Archive for the General opinions Category

Hydractive suspension – some more anecdotes

Posted in Desirable machines, General opinions on 24/06/2016 by Alexander

Hydractive suspension was the s**t. You can read the previous stories here.

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#4 Change a tyre in a jiffy
Anyone owning a Citroën must have done this at least once. I was with a friend, and we were going somewhere in my BX and we were late. To add to my troubles, I got a puncture, and my friend began to despair due to our lateness. I reassured him verbally, but when that failed I simply showed the ease with which Hydractive-equipped Citroën owners could change tyres. In short, suspension height to the max, a pre-extended jack placed to hold up the car, suspension to the minimum, old tyre off, new tyre on, suspension to the max, remove jack, drive away!

#5 The shortcut
Northern Portugal, 2005. Stuck in standstill traffic, I noticed there was a road parallel to the avenue where I was. A deserted, minor road that led into some side-streets. All that separated me from it was a simple, 20 centimetre-high slab of curb pavement, high enough to wreck the underside of most cars. What should I do? Sit in the traffic and wait, burning expensive fuel? Or ease my car over the obstacle and find my way (this was before the wide use of GPS, kids)? I made up my mind as soon as I saw a jeep with big knobbly tyres run over the curb and disappear into the side-streets. Hydractive suspension to the max, over the curb, goodbye traffic.

#6 Cross country
Simple case of the weird, quasi-offroad capability of Hydractive-enabled cars. Basically it’s the most fun you can have with cars that don’t have four-wheel drive and gigantic expensive tyres. I did this a couple of times in rural areas and once on sand (I was lucky enough not to get stuck), and it struck me what a clever thing this was. The extra ride height allowed me to use country lanes with deep furrows that only jeeps can use, and I could transform the BX into a normal, road-going saloon once it was over. Fan-tas-tic!

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The Tesla Model 3

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Desirable machines, General opinions, Green Tech, News, Upcoming cars on 03/04/2016 by Alexander

Tesla Model 3I’m very surprised by the reactions to the launch of the Tesla Model 3. The BBC were balanced as usual, but I believe failed to underline how significant 115,000 pre-orders in 24 hours actually is. Then there are articles like the Daily Beast, that prophesizes Teslocalypse, where the brand will be irrevocably DESTROYED by the Model 3. A lot of criticism is being heaped at Tesla and the Model 3, and although much of what being said is factually correct, I definitely feel as if behind these nay-saying opinions are the voices of motoring journalists who either feel that their time of being lent petrol-swilling supercars is being threatened, or who think Tesla’s aren’t so much cars as they are gadgets, so as experts on grease-and-oil-driven machines they’ll be made obsolete. Maybe it’s just me being unnecessarily bitter. Here are some facts:

Tesla is hemorraging money
Yes, and so are Uber, Shazam and Spotify, and even YouTube only managed to break even as recently as 2014. Airbnb loses $150-million a year and may not make a profit until 2020. Funnily enough, I don’t see this referred to in related articles concerning all these aforementioned companies, but Tesla gets a special financial-loss mention.
Unlike all these other companies above that are pissing money away, Tesla has invested very heavily indeed on R&D, as recently proved by the Autopilot function (however, Tesla also wasted money on stuff like those pitiful “falcon” doors which add nothing but complexity to the Model X, a car that should have been postponed until after the Model 3). It’s a perfect criticism to try to frighten potential punters away, implying that Tesla won’t be around long enough to honour warranties and such.

Tesla won’t be able to meet demand
This will probably happen. Overwhelming demand is a double-edged sword, and cuts very sharply both ways. The positive view is that, in theory, lots of demand means whatever leaves Tesla’s production line for the next few years is guaranteed to be sold. The negative view is that in reality, not being able to meet demand means overdue delivery times, customer frustration and consequently, damage to the brand image.
However, there’s alway’s the Gigafactory, which will definitely boost Tesla’s fortune’s once it’s up and running, even if it only reaches full capacity in 2020.

No-one’s mentioning how good (or bad) it looks
The Model S is bite-the-back-your-hand beautiful. The Model X isn’t. The Model 3 is sort of halfway between them. Am I the only one who thinks the glass area above the body looks bulbous, and badly-proportioned to the rest of the car? I hope I’m wrong, because I’m one of those people who were eagerly antecipating the Model 3’s unveiling, in the hope of it ticking all the right boxes to being my first electric car. Nothing puts me off quite like an ugly ride.

Hardly anyone mentioned the terrible interior
I couldn’t believe it: no f**king instrument cluster. A screen that protrudes from the centre as if it were an aftermarket item nailed into place minutes before the cars unveiling. I hate this design with a passion. Recently, I read how this might indicate a really autonomous car, which is just as bad. I like driving. Unless the Model 3 has something like a HUD replacing a conventional instrument cluster, or an ACTUAL binnacle included in the production version, this is a deal breaker.

No-one’s talking about the brilliant glass roof

On the other hand, the interior might be saved by the wrap-around glass roof. If I understood what Elon Musk said, and if the pictures and videos are correct, the roof will be entirely in glass, save for above the driver and front passenger (for sun-visors, lights and such), and the boot lid will basically hinge in the middle of the car. This is brilliant. I love glass roofs and I think sunroofs and such should be mandatory on cars. This Model 3 has hit this particular nail right on the head.

No-one’s talking how disruptive and revolutionary this is
The number of pre-orders has hit over a quarter of a million. Pre-orders. In just over 48 hours. Established car-brands with highly-awaited models don’t get that many orders, and they must see by now that if they don’t get into the electrification game soon, they may be very well left behind with their dinosaur-juice-burning contraptions. And the more car-brands go electric, the more the market will follow. The more the market follows, the more things will change to enable/cash in on this. Infra-structure will have to be updated, car and road tax will have to change to pay-as-you-go. Even mundane habits will be altered, as there won’t be such a need for 24/7 fuelling stations, because you can plug in at home, but then there’ll be nowhere to buy fags at 3am.

Like it or not, the Model 3 is a big deal.

Stuff that should be brought back

Posted in General opinions on 10/06/2014 by Alexander

Modern cars have more and more equipment as standard, and some of it is darn excellent. Personally I can’t do without a trip computer and cruise control, and integrated Bluetooth is a handy an invention as their ever was. But what about the inverse? Why have some features disappeared over time? Here’s what I think should stage a comeback:

Targa tops
z-LAccording to Wikipedia, targa roofs became popular in the 1960’s and 70’s to sort of circumvent certain laws that might come into effect to ban convertibles, on account of the occupants getting squashed if the car overturned. To be fair, you do get targa tops in select cars today but they’re exclusively for high-end sports cars, and still rare since most people prefer a full blown convertible. I’d love to see them return on affordable cars. Heck, I’d love a targa top-equipped four-door saloon.

Very small and light cars with tiny engines
1955-Alpine-A108What you see here is an Alpine A108, a tiny 3.7m (12’1″) long car, with a titchy 845cc engine (or 998cc, there were various displacements). It weighed in at about 600kg, so the measly 50-odd horsepower it chucked out weren’t just to get it to move. Since the demise of the Smart Roadster, the closest you get to a car like this is a Mazda MX-5, with a 1.8l engine, which though relatively small, is still big for what I’m talking about. There are track cars that are very light, but they’re not good road cars. The upshot of a car like this is that performance freaks would get a light, nimble car and eco-minded people would get a frugal little fuel-sipper.

Wind-down windows
Wind-down windowsAm I the only one? Probably. You’ll find lots of people extolling the virtues of a manual stick-shift, but that’s all they’re willing to do manually. I miss manual windows. They were fun to operate. But as I mentioned, I must be the only weirdo in the world who likes them.

Weird-coloured interiors
Blue CX interiorAh yes, there was a time when you could step inside a car and be engulfed in a strange slice of the visible spectrum. Today it’s all grey/black, unless you have a lot of money to go nuts on options. Then you might have white/cream leather, brown leather or, in rare cases, red leather. And this annoys me to no end. Everyone says brown is a horrible 70’s colour, yet if it’s leather, pas de problème. My dad had a wonderful Citroen CX with a fantastic brown cloth interior, and I’d choose that over a leather version any day. He also had green and blue-swathed interiors in other CX’s. Why don’t we do this any more? A car would be much cooler and vibrant with some extra colour.

Unpainted plastic bumpers
citroen-ax-gti“Ah-ha!” I hear you say. “You can still get unpainted plastic bumpers on some cars!” Yes, you get them on stuff like the Audi Allroad versions of cars, or the Peugeot 508 Outdoor, but now they call it “plastic cladding” and are sold as expensive extras!! This is the exact opposite of what it used to be, where having the bumper the same colour as the body was a paid option (you can hear this on old early 90’s episodes of Top Gear). I think grey bumpers look good and are definitely be cheaper than painted ones (otherwise body colour-painted versions wouldn’t be pricier back in the olden days), so why not bring them back?

Quick car review – 2010 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TDi

Posted in General opinions with tags , on 30/04/2014 by Alexander

Audi A4 AvantThere are more of these Audis on the roads in the country where I live than you can shake a stick at. A sign of quality or badge-snobbery uber alles?

Pros
– That engine. It’s not hard to fathom why the 2.0 TDi equips everything from VW Golfs to Audi A5s, because it’s a sublime piece of engineering. It’s the best of both worlds, with very economical performance in town (thanks to Stop-Start tech) to blistering motorway behaviour thanks to that superb 6-speed manual gearbox.
– The inside was above-par, with a lot of quality materials, fit, finish and design. Though very good, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it crowns Audi the king of interior design like a lot of motoring journalists insist on doing.

Cons
– The harshness of it all. Between the rock-hard seats and the rock-hard suspension, the ride was unbearable after a while. I spent a week in agony from the constant stupid jolting and shuddering I was subjected to in that f**king car. Every passenger I had in the Audi complained about the ride without me asking them, even my daughter. It was awful. I was pining for my old Volvo the whole time I drove the Audi.
– The equipment. Air-con and Bluetooth phone calls. That’s it. No USB input. No cruise control. No streaming. No heated mirrors. For a car that’s premium-branded and that expensive, it’s unacceptable. But then again, as I said with the Polo, it’s a very normal German thing, but what makes me scratch my head is just how willing most people are to be thrifted for a Teutonic product.
– The absurdly stupid user-interface. What a load of s**t. Where to start? Trip information is browsed via a button (obscured by the steering wheel) on the right stalk that has “RESET” written next to it. “RESET”?! How is anyone supposed to guess what it does?! This was also a problem in the Polo, hence my reference to stupid VAG-group interfaces. Then the trip computer itself has way too many options, where you scroll through what seems a never-ending combinations of display options. The central swivel wheel is counter-intuitive, since what most people think is the direction in which to turn the knob to go up goes down and vice versa. The high-beams lock when pushing the stalk away from you, not towards you as in every other car. The steering wheel had those pathetic finnicky scroll wheels where I had to guess what they did. What’s wrong with buttons? Rubbish.

In conclusion: One thing that puzzled me about this car was how ready everyone was to pardon its many faults just because it was an Audi. And we’re talking about people who have never ridden in an Audi, they’re just seduced by the badge. When I told them the ride was bone-shatteringly s**t, they’d reply “But it’s a good car, though.” If I had a Citroen and I’d say how excellent it was, I’d get a bunch of sarky comments on reliability.
I didn’t mention anything regarding the car’s looks because I’ve talked about them before. Audis aren’t that bad-looking, the problem is they’re such a common site and all so similar to every other Audi in the range that it ruins any sort of aesthetic impact any of them may have.
In sum, it’s an OK car whose main appeal is to be flashy while it does no more than equivalent offerings. Just isn’t worth the huge price tag unless status is everything to you.

Quick car review – 2013 VW Polo 1.2TDi

Posted in General opinions with tags , on 29/04/2014 by Alexander

VW PoloThe mighty Polo, one of the most popular choices of supermini anywhere in Europe. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting that much, since many of the cars motoring journalists pick as brilliant and have strong sales are usually underwhelming. Not the Polo, though. It delivers.

Pros
– Lovely materials and sense of robustness. Everything really felt nice, though the centre stack with the fake plastic aluminium was a bit of a let-down.
– Comfort and refinement. Nice and quiet with little noise from the diesel engine up-front.
– I loved that fake floor in the boot. Storage in the front was good too. It was all very practical and well-thought out.
– The engine, though not powerful at all, was as frugal as expected and smooth for a diesel. Suits the car like a glove.
– The looks. Not just good-looking for a German car, or good-looking for a super-mini, it’s good-looking full-stop. Little details like that 3D effect in the rear lights really set it off. I honestly think it looks even better than the Audi A1, which is essentially the same car but more expensive.

Cons
– The equipment. Dear Lord, there are discount cupboards sitting on IKEA shelves more generously equipped than this. No USB input, no cruise control, no air-con, not even a fag-lighter. That’s one of the problem with the Germans: anything resembling luxury is a pricey option. An equivalent entry-level Japanese or French car has oodles more features.
– The f**king stupid VAG-group user interface. I’ll explain in the next post.

I was chuffed with the VW Polo. There really wasn’t much not to like about it. However, that not much to like about it would be a deal-breaker for me personally. The Spartan equipment is just too hard a smack in the face when I could get a similarly-priced yet far, far better equipped and equally refined car like a Citroen C3 or Renault Clio. A real pity, since it’s a lovely thing.

Quick car review – 2013 Nissan Qashqai 1.6dCi

Posted in General opinions with tags , on 28/04/2014 by Alexander

Nissan QashqaiAt last I found out why the Qashqai is such as sales success. Sort of.

Pros
– Between the comfort, the interior space and the brilliant glass roof, the Qashqai was a nice place to be while driving. but with one enormous letdown, which I’ll get to later.
– I’ve mentioned it once and I’ll mention it again: comfort. This car ironed out all crap road features like a Citroen, and that’s fantastic in a day and age where it seems everyone goes for “sportiness” even though they’re actually never going to go properly fast nor have the faintest idea of what makes a car fun to drive.
– The engine wasn’t bad either. Nice and responsive yet frugal for a big car.

Cons
– The interior design & trim. Oh God. How can this car be so awful inside and yet be so popular? It doesn’t matter how good a car looks on the outside, it’s the innards you’re going to have to look at for the length of your ownership of said car. The Qashqai central instrument display showing trip info was so basic and low-res it looked like its graphics were from a mid-70′s Magnavox console. The instant consumption figures are in line with Renault’s, which is a stupid horizontal bar with no numeric info that makes the driver guess what the actual mpg number is. The centre screen with the sat-nav is so small, laggy and low resolution it would’ve looked wrong on a run-of-the-mill cellphone ten years ago. Then there’s other stuff like the buttons on the steering wheel. It’s nice to see they haven’t gone for the Peugeot route and made some of them invisible, but they’re located on the lower half of the wheel, meaning you have to both look down away from the road and move your hands to a weird position to press them. The whole interior design, stuff like vents and door handles, all lack flair and purpose, as if the designers couldn’t be bothered.

An excellent offering from Nissan, bar it’s terrible interior. If you get past how crap the innards are, it’s a top-notch choice of car.

Quick car review – 2013 Toyota Auris 1.4 D-4D

Posted in General opinions with tags , on 27/04/2014 by Alexander

Toyota AurisI didn’t have enough time to properly try this car out and test all of it’s features, so don’t hate me if I miss the mark here and there. Still, I had enough time enough time to reach some definite conclusions, as some things are so apparent they can’t be denied.

Pros
– Nice and comfortable and easy to drive.
– Good fit and finish, with a cosy feel behind the wheel.
– Pleasant and punchy diesel engine. It was a 1.4 like the Peugeot, but it felt like it pulled better. Didn’t have much time to test economy unfortunately.

Cons
– That styling. Ugh. I tried in my mind’s eye to fathom a way, an angle, anything to see this car as anything other than ugly. I failed. I don’t understand how anyone can look on all those odd angles and protruding lights and say “Mmm, that’s a properly good-looking car.”
– The dash layout. All wrong and stupid. Even the clock was hard to find. The central screen was awkwardly angled and hard to read. It also displayed information stupidly, and I couldn’t find my instant fuel consumption or a fuel average. Terrible.

All in all, it’s not a bad car, far from it. I just get the impression it’s made for people who want a means of transport and no fuss, not for someone who likes to drive and appreciates their choice.