Morning in a Rolls Royce

A morning in a Rolls Royce

When compiling my dream garage as most petrolheads like to do in their spare time, I never really considered a Rolls Royce. Yes I admired the craftsmanship and attention to detail that surpass pretty much all the competition, but I was under the impression they were the ultimate vehicle for a tranquil and serene journey, one with little driver input… oh how wrong I was.

I had only ever had one journey in a Rolls Royce, when I was 9 years old, and I can still remember it vividly today. A journey which poured petrol on the growing fire and passion I had for cars. Now as a fully fledged 24 year old car nut, I had the opportunity to take that same journey in the same 1928 Rolls Royce Phantom I cabriolet that I had all those years ago.

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Still owned by family friend David Dudley, a former chairman of the Rolls Royce Enthusiasts Club; a man who knows every intricate detail of this magnificent elegant car, and the perfect partner for this trip. He had warned me to wear several layers and, coming from a man with a huge amount of open top motoring experience, I took his advice and then some. So, with me looking similar to a Nepalese Sherpa, we set off.

The first thing that you notice whilst driving through the narrow lanes is the huge presence the Rolls Royce has, almost brushing the brambles on both sides with the famous silver lady as its crosshairs. At 16.4 ft long and weighing 2.3 tonnes, drivers meeting us in the lane made the correct decision to be the first to reverse, although this was always performed with a beaming smile of their faces. Even the non-motoring enthusiasts could appreciate the Rolls Royce’s pedigree and beauty, which can’t be said for a number of modern classics. The Rolls Royce delivers an impression of grandeur not matched by any other manufacturer.

For many years I have had a growing love of classic cars, with a large focus on modern classics such as the Alfa Romeo Spyder, Triumph TR6 and the pocket rocket Peugeot 205 GTi. I love the involvement you have in the car, that you are an integral part to the machine and not a passenger being carried with a technological safety net when you run out of driving talent. I’ve driven quite a few cars now of varying styles, but the most fun I have had was in our 1989 Mitsubishi Pajero. One of the simplest vehicles you could ever wish to drive, but you felt as though you were in full control at all times.

This is never truer than in the Rolls Royce. Whether David was opening the front grill to allow more air flow to the engine, or adjusting the richness of the fuel for an increase of power, his involvement was crucial. It may have seemed complicated to me as Rolls Royce novice, but David explained that it all became second nature, it becomes a reflex. Pilot is a closer description than driver to the role of a Rolls Royce owner.

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There’s just something a bit special about being in the elements whilst driving. It transforms a point A – B journey into an occasion. It’s not about the destination, but more the journey, as it should always be in a classic car. Open top motoring may well become my new passion, but living in Wales where the sunshine is a major news story, I better invest in more thermals.

The other thing that struck me was that the Phantom I was still in regular use. It’s not locked in a garage where it’s being sheltered and the smallest speck of dust on the car causes the owner to have heart palpitations. David takes any opportunity to get his Rolls Royce on the road and use the car for its primary purpose, not holding it as a museum piece as is often the case today. I loved the fact that the car wasn’t in perfect condition; it holds its imperfections as part of its character. The car was built in 1928, so I think it’s safe to say it shouldn’t be in showroom condition. It’s a testament to the build quality of a Rolls Royce that it is still in as regular use today as it ever has been.

The history of this particular car ranges back to a British man living in Paris, who chose all the custom features of the car. Then it was sold to the USA for a 37 year stay, but eventually returned home and has been in David’s hands since 2002. As David said ‘Nobody owns a Rolls Royce, they look after it for the next generation.’Filling up

That generation will most likely include myself as this re-introduction to the Phantom I has added me to the long list of Rolls Royce enthusiasts. One incident that confirmed this for me was the gentleman driving a yellow Lotus Evora into the petrol station; he swiftly changed from the ‘I know I’ll have the best car in the garage’ pose, to the ‘oh my word what is that’ open mouthed pose on sighting the Phantom I.

As David dropped me home, I was freezing cold with chapped lips, but the first thing I wanted to do was turn the car around and head out on another journey.  Unfortunately this wasn’t possible, so I thanked David for letting me experience what true motoring is about, and then I thanked him for introducing me to a world my bank balance was going to hate me for in the future.  

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Nissan Juke

Nissan Juke

Before I ever drove the Nissan Juke, I must admit I had a preconceived perception of the type of people who owned and drove them.  My first thought was that they bought the car thinking it would give them that certain image, that particular statement in their life that they aren’t ok with subtle design, that they prefer style over substance. After driving the Juke I’m still not 100% on whether I was justified in thinking that. So the question is Juke or Joke? (I’m sorry for that)

The first thing I have to address is the exterior. Have you seen it? I mean have you actually stopped and looked at it closely? I think it can be described as a marmite car, for sure. You can perceive it as a new ‘quirky’ design that is the essence and heartbeat of today’s youth urban culture, or you can perceive it as a car only its mother can love, one which looks like a frog that been sat on, or a chubby child sucking a lemon. I suppose the design team can be applauded for sticking to their guns, as not many cars stay so close to the concept design, which can lead to success, just look at the original Audi TT.

Stepping away from the extreme exterior and inside the Juke, there is still a stylish trend running throughout but on a lesser scale. The interior design is modern and innovative, especially with its computer functions. For example, the lowest screen in the centre console can be switched from selecting the climate, and with the touch of a button, all the options change to a selection of driving modes – a unique use of design with an actual purpose of using minimal space, rather than for funky sake. Unlike the smaller models in the Nissan range, such as the Note and Micra, the Juke’s interior has a feel of sturdiness and durability which lives up to its urban image.

For a car designed to look like a 4×4, it has extremely poor space in the back, with anyone over 5ft 10 rubbing their head on the roof. Rivals, such as the Mini One, look smaller but manage to achieve a roomier interior.

The driving experience in the Juke was a surprise for me and maybe a small sign that this car had some substance. The driving position was near enough perfect for me, and the journeys through Seville’s centre were some of my favourites. The gear changes are slick; the ride could be firm in places, but nothing to write home about. The performance was better than expected, with good acceleration and agility. However the steering is a bit light with a lack of feel, which may not be such a negative when driving through a busy city, but on open roads, it disappoints.

The open roads and motorways aren’t the Juke’s friend. It tends to become noisy, and the advantages experienced in the urban world fade somewhat. As a car designed for urban use however, it is capable however a tad unrefined above 60+ mph.

The stand-out feature, however, was the visibility. With the raised profile of the Juke, there is that small sense of superiority, looking down on others. The large windscreen and huge wing-mirrors give visibility and confidence in any urban situation.

Verdict

After experiencing the Juke in different environments, it is clear it is designed for the, often mentioned in this review, ‘urban’ lifestyle. I have to say it exceeded my expectations in its driving ability and comfort, however, it still smacks of a car that is leeching on to the youth alternative trendy culture, where it’s not what the owner thinks, but everyone who sees the owner, that matters.

After the success of the older brother Qashqai, following a marketing campaign which saw sales 10 times the amount predicted, no-one can blame Nissan for milking their cash-cow.

The Juke is a good car, but achieves mediocre performance in areas that rivals excel in. Luckily for Nissan this is almost irrelevant as the target market won’t take this into account as customers of their other products do. This leaves me with the belief that the Juke is more style than substance, but if the Juke’s performance was put in a less radical design, I’d be praising it.

BMW 5 series (520d)

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BMW 520d

A good month into my Seville Avis placement I felt I had driven 90% of the cars in the Avis customer portfolio. I’d experienced heart racing moments such as a Seat Alhambra all action car chase through narrow Seville streets, to an hour long trip riding the clutch of a Fiat 500 through arduous traffic with no air con. Far be it from not enjoying the experience, I just needed another catalyst, a spark (not Chevrolet) to paint over the 6 days of pure Ibiza and Golf’s I’d had. As I was sitting in the office bored enough to be translating my colleagues’ conversation, I heard mention of a BMW 520d that needed picking up from a security company the other side of town in Triana. Almost tripping over myself to claim the job, I managed to convince my boss I wouldn’t crash it, and this time I was trusted to make the journey alone delivering an Audi A1 in exchange. This certainly counted as the spark.

Upon arrival I was escorted to the underground car park and given the keys to the BMW 520d. First impressions of the exterior were solid; a vast improvement on the avant-garde designs of the previous BMW 5 series E60 model of which never grew on me. However still not an improvement on my personal preference of the E39, (pictured below) that had a more elegant and subtle design.

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When entering the new 5 series you can see how far the interior design has evolved with a spacious feel that lacked in its younger brother 3 series. You still experience the driver orientated BMW style but without alienating the passenger’s needs.

Sliding the automatic gearbox into drive I left the car park and ventured on a nervy drive back to the office. Initially, I kept to the industrial estate’s speed limit of 30 kp/h despite there being no soul in sight, just to introduce myself to the car’s radio and performance settings. After setting the radio to the standard Rock FM and finding the Sport mode button, I plucked up the courage to put my foot down and it is a good job I was wearing brown boxers that day, as the 520d had a surprise for me. I still have yet to come to terms with the fact that this is the base model diesel of the 5 series; yes I don’t have a vast experience with fast cars having only driven 2 track days in my short life, but this 520d felt faster and more responsive than the Ferrari 355 and Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder I had previously let colour my boxers. It may have been the close surroundings rather than open track which enhanced the illusion of speed, but nevertheless, it felt faster and I dread to think what the M5 can do.

Once you’ve had your fun with the 520d, you can lift off the throttle and coast as the precise and satisfying gear changes change into unnoticeable and smooth ones, giving this car the schizophrenic character that the M button gives the M5 (but a bit more lunacy I’m guessing).

If I had to criticise the driving experience, the only area is the ride, and yet this doesn’t seem as hard as other reviews have made out. The car I drove didn’t even have the Variable Damper Control which apparently rectifies the problem, but at some cost.

One feature that isn’t listed in the brochure is the image and attention I received. Driving a 520d may be a normal occurrence to the middles aged executive, but as a 23 year old it turned some heads. Some of the looks may have been similar to the looks I get when driving in my Dad’s Mitsubishi Pajero in the UK, that of someone who has stolen it; and I’d have assumed the same here, however I was wearing my Avis shirt and tie, so I must have looked slightly professional, so I took those certain looks as positive ones. It’s not for them to know I don’t own the car and probably never will, I’ll just drift back to the office with one hand covering the giant AVIS on my shirt and tie.

Once I arrived back at the office and parked the car (having accidentally not found a parking space for several laps of an empty car park) , I was forced to hand over the keys to an Italian gentlemen in a cut suit who drove off as if he drove them everyday, I suppose its a lot easier without covering up your company logo.Image

BMW 1 series (118d)

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It was a good month into my time in Seville, working for Avis, before I managed to get a drive in the BMW 1 series. After spending so long driving Seat Ibiza’s and Opel Corsa’s, I was chomping at the bit to drive a car with a certain level of prestige; a car which was a step into the executive world where the car’s design team aren’t cutting costs on production, but adding quality to achieve its profits.

I didn’t have much time to acquaint myself with the 1 series as I had been given instructions, by my ball of energy of a boss, to meet him at the stunning Hotel Alfonso XIII in 20 minutes (this included a 5 minute run to the office to pick up a GPS in a searing 46°C, whilst maintaining a suitable look of an Avis employee in shirt and tie).

So my first interaction with the 1 series was to test how fast the air con would stop me profusely sweating, and I can gladly report that it works well and I could have fallen in love with it right there and then, however there is a little more to BMW’s than air con.

The model I was driving on this occasion was the 118d with an automatic gearbox. One thing I have noticed during my time in Seville, which can be used as a sure tell if a car is of a high quality or not, is the smoothness of the transition through the gears of an automatic. The 1 series feels as if it has one gear, there is no drama at all; in comparison when I drove the Peugoet 508 and Opel Zafira for example, I had my body thrust forward as if I had jammed on the brakes, just awful.

In the city the 1 series is in its element; precise steering, responsive acceleration and a luxury feel more suited to executive saloon, which makes sitting in traffic in the Seville heat a pleasant experience.

There is a strong sense that this is car is built solely for the driver and passengers are a second thought. I’m not sure if this is BMW maximizing the driving experience or assuming that the majority of their customers are tossers who have no friends. The claustrophobic feel of the cabin is a problem that the previous model shared and is not improved upon. As the driver I didn’t care too much, but this claustrophobia extended to the rear window, where it has little to no visibility.

When driving through the streets of Seville, there was one major thought on my mind, and that was the criticism I constantly heard on the ride of BMW’s, however, even in this small model, the ride quality was great, even when driving on cobbles with sport settings on which stiffens suspension.

I have to admit, I can’t provide a full and complete review of this cars features such as performance in Eco or normal mode, as it was permanently in sport mode due to my not caring about fuel consumption or engine wear (I had conveniently assumed Avis was a huge heartless corporation, and ragging their cars justified). However, when this car was ragged, my word did it respond; dart-like through the busy streets, whilst being composed and the having the ability to waft along the motorway in complete serenity.

Upon arrival at the beautiful Hotel Alfonso XIII, the 1 series felt completely at home; I handed the keys over to the smartly dressed American client, and after a quick (long) explanation of the ignition without needing to use the keys, I watched him drive away, and at the same time my boss came from the hotel car park in a Seat Ibiza ready to be driven to the airport. Once again I found myself counting down the days until I got to drive it again.

 

Verdict

Even though the 1 series is toward the higher end of small car prices, it gives enough of a feel of quality to justify it. Apart from a claustrophobic interior and rear view visibility, there is little to criticise. This car deserves to take the crown for this category, and would have done… if I hadn’t had my first Alfa experience… Guiletta review coming soon.

 

Chevrolet Spark 1.2

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Chevrolet Spark 1.2

Having grown up with the Chevrolet being associated with the Corvette and the Camaro, seeing the Spark don the badge takes a while to get used to. Even though I have never had a great affinity with muscle cars, I can’t help but feel that this badge in this market will not have a happy marriage.

It’s fair to say I had low expectations of the Sparked up Matiz, so it has every opportunity to surprise before the final verdict.

When I finally got my hands on the Spark, I was greeted by a lime green, some would call ‘jazzy’ exterior; not my ideal colour scheme, but I’m guessing the target market would lap it up. Personally, it looked like someone had thrown it up, and I was more worried about being seen in it than the driving experience.

Once I’d plucked up the courage to see the interior, there wasn’t much to redeem itself for the Spark. The feature that first caught my eye was the horrendous dial taken straight from a child’s toy. It’s a growing trend to use digital display in-favour of the traditional rev dials, but Chevrolet’s attempt gives such a tacky and cheap feel it’s almost a negative as opposed to the USP it was intended for. This is a recurring theme throughout the interior.

The gear stick is taken straight from a generic 1990’s transit van, and the ‘metal’ finishes on the steering wheel and central panel could be scratched off with ease. Other cars in this competitive small hatch market manage to avoid this impression of a fake quality by accepting their limitations.

In case you think I’m being overly critical, I can confirm the Spark does have a more spacious feel than some of its competitors, but that’s the most you can pry out of me on the interior.

The driving experience is what you’d expect from this category; the engine could use a little more poke through the gears and a little less of the dramatic noise when doing so. However for urban use, it does the job with an adequate ride comfort and responsive steering. However, when moving from stationary, there is that judder of the clutch synonymous with aging low quality cars, which is hard to ignore.

Verdict

In the Spark, Chevrolet attempts to launch a car which looks and has the quality of a car twice the price; however this results in the uncomfortable feeling of fakery more commonly associated with a generation of students who cake themselves in make-up in the attempt to be a supermodel, but achieve the look of a glamorous Oompa loompa. However, this may very well be the target market for the Spark, so there is hope for it yet.

It may be adequate for the city life where looks are more important than substance, however I can’t overlook the feel that it’s just a glossy shell placed over the 2nd generation Daewoo Matiz from 2005.

3/10