Friday, 27 April 2012

Car Review - Vauxhall Corsa SXi

This shiny vehicle that I have lived with for the past few days is a Vauxhall Corsa SXi in sovereign silver.

Sovereign Silver!? – well that’s wrong for a start, sovereigns aren’t silver are they? - they’re gold.

Anyway, when I saw “SXi” on the key fob, I was looking forward to a reasonably sporty experience. Maybe not a VXR or even an SRi but an “X” must mean something good mustn’t it?

Then I also spotted “1.2” on there. The figures in the back of Top Gear Magazine suggest 85bhp and also 85 torques with a top speed of 107mph and a 0-60 time of 12.7 seconds. Oh well – I’ve got a shopping car.

So I took it shopping.I’m not too sure about the side profile and what’s with those little windows in front of the door-mirrors? Who is ever going to look out of them?This is my favourite view, though - it shows the new corporate Vauxhall face and I think it has an attractively aggressive stance.

The boot, although it looks small, (but then again – I usually drive a Jag estate) coped adequately with a week’s worth of Tesco products. But to illustrate it better, and in the true spirit of car reviews, I have photographed it with just one item in it – an item that everyone immediately knows the size of – a box of 6 Askey’s Brandy Snap Baskets:The interior is very grey with shiny piano-black trim and red stitching which I guess is what makes it sporty enough to be called an SXi.No fancy infotainment unit but what there is plays Radio 2 just fine so no complaints in that department.

The steering wheel is fully adjustable but the position that is most comfortable for me means that I can’t see the top of the dials so I have to guess how fast I’m going and how much fuel I have unless I duck my head down to see under the rim. This gets quite irritating at speed cameras although may mean that if I get caught by a speed trap, they mightn’t be able to prove from the photo that it was me driving.Unlike all other car reviewers, I am not 6 foot 2. Consequently I have no size issues with the back of this car and I can also categorically state that there is plenty of room for a nine-year-old boy to be driven to school back there without complaining – well, complaining about the car anyway.

So what’s it like to drive?

It’s got the usual irritating Vauxhall quirks that I had forgotten about since I once drove a Vectra about 5 years ago. Apparently, if you want to learn how to fly a helicopter, you move the joystick and see what the helicopter does – so if you want it to do that again, move the joystick in the same way again. The same method works with training sheepdogs. It doesn’t work, however, with figuring out the indicator and wiper controls on Vauxhalls. Even reading the manual doesn’t help.

So, assuming you’ve got a road with no turns on a rain-free day, I’ll ask the question again, what’s it like to drive?

I know that the sweep of the bonnet is important for aero-dynamics and not killing pedestrians but it means that you can’t actually see from the driver’s seat where the car begins – that’s just daft in a small car.

It copes well with my motorway and A-Road commute, albeit a bit engine-noisy on the motorway when cruising at 70 to 75 at a bit over 3000revs. Maybe a sixth gear would fix that but it would also give the car an extra excuse to nag you to change up with a green “SHIFT UP” symbol that appears in the rev-counter when it decides that you need to. If it was moved to near the top of the rev-counter, then I wouldn’t be able to see it – so a suggestion for Vauxhall there.

A smaller engine than I’m used to means that you have to downshift (or “drop it down a cog” to use car-reviewer speak) to get past lorries and old people that I’m more accustomed to sailing past. To make up for this, I’m getting better fuel economy. Top Gear suggest 53.3mpg is achievable but my town and country mix of driving is currently giving about 40 – a figure I could only dream about in my own car.

The fact that this car only has 300 miles on the clock means that the engine still needs a bit of time to loosen up or bed in or whatever it is that new engines have to do - so I can’t be too critical.

So, what is my final verdict?

A competent small car. Comfortable and copes well, if noisily, at motorway speeds. Not enough room in the boot for a set of golf clubs – but then again, I don’t play golf. Talking of golf, does this car score a birdie or a bogey?

Well, overall, I think I’d have to say that it’s par for the Corsa.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

What's in a Name?

A story this week from Car Magazine about how Mercedes are "simplifying" their car naming structure. You have to read it to believe it - it makes no sense whatsoever. They are trying to make their naming system which uses letters to identify the postion the model has in the range more logical.

They are failing spectacularly.

Maybe they should rethink the whole letters and numbers thing and just use names instead. They will need to be careful though - GM's Nova for instance didn't do too well in Spanish-speaking countries where "No va" means "doesn't go".

Ford's Pinto had similar problems as this is allegedly slang for "small penis" in South America.

Ford had better luck in Britain naming their cars after "gentlemen's magazines" like Escort and Fiesta.

All of the names in my little picture above are real car names - except one!

There's a prize of much kudos for anyone who spots my fake one.

Some names are so good that several car companies choose them independently of each other. For example, my profile picture is of an Austin Metro but anyone sitting at a computer on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean will expect a Metro to be a Geo Metro - so for those people - here's a nice picture of one of them...

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Vicki's Take on Top Gear vs Fifth Gear

Back in June 2010, I posed the question "What's best, Top Gear or Fifth Gear?"Well, I found an article written by the lovely Vicki Butler-Henderson that appeared at the end of last month on the MSN cars website where she debates the same thing.

I was beginning to think that this was a moot argument because the Fifth Gear website had not been touched since February 1st with a car news item on the Ford B-Max. Now I know things motoring newsy have happened since then so I was worried that Fifth Gear might have been no more - it was threatened with extinction a few years back so I guess there is always a chance of decomissioning.

But today, the Fifth Gear News site points at a picture of Tiff and Jason and states that a new series is coming. There's nothing in the Radio Times about it but I guess we're not having to wait too long because Vicki in her article says that they are filming it. Still a bit of doubt as to whether or not Jason will actually be part of it - he must be quite busy now with his BTCC commitments.

Whether he is present or not, Vicki's conclusion is one I have to go with - and not a million miles from what I came up with back in 2010 - both shows are good - both shows are different - and long may both continue.

Now, what's best, Top Gear or Top Gear USA?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Film Review

This weekend, as Barry Norman would say, I have been mostly watching DVDs. We had three Blockbuster vouchers to use up before the end of March so got out three films accordingly - two of them were meant to be motoring related.

The first film, Senna, was definitely motoring-related.

Some of my favourite films have been documentaries, usually involving Morgan Spurlock or Michael Moore and this was no exception. It certainly brought back a few memories including Martin Donnelly, a driver whom I had completely forgotten the existance of. Then there was the time when Senna crashed out in the lead at Monaco in 1988 - I had also forgotten about that but had been reminded of it coincidentally just a few days ago when Jeremy Clarkson used it in his Top Gear Magazine column as an example of why speed limits should be seriously increased on Britain's roads.

Despite being a documentary, it had everything a more usual film had - a compelling story from Senna's start in F1 driving for Toleman, through to his tragic death - it also had the heroes (well, hero) and villains - to a certain extent Alain Prost but more-so Jean Marie Balestre - the forerunner to Bernie Ecclestone. Not to mention the drama of the Japanese Grand Prixs (what's the correct plural of that?) and the aftermaths of the famous incidents where Prost then Senna won World Drivers Championships after causing "accidents" that took them both out of the race.

A very dramatic, educational and emotional film - I have to admit to more than a damp eye when Roland Ratzenburger and Ayrton Senna were killed at the end - even though I knew that this was going to happen - documentaries are worse than other films - because they are based on fact. Difficult but worth the watch.

As film number 2, we were meant to be having that excellent, motoring-related film, Cars 2, but my children changed their minds and got a Scooby Doo one out instead - so I didn't watch it. Although Sarah Michelle-Geller was probably in it so maybe I should have.

The third film was Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law and an actress who reminded me of a young Joan Collins.

There weren't any cars in it.