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Classics, Plastics, and the Fantastics: Simon’s SMMT 2014 Report Part 2

Simon Ford founder of Simonscarspots.co.uk

Hi everyone,

Hope you’ve all had a good week and the sun is still shining! Following on from my blog last week, it’s time to have a look at what else I managed to take a good look at on my SMMT 2014 day out!

Infiniti Qx70 S

Now, Infiniti have been for sale in the UK for a few years now and have been an under-the radar-leftfield choice for those who want a premium SUV but don’t want to be seen in a Porsche Cayenne or Range Rover Sport.

Are they any Good?

Style wise, the QX70 S looks lower than the Porsche and the Range Rover – thanks to some great Lines and curves by the Infiniti Designers – yet it rides on 21″ wheels.

Interior wise, everything is laid out in a logical, easy to use way and despite being full of dark colours, it is not at all oppressive. The seats are very supportive and comfortable; they are also adjustable in every way possible (in fact, I’d even say it was the 2nd best interior of cars I drove that day…the winner being the Rolls Royce Wraith but we’ll see that later).

The Engine is a 3.0 v6, developing 550nm of torque and 238ps; it is mated to a 7 speed gearbox. This model reaches 0-62 in 8.6 seconds (which is quick for a big 3.0 diesel) but the driving experience feels a bit quicker due to its Excellent Rear Active Steer. This means that the rear wheels turn to assist handling,which if I’m honest is brilliant – it made the Infiniti QX70-s very fun and it was my joint 2nd most fun car of the day. Even the view from the drivers seat was excellent (even though it was a bit Porsche-esque due to it’s bonnet humps).

Overall, the Infiniti QX70-S is a fantastic alternative to The Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport and at just over £40,000, it is Reasonably priced too.

SimonsCarSpots Rating 8.7 / 10

Maserati Ghibli Diesel

Appearing at SMMT for the first time was the iconic brand Maserati who have always been one of my boyhood heros with the Bora, the Shamal and the Original Ghibli to name but a few of the cars in their portfolio. The New Ghibli Diesel was the one that I was looking forward to driving the most on the day.

The design of the Ghibli is – dare I say it – a little restrained (sorry!) but still stands out as a GT car, especially from the front with that Iconic ‘M’ on the grille. However, the rest of the Ghibli is a bit “marmite” – you’ll either love it or hate it depending on which angle you look at it from.

It is also a shame that the theme continues on the inside as well; long gone were the days of wood, leather and the amazing oval Breitling Clock that adorned the dash. In their place are now dark colours and a rather subdued design; even though there was no doubting the Ghibli’s use of quality materials, it just felt like something was slightly missing.

There were two good bits I really liked about the new Ghibli diesel and number one was the Fantastic 3.0 v6 diesel engine. Built and designed in house by Maserati and Manufactured by Ferrari for the use in Maserati only, it develops 275hp, has a massive 600Nm of torques and can do up to a claimed 47mpg.

But that’s not the best bit: the best bit for me is the Maserati Active Sound System that is built so Maserati fans can tell which Maserati you’re driving by it’s engine note. This means in practice that it doesn’t sound like a diesel AT ALL and is the only diesel in the world that I’ve ever driven that actually sounds like a petrol. Praise where praise is due to Maserati and Ferrari for that one.

The other thing I liked about the Ghibli was the Chassis – while it can be tail happy, fun, excellent and put a smile on your face, it is a proper driver’s car and if you’re not careful it will kill you if you’re not on top of your game.

Overall, a mixed bag from the Maserati Ghibli Diesel. It’s a good alternative to a Jaguar, Mercedes or a Bmw and costs £48,835,00, it has the most amazing diesel engine you’re ever likely to encounter and the chassis to to let you know your driving a true drivers car. Then, you are let down by the restricted styling and the so-so interior

SimonsCarSpots Rating engine alone 10/10 overall though 7.3

Dacia Sandero Stepway Ambiance

Does anyone remember when Renault built a decent car that everyone brought and liked? I do – it was the 2002 Renault Scenic. You know the one the one without the rubbish keycard start and the good looks?

Well, this Sandero is the modern equivalent, offering a fantastic package, a willing engine and an excellent price for a 5 seat car that offers true economical motoring. What else can I say?

SimonsCarSpots Rating 6.9 / 10

Rolls Royce Wraith

In part one of my SMMT Test day, I drove the Rolls Royce Phantom and stated it was a car to be driven in and not a car to Drive. Now, the Wraith if the newest model from Rolls Royce that’s designed to be driven and not to be driven in and I have to say that the Wraith has achieved this very, very well.

Starting with the interior of the Wraith, as ever with Rolls Royce, it’s very opulent and you and your passengers want for nothing. It even has the most inviting interior of any modern car on sale today; from the gorgeous graining and patterning on the doors to the chrome ashtrays, Rolls Royce have hit a winner on the Wraith.

The styling of the Wraith from the front – three quarters look amazing in the flesh with so much road presence and awe inspiring looks from anyone that sees it. The rear end is reminiscent slightly of the Bentley GT.

On the road, the Wraith belies its size; yes, it’s still a big car but it’s chuck-able round most corners and eats miles up for breakfast with ease. It is powered by a 6.6 litre BMW sourced engine that produces 624bhp – you’d think it would be a complete Tyre Shredder, but that’s not what the Wraith is about.

Granted it is a Drivers Roller, but Rolls Royce don’t want their customers to kill themselves or have too much fun encouraging raucous do-nutting, elevenses, or white knuckle driving, so everything is done calmly and smoothly whilst you are still in the utmost comfort.

Overall, this is Rolls Royce’s best ever driving car and of course, it’s fantastic.

SimonsCarSpots rating 9.1 / 10

I do hope that you have enjoyed my summary of my antics on the 2014 SMMT day – watch this space for more fun blogs every Sunday and join in the chat on Twitter with myself and Motor Mistress daily!

Classics, Plastics and the Fantastics: Simon’s SMMT 2014 Report – Part 1

Simon Ford founder of Simonscarspots.co.uk

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


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.

SimonsCarSpots Rating 6.1/10



What Costs £153,000, Has Brutal Acceleration, weighs 2.5 Tonnes, and is absolutely brilliant….? Yep, that’s right – it’s the Bentley Continental Gtc 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



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


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


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