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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"You'd better off on a Bus" - Clarkson on Mazda 2

The Sunday Times Online (UK):

November 25, 2007

Stay out of the real world, my little beauty

Jeremy Clarkson

I do not like to be late. Actually, that’s not strictly accurate. I don’t know whether I’d like to be late because it’s never happened. And it’s never happened because I usually drive very powerful cars, which means I can always make up the time.

Last week, though, there was a disaster. I’d planned to leave at 11.45am for an appointment in Birmingham. But you know how things are. I couldn’t find my phone charger. I’d lost my house keys. One of the dogs was missing. And did I turn my computer off? I’ll just go and check and Oh Christ, now it’s 11.55.

This would mean averaging 60mph and that’s no bother in a Koenigsegg or a Caparo. But then I opened the front door to find that sitting there, all blue and useless, was a Mazda2. And for that little dollop of extra misery, it wasn’t even the 1.5 version. It was the 1.3, and 1.3 litres, in liquid terms, is barely enough to quench the thirst of a dehydrated man. At a pinch, 1.3 litres might, just, be able to power an egg whisk but for making up time on a trip to Birmingham it’s hopeless.

However, in the course of that journey, I had an epiphany. I was exposed to something cruel and unusual. Something I’ve not experienced for 20 years or more. I believe it’s called the real world.

I’ve often wondered why there are so many people out there who hate cars, who find them noisy, dangerous, antisocial and unbecoming of a civilised state. Some of these people, for sure, have frizzy hair and eat only leaves, but others are, apparently, quite normal.

I can understand they might not find driving fun but I cannot understand why they won’t accept that the car, at the very least, is a useful tool. Or rather, I could not understand until I tried that Mazda.

If you are looking for a small five-door hatchback, there are many reasons why you might be drawn to this car. Unlike anything else I can recall, it is actually smaller than its predecessor. And better still, it is lighter as well. It weighs less than a ton, in fact, which means you will get better fuel economy and more speed. I took a good long look around the cab – God knows there was time – to see if I could work out how this weight had been shed but other than the dash, which looks like it was made by John Noakes, it seems to be just as well equipped and just as robust as any other small car. And just as spacious as well.

What’s more, being a Mazda, its is likely to be reliable. And when you add this to the low group 4 insurance bracket, the £9,999 price tag and the rather cheeky looks, it’s easy to see why those who just want a tool might be tempted by such a thing. As small hatchbacks go, it’s excellent.

But here’s the problem. You see, while this may be the best of breed, it just isn’t good enough for the real world. Coming out of Chipping Norton, on the road to Shipston-on-Stour, there’s a long, slightly uphill straight on which you can overtake the dithering old fool who just spent 20 minutes in the town being confused by the double mini roundabout. And who is now in a such a state of shock, he’s doing 3mph.

Not in a 1.3 litre hatchback you can’t. You drop a cog on the five-speed box, weld your foot to the floor and pull onto the other side of the road . . . where 10 minutes later you can still be found, sweating slightly, as you wonder whether you will get past before the long straight is over, or whether it would be prudent to brake and admit defeat.

Defeat seemed like a good idea. So I eased off, slipped back into the old man’s slipstream and realised, with a heavy heart and sagging shoulders, that in a car such as this, overtaking is not on the menu. And as a result, you are forced to drive everywhere at the same speed as the slowest driver on the road. Often, this stretches the concept of “movement”.

Eventually, and happily, the man in front died – I think he’d grown weary of spending so much time in his own company – and I could open the taps on the little Mazda.

It was horrible. Because it is built to a price, for people who don’t like driving and simply want a tool, everything on it feels cheap and nasty. The electric power steering is too sudden. The suspension is too rubbery. The brakes are too sharp. So even at moderate(ish) speeds, it felt disconnected, unstable and twitchy.

Think of it as a motorway service station sandwich. It was not created to be the best sandwich in the world. The chef had nothing to prove. He simply wanted to offer some of the important food groups for the smallest possible price. There is no truffle oil. There is no homemade cheese. There is absolutely nothing to surprise and delight the enthusiastic motorist who wants something a little bit more than ham made from tyres, butter made from petroleum byproducts, and 129 carbon dioxides to the kilometre. Eventually, after what felt like several months, I reached the motorway and accelerated down the slip road. I had gravity on my side, and 85bhp. This would have been great in 1957 but it sure as hell isn’t enough in 2007 because by the time I reached the main carriageway, I was only doing 50 and that’s too slow to join the inside lane without causing the onrushing lorry to have to brake.

So there I was, sandwiched between a truck full of Polish pies and Eddie Stobart, doing 56 . . . and there was simply no possibility of getting into the middle lane at all. I didn’t have enough oomph to move out because, on the modern motorway, there is always something coming and with only 1.3 litres I couldn’t match its speed before making the manoeuvre.

Small wonder people who buy cars such as this can’t see that driving is useful or fun. It isn’t. It’s either dull or terrifying.

And it gets worse because in Birmingham my car was valet parked in the hotel’s 4m-acre car park by a chap who was a) mildly surprised to see me step from such a thing and b) not on duty when I went to collect it four days later for the journey home again.

This meant I had to find it myself and that’s pretty damn hard when you can’t remember anything about it. Most of the hotel staff came to help, with one asking what it looked like. “It’s car shaped,” I explained, “and possibly blue.”

Or red. I do believe the Mazda2 is a good small car but in the cut and thrust of modern driving, and especially on a motorway network full of BMW M3s and Romanian lorry drivers on speed, it is terrible. You would be better off on the bus or the train. Or walking on your hands and knees, while naked.

The fact is that, these days, you need power to survive and I really do think the government should stop fannying about with speed cameras and home zones and congestion charging. The cities are fine. It’s the rest of the road network that needs to be addressed.

What I propose, then, is a ban, on any derestricted road, for any car that does not have at least 150bhp under the bonnet. This way, you won’t hate me for trying to get past in my Lamborghini and I won’t hate you for being in my way. By keeping us apart, it will make Britain a kinder, more understanding place. And in addition, it will remove the single biggest danger on the roads today: big differences in speed.

We’ll all be going quickly out there and that means we’ll all have time to find our dogs and still arrive on time. The Mazda2, then, is excellent. But if I were running the Department for Transport, I’m afraid I’d have it banned.

Vital statistics

Model Mazda2 1.3 TS2 five-door
Engine 1348cc, four cylinders
Power 85bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 90 lb ft @ 3500rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual
Fuel 52.3mpg (combined cycle)
CO2 129g/km
Acceleration 0-62mph: 12.9sec
Top speed 107mph
Price £9,999
Verdict Excellent, economical hatch, but it’s still completely rubbish

NOTE: This is another GIBBERISH review by Jeremy Clarkson. Typical Clarksonish review. If you didn't notice, He proposed "a ban, on any derestricted road, for any car that does not have at least 150bhp under the bonnet. This way, you won’t hate me for trying to get past in my Lamborghini and I won’t hate you for being in my way. By keeping us apart, it will make Britain a kinder, more understanding place". Here's some of his SELECTED "FANS" comments:

COMMENT 1: "Some years ago I had an Alfa Sprint with 85bhp - I could overtake in that. My current Audi A4 diesel 'only' has 140 bhp while my previous Volvo S40 had 115 bhp - I have/had no trouble in overtaking. Get yourself a diesel Jeremy and feel the turbo come in - you sure can overtake with a lot less than 150 bhp (at least that wouldn't exclude an Alfa GT diesel or a Volvo with the magnificent D5 engine)". by Ian Burgess, Bristol

COMMENT 2 (a negatively GOOD one):
"Poor Jeremy. Spends his life in Ferraris, Porches, Mercedes, Lamborghinis etc, etc. (See Top Gear). When for the first time in years he gets into the sort of car that the real world drives he can't take it. Surprised he didn't comment on the lack of paddle shifts! Maybe it's not the fastest of cars, nor the best on the motorway, but that's not it's made for!" by Mark, Cardiff, UK

COMMENT 3 (Positive one): ""Sensational provocation"....Jeremy's speciality and refreshing for it. A healthy dose of snobbery has not hurt the argument either, or for that matter his loathing of poltical correctness. I enjoyed it all because it was typically Clarkson and he is VERY good at it". by Malcolm Wright, Paignton,

COMMENT 4: (Neutral one) "Jeremy, I've been reading you for ages and as much as I usually like your views, today you've lost it completely!

The three commandments of the good driver:

1. Know how to stop the vehicle
2. Know what you're driving
3. Act accordingly

You already knew it was a 1.3 litre engine and obviously that's not meant for speeding but for fuel economy . It's a bit like trying to introduce you as a sensible and open minded chap...

Next time try and be a bit fairer to the subject of analysis using it for what it was meant for and drive in a rush with your Lambo or one of the many XC90 you seem to own!" by Alfredo Nieto, Madrid, Spain

Footballers' Drives: The Top Ten Premier League runabouts

From Times Online (UK): Supplement: Life and Style.

August 10, 2007

Footballers' Drives: The Top Ten Premier League runabouts

Despite the almost limitless choice, the wealthy young men of the football world keep choosing the same cars: We round up the soccer elite's 10 most popular drives

by Michael Moran

Second only perhaps to our great captains of industry, Premier League footballers are some of the most handsomely-remunerated people in the UK. Unlike those besuited behemoths of the boardroom however, soccer stars tend to have a great deal of leisure time in which they have little to do except spend their money on the most expensive things they can find. You can only live in one mock-tudor mansion though, which is why these elite sportsmen tend to focus much of their spending power on luxury motor vehicles. We’ve taken a look around the car parks at some of the top grounds and identified ten of the most popular choices.

1: BMW X5 (£47,525) The archetypal school run tank is an unexpectedly popular purchase, with soccer luminaries like Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Cristiano Ronaldo, and even old-timer Paul Gascoigne falling for its callypygian charms. The questionable handling has tripped up more than one driver though, with both Gascoigne and Rooney requiring the sevices of a panel-beater after having dented the sturdy Bavarian bodywork.

2: Range Rover Sport (£57,495) Another popular 4x4, and equally unlikely to find its way off-road except by accident. Chelsea's pocket dynamo Michael Essien was arrested earlier this year on suspicion of drink driving in his Range Rover, and Jermain Defoe is another modestly-proportioned driver who appreciates the extra room. Other Range Rover Sport fans have included Ashley Cole, John Terry, and Xabi Alonso. Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher pranged his new £63,000 Range Rover HST Sport near the club’s Carrington training ground just months after passing his driving test, prompting an expensive repair bill. Genuinely determined overspenders can always go for the Overfinch Range Rover SuperSport, which Jeremy Clarkson memorably described as: "Very possibly the least cool car that money can buy"

3: Mercedes McLaren SLR (£313,465) Looking a little more like a soccer star's car should look, the sleek if slightly overdesigned convertible is markedly lighter, faster and therefore more dangerous than the bulky 4x4s above. Despite the objections of responsible team coaches and anxious insurers its air of Gallic irresponsibility has still managed to lure Claude Makélélé and William Gallas. It's a vehicle that can't legally be used to its fullest potential on any public road, which is why we've found this clip of the SLR taking on its arch-rival, the Bugatti Veyron, on a track.

4: Aston Martin Vanquish (£166,000) The last of the old school Astons, the Vanquish took more than 396 man hours to build. Each car underwent around 2,000 stages of construction and used eight complete cow hides for the interior trim. Launched to mixed reactions in 2001, it's the car that tempted James Bond back from BMW with an endearingly silly role in 'Die Another Day' (Trailer here).Thierry Henry, Steven Gerrard and Welsh Wizard Ryan Giggs have all been spotted behind the wheel of a Vanquish, suggesting that perhaps it's not so invisible after all.

5: Aston Martin DB9 (£103,000) A modern classic, the DB9 is a prized possession of notorious short range strike specialist Frank Lampard as well as his Chelsea stablemate Glen Johnson. Despite being able to miss the net when he's standing inside it there's clearly nothing wrong with Frank's eyesight when it comes to spotting a good car. He's in good company: When Jeremy Clarkson reviewed a 2004 DB9 for us he signed off with the words "If you want a perfect car, you simply have to have a DB9". The Aston's timelessly elegant lines were described by another Sunday Times car expert, Andrew Frankel, as 'achingly beautiful'. Of all the cars on our list, this is the one that harks back most vividly to those halcyon days when footballers drove an E-type and dated Miss World because that's what looked best.

6: Bentley Continental (£110,000) The majestic Continental is part of the Premier League footballer's starter kit, along with free entry to Chinawhite, a niggling injury, and a cheap nylon shirt with a number on the back. Ledley King, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Kieron Dyer, Gary Neville, Jackie McNamara, John Terry and fiercely competitive Man City left back Michael Ball have all pushed this particular whip at some point in their careers, and it would be no surprise if talented youngsters practising in front of video cameras all over Britain have a toy one already installed in their trophy cabinet.

7: Aston Martin DB7 (£104,500) Combining his initials with his original Man U shirt number, it's hard to see how David Beckham could have chosen any other car - although he obviously did. The CEO of Brand Beckham has also been spotted in, among others, the Premiership standard Bentley Continental GT, the ever popular BMW X5, a Chrysler Grand Voyager (£32,000), a Ferrari 550 Maranello (£157,867), a Ford F-150 pickup (on sale last month through a dealer in Cobham for £18,995), the California classic Hummer H2 (£62,000), a nippy little Porsche 911 (993) Turbo (around £30,000) , a TVR Cerbera (around £23,000),a Mercedes G55 AMG (around £77,000) and several other cars and bikes including a petrol-bingeing Lincoln Navigator (from about £18,000 if you can find one). Imagine how much he spends on maps and boiled sweets for all those glove compartments alone!

8: Porsche 911 (GT3 £72,750) The ubiquitous German sports car, in one or other of its innumerable variants, has found its way into many a mock-tudor garage. Thierry Henry has one, as do Louis Saha, Robbie Keane,and Lee Bowyer - The 911's deceptive placidity at high speeds lulled poor Lee into overstepping the limit in 2006, driving at speeds between 99 and 132 mph along a 70mph stretch of road in Morpeth.

9: Ferrari 360 (Around £80,000) It's surprising that so few footballers seem to have plumped for the pedigree Italian supercar. Kieron Dyer certainly has one of the low-slung thoroughbreds, as does Arsenal star turned national treasure Ian Wright. Perhaps the astroturf glitterati are buying them and just garaging them as an investment against the day when a younger, hungrier player replaces them in the team. After all, they can't all get picked for the Chicken Tonight advert.

10: Ford Ka (Around £4,425) Easily the most affordable entry on our list, and wisely selected by the young and eminently sensible Wayne Rooney. Along with a BMW X5, of course.