporting a new aluminium five cylinder 2.5 litre engine kicking out nearly 400 bhp the car is capable of 0-60 MPH in 3.7 seconds, 0.5 seconds quicker than my R8. So it looks like it is going to be hard to justify the premium especially when the TT has the new virtual cockpit (a screen instead of a speedo) and hopefully will arrive in an even more garish blue. Is less more? I think it might be.
THU • 03 DEC 2015
Recently I had the opportunity to visit Palmer Sport at the Bedford Autodrome for what must be one of the most existing and complete driving experiences available. Granted it is not cheap but considering you get the opportunity to drive in not only a Formula 3000 but also a Jaguar JP-LM, Defender, BMW M4, Caterham, Ariel Atom and GT50 gokart it does seem like you get value for money.
The day starts with a quick briefing before being whisked off in a dedicated bus which takes you and your group around the site. Each set of cars has it’s own track and hospitality suite so they are able to run the day with many different groups being able to use all the cars at the same time. The focus on the day is about lap time and everyone records times in every discipline while being taught by their local experts who sit in the cars with you.
After a few 100 mph 360s I started to get the hang of the Jaguar’s before moving swiftly on to the technical off road course and so the day continues until you are honestly exhausted and you start to dread the need to drive home. It certainly ensures you come away from the day thoroughly enthused with the petrol itch properly scratched. I certainly would recommend it to anyone keen to do more with a car who hasn’t yet made the jump to track days.
WED • 28 OCT 2015
Emission scandal – the death of VW?
Personally when I first heard the story I wasn’t surprised at all and almost didn’t understand the issue the press had, as I thought all car companies did what they could to limit emissions in the same way they do for fuel economy. I have written before about the dangers of diesel fuel and the thought that a slightly different profile in the software management of the engine could make such a real-world difference to the environment is laughable. Yes the software helped to get the emissions, within a lab, to an arbitrary figure (that politicians and scientist deem fair and safe) but to think that the reduction it makes has any impact whatsoever as someone pulls away in second gear or does a ton on the motorway is ill-informed. Diesel is dirty full stop, but having a few million VWs running around with slightly different emission outputs from the lab will make no difference to the millions of busses, cabs and lorries running around the world or the ships moving our cargo.
I am not condoning VW’s actions, but the fact that if they had put a little switch on the dashboard to engage their secret ‘eco’ mode and defaulted the car to it when the engine was turned on then there would have been no issue. Even if everyone was well aware that customers would immediately disengage it as it would dent performance or economy. Why do you think cars have sport modes? So all the performance can be kept but for regulatory purposes the car can be sold as standard with a great economy or emission figure. My VW Golf GTE for example always defaults to electric only mode when I turn it on knowing full well that it will be depleted within 30 miles. Technically the Hybrid mode is better for day to day driving, but that would get a lower score on the economy tests run in the labs and as such my car is sold with a 188 MPG average. The reality is I drove 120 miles the other day and averaged 39.8 MPG – and that was with a fully charged battery. Now that to me is criminal, not VW, but the laws and measurements we put in place that have no relevance to the consumer. I am not saying my GTE is bad because it did such a poor average, which was because I was driving fast down a motorway, instead of bustling around the streets of London (where I regularly see 100 MPG). Ultimately though the focus should be put on our politicians and rule setters as to why we allow these ridiculous tests to continue.
Who for example has asked why the US is so anti-diesel? Is it because the US car industry is so underdeveloped in the manufacture of diesel engines and they do not produce enough fuel to sustain widespread adoption. Or is it because they are so worried about NOX? Let’s just say America will not be losing any sleep over VW’s recent loss announcements. Personally it gives me more ammunition to persuade my wife that any future purchase for the Daniell household will need to be petrol or electric based. Hopefully such future purchases will still be able to be made from VW even with the announcement that they are going to be cutting their R&D spend by billions, another travesty as money that could be spent on developing cleaner technology will be used to line the pockets of the rule setters.
MON • 13 JUL 2015
The future is electric
With the business now operating across a wider group, the need to visit company offices and customers meant I needed a practical car, not just a play thing. Now being a petrol head I should have immediately started looking at hot hatches like the Audi S1 or the new RS3, but I also wanted a car I would not worry about and the more exotic the metal the more precious I become. The joy about the GTE is the Golf shape is relatively common and in a dark blue (I would have gone lighter but it wasn't an option!) it doesn't draw attention. I have found myself quite happy to park in multi-storey car parks without feeling the need to inspect the inevitable damage upon my return.
But what really stands out is the deployment of the electric engine and how gloriously addictive it is. I can see why people love their Tesla's as I now try to drive as much as possible without the engine running. Obviously this is limited when the battery charges to only 27 miles and drops away as I start making the most of the torque. But what really works is the mixture of petrol and electric. In the hybrid mode the ability to get the car moving using electric power means the petrol's inevitable inclusion is smooth and unnoticeable. You have to look at the rev counter to see if it has come alive.
A journey, avoiding the motorway, will average around 80 mpg. There is an advance mode in the gearbox to increase engine breaking, which I great as I have a tendency to try and not use the brakes. Shorter trips have seen 300 mpg as plugging the car in to charge back up is possible. Motorway miles are not as impressive as the small 1.4 litre engine has to work hard to keep at my average speed and cart around 300kg of useless battery and electric engine. So on long trips economy drops to 40mpg and down into the 30s when the 'recharge' option is selected.
Having said that I have almost ignored the economy and have been more sold on the benefit of the electric motor and how much it compliments the petrol engine. I can see why companies like Rolls Royce are looking at it for their next Phantom - it provides a level of refinement engines can't match.
Now I spend my days trying to organise meetings I need to drive to so I can make the most of my new car and it's electric thrill.
FRI • 22 MAY 2015
The pinnacle of combustion
I must say for many years I have held a special place for Rolls Royce in my virtual garage. It is a car that is the best is can be, does luxury properly and doesn’t pretend to be ‘sporty’. Even with 21’ rims and air suspension the car glides over everything, delivering the world famous magic carpet ride. The Wraith is probably the best example of the brand for someone who likes to drive and is a little bit younger than most people you would expect to be riding around in a Rolls. It is an awesome example of motoring and by lending me one for the weekend they have only increased my desire to one day own one.
Sitting so high up, cruising down the motorway with the power reserve meter showing 99% of power still remaining, it is rather powerful. But power isn’t really the main draw, the large V12 6 litre engine is there to create effortless progress, and it is surprising how quickly you end up going especially as you are so isolated from the outside world. Being a two door doesn’t make the car much smaller than its four door brother, but I prefer the lines and the swooping tail. I especially like the starlight headlining which can be surprisingly bright (if you turn it up) and all the technology festooned to the model I have been lent – especially the night vision with pedestrian detection.
Certainly being part of the BMW group has enabled Rolls Royce to take all the expensive technology and craft their own car. It certainly feels like nothing else, let alone a BMW. With the world turning more environmentally friendly and new kids on the block such as Tesla I was worried that cars like the Wraith wouldn’t make sense. But it is even economical (when compared to a SUV), and if I am led to believe that most Rolls Royce owners have seven other cars, then for the little time it actually spends on the road it is more moving art than car.
WED • 29 APR 2015
Geneva Motor Show
I have been to car shows before but nothing prepares you for the scale of the event, the extravagance of the stands and the choice of metal on display. Make no mistake Geneva is the car show of the year. Odd when the country is so against cars and makes you feel like a bad person for owning one. I would highly recommend a visit next year if you get a chance. It is worthwhile though making some enquiries with some local car dealers, so that you can try to wangle some VIP tickets. With the crowds that greeted me on the Saturday the ability to get onto the stands made it much more enjoyable.
My car of the show was probably the new Ford GT40, one of the few I didn't get an option to sit in. It honestly has nothing to do with the colour...
FRI • 27 FEB 2015
The new Audi R8
MON • 16 FEB 2015
Time to scratch the petrol itch
The plan is to fly out bright and early and return home in time for tea. I just hope I have left enough time for us to see everything that is being launched. One highlight has got to be the new Audi R8, which a teaser shot has been released for this morning. Porsche will be releasing the new Cayman GT4 which is starting to be a part of my consciousness along with the facelifted Evoque and others. Rumours are rife that Jaguar will launch a GT3 version of their F-Type. Even mundane cars such as the Volvo XC90 are tickling my fancy as I am keen to see it in the metal due to the advancement in technology and direction it takes their business.
It might just be the start of a yearly pilgrimage.
WED • 14 JAN 2015
Innovation on a simple idea
What is great to see is that this small firm based out of Somerset is able to continue to innovate and deliver new products, much like their bikes they launched last year, which stay true to the original brand identity. The Nomad in my mind deals with most of the issues I had when I owned an Atom while not diluting the reason for owning one in the first place. Unfortunately I became too precious about my Atom and refused to drive it in anything but perfect weather. This meant I didn’t manage more than 1,000 miles a year in it – something I think wouldn’t be the case with the Nomad.
After speaking to a number of owners of the Atom it is surprising how many come back for more after selling the car and then realising it leaves a hole in their life. Certainly the Nomad is making me think long and hard about the potential of future Ariel ownership…
MON • 29 SEP 2014
Hybrid technology is sexy
I loved the immediate acceleration of the electric powertrain and the noise from the electric engine when it pipes up. However, while I was ready to conclude it would have been a better purchase than the R8, when I jumped back into my car I immediately dispelled all regret as the petrol engine roared into life and the car shot me down the road. They certainly are two different types of cars and while I seriously admire the i8, I no longer desire it, so what I hear you cry do I now have my sights set on.
Well actually it is a bit more mundane than an i8, it is actually a VW Golf – the GTE to be exact. Sitting in the same group as the GTI (Injection) and GTD (Diesel) the GTE (Electric) offers VW groups latest hybrid powertrain. With over 200 bhp on offer it can sprint to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds but crucially can travel at up to 80 mph on electric alone and achieve a combined figure of 188 mpg. What is also very impressive is it has the range of around 30 miles when using electric (double that of the expensive i8) and I think it sounds like a perfect compromise and one that would complement the R8 nicely. This is not to say I can afford the GTE or need it, but for an everyday run around or travelling to and from the city and home it seems to cover most bases. The thought of not paying for much fuel when buzzing around home is a good one, especially with the £100 fuel tanks taking their toll with the other car.
I can see hybrid technology making a big impact in the coming years, but I think with the Golf GTE the compromise has been removed to replace it with a better proposition than just taking the petrol or diesel version. Now I just have to save the pennies.
TUE • 12 AUG 2014
Diesel is bad for air quality. No shit.
The problem with current policy is that is has focused billions and billions of euros into engine and car research and development centred around a fuel, diesel, which is inherently dirty and poisonous. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate petrol is not water, but with a number of other toxins prevalent in diesel fuels the race for lower CO2 measures has only meant our air has got worse, not better.
In London with the world’s largest bus fleet and thousands of decrepit taxis (and I am talking about the new ones…) the air is noticeably bad. Real investment and work needs to happen over the next few years to make any significant impact, but with new buses even today being purchased which are standard diesels there is a long way to go. I have a good measure on London’s air quality which is the balcony of my flat. If I don’t clean it every week I can be sure of a thick layer of very fine black soot – which is so fine it is difficult to capture. This has been getting progressively worse.
One comparison I can give is that of the air in New York. Now I appreciate the Americans are not one for reduction and that there are high levels of emissions in the city, however if you go there the air feels and smells fresher. A result I am sure of the reduction in diesel engines and all the particulates they generate.
At least it means for me I am going to have to help and do my part by buying more petrol cars.
WED • 28 MAY 2014
Just what London needs
As a car nut, but also a keen cyclist, I can really see the benefit of providing distance between motor vehicles and bikes, but with London so overbuilt the ability to achieve this is limited. I have always harboured thoughts about underground motorways crossing the city which would aid traffic to get from North to South or East to West. The idea is very similar to the Thames Link project connecting heavy rail across the capital. But unlike that scheme where a lot of the rail already exists this is more like the Crossrail project in its ambition and technical scope.
At the moment budgets expect such a project to cost in the region of £30bn, so expensive, but with London absorbing so much external investment I am sure the offset value of the land that would be released for development could seriously reduce the cost substantially. Initial estimates believe congestion in London will grow by 60% in the next 17 years so the need for extra capacity is significant. Apparently as well there has been little conflict from the green lobby to this proposal as they too can see the benefits it will bring.
Living in east London and commuting out to Worcestershire by far the slowest part of my journey is through central London. The idea that I could jump onto the tunnel system at Elephant & Castle and pop out on the A40 westway would be amazing. Unfortunately I could really do with this today, not in 20 years’ time (which realistically is how long anything takes in the UK), but I am sure whoever is living in London then will see the benefits straight away.