The last time I was offered a massage in a car was on a morose, slate grey night in downtown Birkenhead. I had popped into the Co-0p for some groceries and emerged to find a bedgraggled creature occupying the front passenger seat. The hag had smeared lipstick, a pasty face with haunted eyes and a skirt rolling above her bony, white thighs. She looked more like a corpse than an alluring lady of the night so I kindly declined the offer to replenish her leccy meter. At the other end of the spectrum the Lexus LS 6ooh provides a hands free Shiatsu massage which you can enjoy in the rear seats while watching a DVD. On the other hand if you need to work check out the neat little coffee table/writing desk. In fact, the environment is more akin to a gentleman’s club with an abundance of the finest leather and wood, the nifty mod cons and even a handstitched dashboard. The LS 600h was in fact the first performance hybrid back in 2007 and continues to be the flagship marque. That means despite having a 5 litre V8 under the bonnet it glides along like a sub on a secret mission in electric mode. Performance is assured, delivering 0-62 in 5.5 seconds although cornering at pace can be sluggish. Lexus may not match Audi or BMW in some respects but it still enjoys the last word in luxury.
Wensleydale – an appropriate location to get a flavour of the Corsa VXR, the small car that acts like a Big Cheese.
Skidding around mud-caked roads in the dales is great fun as long as you can avoid the tractors and the hayricks. And a lot of the time, you can’t.
One Farmer Giles type sent me into a wheelspin, chewing languidly on cow cud as his ancient contraption wove its way around the Yorkshire backwater.
Once I had consigned him to a fading figure in the rear view mirror I was able to open up the gears and resume slashing through scenic roads around Hawes, Catterick Garrison and Richmond.
The sporty little hardtop’s 1.6 litre engine growled menacingly via a hip triangular tailpipe as I negotiated the tricky roads with help from an ESP system which allowed a modicum of rear wheel slide on throttle bursts.
Handling was overall excellent and well tested by the twists and turns of the rural landscape. Around 190bhp propels you to 60mph in a respectable 6.8 seconds.
As for looks, they don’t disappoint either. The VXR brand is the arm of Vauxhall and a lot of money and sweat has been poured into its racy and dramatic exterior. Front and rear spoilers, triangular lights and mirrors and wraparound bumpers give a real sporty feel.
Inside, it’s a real flier’s cockpit with specially moulded recaro seats, leather racing steering-wheel and cool black and metal trimmings.
Very impressive in terms of visuals, engine performance and road control. Up there with the best superminis.
In the late 1960s a rare appearance of a Jaguar in the north east coastal town where I lived caused eyes to pop and heads to swivel.
My uncle motored up once a year in a Mark 2 model from an exotic, faraway place called London and became an instant celebrity.
Kids would crowd around to admire the gleaming spokes and graceful curves, the wooden dashboard and incredibly racy steering-wheel. I can still vividly remember the smell of the leather upholstery which lingered like cigar smoke.
So, many years later, I returned to the old town behind the wheel of an XF, Jaguar’s award-winning, super sexy sports saloon. And do you know what, the reaction was remarkably similar. Several people engaged me in conversation about the car while a child with scuffed knees and a grimy neck asked: “Is that your car mister?”.
Of course there was a notable exception; some swamp-dweller obviously took exception to this and scratched the paintwork in some sort of act of class war against privilege no doubt.
I remember when the XF was first mooted and Jeremy Clarkson said he would saw his leg off beat himself over the head with it if the development model saw the light of day.
He didn’t end up hopping around as the design was modified for public consumption. It still ended up with striking look while providing a direct link to the ultra chic Mark 2 of yesteryear.
In addition it has brought back some exclusivity to the Jaguar brand which was somewhat diluted by the frequently seen X-type models.
The exterior is sleek and eye-catching but the interior is equally impressive. Settling into the cabin, the hand-stitched leather seats, sophisticated instrumentation and blue mood lighting create a sense of tranquil luxury.
The gear control knob rises out of the centre console on firing up while the air conditioning vents rotate into the open position giving a real futuristic feel.
Comfort and luxury abound with other clever tricks like touch screen controls and voice activation. On the road there is no disguising the power from the supercharged V8 engine, drawing 560 units of torque and delivering a brisk 0-60 in 5.4 seconds with a top speed of 155mph.
It is not only quick, it has all the agility of a Big Cat and the enhanced suspension and damper control give a smoother ride on corners even at high speeds.
Transmission is a quick-shifting electronic system that can also be accessed via the steering wheel paddles as can the audio system with eight speakers.
Aslso included are the usual access to modcons like Bluetooth and MP3 players.
The XF is a leading class sports saloon with world-class credentials.
Alfa Romeo’s sporty supermini the MiTo won a host of admirers when it was first unveiled. The TCT (Twin Clutch Transmission) version now available has had a mixed reaction to say the least. One magazine associated with a well-known TV programme could not have been more scathing but in other quarters it has its fans.
The reason for the differing views is that the innovative six speed gearbox has been combined with stop/start technology to provide a new type of driving experience.
I put the 1.4 turbocharged MiTo Veloce to the test to find out what all the fuss is about.
Alfa Romeo is one of those intriguing brands that has an ultra loyal following despite the fact that
many of their cars have their flaws. This seems to be an accepted fact even these days when advanced technology is the goal for all manufacturers.
Alfa Romeo always tries to do it with a little style too. The MiTo is loosely based on the 8C supercar and borrows some of its magnetic appeal.
It is also packed with innovative features such as the award-winning MultiAir petrol engine,
three different performance modes and that new gearbox. So, what is it like?
Well, my first ever car when I was a greenhorn working at a local newspaper was a Hillman
Avenger automatic. A colleague somehow persuaded me to invest in an automatic in the days when they were very much unfashionable and had a distinct tendency to creep forward at lights even with brake depressed – young and naive, I had no time for the handbrake.
The TCT and its companion stop/start on the Mito is actually built around the fact you keep the brake down when you come to a halt. This is really quite a profound change. The second you do this the engine cuts out and then quietly refires as soon as you lift your foot off the brake.
Some have complained there can be drag time between these events but you wouldn’t really see it as a problem unless you are a boy racer itching to screech away from the lights.
Where you can come to grief – as I discovered on top of the Yorkshire Moors – is that a hill start
can result in an unexpected roll back, pressing alarm bells and signalling to the driver behind that you are a bit of an idiot. Although I believe a hill start system should have kicked in.
The benefits are less oil used and a major reduction in emissions and fuel usage so you can’t really argue with that.
If you do find a bit of drag before re-ignition it is also possible to switch to manual operation using
steering wheel paddles, as well as engaging Dynamic mode for a sportier response.
Performance wise, the car is impressive. Upto 60mph in a touch over eight seconds and I got an average 40 miles to the gallon with combined urban, motorway and hill climbing duties.
The one annoying feature that bugs all Alfa Romeo’s is the fact that apparently the fuel light springs up with around 50 miles left in the tank. Immediately after it does this the tripometer refuses to calculate the estimated number of miles of motoring left. When this first happened I was literally in the middle of nowhere and started panicking until I luckily came across a delapidated old
service station in hillbilly country.
Design wise, it looks great with teardrop shaped windows, concencentric rear LED lights ,
sports alloys and chrome exhaust tailpipe. Inside the dashboard features an advanced graphical display, the electronics allow for Bluetooth and MP3 players and for comfor wrap around sports seats are provided.The MiTo has numerous switches and dials including a Microsoft Windows start button which activates the Blue&Me information and entertainment system, co-developed by Microsoft and Fiat, Alfa Romeo’s parent company. It allows playback of digital music via the car’s USB port as well as hands-free use of mobile phones that have been paired via Bluetooth.
The car also has also been given a five star Euro NCap rating for safety.
MiTo Veloce 1.4 turbocharged from £16,775
CO emissions 128
Insurance group 16
Top speed 129mph