Save these cars

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception with tags , , on 25/05/2015 by Alexander

VS60e
One of my biggest worries as a conscious person who doesn’t want to see his planet bled dry of resources is what will happen to old cars if suddenly there’s a shift away from internal combustion engines?

There’s no good reason to throw away a car that’s in perfectly good condition apart from a broken engine, since the engine is where most malfunctions start. There’s the cooling system, with the radiator, the piping, the reservoir. The exhaust system, with manifold and mufflers and all sorts of bits that will wear out over time. The transmission, with gearbox, prop-shafts, clutch and linkages. And the engine itself, with oil, gaskets, valves, push-rods, pistons,  and so on.

Cars are usually thrown into a scrapyard once they’ve hit a certain mileage, because the engine is probably worn, but the rest of the car is probably alright. So why consign it to oblivion?

I’ve always been a fan of retrofits and turning an ICE car into an EV has undeniable benefits. For example, how about this BBC article that proposes modifying old classic cars that were lovely to look at but had poorly-engineered powerplants got them onto “Worst Car” lists since they arrived.

Undoubtedly that there are hurdles, caveats and other issues with this approach, but we’ll delve into that some other time. For now, just picture yourself driving your favourite car with the knowledge that it won’t overheat, vomit oil, seize up or spend a week in a sodding garage because its f**king head gasket decided not to do its job anymore (this last sentence is my personal rant because THAT’S WHAT’S BLOODY WELL HAPPENED TO ME).

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Knock-off corner #5

Posted in Knock-offs with tags , , on 30/11/2014 by Alexander

Toyota Mirai

Cylon
Toyota Mirai vs. a Cylon from the original Battlestar Galactica.

EVs: I’ve changed my mind

Posted in Alt-Fuel with tags , , , , , , on 21/09/2014 by Alexander

If you’ve never read this blog and wonder if it’s a supercar-loving petrolhead writing this, I’ll boil down my view on cars: I love fuel-efficient, good-looking, comfortable cars. I’m especially fascinated by alternative fuels, as well as cheap and clean ways to make cars move.

In that vein, I’ve written on this very blog in bold letters that electric vehicles aren’t the future. I was eating my words a post or two on and it seems I’ll keep eating them. Electric cars are pretty cool and definitely will catch on. They’ll get cheaper and better and we’ll see more and more of them. I wrote a post call “The Evils of Electric“, and I stand by a lot of what I said, though since I’ve written it I’ve learnt a lot more about EVs and all the pros and cons surrounding them, especially concerning what it’s actually like to live with them every day.

This enlightenment can be attributed to Red Dwarf‘s Kryten, or Robert Llewellyn as I have no doubt he prefers to be RobertLlewellyncalled. His YouTube show Fully Charged is a very informative and balanced way of looking at electric vehicles, as well as some other alt-fuel technologies out there. What I like most is that he also loves cars, loves petrol engines and performance and respects everyone else who does, and just wants to say “getting around on petrol is fine, but it’s flawed and we should start looking at other solutions.”

For me, what really clinched Mr. Llewellyn’s status as an authority on these matters is how he doesn’t have his head up is arse or is out of touch with reality, and knows that someone like me who lives in a flat and doesn’t earn much money can’t really realistically run an EV in this day and age. But what he’s doing aims to make EVs widespread enough to become accessible, both in the price it costs to buy one, and the infrastructure necessary to keep them going. If you want to know more about Robert and his fantastic, entertaining and clever style of showing people how this EV malarkey simply makes so much sense, have a listen to a talk he gave in Liverpool last year called Electric Cars Are Rubbish. Aren’t They? I promise you’ll love it.

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.