Driving took a backseat this week, at least in my mind (my arms aren’t that long). Winter is coming. And this year that means one thing: the Ashes series Down Under. For the uninitiated, this is cricket. Australia versus England in the most historic and bitterly fought contest in sport. Why “the Ashes”? Because in 1882, those upstart colonials came to England and dared to beat the complacent imperial masters for the first time ever. This shocking turn of events prompted an English newspaper to publish a satirical obituary stating that English cricket had died and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.

The Ashes is a tempestuous rivalry to match Game of Thrones, with the likes of the cool Dawid Malannister facing the fiery Mitchell of House Starc. Ice and fire. This is a war fought with willow clubs rather steel swords, where leather-bound, rock-like projectiles are hurled at the enemy’s head at 90 miles per hour. To the victor goes the Terracotta Urn rather than the Iron Throne but they are both uncomfortable to sit on. Before play started in Brisbane, Australia (frustratingly at midnight on Wednesday UK time), I was in a state of nervous tension. Should I join the ranks of the Night’s Watch and forego sleep? No, I need my beauty sleep too much (although it doesn’t work). So, I wake up each morning actually dreading looking at the score. Hopefully, England will get away with an honourable, narrow defeat over the five test match series (each match lasting five days) rather than complete humiliation. But sometimes, in the odd foolhardy moment, I dare to dream of a well earned series draw or, heaven forbid, a win. Dream on. Anyway, despite the sporting distraction, I did drive some cars this week:-

Monday: Volkswagen Up! Move Up! (60hp), Northampton to Spalding, Lincolnshire
Tuesday: BMW X4 Xdrive3.0d M Sport auto, Leicester to Coventry
Wednesday: Jaguar XF R Sport 2.0d auto (180hp), Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire to Manchester; Range Rover Evoque SE Tech TD4 auto (180hp), Manchester to Melton Mowbray.
Friday: Nissan Juke Envy 1.2 DIG-T, Leicester to Uxbridge, Middlesex; Nissan X-Trail (hire car), Uxbridge to Leicester.
At last! I got to drive a current model Jaguar XF and it was as good as I had hoped it would be. Just like a larger version of the nimble XE but more space, more refinement and more comfort. To drive, it didn’t feel like a big car and seemed just as twinkled-toed as the XE. The 180hp diesel engine is fairly low down in XF pecking order but I wouldn’t argue if someone were to give me one of these! Not least because I got 60 miles to the gallon out of it over the 120 miles between Melton Mowbray and Manchester. Plus I’m sure most people would find it perfectly quick enough and, under acceleration, I actually think it sounds pretty good for a diesel. Almost sporty. I have thought the same when driving XEs with the same motor but not the various Land Rover products that also use the same powerplant (like the Evoque I drove back to Melton Mowbray after delivering the Jag). So Jaguar must sprinkle sporty dust on the engines they use, or something like that.
However, there were a couple of niggles. Firstly, on occasions there was a lot of wind noise from the driver’s door mirror. It was an extremely windy day though, so I would like to drive other examples to see if this was a one off (the XF I drove wasn’t brand new, it was a few months old). Also, I drove the R Sport version or, if you like, the boy racer version with red leather inserts on the seats and doors. Hmm. A question of taste. Very few modern Jaguars have the full wood and leather treatment to make them feel truly special, as they did in days of yore. And yet, although smart, the interiors do look a touch dated. Still, I would happily have an XF if the bank balance permitted. For the time being I will have to make do with the Jaguar tea bags we have in the kitchen cupboard. Actually, they are Tetley (and its redbush/rooibos not tea) but Jaguar Land Rover and Tetley are all part of the same group, being owned Tata of India. So, I have racy rooibos bags.


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.)
Once upon a time, Leicester had trams.
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.
A Leeds tram (left), I believe and a seaside special – an old Blackpool tram
Indoors where exhibits are arranged chronologically from the earliest horse-drawn trams onwards
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.
1940’s theme day at the museum. You can’t keep soldiers away from a pub!
All change! It costs one old penny to ride the trams. But don’t worry they give you that when you arrive.
I’ll have a quarter of, erm, those … no, those … no, wait…. Like a kid in a sweet shop.
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.