Three long days working this week and a chance to get re-acquainted with Transit vans (its been a while since I drove the larger ones):-
Monday: Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI (125hp) DSG (auto), Kettering, Northants to Dereham, Norfolk
Wednesday: Ford Transit 350 (the big one!), Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire to Woodford Green, Essex
Friday: Ford Transit Custom (the “traditional” size Transit), Rotherham, South Yorkshire to Southampton
There was a comment in response to last week’s diary asking if I was going to review the BMW X5 40e plug-in hybrid (two of which I drove that week). It is, after all, an interesting car so here goes ….. well, from what I could tell, it was very nice! It pulled away satisfyingly on electric power only and stayed on electric until I had to accelerate up to 65/70mph on the motorway or dual carriageway (on each leg of my round trip that was only a few hundred yards from my starting point!). Everything I said about driving the Mercedes C-class plug-in hybrid on electric power applies here – eerie, silent, satisfying and, for me, still a fascinating novelty. When accelerating up to motorway speed, the two litre, turbocharged four cylinder petrol engine cut in without any fuss, the car felt quick (I have included some anorak data at the bottom of this post) and the eight speed automatic box was as smooth as frog’s fur. When cruising at motorway speed, the petrol engine was virtually silent, possibly because it was only ticking over at about 1500 to 1700 rpm so I assume the electric motor was helping. You do notice road noise but may be because the power unit is so quiet! Negotiating curves (a total of two roundabouts), the X5 felt as if it was quite nimble, certainly far more so than the lumbering Range Rover that I drove the following day. Inside, there was an upmarket and quality interior that you would expect from a £60k BMW and you would not be disappointed in terms of comfort. And that’s about it! Other than to say that the gentleman to whom I delivered the X5 loan car (I took his week-old X5 hybrid back to Leicester to have a small paint chip sorted) confirmed what I said about upmarket hybrids and tax in my Mercedes C-class post. His new hybrid X5 uses more fuel than his old diesel X5 – so it won’t save the planet – but it will save him over £400 per month in tax!
Sorry I can’t say much more about the X5 but I only drove each example about 35 short miles between Leicester to Kettering, almost entirely on motorway and dual carriageway. The only time I turned the steering wheel was when negotiating those two roundabouts (OK, I had to park them as well). Had the journey been any shorter I could probably have left the cars plugged in! Now my childish imagination starts to run riot. Suppose the X5 had one of those self-retracting cables like an old vacuum cleaner (and could reach from BMW Leicester to Kettering)! When I got to Kettering I could have rung up the BMW dealer, asked them to unplug the cable and give it a little tug (reminding them to let go sharpish). The plug and cable would then have raced off down the street like a demented snake (hopefully without BMW salesperson in tow) snapping at the heels of startled pedestrians who would leap out of the way with a shriek. Cars would have screeched to a halt at green lights as the snake hurtled through on red. Then it would have flown down the M1 and A14 passing all the other traffic and just a few seconds later it would have raced towards the X5 and disappeared into a recess in the bodywork. Before disappearing, the last couple of feet of cable would have flicked furiously up and down like the tongue of the aforementioned demented snake, just as if the car were vigorously sucking in the tail end of a strand of spaghetti. While standing nonchalantly checking the latest cricket scores on my phone, I would have casually closed a flap over the recess, wiped off any excess bolognese sauce and carried on with whatever. This is, of course, all fantasy but there are electric vehicles on our roads that do have cables long enough for their entire journey – they are called trams. Shame we abandoned them in the UK for decades before re-discovering the benefits. The new tram system in Nottingham, for example, is rather good. If you ever go to Nottingham, give them a try. You may have the privilege of travelling on the likes of Robin Hood, Torvill and Dean or England cricketer, Stuart Broad. (Sorry – I know I have some readers in Australia so mentioning Stuart Broad may be insensitive after what he did in the fourth test of the last Ashes series.)
If you are not convinced about trams, you need to visit the National Tramway Museum (https://www.tramway.co.uk/) in Crich, Derbyshire – it’s brilliant. If you are visiting Matlock or the south eastern side of the Peak District National park, you will not be far away. Please be assured I am not a tram spotter nor tram aficionado but my family and I have visited this place two or three times over the years and really enjoyed it. The museum is set in a period village where original buildings have been transported and re-built brick by brick, including an old pub. You can ride trams up and down a length of track (all day if you want – there’s no extra cost), peruse the splendid indoor exhibits, lose the kids in the outdoor or indoor play areas, try to lose them again in the woodland walk and sculpture trail and then eat and drink yourself silly. Here you are spoilt for choice – the period tea rooms, the pub, ice cream parlour or traditional sweet shop (or all of them if your diet is starting the next day). Or, you can take your own pork pie or corned beef sandwiches and enjoy the picnic area with views over the Amber Valley at the far end of the tram line.
We first went to the museum many years ago when our kids were very little. It was near Christmas and we had a hearty roast turkey lunch served in giant Yorkshire puddings. Then we met Santa riding on the tram but I must have been naughty because I don’t remember getting a present (the kids did though). The last time we went was four years ago and it was a 1940’s theme day. What a great atmosphere! Loads of people dressed up in period civvies or military uniforms. And you have to admit, the trams themselves – many of them brightly coloured and/or with acres of highly polished wood – do look rather magnificent.
ANORAK’S CORNER: BMW X5 xDrive40e M Sport – 0-60mph, 6.8 seconds; top speed, 130mph (limited to 75mph on electric only); total power (combined petrol engine & electric motor), 313hp; combined MPG, 83.1 (ha ha); range on electric-only, 19 miles.
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.
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.
Here’s what I got up to this week, automotively speaking:-
Monday: Mercedes A180d SE, Leicester to Great Glen, Leics and Volkswagen Passat R-Line 4Motion TDI BiTurbo DSG (2015), Derby to Kettering
Tuesday: Toyota Auris Hybrid Business Edition, Derby to Bromborough, Wirral
Thursday: Vauxhall Corsavan 1.3d Gloucester to Tidworth, Wiltshire and Peugeot 207 van (2011) Tidworth to Gloucester
Classic car buffs and Princess Anne (I’m sure she will be reading this) might be interested to know that there is a Reliant Scimitar specialist in Kettering. Spotted it on my way to Kettering station after dropping off the Passat.
Also have to mention, I saw the Kinks’ musical, Sunny Afternoon in Nottingham this week. Absolutely sensational.