Category Archives: Uncategorized

Cut the cost of your car insurance

You need cover in case this happens...

You need cover in case this happens…

By law, we must all be insured. But there are proactive steps drivers can take to reduce the cost of cover significantly. Here are a dozen top tips that can help cut your premiums.

Reducing car insurance costs – Pay once
You have a choice how you pay for insurance: annually or monthly. Most insurers charge extra for paying in monthly instalments so paying in a lump sum generally makes cover cheaper.

Reducing car insurance costs – Bump up your excess
Increasing your excess – the first few hundred pounds of any claim that must be paid by the driver – will lower your premium. The assumption on the insurer’s part is that the higher the excess, the more caution a driver will exercise on the road: no one likes to spend their own money should an accident happen.

Reducing car insurance costs – Limit your mileage
The fewer miles drivers travel in a year, the less of a risk they are considered to be. That’s why many insurers will issue a lower premium to drivers travelling fewer miles. If you don’t keep a record, an easy way to know how many miles you drive each year is to check your MOT certificates or the vehicle’s service history book.
Continue reading

Allroads lead to roam?

Someone at Audi HQ in Ingolstadt plainly wasn’t paying attention during their English lessons. The result is the A6 allroad quattro wears badging without capital letters. In future I will be spelling it properly. Thankfully the engineering department clearly did have their eyes fixed to the blackboard.

All white, all white, it's a big beast

All white, all white, it’s a big beast

The Allroad is a great concept: a regular estate with go-anywhere capability. It’s got off-road equipment like Hill Descent Control. Of course it’s four-wheel drive; and you can raise the ride height courtesy of the air suspension. However, I’m not sure I’d rather have this than a regular SUV if I was going to be spending a lot of time in the muddy stuff. But I won’t be. And nor will the majority of Allroad drivers making it road-biased for a reason, although it’s a big car and you really notice its girth on rural roads.

While Audis are rightly praised for the beauty of their interiors, for me, the engine and transmission are the high point of the A6 Allroad. The creamy 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel has a hefty 428lb ft of torque meaning a remarkably swift 0-60mph time of 6.6 seconds. Claimed economy is 44.8mpg on the combined cycle and I’m regularly easing into the early 40s. This gives me hope that when the engine is properly run-in the manufacturer’s estimate will be attainable.

Of course the interior is a work of art. But at night it’s particularly lovely, glowing red and white with digital clarity to its analogue feel. The alcantara suede seats are initially comfortable too. However, they adjust up and down as well as tilting which causes a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between Mrs F and I because I like lots of support under my legs, she doesn’t.

That brings me to the pedals. As with so many cars that are designed to be left-hand drive, in swapping the steering wheel over, the pedals have had to be angled slightly to the left obviously to cater for something in the bowels of the engine compartment. You don’t notice it on short trips. But on longer journeys the very slightly different angle that my legs have to point in relation to my body snuggled into the seat manifests itself in lower back ache. There is an answer: I sit pointing slightly to the left. It feels a bit weird initially but it’s better than back pain.

As with other Audis, it’s got the company’s excellent MMI system to control just about every electronic function on the car. Initially I spent time deliberating over the best setting. But aside from having the engine set to Sport, where gears are held for longer, or Economy where the engine feels like a 1.6, I’ve come to the conclusion that it actually doesn’t make a huge difference so it tends to get left on Auto.

A tech step too far?

A tech step too far?

That said, I haven’t quite got to grips with the MMI Touch electronic ‘pad’. The idea seems straightforward. Instead of using the regular MMI controller to select letters from a list, you trace it on the pad with your finger. That’s fine for me: I’m left handed. It’s not so easy for the majority. Plus I’ve found with letters like Ps and Ms it works satisfactorily. But it does get confused between V and U, 1 and I and 5 and S. That might be my writing, or it might be a technology leap too far.

One thing that definitely isn’t is the Direct Shift Gearbox. It’s seven speed and with all that torque it’s quick to grab its smallest ratio. Thanks to the twin clutches, changes are almost imperceptible. My one complaint is the same person responsible for the car’s name clearly had a hand in calling this S-tronic with a lower case t.

Time to e-Volvo? It’s the Concept Coupe

Volvo’s future starts here in the shape of this slinky Concept Coupe to be displayed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. But it’s a lot more than just a pretty looking grand tourer designed to evoke memories of the 1960s P1800. It introduces a new way of building cars, a new engine strategy and a glimpse into Volvo’s future design direction.

Now owned by Chinese car maker Geely, Volvo can no longer rely on previous owner Ford to provide the basis for its cars. The result is the new and completely flexible in terms of length, width and height Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). This will spawn two more concept cars before it makes its production debut on the all-new XC90 in autumn 2014. A second scalable architecture will be used for the smaller cars.

The SPA has no capability for larger engines. That’s because the days of eight, six and even five-cylinder Volvos are history. The Concept Coupe still manages a grunty 400bhp and 600Nm of torque courtesy of a two-litre four cylinder petrol engine that is boosted by a turbo charger and super charger along with an electric motor driving the rear axle. Other four cylinders in either diesel or petrol will use turbos to achieve the same power as much larger capacity engines. Expect a 1.5-litre three cylinder spun off the same architecture.

The 1960s P1800 is arguably Volvo’s most famous and desirable model ever. The Concept Coupe features a lot of that car’s design signatures although design director Thomas Ingenlath refutes that this makes the new car retro: “Using elements from the P1800 exterior and interior has nothing to do with being retro. We are using these subtle links to a glorious past to create a future where sheer beauty becomes a recognised part of Volvo’s identity. That journey starts with Concept Coupé.”

The grille is apparently still a work in progress and it’s likely to change before its finished iteration graces the front of the new XC90 next year. However, the sleeker looking bonnet, the way the grille appears to float, the ever increasing size of the ironmark badge, the sharper shoulder line, and the headlights featuring new T-shaped Daytime Running Lights are all design details that will grace future Volvos.

The interior was designed around the large touch screen which works like a regular tablet to control navigation, entertainment and ventilation. The lack of buttons means those that are present have had their quality improved. Each seat features an AUX-IN and USB port and the gear lever is made of crystal glass, which surprisingly is road legal.

Why a concept for a coupe? Is Volvo about to unveil a replacement for its most iconic car ever? Sadly no. But that shouldn’t stop us enjoying the Concept Coupe for what it is, a fine looking car that points the way to an exciting future.

Memories of James Hunt

Never meet your heroes, they say, and ‘they’ could have a point. The reminiscing about James Hunt reminded me of the time I met him. A bit of background first. Niki Lauda’s fiery accident and James Hunt’s subsequent last-gasp dash to the 1976 World Championship is what alerted me to Formula One. I was a Hunt fan, briefly, until I was alerted to Carlos Reutemann. But that’s another story.

BLOG James Hunt2Anyway, fast forward to 1992 and I was working for Autosport. As such I had to host a table at the Autosport Awards ceremony. On that table along with ex-F1 driver and now the late Innes Ireland, there was ex-Williams technical director Patrick Head, scribe Nigel Roebuck and James Hunt. I can’t remember now what Hunt was wearing but I struggle to imagine he was in Black Tie.

As nominal head of the table, I had to organise the collection for charity. And I remember Hunt had the usual racing driver’s long pockets and short arms. In fact when I suggested he might like to contribute, his rebuttal was pretty firm. But then I was blissfully unaware that he was as skint as he apparently was. Nonetheless, it rather took the sheen off the legend for me.

BLOG James HuntA few months later, it was a Tuesday afternoon. Autosport was just closing for press, everything had been written, designed, subbed, and proofed when one of the writers said he’d heard Hunt had had a heart attack. All hands to the pumps. I rang Mark Wilkin who was the producer of BBC Sport’s F1 coverage. He answered the phone after a couple of rings and I could tell instantly from the shock in his voice that the rumours of Hunt’s heart attack were true. In fact, they were worse: Hunt had died. We really earned our money that afternoon, putting together an obituary on the fly and getting a news story about his death researched and in the magazine within hours. It somehow seemed wrong that after racing in one of the sport’s most dangerous eras, he should die at home aged just 45.

Did meeting him ruin the myth? No. But it’s fair to say it tarnished it for a while. Twenty years down the line though and Hunt is still up there with the greats in my mind.

A3’s no let down

Getting a puncture is generally pretty annoying. But it’s even more irritating when you can’t see what’s caused it. Even Kwikfit couldn’t find why the Audi A3’s rear nearside tyre had lost pressure. But as I had some miles to cover that weekend, and the tyre wouldn’t stay inflated, I wasn’t in a position to wait for a detailed investigation. A new tyre was sourced quickly, fitted and I was on my way with the old carcass in the boot while I figure out how to work out why it went down.

Audi A3 test car

It ain’t sexy… but it got me home

The puncture did enable me to discover three things. The Tyre Pressure Monitoring System fitted to the A3 does actually work and informed me something was awry before the tyre became dangerously flat. The A3’s jack and space saver spare were easy and efficient to use in my hour of need. And after ringing my local independent tyre fitter, and Kwikfit, the latter proved the cheapest more than £20 less than my local garage.

Puncture aside, the A3 is proving the perfect travelling companion. It might not have the extra room, or doors, of the Sportback but there haven’t been many complaints from the 12-year-old daughter who invariably ends up in the back. The boot has proved more than adequate too, long enough for a Christmas tree, and commodious enough for old carpet and underlay from two medium sized rooms in one go.

The A3’s 2.0 turbo diesel pulls strongly and according to the onboard computer appears to be returning economy in the late 40s. Even though I’ve engaged the Efficiency Programme which gives me ‘helpful’ (read slightly patronising) advice such as ‘Use Start/Stop’, economy remains disappointingly shy of the claimed 68.9mpg.

The winter’s extreme rain enabled me to put the automatic wipers to the test more than I would have liked and they’re the best I’ve come across so far. Unlike examples from other makers which either don’t come on as soon as you want and then remain wiping manically when the rain has stopped, the A3’s system appears to judge conditions as I would.

The winter tyres have proved themselves too. In the various cold spells, while everyone around me slithered and skidded to a stop, PJJ’s progress was serene. Even up the relatively steep hill to my house the traction control light resolutely refused to illuminate. Only being brutishly heavy footed – in the name of research obviously – caused it to wink and the front wheels to scrabble on the snow. It somehow made the extra expense of replacing the punctured winter tyre worthwhile.

Toy Story

When I was a kid back in the early 70s I lost a Corgi James Bond Aston Martin DB5. I remember the traumatic events well. I was on a walk with my parents. We stopped on a bench for a rest, I put down the Aston and a Jaguar D-type ‑ my two favourite toy cars ‑ and when we left, there they stayed. Of course we went back but astonishingly in that apparently deserted wood there was another toy car fan who had made off with my cars. Bugger. I’ve still got the D-type’s little white plastic driver to this day, a memento to my youthful forgetfulness.

BLOG Bond AstonAnyway, the point of this is that the Aston Martin is highly collectible now. If you’ve got one that’s immaculate, in its box with the spare villain to be propelled out through the sun roof via working ejector seat, you’re looking at £800. Other models of the era are similarly valuable.

Of course condition is the key. The rubber tyres apparently perish with age and models that weren’t manufactured in any great volume will always be the most valuable. As will cars that are in their boxes. And that’s where it all goes wrong. When you’re a five-year old car fan, you’re not interested in the packaging. You just want to get your hands on the treasure within and start scooting it along the kitchen floor. And let’s be honest, boxes back then could be pretty rudimentary affairs anyway. Saving the packaging was never top of the agenda.

Neither was preserving the condition. I had a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. It was in a metallic red paint. Beautiful. Until it got battered against various skirting boards. So what did I do? Repainted it of course. By hand. It looked worse than in its battered state and now it’s pretty much worthless.

Of course collectors themselves don’t have a great image. You might imagine grown men who spend too much time with their mothers. I would too, except I know a couple of collectors; one of them’s in the family. And they’re both remarkably normal. They collect because people collect things. That their collections will be worth a small fortune in the fullness of time is a happy by product. Did they collect as kids? Of course not. And that’s why their equivalents who stashed toy cars away in attics in their boxes in the 60s and 70s so they’re now in immaculate condition with their boxes were actually remarkably sensible. Even if they did live with their mums…

Sharing a Chinese with Schumacher

One of the stranger evenings I’ve had was spent with Michael Schumacher, Eddie Irvine and a model at the Dorchester Hotel. First a bit of house keeping. The model was Irvine’s girlfriend of the time (it was 1996). And we weren’t doing the sort of things footballers are famous for doing in hotel rooms. We were in a private part of the Dorchester’s Chinese restaurant.

At the time I knew Eddie pretty well. I was ghost writing a magazine column for him and he was in London for a Ferrari sponsor do. He asked me if I wanted to meet for a drink and after we’d had a couple he casually mentioned Michael was joining us. And that’s how I found myself having dinner with the reigning F1 world champion of the time. I found Schumacher quiet, a bit shy and quite serious but with remarkable humility. He didn’t appear over burdened with charisma but in the company of Irvine that was unsurprising.

The next time I met him was a couple of years later. I’d gone to Monza in Italy where he was testing to interview him. My plane was late departing so I was late arriving at the track. Schumacher however knew I was coming and altered his schedule to fit me in. After we’d done the interview, we carried on talking about life; the pain of delayed planes, sleepless nights as a dad of young kids and road cars, something he’s fascinated with.

For those reasons I’ve always had a soft spot for Schumacher. And unlike the rest of the world I’ve enjoyed his comeback. This year he’s had the better of Nico Rosberg in qualifying and when his car hasn’t broken he’s proved there’s plenty of fight left in him. And at 43 he’s a man.

Without wishing to get all homo erotic about this, when I got into F1 the drivers were all men. James Hunt won his title aged 29. In 1978, the top three in the championship, Mario Andretti, Ronnie Peterson and Carlos Reutemann, were 38, 34 and 36 respectively. Now most drivers still have spots and are generally viewed as past it when they get to 33. For us older geezers, 43-year-old Schumi is driving proof that age doesn’t have to count against you.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.