WEEKLY CAR DIARY – A BIG ONE, A FAST ONE & NANTWICH 1 CREWE 0

Another interesting and varied working week. I don’t know how I cope:-

Monday: Ford Transit Connect, Doncaster to Crewe; Bentley Continental GT Supersports, Syston, Leicestershire to Leicester

Tuesday: Bentley Continental GT Supersports, Leicester to Crewe, Cheshire and back

Wednesday: Volkswagen Tiguan SE Nav 2.0TDI (150hp), Nottingham to Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

Friday: Mercedes GLS 350d 4Matic AMG Line, Stafford to Hertford

So, I got to drive the same 700hp Supersports as a few weeks ago and for a good long run to Crewe and back. Talk about taking coals to Newcastle – two of us took a couple of Bentleys to the Bentley factory for some sort of customer driving event despite the fact there are hundreds of the things swilling around up there.

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The Bentley factory, probably the most interesting thing in Crewe.

Between dropping the Bentleys off and picking them up again, we had seven hours to kill. What do you do in Crewe for seven hours?? From a quick peep in-depth research on the interweb, the answer is you don’t. There appeared to be nothing of interest whatsoever. When the local shopping centre, a kiddies play centre and Crewe Alexandra football stadium appear in the top ten things to do, you know it wouldn’t make for an interesting day out.  Crewe is famous as a railway town and there is a heritage railway museum …. but it closed a couple of days previously for the winter. Also, by coincidence, a group of us delivered some vans to Crewe the day before; from a drive through the town, it didn’t look inspiring. My extensive research suggested that the old market town of Nantwich would be a better bet, just a fifteen minute bus ride from the Bentley factory.

So, off we boldly went to seek out new sights and tea rooms in this old Cheshire town which dates back to Roman times, when local Roman garrisons used salt from Nantwich to sprinkle on their fish and chips (I’m guessing here but what else would they have used salt for??). And we weren’t disappointed. No Sistine Chapel, Taj Mahal or Hanging Gardens but a pleasant place to while away a few hours. In fact, it was a bit like Hereford which featured in my last post but on a smaller scale and without a famous drawing of the world. Like Hereford, the town is situated on a river (the Weaver) and it comprises mostly old, attractive buildings. The large church (which could have been a cathedral had it drunk a tad more milk when it was growing up) is also built in a pinkish stone just like Hereford Cathedral. A particular feature of Nantwich is the number of Elizabethan black and white, half-timbered buildings dotted around the town. There is also a very charming, mostly residential street called Welsh Row – the comparison with Hereford continues as Nantwich is not a million miles from the Welsh border. After a decent riverside walk, a turn around the town, church, small covered market, lunch and a visit to the small town museum (ho hum, it was free so might as well….), we jumped on the omnibus back to Crewe.

On the way back to Leicester in the Supersports, I was really adventurous and put it in “Sport”. I don’t know what came over me, must have been the Tabasco sauce in my porridge. Actually, I didn’t think that it would make that much difference but oh boy, was I wrong. The engine note changed immediately – louder and deeper, it held on to each gear for longer (and didn’t seem to want to bother with gears 7 and 8 even when settling at 70mph) and acceleration went from furious back shoving to vicious head snapping. The best bit was lifting off the throttle which prompted someone to play kettle drums very rapidly through some sort of fluttery filter, even when slowing down from the most modest of speeds. Tee hee.

So, on to Friday when I moved into a small black bungalow for the 130 mile trip from Stafford to Hertford. It was my first Mercedes GLS, a huge seven seat SUV.  Bigger than a Range Rover but not as refined or as quick and it’s thirstier compared to the similarly-engined three litre diesel Range Rover. Like the Rangie, it is soft riding and pitches and wallows along undulating country roads, possibly more so than its British competitor, but all is calm on the motorway. So, why would you buy a GLS? Well, it has more space including a reasonable amount of legroom in Row Z (you could even fit real people back there) and the amply equipped AMG Line three litre diesel costs about £5000 less than the cheapest Range Rover. If you are fortunate to have enough of the stuff, you pays your money and takes your choice (which may be an Audi Q7 if cost, space and refinement are priorities but that’s based on what I have read, not personal experience).

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Well-equipped des res bungalow, accommodates seven comfortably. Or maybe it’s a Mercedes GLS.

By the way, if you read my Hereford post right to the end, The Pretenders were absolutely brilliant when we saw them on Wednesday night!

Colin

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WEEKLY CAR DIARY – 700HP(!) BENTLEY, NEW VELAR & ALL WHEEL DRIVE ALLSORTS

On four days out of five this week, I drove an interesting variety of four wheel drive cars:-

Monday: Range Rover SDV8 4.4 Autobiography (2014), Range Rover Evoque 2.0TD4 (180hp) SE manual and Range Rover Evoque Convertible 2.0TD4 HSE Dynamics auto, all Burghley House, Stamford, Lincolnshire to Leicester

Tuesday: Bentley Continental GT Supersports, Leicester to The Belfry Golf Club, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands; Audi A6 S-Line Quattro 2.0TDI estate (auto), The Belfry to Leicester

Wednesday: Bentley Continental GT V8S, Leicester to Swansea, second Bentley Continental GT V8S, Swansea to Leicester

Thursday: Volvo S60 Business Edition D3 2.0td (136hp) (2013) and
Audi A1 Sport 1.6TDI (2015), both Rugby, Warwickshire to Telford, Shropshire

Friday: Range Rover Velar D180 R-Dynamics S auto, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire to Basildon, Essex

All wheel drive cars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes these days, don’t they? You can even get a four wheel drive pram (Land Rover call it the Range Rover Evoque Convertible). So Mum can drop little Darcy and Rupert at Chelsea primary school in the normal Evoque (using all of its 4×4 capabilities to negotiate any speed bumps on the way) while Dad takes Darcy’s and Rupert’s baby sister to the Chelsea Fluffy Bunny Day Nursery in the Range Rover pram (again, using the all wheel drive to indulge in some extreme kerb mounting when parking as close as humanly possible to the nursery to avoid an exhausting twenty yard walk). As the owner of an open top car, I am a big fan of topless motoring. It’s wonderful feeling the wind in your hair and flies in your teeth. So Land Rover should be applauded for bringing a high rise option for open air driving. Problem is, it just looks a bit odd but that shouldn’t put you off because when you are in a car and enjoying the driving experience you can’t see its exterior.

It probably goes without saying that the two most interesting four wheel drive cars I drove this week were the Range Rover Velar and the Bentley Continental GT Supersports. The Velar because it’s a brand new model and the Supersports because it is utterly, utterly bonkers in a still-luxurious way. SEVEN HUNDRED HORSEPOWER!!! And a huge dollop of torque. Bentley have beefed up the 6.0 litre W12 engine and stuck it in their 2.3 tonne GT car to create a luxury inter-continental ballistic missile capable of doing a lot of damage. 0-60mph in 3.4 seconds on its way to a top speed of 209mph. Only 710 are being made so most parts of the world will be safe. Some brashness has been added to the outside in the form of very large black wheels and a rear wing but inside was proper Bentley without any shouty boy racer accoutrements (sporty diamond-stitched seats but nothing silly). Yes, inside it had carbon fibre panels instead of tree but dark carbon fibre is less conspicuous than highly polished wood. So, the all-black dashboard with the usual shiny trinkets was very smart.

Supersports
A colleague and I took two cars to a soggy Belfry Golf Club – the Supersports and a Lamborghini Huracan Performante. I was supposed to drive the Huracan on the return journey but one of the bosses from Bentley Leicester decided he wanted to take it back and I had to take his personal car. How inconsiderate is that?!

Apparently, the Bentley boys have not done anything to the standard Continental Speed chassis so a lot of what I have said previously about driving the Continental GT (click here!) applies EXCEPT it’s obviously faster and makes a ridiculously fabulous noise. In my earlier post I said that I thought the V8 Continental GT made a better noise than the W12. I still believe that is the case in relation to the “ordinary” W12 (ordinary – ha!) but in the Supersports, the 700hp version sounds much, much more lively. Blip the throttle at a stand still and, in addition to a mighty roar from the front end, there’s a big thudding crackle from the exhaust. It’s the same on the move when changing down manually leads to more crackling from the back end. Even when bumbling along at 30 or 40mph, the engine is burbling and grumbling in an unsubtle manner, letting you know that it’s getting impatient to stretch its legs. I had the pleasure of taking the Supersports for an early morning, forty mile run across country (in addition to a quick 10 mile run on a dual carriageway the evening before). I didn’t bother putting the radio on.

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Only 710 of these beasts will be made.

 

The Range Rover Velar is interesting because it’s more or less hot off the press. It shares the latest Land Rover look – very rounded but it is much sleeker and really futuristic compared to its siblings. The futuristic theme continues inside with not one but two central touch screens so, for example, you can keep the satnav on the top screen while you tinker with other functions on the lower screen. After you have crashed your Velar once while playing with the screens, you probably won’t do it again and will learn to use the voice commands (provided you and/or your Velar are not write-offs). That’s not a criticism of the Velar specifically but modern cars in general – don’t they have too much stuff to play with?

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It was too grey and wet for photos when I drove the Velar yesterday but I snapped these two basking in the sunshine when I went to Land Rover Ascot a couple of weeks ago.

On a more positive note, the Velar is very much a step up from other Jaguar Land Rover products whose on-board systems look a little clunky and dated. Overall, the interior of the Velar really does feel like a baby Range Rover. On the road, the 180hp diesel Velar is no fireball but this is the least powerful engine option in the range. However, it cruises more quietly and more comfortably than the similarly-engined (and cheaper) Evoque and Discovery Sport. It is also slightly soft and squishy compared to its firmer riding stable-mates. For my motorway journey (mostly in heavy rain), I just left the Velar in default Comfort mode. I don’t know what difference Dynamic mode would have made but What Car magazine says that the Velar is “the most road-biased Range Rover ever”. There you go. Nice car whatever.

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – FOOTBALL BOOTS AND BENTLEYS

My wife and I spent this morning watching our son represent Boots in the Corporate Games at six-a-side football (he has a one year work placement at Boots head office as part of his university course). The Corporate Games is a large, multi-sport event and Nottingham is the host city this year. It was the clash of the titans as Boots faced two teams from Asda and one from accountancy firm, Smith Cooper. There should have been a fourth team from Nottinghamshire Police Force but I think someone put in a bogus 999 call so that they didn’t turn up and Boots were awarded a win by default.

Anyway, I spent most of this week worrying that passers-by may think I was an over-paid Premier League footballer (actually, I probably could have been a Premier League footballer but I peaked way too early – for regular readers of this blog, it was during that match for the Cubs against the Brownies when Jimmy Spannerfoot disgraced himself):-

Monday: Bentley Bentayga Diesel, Leicester to Ascot; Bentley Continental GTC W12 (2013), Ascot to Leicester

Tuesday: Bentley Bentayga W12, Leicester to Basildon, Essex; Bentley Continental GTC V8 (2013), Basildon to Leicester

Wednesday: Bentley Continental GTC V8 (2012) to Wolverhampton; Bentley Flying Spur W12 (2014), Wolverhampton to Leicester

Thursday: Bentley Continental GTC W12 (2013), Leicester to Ascot; Bentley Bentayga Diesel, Ascot to Leicester

Friday: Vauxhall Movano van, Cannock, Staffordshire to Nottingham

In truth, it was very pleasant driving these swift and comfortable cars up and down the country but the journeys themselves were rather uninteresting – basically all motorway and quite a bit of congestion. Some relief from trial by motorway came on the second trip to Ascot, when I went via a different route. From Maidenhead to Ascot was a green and pleasant trip through classic Home Counties scenery, including a beautiful little place called Holyport Village. Basically it’s a very large green with the quaintest of pubs and some old houses overlooking it. Apparently, Stirling Moss used to live in Holyport (pronounced Hollyport) and was in the Bray and Holyport Scout Group. I wonder if they ever beat the Bray and Holyport Brownies at football?

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One of the Bentaygas outside the pub in Holyport Village, Berkshire. I’m afraid I cannot tell you what the inside of the pub is like!

Here are a few thoughts on each type of Bentley based on these rather one dimensional journeys (although in the case of the Continentals, I did drive two last week on more varied roads):-

Continental GT and GTC: Despite the Premier League footballer image, these cars have grown on me! I absolutely love the sound of the smaller V8 – even steady, progressive acceleration is rewarded by a deep, loud and lazy fluttering beat like a very laid-back pneumatic drill – or maybe some sort of pod racer from Star Wars Episode 1. My descriptive powers may not do it justice but it is fabulous. By contrast, the faster but more expensive W12 sort of whirrs in a muted way although if you really mashed your right foot into the Wilton, I’m sure it would be more vocal. When cruising, the Continental is appropriately quiet whichever engine is under the long bonnet although you do notice more noise from your surroundings when passing other vehicles in the convertible (no big deal though). The Continental is a true Grand Tourer which is another way of saying that it does not go round corners with much aplomb but would be good at crossing continents quickly and comfortably. In fact it could probably cross a whole continent more quickly than it took me to get to Wolverhampton but that wasn’t the Continental’s fault. So, unlike the Mitsubishi Carisma, the Continental GT has a totally appropriate name. In terms of ride and handling, the V8s and the older W12s I drove felt very similar but last week’s new-ish W12 Speed was noticeably different with heavier steering (despite being in full comfort mode) and being more prone to tramlining. The Continental GT has been around since 2003 and inside it does feel a bit dated. However, the interior is less blingy than the Mulsanne and Bentayga which (from my point of view) is a good thing. There is a new Continental due out soon with underpinnings developed jointly with Porsche and apparently it should be better at twisty bits.

Conti GTC V8
Continental GTC V8

Flying Spur: A sort of stretched, four door Continental GT but a bit softer. The W12 engine was even more muted than in the Continental GT and extremely quiet when cruising. To emphasis this more restrained approach (compared to its GT sibling), there were no flappy paddles to play with but, no surprise, a very quick car. The dashboard is taken from the Continental GT but the materials in the Flying Spur that I drove were more understated. A very quick way for four adults to cross continents.

Bentayga: Won’t say anything about the looks. I suppose Bentley had to jump on the SUV band wagon. More wood and bling than in the Continental GT and Flying Spur but of course comfortable, quiet and fast in a straight line – like a Flying Spur on stilts. The diesel Bentayga is the quietest diesel (almost silent!) I have ever driven but then again it is the most expensive diesel I have ever driven. In addition, it lays claim to being the fastest diesel SUV in the world. It can also manage 35 – 39mpg in the real world. Not bad for such a big and quick lump. By comparison, the W12 Bentleys managed mid to high 20s and I did 33mpg in the Continental GT V8 on the 130 mile journey from Basildon to Leicester.

Incidentally, I drove these Bentleys while working for the Bentley dealer in Leicester – collecting customers’ cars for service and returning them. Two of these customers lived 120-130 miles away but have their Bentleys collected and taken to Leicester for their oil change. And these two customers had loan cars while their Bentleys were in the workshop. Not your run-of-the-mill courtesy car like a Ford Fiesta or clapped out Renault Clio with “Bert’s Autos” written on the side but new Bentley Bentaygas. Different world. So, I was on my best behaviour, tugging my forelock and only speaking when I was spoken to.

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Gratuitous supercar photo – Lamboghini Aventador at the Bentley/Lamborghini dealer

Colin

 

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – LAMBORGHINI HURACAN (AND A BENTLEY OR TWO)

Another vindaloo week. The main event was a golf day held by Bentley Leicester at Woodhall Spa Golf Club in Lincolnshire to which four of us took three Bentleys and a Lamborghini, having collected them the evening before:-

Monday: Audi A6 S-Line Quattro 2.0TDi Ultra, Leicester to Cirencester, Gloucestershire; Bentley Continental GTC (convertible) V8S & Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4 LDF, Syston, Leicestershire to Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

Tuesday: Bentley Continental GTC V8S, Melton Mowbray to Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire; Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4 LDF, Woodhall Spa to Melton Mowbray.

Wednesday: Bentley Continental GT Speed W12 (633hp), Melton Mowbray to Syston; X-wing fighter, Ashby-de-la-Zouch,  Leicestershire to Leicester.

Thursday: X-wing fighter, Leicester to Taunton, Somerset; Volkswagen Transporter (2012), Taunton to Exeter

Friday: Ford Transit Custom, Ashby-de-la-Zouch to Stockton-on-Tees.

So, let’s talk a bit more about the worthy Ford Transit Connect/X-wing fighter. Let’s cut to the chase – what was the Lamborghini Huracan like to drive? Well, before you can drive it, you have to work out where a few things are and how they work. I jump into a lot of cars for the first time and, apart from the occasional quirk, most things are where you expect them to be. Even in something exotic like a Bentley, the essential controls are fairly conventional once you have looked past all the wood and shiny stuff. Not so, with the Lamborghini (into which you have to lower yourself rather than jump). There are, for example, no indicator or windscreen wiper stalks. Instead, there are little switches on the steering wheel – like the indicators on a motorbike. Then there is the centre console where you would normally expect a gear selector and the letters P – R – N – D to be.  Again, not so with the Huracan. There’s no selector at all, just two buttons “P” and “M” and a funny little bridge affair over these buttons marked “R”. Incidentally, this centre console is made out of left over bits from a F-117 stealth fighter, all matt black geometric shapes at obtuse angles to each other (I assume the whole car is invisible to radar but the glaringly bright metallic yellow paint on this Huracan wouldn’t escape the Mk 1 eyeball too readily). Then there’s what is obviously a nuclear button because it is covered by a bright red, flip up guard. This guard prevents you from accidentally nuking North Korea before Donald Trump gives the nod. Actually, its the engine start button – Lamborghini owners must be prone to absent-mindedly starting their car’s engine so the Lambo engineers have thoughtfully put the guard there. Of course, this is all part of the drama and making you feel as if you are in some futuristic piece of military hardware or space craft.

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The futuristic Huracan. A proper supercar shape – as would be drawn by boys (big and small) the world over.

 

Huracan interior
The stealth-like cockpit complete with red guard for the nuclear button

Once you are settled in to the snug racing seat and had a nose around the cockpit, you can adjust things to your liking. First the wing mirrors which sit atop long stalks so you can see past the car’s wide haunches but these haunches still feature prominently in the rearward view. Then the central rear view mirror which peers through a very small slit of a rear windscreen. Now you are ready to go.

Foot on brake pedal, flip up the red guard on the nuclear button and fire. BOOM! Lots of noise from the mid-mounted engine to ensure that everyone within a two mile radius knows that North Korea is about to become toast. Once the engine has settled down to a loud and impatient-sounding idle, you simply pull the right hand flappy paddle behind the steering wheel and a large “1” and an “A” appear on the digital instrument panel in front of you. You’re in first gear and automatic mode so flip off the electronic parking brake, squeeze the loud pedal and you’re off….. Except, there may be another hurdle to overcome. Speed bumps. With its low slung shape and even lower front spoiler, the Huracan would be as useless as a Dalek at conquering sleeping policemen (let alone the universe) but the Huracan has an ace up its sleeve. Press and hold a button on the dashboard and the front end raises slowly like an old-fashioned Citroen. Ease gently over the bump, press and hold the button to reverse the process and you are away while the Dalek is left behind the speed bump waiving its little balloon whisk arm and sink plunger in frustration (you often see Daleks in Woodhall Spa as they go there for a bit of pampering – “ex – fo – li – ate, ex – fo – li – ate!”). You can’t even hear the Dalek’s manic, metallic, machine-like protestations because the Huracan’s V10, 5.2 litre 610hp engine is wailing gloriously behind your head as you accelerate in the blink of an eye up to the legal limit (0 – 60mph in 3.2 seconds if you were to give it the full beans).

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At Woodhall Spa Golf Club

 

 

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The three Bentleys we also took to Woodhall Spa. Our chase driver said the four cars made an impressive convoy.

I drove the Huracan a couple of times, the main journey being the 55 miles (on a good mix of roads) from Woodhall Spa to a village near Melton Mowbray where the four cars where going to spend the night before being returned to Bentley Leicester the next morning. The roads coming out of Woodhall Spa were not really the Huracan’s natural environment. On these narrow and bumpy roads, the car’s wide tyres would follow the lumpy contours so you had to focus on keeping it on line. And with suspension made from only the best granite and with ultra-low profile tyres, you felt all of those lumps and bumps. However, this was more than bearable and the body hugging seat was extremely comfortable. Immediately noticeable at the first corner was the very quick steering – not much rotation required on the tiller to get the Huracan round a bend.

The Huracan soon came into its own on smoother roads. For most of the journey I left it in automatic but I did override this when I felt like it, simply by flipping either of the flappy paddles – right for up, left to downshift. Approaching corners, I would change down manually with each quick downshift accompanied by a short rise in engine note as if the throttle had been blipped. Each downshift also brought a little forward shove in the back before the engine helped slow the car down. You could then flow into the corner, enjoying that quick steering and sharp turn-in as the Huracan changed direction as if on rails (with that granite suspension, “body roll” is not in the Huracan’s vocabulary). Four wheel drive and fat tyres would no doubt give a massive amount of grip – way more than I needed since my job was the get the Huracan from A to B in one piece. The knowledge that that grip was there if needed was reassuring since it did rain for the middle part of the trip.

After enjoying the single carriageway roads, I eventually got onto the A46 dual carriageway. With such a low seating position and a rush of road noise, the impression of speed was much greater than in a “normal” car at 70 (and a bit….) mph and like the rest of the journey it felt much more of an event. Finally, there were a few more miles of twisty, country lanes (on full manual after pressing the “M” button on the centre console) before pulling back that curious little bridge thing marked “R” to reverse the flying banana into store for the night.

That was fun.

Colin

 

 

 

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – POSH STUFF & SOUTHEND WITHOUT THE SEA

Quite busy this week so I earned a few pennies. You couldn’t earn a living doing this driving work because it is very poorly paid. I think of it as a pleasant pastime with the bonus of a bit of pin money. Enough for the weekly gruel ration and to fund my wife’s turmeric habit. This golden spice is the latest superfood discovery in our household. Half a teaspoonful in porridge (I haven’t plucked up enough courage to try it myself yet) apparently ensures eternal life and cures every form of illness known to humankind, except jaundice. Well, it may cure jaundice but since turmeric turns you yellow, it is difficult to tell. Anyway, here’s what I drove this week:-

Monday: Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 R-Sport manual and Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 180 HSE auto, Rockingham, Northamptonshire to Leicester

Tuesday: Vauxhall Vivaro van, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire to Aldershot, Surrey; Peugeot Expert van (2012), Aldershot to Blackbushe Airport, Surrey

Thursday: Bentley Mulsanne Speed (2015), Leicester to Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Friday: Mercedes E220d AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Leicester

So, mostly quite posh fare this week apart from the two vans on Tuesday, although the Vivaro (a Renault Trafic with a Vauxhall badge) is a lovely van to drive.

You may have noticed I delivered cars to Rockingham twice last week and collected a couple from there on Monday. That’s because horse trials were held on Rockingham Castle estate last weekend (scene of one of my best driving days out!). Apparently, the atmosphere at the trials was tense as five horses were found guilty and two were acquitted. One horse was sentenced to life imprisonment. That’s a lot of porridge and, if he adds turmeric, a very long time. Daylight Robbery is still protesting his innocence but with a name like that, I think he’s flogging a dead …. Sorry, think I better stop there.

Driving the Jaguar XE back from Rockingham confirmed a niggle about this car that I had when I drove another manual example last year – the whole experience of changing gear leaves a little to be desired. The gear change itself is not the slickest, I don’t find the flat-topped, brushed aluminium gear knob very tactile (maybe that’s just me) and the slightly high, fixed centre armrest under your elbow doesn’t leave your arm in a totally natural position for changing gear manually. Maybe they forgot about the manual version when designing the armrest because it would not be an issue in an automatic (by all accounts, the eight speed automatic available in the XE is very good). Apart from that niggle, the XE is great. You really feel a part of the car, the steering is sharp and precise, it rides well and there is plenty of punch from the 180hp diesel engine.

Taking a Bentley on a trip to the seaside on one of the hottest day of the year sounded nice and indeed, until I got to within six miles of my destination, it was. However, my plans to have a quick peek at the sea en route to the train station after delivering the car were scuppered by a serious incident on the main route into Southend-on-Sea. I sat stationary on the A127 dual carriageway for quite a while as emergency vehicles picked their way between the two lanes of traffic. Eventually, a policeman wandered along (on foot) and started getting the cars and vans just behind me to turn around and drive the wrong way down an entry slip road. Then it was my turn. So, there I was coaxing the 5.6 metre, 2.7 ton, £200k+ leviathan round 180 degrees across two narrowish lanes of the A127 under the watchful eye of the policeman and several of my fellow motorists sitting in Golfs, Clios and Transit vans. Half of them were probably thinking “Damn fine motor car. Best of British”. The other half: “Filthy rich b*****d” or worse. I wanted to wind down the window and assure everyone that the car wasn’t mine. However, that may not have been a terribly good idea in front of a policeman. Could have led to an awkward situation (although I don’t think I look like a car thief but then again, I am a bit biased).

It took me well over an hour to do the last six miles and I had a train to catch, so no glimpse of the sea. The Mulsanne Speed I drove last year had an all-black interior. Thursday’s car had lots of off-white leather to lighten the mood and, in my view, looked much better for it. In fact, the almost white leather together with all the very shiny chrome embellishments gave the interior a nautical feel, like the interior of a super yacht. The fact that the Mulsanne is the size of a pocket battleship and its long bonnet noses majestically ahead of you like the bows of said battleship (complete with winged Bentley figurehead) furthers the nautical impression, so at least I had some sort of maritime experience. If you want to read more about the Mulsanne Speed (and a visit to Middle Earth) check out my epic two-part post here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

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The interior of the Bentley. Not a bad place to be.

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY

A busy week!:-

Monday: BMW 330d auto saloon (2014), Rugby to Whitchurch, Shropshire

Tuesday: Nissan Qashqai N-connecta 1.5DCI, Liverpool to Birmingham; Renault Megane Signature NAV 1.6 diesel estate, Birmingham to Leicester

Thursday: Vauxhall Corsavan, Gloucester to Tidworth, Wiltshire; Peugeot 207 van Tidworth to Blackbushe, Surrey.

Friday: Mercedes GLC250d AMG Line 4MATIC, Leicester to Thurgoland, South Yorkshire; Audi A4 Avant 2.0TDI 177hp (2013), Thurgoland to Birmingham.

I passed a 1920s/30s Bentley on the motorway yesterday (British racing green of course). It was charging along with its two occupants wrapped up in fur-lined flying jackets. Probably not quite as comfortable or quiet as a Mulsanne Speed but it was a magnificent sight.

Speaking of magnificent sights, last weekend we were privileged to see an elusive amphibious deer (Latin: cervus moistius).  We were very lucky because this majestic animal is rarer than a bandy legged mermaid (or any mermaid come to think of it). I managed to get the photo below but I couldn’t get too close. These are very skittish animals and will submerge at the slightest hint of danger. So, you cannot see the gills or the webbed feet that distinguish this animal from its landlubbing cousins but you can make out its unusual duck bill-shaped  head. Amphibious deer have been known to dive to depths of at least six inches and they use their “bill” to forage underwater for their favourite gillyweed and watermoss. And where did we see this amazing creature? At Wayne Manor, home of Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne. This impressive stately home is also known as Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, star of The Dark Knight Rises. Rather appropriately, there is a place called Gotham just a few miles south of Nottingham so the caped crusader doesn’t have far to commute. He is probably best mates with Nottingham’s other legend, the hooded crusader.

Amphibious Deer Wollaton Hall
This photo is honestly, truly genuine!

Changing the subject somewhat, do you ever have to pop out to the shops to purchase two or three things that you suddenly have urgent need of? Have you ever stopped to think how bizarre these small selections of items may seem to other people? Have you ever stood rather self-consciously next to the conveyor belt in Tesco’s as your fellow customers ponder what circumstances led you to need a tin of custard, a cucumber and a pair of washing up gloves? I had to make just such a foray to the shops on Wednesday. My mission was successful and I returned home with the required bunch of flowers, two scotch eggs and a pressure washer. Sorry, that may not be very interesting.

Colin

PART 2: TO MIDDLE EARTH AND BACK IN A BENTLEY MULSANNE (AND AN AUDI A6 ALLROAD BITURBO)

For those of you who read Part 1 of this tale (posted 15th February), I hope you have been able to cope with the suspense over the last week. What was I going to do? Now that we were close to somewhere near Evesham, where could the Mulsanne and I spend an hour or so in total safety, with appropriate facilities? As the forefront of my mind churned away, the answer appeared before my eyes. In the form of a brown tourist sign pointing the way to a National Trust property. Brilliant! I am a member so I could get in for free.

mulsanne-5

The property in question was Coughton Court and as I serened glided up the drive to this imposing Tudor mansion, I waved regally to a few of my subjects. With the Mulsanne parked safely, I enjoyed the sunshine, a quick look round the ornamental gardens and grabbed a bite to eat. The same family has lived at Coughton Court for 600 years, managing to survive their involvement in the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605. Attempting to blow up King James I and the Houses of Parliament was a slightly risky thing to do.

Then it was time to get back on the road. On the final leg of my journey to somewhere near Evesham, the Mulsanne’s sat nav took me through a magical place with the achingly quaint name of Inkberrow. Inkberrow is a verdant dale, the slopes of which are dotted with heavy oak portals concealing labyrinthine, underground dwellings. These are inhabited by small hobbit-like creatures wielding extravagantly sized, inky quill pens. They are the self-appointed scribes of Middle Earth, recording the history and legends of this ancient land. Of course, that’s all twaddle. But “Inkberrow”? Surely, that name comes from the inky pen of J.R.R. Tolkien? After all, this was (more or less) his childhood stomping ground. Apparently, he used to frequent nearby towns such as Alcester, Alvechurch and Bromsgrove and the Clent and Lickey Hills, all of which are said to have inspired the Middle Earth setting for the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

In reality, Inkberrow is a traditional English village, fully equipped with churches, two pubs and a village green. There’s not a hobbit, elf or orc in sight and its name owes nothing to ink at all. One of the pubs, the Old Bull, is a picturesque, half-timbered building with a roof made of gingerbread. The Bull pub in BBC Radio 4’s long-running drama, “The Archers” is based on the Old Bull in Inkberrow (I know I have wandered off into the realms of fantasy a bit but that’s true). Inkberrow also happens to be home to my wife’s best friend from school days (also true). I sailed right past the end of the small cul-de-sac in which she lives but by now I had no time to stop. Anyway, drivers of Bentleys do not knock unannounced on the doors of mere commoners (I may get into trouble for that bit).

Finally, I arrived at somewhere near Evesham and dropped off the Mulsanne to its keeper for the next twenty-four hours. The deal was that he would lend me a car from his “stable” to go back to Leicester. The car I was given for my return journey was an Audi A6 Allroad BiTurbo (3.0 litre diesel with 320bhp), a four wheel drive A6 estate on stilts. The What Car website mentions the “sheer bulk” of this car but when I jumped in, it felt like a roller skate after the imposing Bentley. And when I got on the move it felt like a rocket-powered roller skate. Whilst the dignified Mulsanne disguised its brutish power behind opulence and serenity, the Audi just felt like it wanted to show off. Like a hyperactive dog, it felt like it wanted to be let off its lead.

Well I was having none of that (well not quite, but we’ll get to that bit in a minute). In the meantime, I had a couple of interesting toys to contemplate. The first was the massage seat. This didn’t give you a gentle, soothing massage; that would be dangerous because there would be a risk of dozing off. Instead, it reminded me of the last time I had physio when the therapist used firmly planted thumbs and then the point of her elbow (with some weight behind it) to effect the treatment. However, having the Audi’s mechanical thumbs and elbows running firmly up and down my back was far more pleasant than having a physiotherapist dig sadistically into a torn calf muscle.

The second toy was the head up display; a projected image of key information seeming to float above the car’s bonnet. The technology was developed originally for military aircraft so that pilots did not have to glance down at their aircraft’s instruments; instead they could keep their eyes peeled for bandits or bogeys or whatever. Now this was all very weird. Do you remember those geometric patterns that were all the rage a few years ago? If you stared at the pattern long enough and relaxed your eyes a picture would emerge. If you were hopeless at this, your eyes eventually felt strained. Well that’s how my eyes felt now. Looking ahead at the road, my eyes kept getting drawn to the HUD and were trying to focus on two things at once. I felt like I was going cross-eyed. Since there was little risk of incoming enemy MiGs, I could probably have done without this optical embellishment.

However, I will grudgingly admit that the HUD did come in useful on one occasion. Just as I had done in the Bentley, I came up behind a car on the motorway with the active cruise control on. The Audi slowed of its own accord. Then I signalled to pull out into the outside lane in order to allow the clever cruise control take the Audi back up to the preset 70mph. Wo!!!!! All hell broke loose as the Audi took off like a weasel with a rocket up its backside. The  HUD was telling me that the cruise control was set to 115mph. How? Why? I quickly braked (with my lightning reactions, I got nowhere near 115mph) as it dawned on me what had happened. Cruising along with my hands at a relaxed twenty past eight on the steering wheel, I hadn’t flipped up the indicator stalk when changing lanes – I had flipped up the cruise control stalk (set just below the indicator) thus increasing the set speed! All very interesting and it proved two things: 1) the Audi is a quick car (0-60mph in 5.5 seconds) and 2) diesels can sound sporty.

The rest of the journey was uneventful so I was soon home where I could uncross my eyes and have a nice cup of tea.

Colin