Archive | Oliver Hammond

The rise and rise of the sensible car By Debbie Mountford @MotorMistress, #Blog #SpeakingSense

Motor Mistress Simon Car Spots Blog





Sensible Cars

So, it seems that we are becoming a nation of sensible car owners. Well, sensible-ish, anyway.

When I say sensible cars, I’m not talking about the sort of cars that get you from a-b; the sort that are boring to look at and boring to drive.

*’s @Sf4d74 Sensible Car*

The “new” sensible car

I’m talking sensible as in practical. Economical. Good all-rounders.

Judging from sales figures, going down in favour at quite a rate are the traditional D-Sector family saloon cars – they are being replaced with compact MPVs, Superminis that can accommodate a football team, interesting family “Crossovers” and compact SUVs (the latter are often without a 4WD in sight). These sectors are now hotly contested by manufacturers and competition is fierce.

*Nearly all things to all Men (and Women)*

If a car doesn’t boast super-storage options, low emissions, a “useful shaped” (as well as decent sized) boot, a high drive height, good visibility and folding – and sometimes even sliding – seats, it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

In addition, the CO2 contest is well underway with many new cars aiming for around the 100g/km CO2 mark which helps when it comes to making savings on road tax, benefit in kind tax (if you are a company car driver) and London Congestion Charge exemption.

*Better than a 500 in a lot of ways. (and the 500’s a good car)*

Fuel economies have never been so frugal – some regular engines are doing more miles to the gallon than certain hybrids.

And in general, the trend for “budget brands” is growing. Even though depreciation may well hit them a little harder, it is a fact that the cheaper the car is, the less you often stand to lose.

*Buy a Perodua you know you wanna, another of @Sf4d74 Awesome Buys*

Consequences of the rise of the sensible car…

So, I ask you, is this good thing? Is this trend set to continue and if it does, how will it leave the fuel-thirsty sports car enthusiast? Will it become as politically incorrect to drive a totally impractical sports car? Will sports car enthusiasts be looked at in the same way as large SUV drivers and not let out of the traffic? How far can this movement go?

Yes, sometimes it can be seen that driving a hugely ostentatious car is an unnecessary display of wealth but to the person who is driving it, they do not see it in the same way. They work hard to afford it more often than not, so why not? Petrol-heads will always exist and that is that – if you feel the need for speed, then that is how it is.

On the other hand, snobbery from the large engine side of the fence is also rife. I have heard it said a few times that MPV drivers are people who have lost their motoring will to live; why not, if you need a practical family car, buy an estate car, for example?

I’ll tell you why. It is all getting back to my initial piece for (Vive La Difference) – everyone’s needs are different. If someone has a large people carrier then it is probably because they need one; if someone has a sports car then it is probably because they can.

Let’s not forget those amongst us who appreciate the rarer vehicles out there that are not as new –more “vintage” cars certainly aren’t likely to be very kind to the environment. Their sheer personalities make them still worthy of a place on our roads and I take my hat off to anyone who has the time, patience and indeed, money to keep one going.

Keeping motoring fun

So, getting back to the point in question: is the rise of the sensible car going to cause problems? Will people become so obsessed with practicality and economy that they could forget that cars can actually be fun?

Of course not. The more manufacturers raise the bar and give the buying public what they want, the better, in my opinion. The more money we can save on our everyday driving, the better. It will hopefully leave more money in the coffers to spend on our hobbies.

Families work so hard nowadays and let’s face it, if you are reading this, you are likely to be a car enthusiast (like me). So cars are our hobby. It sounds legitimate enough to me, anyway.

And anyway, there’s no reason that you can’t have a ridiculously fuel-thirsty and totally unpractical car for weekends – or for driving on the days when you fancy a blast.

So if – like many of us – you join the sensible car army, don’t stress about it. You haven’t become a traitor to your cause. You’re just helping out the wider cause which is to save money and get the best value possible from your everyday motoring.

*probably The best example of the sensible car on sale today*

Continue to do up and build cars in your garage; continue to snap some great car spots. Have fun with it all in your own time because sensible cars are here to stay.

*Offers Nearly Everything for Everyone*

And that’s definitely not a bad thing.

Debbie Mountford - Motor Mistress




Dacia Logan MCV, Jaguar XFR-S & BMW 435i M Sport Driven at SMMT North 2013

Oliver Hammond motoring writer editor Keith Jones Petroleum Vitae blog & SimonsCarSpots contributor - SMMT Test Day North 2013 photo - entrance

Okay, there’s no Alpine Hill Route or High Speed Circuit to take the cars for a spin on, but SMMT’s smaller, regional Test Days are still amazingly good fun and a great chance to network with car manufacturers and fellow motoring scribes. I had four cars in mind to drive this year at Wetherby and managed to get behind the wheel of three of them. I’ll start with the tamest…

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Logan MCV Lauréate Tce 90

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  • Cheap, from only £6,995 in Access trim
  • The Lauréate model I drove today is priced at £11,150 inc. options
  • It came with metallic paint, alloy wheels and a 7” touchscreen multimedia system with Bluetooth and European maps
  • An estate car and a boxy one, at that – but don’t forget, boxy means practical!
  • I think it looks cute and kind of cool in a utilitarian way
  • Inside, durability is the ethos, with rather basic surfaces and controls
  • The large boot had a proper spare tyre underneath.
  • I didn’t find it particularly easy to find a comfortable driving
  • The electric window switches are located under the central stack
  • The touchscreen sat nav and multimedia system with Bluetooth are nice touches
  • Visibility was a strong point
  • The gear lever had a nice action to it and the gears ratios seemed well –judged
  • This 90bhp TCe 90 model has a 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol 898cc engine
  • The clutch required a lot of travel to find the bite
  • Its little petrol engine picked up pace relatively keenly when pushed hard through the five gears
  • Ride quality and handling were pretty good considering it’s basically an ‘A to B’ car
  • Wind noise on the motorway annoyed me
  • Dacia claim 56.5mpg for combined fuel economy
  • Boot capacity with the seats down is said to be 1,518 litres
  • Overall, I thought the Logan MCV acquitted itself quite well in all departments

Jaguar XFR-S

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  • In one word, amazing!
  • Has the same abundant power as the XKR-S i.e. a 5-litre V8 supercharged engine, 550PS, a 0-60mph time of 4.4 seconds and a limited top speed of 186mph
  • The XFR-S has 40PS more than the XFR saloon, without compromising on the green credentials
  • The cabin with blue piping and ‘R-S’ logos embossed on the seats felt special
  • Rear legroom and headroom were fine but the transmission tunnel means it’s better suited to two occupants than three.
  • It’s slightly quieter than the XKR-S coupe and felt wilder and less manageable, somehow more powerful and brutal than the coupe, with wheel spin and tail sliding more likely.
  • To drive it fast required sharp wits all the time, which can sometimes be a little tiring.
  • I’m not complaining, I’m just observing, and I still love this car to bits. The XFR-S is a wonderful, wonderful car – don’t get me wrong. I would just need to drive it several times, like I have the XKR-S, to form a rapport with it.

BMW 435i M Sport

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  • Technically replaces the 3 Series coupe but is pitched as a standalone, new model
  • The 4 Series is longer, wider and lower than the 3 Series and is styled conservatively in my view
  • I was instantly struck by the contemporary interior, perfectly engineered and tight in a precise way, with the dashboard angled towards the driver
  • Sitting in the back briefly, headroom was very good although legroom might be a slight issue for tall people sat behind a tall driver
  • The 435i’s 306bhp and a 400Nm of torque felt more than adequate for having a hoot, and the whole package continued to impress in every department.
  • The 2,979cc engine provided plenty of punch in a smooth, linear fashion and had a throaty exhaust note to match
  • It handled excellently, cornering at speed with ease and providing heaps of fun down twisty country lanes.
  • The Twin Scroll turbocharger and other technical wizardry incorporated by BMW certainly did provide torque on demand right the way through the rev’ range and made it a joy to drive.
  • The ratios of the 6-speed manual gearbox felt nicely calibrated and the brilliantly-tuned chassis is complemented by the ability to select a driving mode to suit, from ECO PRO to Sport+.
  • The throttle response was obviously reined in by ECO PRO mode, whereas Sport+ sharpened everything up quite noticeably.
  • 29.9mpg after pushing it hard, versus BMW’s official 35.8mpg figure, is pretty good in reality
  • The price tag of under £50,000 surprised me
  • Despite being more clinical than, say, a Jaguar, the BMW 435i M Sport did bring a smile to my face and I’d drive one again in a heartbeat

© Author: Oliver Hammond



All-New Suzuki SX4 S-Cross SUV Crossover Launch

Location: Fawsley Hall, Northamptonshire
Date: September 4th 2013

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The Lowdown:

  • An all-new and very important model for Suzuki, who are trying to break into the lucrative crossover market
  • Primarily targeted at the Nissan Qashqai
  • Suzuki have traditionally sold to private, cash-paying buyers, but now want to focus on the leasing and Motability ‘fleet’ market, which nowadays accounts for around 40% of UK sales across the board
  • The SX4 S-Cross is claimed to tick all the boxes associated with successful SUVs, unlike any other comparative model (according to Suzuki)
  • It’s also pitched as being cheaper, roomier, just as well-equipped, more economical and greener.

The Models:

  • Petrol 1.6 or diesel 1.6, both with 120PS
  • All models fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox but a CVT automatic transmission can be specified on the range-topping petrol model
  • Trims range from SZ3 and SZ4 through to SZ-T (with DAB radio, parking sensors and colour sat nav, aimed at the fleet market) and the top-of-the-range SZ5 with leather seats and a double sliding panoramic sunroof
  • The SZ-T and SZ5 models are available in either 2WD or 4WD with Suzuki’s new ALLGRIP system which comes with Auto, Lock, Snow and Sport modes
  • The fastest is the 1.6 petrol 2WD variant which hits 62mph in 11 seconds
  • The most economical on paper is the 1.6 DDiS diesel 2WD at 67.2mpg
  • Pricing starts at £14,999 for the petrol SZ3 in 2WD, upto £23,540 for the diesel SZ5 4WD ALLGRIP

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First Impressions:

  • Tame but nevertheless attractive design
  • No badge snobbery, so I like it even more
  • Roomy, comfortable, high quality interior, only let down by poor headroom in models with the panoramic sunroof
  • Practical boot with 12V socket and proper spare tyre
  • Loads of equipment in SZ5 models. My favourite is DAB radio. DRLs and HID headlamps also included
  • Petrol engine fine but I preferred the nippier diesel unit which proved quite good fun
  • The 6-speed gearbox can’t really be faulted and the ride and handling felt strong, too
  • Sport mode on 4WD models did sharpen things up
  • Should be reasonably good on poor surfaces owing to Suzuki’s track record in off-road vehicles

All in all, a very good car, based on my brief drives during today’s launch. My pick? The 1.6 diesel manual in 4WD ALLGRIP SZ5 trim.

Thanks once again to the Suzuki UK team for their hospitality.


MG6 GT DTi-TECH SE diesel road test review by Oliver Hammond

Take one diesel engine developed by Chinese company SAIC, combine with a healthy dose of Brummy design, mix with a completely new chassis and garnish with an iconic badge. The result? A new MG6 diesel. Yes, at last, the new MG6 can attempt to target the fleet market now that the range includes a diesel powerplant. It’s fair to say you’ve probably not seen many new MG6s on the roads yet, but it’s a landmark model for MG, having risen from the ashes. What did I make of it, after its curtain-twitching arrival on the back of a truck?

MG6 GT DTi-TECH SE road test review by Oliver Hammond - photo - front 2


Manufacturers’ press packs and websites often spout off reams of fancy design terminology to describe every inch of their new models, some firms even delving into philosophy, harmony with nature and a synergy with animals and the human body. The MG6 diesel press pack does no such thing. What we do know is that the MG6’s design seeks to continue the brand’s sporty focus – and that the MG6 was designed by a bloke called Tony, at the MG European Design Centre in Birmingham.

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I can’t deny it – the MG6 does look sporty, especially in Regal Red and with its turbine-esque alloy wheels. Although some may say it looks a bit cheerful, I quite like the design of the MG6’s face, with its purposeful stance, athletic lines and large lower grille. The side profile is decent enough, too, looking nicely proportioned, squat and purposeful. I’m not completely struck on the rear, but it does blend in well with the rest of the car. Perhaps the frosted light clusters make it look a little cheap and the rear window looks too small from dead-on. I wouldn’t advise you to poke around the car’s exterior too closely, as I was slightly taken aback by the poor panel gaps and fit and finish in places. But generally speaking, the new MG6 ‘fastback’ GT model is an attractive-enough family car, definitely not classy enough to punch outside its weight category, but offering an interesting alternative to MG’s main rivals the Skoda Rapid and Octavia, and also the Ford Focus segment the MG6 also straddles. Considering this is the first new MG for aeons, they could have Continue Reading →


2013 Mazda6 2.2d diesel manual 175PS Sport Nav Saloon road test review by Oliver Hammond

An all-new Mazda6 saloon isn’t the kind of news that gets everyone excited, but being a saloon lover I for one was really eager to spend a week with one after the very positive reaction it received around its very recent launch. The ‘large family’ and ‘compact executive’ car sectors are rammed full of quite viable choices, so it would be very interesting to see what impression the new ‘6’ made on me. Soon after it arrived, it was clear Sade would approve. Read on to find out what I’m out about and learn how Mazda really is boxing clever at the cutting edge these days.

2013 Mazda6 2-2 diesel Sport Nav 175PS manual saloon road test review by Oliver Hammond Simons Car Spots - photo side Princes


I’ve always believed that the best-looking cars are the ones which look like they’re moving, even when they’re stationary. Mazda think the same thing and this is partly what their ‘KODO’ design philosophy is all about. I guess the guy from Mazda is right when he passionately talks about animals (and in particular, racehorses), athletes, body lines which depict ‘leaping’, and strong hip muscles. The new Mazda6 does indeed look dynamic, athletic and sculpted – and I absolutely love it. It looks splendid from all angles but my personal favourites are the coupe-esque side profile with its sloping roofline down to the boot, and the front-three-quarters, with its bulging, purposeful wheel arches and chrome-accented grille, flanked with attractive LED daytime running lights.

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The Mazda6 is classed as a large family car and in my view it therefore has the best styling in its class. Rivals such as the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Skoda Superb and Volkswagen Passat look far less exciting. With striking looks like these, the Mazda6 is capable of poaching a few sales from the executive saloon market and one of the biggest compliments I can pay it is that it Continue Reading →


Oliver Hammond at SMMT Test Day 2013

Waking up on what would be my second SMMT Test Day down at the iconic and really rather surreal and wonderful Millbrook Proving Ground (the place Fifth Gear and Top Gear often use) in Bedfordshire, I was just as excited as I was the first time around. How could one not be? SMMT Test Day is the main annual opportunity to catch up with and introduce oneself to most car manufacturers, drive some of their splendid vehicles of all shapes and sizes, catch up with fellow blogger friends and journalists and of course to experience SMMT and Newspress’ delightful hospitality.

SMMT Test Day 2013 Millbrook Proving - Oliver Hammond Simons Car Spots MyCarCoach review writeup photos -Yelloy Alpine Course

My First Impressions Writeup Review & Photo Gallery – SMMT 2013

Last year, a quite admirable Peugeot 3008 was our transport down to Millbrook. This year? A brilliant Mazda6. My guest this year? Mrs Vel Satis – or Izzy, as she’s really called! She’s my primary press car photographer, by the way. After a bit of a duff start to the year weather-wise, SMMT and Newspress had once again managed to pull a few strings and bring out glorious sunshine. Nice one, guys. It was excellent to see some lovely classics there today too, including Jensen Interceptor, a Datsun 240Z, Firenza HP ‘Droopsnoot’ and a Vauxhall 30-98. McLaren and Rolls Royce were also there this year, but I didn’t get a chance to sample their delights. Hopefully next time…

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This year, the plan wasn’t to drive as many cars as possible, but to prioritise thanking, catching up with and introducing myself and the SimonsCarSpots website to various manufacturers, and focusing on the handful of cars I had circled on the provided list. It was great to meet new bloggers of all ages for the first time, as well as established bloggers, seasoned journalists and motoring photographers. The constant supply of drinks and cakes, the lovely lunch and the goodies provided by several manufacturers were very much appreciated – not that I actually managed to sample any of SEAT’s sweets, Skoda’s popcorn, Newspress’ chocolate or Citroen’s apparently delicious crepes, as I was too busy yacking, driving and scribbling. Anyway, let’s cut to the chase, as I know you all really want to know what cars we drove today! And we won’t waffle on about their mechanical minutiae as we only got 15 minutes or so behind the wheel of each. So here’s our snappy, realistic ‘first impressions flavour’ overview of all the metal we tested.

S7 4.0 TFSI quattro (420PS) S tronic @ £71,045

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Hands up, yes, I have sometimes referred to recent Audi models as being rather homogenised, it proving tricky at a glance to differentiate an A4, A5 saloon, A6 or A8 from each other. I’ve always yearned after an A7, though, owing to its subtly different styling and exclusivity. After three laps round the yellow Alpine Hill Route and a couple of blasts round the red high speed ‘bowl’, what was our verdict?

  • Excellent interior which felt extremely solid, with quilted sports seats and plenty of space
  • Just the right amount of buttons, Audi’s MMI was pretty simple to master the basics and the flip-out screen is pretty cool
  • In my view the A7 is the best-looking Audi ‘saloon’ of the moment, although I know it’s really a 4-door coupe Mercedes CLS and BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe rival
  • Nicely aggressive exterior with beautiful curves and a subtly attractive ‘behind’ with sexy light clusters
  • The first car we drove today, but the handling was superb. The chassis felt great, steering was precise and it was fast enough. The official 0-62mph figure of 4.7 seconds is believable and the 7-speed S tronic direct-shift transmission got it there smoothly
  • Surprisingly for an ‘S’ model, there was no Continue Reading →

Suzuki Jimny 1.3 SZ4 road test review by Oliver Hammond

Good grief – the last Suzuki Jimny experience I had was of the soft-top one we hired in Crete a few years ago! That brings back memories, including quite a few hair-raising moments on the country’s abundance of twisty and rocky country roads. Oh, and the beaches. Anyway, back to the point and here we have it, a facelifted Suzuki Jimny. No, you’re not the only one who thinks the Jimny has effectively remained unchanged for what feels like decades. But does it still carve any kind of place for itself in 2013?

2013 Suzuki Jimny 1-3 SZ4 road test review by Oliver Hammond SimonsCarSpots MyCarCoach Car Finder - photo front 34


It’s the most compact 4×4 ‘SUV’ – if you can call it that – on the market and yes, the Jimny hasn’t changed much at all over the decades it’s been knocking around. The Jimny genealogy goes back all the way to 1968 but it was in 1997 when the version familiar to almost everyone was introduced.

Hire Rental Suzuki Jimny Crete Greece

So what’s new now we’re in 2013? The Jimny’s lovable, cheery and characterful face has been mildly tweaked, with a groovy central air intake on the bonnet, a new grille and fog lights, plus alloy wheels. Yup, sorry to disappoint, but that really is about it as far as any styling updates on the outside. One day, I saw no less than eight Jimnys drive past me within 5 miles of leaving the house, so the Jimny’s army of cult followers are apparently still happy with its tried and tested styling.

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Taking it at face value, the Jimny does look quite cool, with its chunky wheels, rugged, contrasting bumpers, square silhouette and dinky little, round, beaming headlights, with the very basic, squat rear styling, side-hinged boot and spare tyre on the back giving it a mini-macho image. It would be great to see an all-new Jimny at some point in the near future – but for now, it seems Continue Reading →


2012 Ford Ranger Wildtrak 3.2 diesel automatic road test review by Oliver Hammond

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love haute cuisine, umpteen-course taster menus and the like. But I’m equally at home with a good old, honest, supersized burger and chunky fries. In fact, I’m often a teeny bit envious of the guy who presents the TV show ‘Man vs Food’. In my case, ‘All things big or beautiful’ are the order of the day. Cue the 2012 model Ford Ranger. It’s certainly big. But is it any good?

2012 Ford Ranger Wildtrak 3-2 diesel automatic road test review by Oliver Hammond photo - front Ridge Hill 1


The new, 2012 model year Ford Ranger looks and indeed is much bigger than the previous model – which not only looked somewhat diminutive in comparison to some other pickup rivals of its day, but also looked rather Hillbilly-ish. Not so the new model, which completely dwarfs it and looks nothing but modern. Ford have done a marvellous job of styling the latest Ranger, which looks very American and will no doubt continue to go down a treat in the vehicle’s far-flung markets all around the globe, especially those in which big pickups are the norm.

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Okay, the side profile and the rear of the new Ford Ranger look more or less like its equally massive main rivals, the Nissan Navara, Toyota Hilux and Isuzu D-Max. But then they’re all designed to accomplish the same tasks, so I’ve not got a problem with that. And in my view, the styling of the front of the new Ford Ranger, especially in range-topping Wildtrak guise as tested here, blows the competition out of the water. It looks amazing. You’ll certainly never lose your Wildtrak in a car park if you order it with this press vehicle’s bright orange paint job. Nor will you forget what model you own, as Ford have tastefully etched ‘Ranger’ above the front grille, as well as printed it in huge lettering on the back.

The Ford Ranger means business, which is apparent from the moment you set eyes on it. The gaping wheel arches, large tyres and chunky body panels ooze ruggedness. And the great thing about the new Ranger is that it doesn’t seem to attract the remotest bit of animosity. Neighbours, pedestrians and fellow road-users all looked at the Ranger admiringly and with respect. People realise that it shouldn’t be classed as part of the Chelsea Tractor brigade. The Ranger is, after all, a Continue Reading →


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