Well it’s 22nd May 2014 and it’s time for the Annual SMMT Test Day at Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire.
As always, it’s the Greatest honour that a Journalist or Blogger can receive on their yearly calender to be invited to attend.
I arrived – every year as I do -at 7.30 am meet up with a few people whilst we wait for the bus to take us to the Concept Centre for an 8am opening where bacon rolls and coffee/orange juice await us. We then go in for an industry briefing by SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes and a Safety Briefing from Keith Lewis, which is always great fun (especially when someone mutters ‘I’ve been driving for years – why do I need a safety briefing?’ and of course, every year someone always Stacks a Car at SMMT).
Believe Me – if you get invited to attend, then please do pay attention to everything.
Anyway I digress; it’s 9am and it’s time to collect our passes to go and drive the days’ delights (but what usually happens is that at this time, everyone piles out the doors, snatch their passes and head straight to Mclaren and This Year Alfa Romeo because of the 4C).
I, on the other hand, had different ideas for the day – 1st stop NewsPress Stand.
On display was probably the best line-up in my opinion: a Corvette Stingray, Seat Ibiza mkI, Jaguar E-Type and my personal favourite and boyhood pin-up car, a Maserati Ghibli.
The owner of the Ghibli was in attendance and very enthusiastic; he was a Member of the Maserati Owners club and owned 4 Maserati’s including the Maserati Ghibli Cup from the 90’s.
I never got to Drive this Ghibli as I was the guinea pig test run and the driver hadn’t been round the course yet but I didn’t mind – like I said, it was a boyhood dream car and I was more than happy to be a Passenger and I stuck to the old saying of ‘never drive your heroes’. I was, however, very impressed with the way it moved, sounded, stopped and handled as the owner certainly wasn’t shy in giving it the Beans.
And yes, that old car smell of Leather, Oil, and Fags: just can’t be beaten.
Next stop was Ssangyong to Sample the New Rexton
SSANGYONG REXTON W
The Rexton was for the off-road course only, which was great, but unfortunately I don’t do much off-roading, so luckily Roger was on-hand to give excellent turn-by-turn instructions that any monkey could follow.
The last time I wrote about Ssangyong was at the Korando Launch where I drove the entire Ssangyong range and I wasn’t particularly kind to the Last Generation Rexton (click here to view).
This New Rexton from Ssangyong really is nothing like the old Model: gone is the old tractor-sounding 2.7 engine and in comes the new euro5 compliant 2.0 Diesel with 360Nm of torque.
The interior has been vastly improved and mostly which is the all important part, so has the way it drives. In the old Rexton you felt very high off the ground and very narrow – like you’d topple if you went too fast round the corner. The new Rexton genuinely feels like a very capable off-roader that’s also at home on the road.
Well done Ssangyong for bringing a credible (and better in my opinion) alternative to a Kia Sportage; with prices from £21,995, it’s Cheaper too.
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GTC 6.0 LITRE W12
Now, this is a car that’s well and truly hard to define by any standards. It weighs 2.5 tons and is capable of acheiving a top speed of 195 mph. It also does 0-60 in 4.4 seconds yet it feels and drives like nothing you’ve ever driven before.
The GTC W12 belies its size by feeling agile,nimble, light as a feather and sure footed with a noise so snarly, throaty, and brutal (and I do mean so hyperwarp that it kicks-you-in-the -kidneys-brutal) when driven hard. It’s so much fun but then – on the other end of the scale – when it’s driven serenely and gently, it’s the most refined drive you’ll have ever had in your life. Either way, driven slow or fast, the Bentley GTC W12 is a car you’ll want to be noticed in.
SimonsCarSpots Rating 9.3/10
ROLLS ROYCE PHANTOM
Their is no way of saying it but it must be said… the most expensive Car on the SMMT day that I drove was the Rolls Royce Phantom, which starts at £336,000 (plus whatever bespoke options you’d like to add on, of course).
And, as most Phantoms are all different due to the options specified, the true price is the old age adage of ‘if you have to ask you can’t afford it’. Luckily, Rolls Royce and their modern owners aren’t as secretive as they once were due to new money coming through the ranks.
But Whats The Phantom like as a Drivers car when Rolls Royce themselves use the words ‘waftability’ and ‘sublime Ride’ and describe the comfort of being THE DRIVEN, rather than the Comfort of THE DRIVING?
In all honestly, if you are The Driven, then Rolls Royce really have created the perfect car to be Driven In. However, if you are the Driver then it’s a different story. Although your every whim is catered for with goose down filled sumptuous leather seats and every conceivable luxury item as standard, the Phantom really isn’t much fun as a drivers car.
The steering wheel is perfect though – very thin and just the right size – but then it gets a bit confusing; the switch gear is spaced out all over the place the gears (although using the waftomatic as standard from the steering column) didn’t feel that engaging when selecting drive. In reverse, the indicators (although silent in their operation) feel too low down as their are buttons everywhere – all hand crafted with the love and care that only Rolls Royce can provide – but they just feel scattered rather than positioned to help the driver.
The Phantom’s V12 engine is quiet and the 8 speed automatic is seamless in its actions. When pushed hard, it performs briskly and adequately, rather than feeling like it’s capable of its limited 155mph. Another downside is from the drivers seat you are about 7 feet away from the end of the bonnet (or should I say 7 feet away from the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’) which acts as a target cross hair for all other cars and riding on standard 22″ wheels as standard most 4×4’s also.
So – all in all, a very well appointed – as expected – car but this one’s certainly not a drivers car in my view
SimonsCarSpot Rating Quality 10/10 Drivers Rating 7.4/10
MG3 3FORM SPORT VTI-TECH 106PS
MG .. been around for donkeys years in the UK, then gone, then Back again, Hopefully this time MG are back for good.
In the past MG got a good and well deserved reputation for small nimble cars that could handle everything the British roads had to throw at them, and come out the other end better than it’s counterparts could hope for, even the old Rover 25’s were transformed when MG breathed new life into them..This time however MG has come back as a standalone brand again Making Good Honest Cars built and assembled in the Uk.
This MG3 3Form Sport is the top of the range version costing a whopping £10,136.00 including optional upgraded Alloy wheels, and the piano black interior,
Now many People know or don’t know that I drive Rover Streetwise 1.4 which is becoming or may become a future cool car. Size wise the MG3 is around the same size internally and externally where it’s bigger than say a Toyota Aygo but not quite as big as Toyota Yaris so Spacewise the Mg3 is Snug and comfortable rather than Class leading but depending on whether you think of it as Aygo or Yaris Class/Price Everything is very well screwed together and hard wearing ..and an improvement over the street wise, but a little less characterful.
The Mg3 3Form Sports 1.5 litre engine is absolutely brilliant, it’s lively, buzzy, with a little raspy engine note, which if you drive a small car you’ll know about working the engine and holding/keeping the revs up to the sweet spot (around 3300rpm) and having the power at your disposal, ok ok I know 105bhp isn’t class leading and it doesn’t have a turbo like the Fiat Abarth, but when it’s matched to a great Chassis like the MG has, then it’s Smiles per mile aplenty in a 10k car..I liked it a lot and drove the Alpine track twice The MG 3 deserves to do well over here, My only criticism is Please get that I-pod adapter moved from the console it looks horrible.
SimonsCarSpot Rating 8.7/10 and the joint honest car award
Join me next week for part two featuring
Feast your eyes on our veritable banquet of photos from the 2012 SMMT Test Day at Millbrook Proving Ground, taken by Messrs Oliver & David Hammond – the latter enthusiastically assuming photographer duty for the day, as well as co-driving the Peugeot 3008 review car we travelled down from Manchester in. Our photo gallery album is not in any way officially associated with SMMT. It comprises photos of the SLS AMG, Twizy, Maloo, Panamera, Chevrolet Volt, Simon Harris, Keith Jones, Scott Brownlee and countless other cars and names from the motoring industry. You can also see some of the wonderful stands run by manufacturers and their PR teams such as Skoda, Kia and Peugeot, as well as the Hill Route, High Speed Circuit and interesting number plates like ‘1 BMW’ and Vauxhall’s DE51RED. Enjoy!