Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

Driving the New Fiat Teapot

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2017 at 12:59 pm

IMG_7686Many years ago when money was short and unused holidays were plentiful I used to work for Hertz car rentals in Croydon.

I was paid for doing what I loved, driving.

Dropping off a Merc here, or ragging an Escort to the next drop off.

Honestly the car washing and hoovering were no problem.

We even had a team spirit, and did our best to get cars turned out on time.

Back in those distant days Fiat launched the ugly and unreliable Fiat Tipo.

In the rental trade we called them “Tea Pots”.

So when Sam needed wheels for Christmas I was delighted to get a chance to drive the reincarnated machine.

First impressions as a passenger were not favourable.

Every little imperfection in the road surface can be felt in the cabin.

The plastics are hard, and the tiny TomTom Sat Nav looks like an insult.

Outside things aren’t any better.

The designers picked the worst looking car in the class (BMW 1 Series) and decided to make it worse.

Now that we’ve had the machine for a few days I’m getting over my reservations.

The six speed manual gearbox is super slick, and unlike most old Fiat’s of my youth there’s no graunching as you select second.

As a mid range “Lounge” the 1.4 Tipo has loads of extras, and once it’s got into a high gear commendably little engine noise.

The steering has two settings, but I can’t see how to select the out of town mode. The City setting is light, and doesn’t give much feedback.

Just imagine for a moment that you’re trying to raise a young family on a tight income.  Now the TeaPot starts to make sense.

The one we are driving costs about £16,000 and has a 3 year warranty, big boot, and bags of legroom in the back.


It also sips fuel at about 40 mpg or better.

If you could suss out the TomTom, it would help you get to your destination.  It also has a DAB radio for 6 Music fans like myself.  Why it even sounds good with CLASSIC FM selected.

For the money I’m not sure there are many better cars, although I’d be swayed by either a better warranty from a Korean brand or big discount from Fiat.

My last observation.

It’s fiddly to wash.  There are too many contrived swathes, and recesses.

This car reminded me of my how easily I once washed my IMG_7683BMW 335i Se convertible.  All the smooth lines made it both pretty, and easy to clean.

Excessive detail only goes to spoil a car.



Surprisingly different – BMW 218D GT

In BMW on November 8, 2017 at 12:17 am

M4 2 GTThree hundred miles today in an Auto BMW 218D M Sport Grand Tourer.

Firstly well done Chandlers who were top notch when selling me my smaller 225xe Active Tourer, and equally good at 22,000 miles for my first service.

Today in heavy traffic, then heavy rain I had a 300 mile round trip to Bristol and Gloucestershire.

I’m not sure what my expectations were, but this is a remarkably different proposition to my 2 series.

Let’s run through the differences.

The most obvious? The size. My Active Tourer seats 5, the Grand Tourer seats 7.

What’s more the guys in the middle row have more legroom. My car and this both have the sports seats, with plenty of adjustment.  Mine seem harder, although there should be no difference.

Sat navAlthough both vehicles are of a virtually identical age this has no sat nav within the instrument binnacle, so a phone call wipes out any graphic indicator of one’s route.

The controls on the chunkier steering wheel are less easy to use. Today’s loan car came with a flappy paddles gearbox.

I tried them briefly, but this is more Monster Truck than sports car, and not what I’d consider useful.

Mine’s a “Luxury” and this is an M Sport.  What does that mean?

The blue car here has wider profile tyres, and a at slower speeds a less settled ride.

My 225xe is 4WD, petrol power up front (136 bhp) and up to 82 bhp battery power to the rear, the 218d has a 4 cylinder 2 litre 150 bhp diesel unit powering the front wheels alone.

You’d imagine this big blue machine would be lethargic, but in practice there’s plenty of shove.  Once on the move it’s more relaxing than my daily driver.

Which brings out another difference. Occasionally my rear wheels scrabble on our gravel track when I pull onto a busy road, but other than that it’s always well behaved.

The 2GT is nowhere near as refined on wet greasy road surfaces if you stamp on the loud pedal.  Attempt a quick get away in the wet and there are severe knocking sensations from the front end.

Once at 70 mph on the motorway the bigger car generally feels more secure, but once the roads were saturated the wide tyres seemed to aquaplane too easily.

Economy? Over 46 mpg on my hybrid, and only 41 mpg for the oil burning 218D auto, I was really surprised.

Bottom line.  Is the 218D Grand Tourer any good?

Absolutely. Although I’d rather have a sun roof than half the fancy M Sport features.  The screen on this one kept misting up.

One other unexpected bonus for the diesel, it was even quieter than my 3 cylinder petrol Active Tourer.  The only time the hybrid is less vocal being when the Active Tourer is in battery mode.



French Flair in N.I.

In Renault on October 21, 2017 at 2:06 pm

JumboMeet Dumbo the French SUV with big ears and smiley face.

After the patchy years of the Mk3 Laguna, hideous Mk1 Koleos, and bloated Scenic the Renault brand seems to be enjoying some sort of renaissance.

Hooking up with Nissan has given them access to a broader corporate parts bin, and they’ve made good use of the components to rustle up their very own version of the Qashqai.

On my recent trip to Northern Ireland I enjoyed three days behind the wheel of this Renault Kadjar 1.5 Dci Dynamique Nav with optional 19″ wheels.

“Mine” was a lovely deep shade of metallic blue, so it looked great on the outside.  The inside was less impressive.

For someone brought up on a diet of Renault, 16s, 20s, 30s, and the like I always miss the high quality cloth and velour of yesteryear.  It was way better than leather, and felt classy.

Up front the dashboard and controls were made of a reasonable grade of plastic, and I can’t say I missed the BMW wood veneers that I’m used to.

What did impress was slick gearbox, comfortable roomy cabin, and plethora of tech aids which are absent on my daily driver.

Somehow the illuminated leaves that configure a tree induced me to be more light-footed than the blue readouts that flicker on my 2 series.


When speed signs were clearly visible the dash displayed the speed limit to the right of a clear digital mph readout.

Very impressive.

Sadly the 1.5 diesel only pumps out 110 bhp, so in the words of Courtney Barnet this car was “Pedestrian at Best”.

If like me you’re a persistent “Drink Driver” you’ll also be disappointed with the provision of shallow “bottle holders” and door pockets that fail to cradle the obligatory sparkling water.

On the plus side the boot is far more accommodating, with a useful false floor.


Not so clever is the lack of an electronic opener. On wet days access via the low slung catch results in dirty fingers every time.

Once shut the back end looks smart.

BumThis shot shows the cumbersome the door mirrors, which block forward visibility at roundabouts and junctions.

In summary I was pleasantly surprised by this French take on the British built Nissan.

Would I buy one?

Quite possibly.

I’d prefer something with more power, but the autos are unavailable on anything with any poke.

Pick of the range?

1.2 Petrol Auto?

Quite possibly.







Stick or Twist?

In BMW, Renault on July 22, 2017 at 5:42 pm

BMW 125 JULY 17In the last 9 years we’ve had six BMW’s. Four have been very good, one indifferent, and one hugely disappointing.

The 125 M Sport has been with us for 4 years now, and it might be time to change.  There’s 43,000 miles on the clock, and thus far it’s been reliable.

Chopping it in may not seem logical, but we’re at the stage where it has started to cost money.   A new tyre recently set us back more than £200.

Both the front and rear bumpers have suffered buffs and bashes whilst the car has been parked. If we want to “stay together” we’d probably need an expensive warranty.

Do we stick with it for another year? Buy another new shape 1 series, or try something completely different?

The former would be quite costly, but a trade in and a moderate cash outlay could see us in something with a lengthy warranty.

I’ve ruled out the Yaris, but today we were pleasantly surprised by a Twingo GT.

There are only 10 available on Autotrader, most are bright orange.




But we drove the white demonstrator.


Which features orange detailing.


We arrived at Masters Beckenham with fairly low expectations, but the proof would be in the pudding.

Perhaps we might be surprised?

So we each took took a turn behind the wheel.


Travelling with the salesman meant that one of us ended up in the claustrophobic rear.

ClaustrophobiaThe seats remind me of those in our old Renault 12 TS, which also look like giant tomb stones.

Roz found them quite comfortable, but I’d say the seats in the seventies saloon were more supportive.

So how did it go?

Surprisingly well!  There is no auto option on this Twingo, despite the fact it’s cousin the Brabus Smart has no manual option.

Neither of us have had a manual car for years, but it wasn’t an issue.  Indeed the tactile metal gear knob, with a  very direct shift was a joy to “stir”.

In the back the turbocharged three cylinder gave off a delightful throbbing hum, encouraging upshifts.

When it was my turn I acclimatised myself with the radio (pretty good), Sat Nav (adequate) and rear parking camera (such fun).

Then I was off.

I liked it!

It felt like I was stepping back into an analogue world, my own hybrid car feels “remote” by comparison.

The cost to change is virtually nothing.

Should we stick or twist?

5 seats and a prestige badge v 4 seats in a French Box

We’ll sleep on it!

A tight turning circle, better economy, cheaper insurance v more of the same?

I’ll keep you posted.






The Curate’s Egg

In Toyota on July 20, 2017 at 10:49 pm

YarisSince taking delivery of my BMW 225xe Active Tourer I’ve grown fond of Hybrid power.

Now the warranty on our 125 M Sport has expired I’ve been looking at what we might get instead.

Put it another way.

How often do we need to go from 0-60mph in 6 seconds, or hit 150mph?

That’s right.


How often do i wish we could get more than 33 mpg from our own set of wheels?


So how about leaving our favourite brand?

Twenty years back I had a soft spot for our 2 litre Carina E Executive.

Perhaps a test drive in the funky looking Yaris might prove worthwhile?

In truth it was a mixed bag.

Lovely interior.

Superb Seats.

Silent parking.

Horrid 1.5 litre 4 cylinder engine.

Hopeless range on electric power alone (5 miles max).

These hybrids are all automatic, but squeezing the pedal for acceleration merely serves up a hideous din.

Could we happily go from a 200 bhp BMW to a 100 bhp Toyota?



Best of Lydden – WRX 2017

In FORD, Volkswagen on May 28, 2017 at 10:59 pm

Saturday at Lydden.

A great day was had by all.

Unless you happened to be driving an Audi!

One factory car blew up.

One was crunched and didn’t get beyond the first corner in Heat 3.

The third was no match for the all conquering Polos.


Chessons Drift – Lydden Hill

In FORD on May 28, 2017 at 5:58 pm

Chessons Drift

My mate loved the McDonald’s Fiesta driven by the Belgian Guillaume De Ridder.

It was one of the fastest cars entered in the 2017 RX2 International class.

Here he leads his fellow competitors through Chessons Drift at the west end of the circuit.


North Bend – Lydden World RX

In FORD on May 28, 2017 at 4:49 pm


Full marks to folk running Lydden Hill motor racing circuit.

It seems to have escaped the worst excesses of the Health n Safety contingent.

On top of that Rallycross is not on most people’s radar.

Fancy a day at the British Grand Prix?  You’ll pay £250 to get in, and probably watch a procession with a shortage of good support races.

Want two days at Lydden, with cars that accelerate even faster and racing that’s utterly amazing?

Book in advance and you can see legendary drivers like Solberg, Loeb, and Block battling it out over two days for just £40.

Want to speak to the stars? Then hang out in the paddock, where there’s elbow room to look at the cars being fettled.  You can walk away with some freebies and chat to the drivers.

These Fiestas aren’t in the top tier, but were fabulous to watch.



In BMW on April 25, 2017 at 9:50 pm


Fifty three days ago I picked up a new car.

I’ve had turbocharged, and twin turbocharged cars, but never thought I’d be the custodian of a hybrid.

My little BMW 225xe Luxury Active Tourer has revolutionised my motoring, and it just keeps getting better.

Studio 16

From enquiry to installation it has taken over 2 months to get a fast charger installed in our garage.

I’m no longer playing with a 3 pin plug, and waiting 4 or 5 hours to get 18 miles of renewable energy.


I’ve also beginning to understand the best driving techniques for optimum range.  Initially I conserved battery life “just in case I needed full power”.

My policy of saving electric charge until the end of each day with the intention of exhausting it on the final 13-18 miles of my journey home proved ineffective.

I’d often exceed the projected range and “miss out” on up to 8 miles of whisper quiet motoring.

Using all my powers of observation, and anticipation, and keeping off motorways has seen me harvest several extra miles onto my range.

Once I delighted in high speed dashes across the west country, but now I get my kicks at a more modest pace, and feel pity for the raucous sounds made by “boy racers”.

The diminutive petrol/electric vehicle is averaging 46.2 mpg and my average speed has dropped to 34 mph.

Over 107,000 miles my 320D did 53.1 mpg (using diesel) whilst averaging over 37 mph.

Filling up with motion lotion every 600 + miles was great, but the new outfit has “maxed out” at 372 miles in the early weeks of our acquaintance.

I’m sure I’ll top 400 miles on one fill up soon, as I adopt a more subtle approach with the pedals.

It’s seems strange, but after more than 4600 miles I feel I’ve barely unlocked the secrets of this machine.

Two new discoveries were made today.  Stuck in traffic on the M25 I was able to use the iDrive to look up a potential customer on the internet!

A sign written was in the outside lane, and now have a good lead to follow up when I’m back in the office.

Then on my way back from a trip to Worthing I thought I’d check out the “fuel app”.


The iDrive app gave me a list of the fuel stations within  20 mile range, putting the cheapest at the top of my search.


The Joy of Specs

In BMW on March 13, 2017 at 11:52 pm

Brand Spanking NEW

Just over a week ago I picked up a remarkable vehicle.

Okay, so you might say “It’s remarkably ugly”and you’d be right, but wait a minute.

Underneath the ugly duckling there’s a swan!

Thanks to the naughty boys at VW the tide has turned against smelly diesels, and the company has kindly let me buy a petrol engined car.

That tiny engine would normal nestle under the nose of a Mini, and pump out 136 bhp.  Surely that’s enough for someone clocking up 36,000 miles a year?

Mini Engine

No it isn’t! What I really wanted was a car with a spacious boot, and a bit of get up and go.

This particular BMW 2 Series Active Tourer has a raft of batteries under the back seat. Once charged these power the rear wheels leaving the diminutive engine to power the front axle.FRONT Ambient

If you like fiddling with switches the BMW 225xe Luxury Active Tourer will serve up 4WD, sprint faster than Linford Christie, or sparingly sip fuel from the 6 gallon tank.

Yes, this is our first Hybrid, and only the second long-term 4WD machine on the Biggs fleet.

You’d imagine I’ve ended up with a leaden people carrier more suited to a busty Mum than a busy executive.

Actually despite only the briefest of test drives several months back I’m delighted with what’s perhaps the most “niche” car within the BMW range.

Why are less than 300 of these are registered onto the UK roads in a typical year? Presumably because the 3 Series Hybrid looks the bees knees.

My particular example is a “mid-range” model, but has a raft of extras, as I specced it up with a host of extras.

Namely, Mineral Grey Metallic paint, Oyster Leather interior, Comfort Access, LED Headlights, Heated Steering Wheel, panoramic glass sunroof, upgraded Stereo, Sports Seats, and a few other things I can’t remember.

And a few aftermarket bits which have yet to arrive.

After 10 full days and over 1000 miles I’m loving it.

Good Bits.

Excellent Ride

Good Turning Circle

Silent Running for at least 20 miles each day

Comfy Seats

Fresh Air option

Weather on my Sat Nav maps!

Incredibly efficient re-routing when the “LIVE” Sat Nav spots hold ups

Plenty of oddments cubby holes

Restful Ambient Lighting

Transition between power sources is smooth and virtually undetectable

I’ll soon see my company car/fuel tax liability is about to drop by two thirds

Extraordinary how quickly a full charge can be re-generated on “SAVE” mode

It’s a joy to “manage” the harvesting of kinetic energy

Using the electric motor to power the machine beyond the predicted range.

Disappointing Stuff

“Wavy Foot” opening/closing tailgate feature (it tried to decapitate me occasionally)

Hazard warning device is not a patch on the equivalent Volvo systems – Missing real hazards whilst beeping if I’m stuck behind a bus in rush hour traffic

Battery weight makes the car ponderous on tight bends

Standard home charge cable is barely long enough

Total range on a full tank/charge half that of a 320D

Numb steering feel