All 2 entries tagged Automotive

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March 14, 2006

Design Regression

The parents of a friend of mine recently had the good fortune of aquiring a brand-spanking new Ford Focus, a mkII. Much of what my friend has to say about it concurs with the popular opinions of the mkII in the specialist press (which bodes well for journalistic integrity). Technically it is a better car, but, look at it.

Focus ST

Nice, yes? It's alright. This is the ST version with a few extra body mods on it to make it look better (and a few unseen mods to make it quicker, but that's beside the point). However, compare it to its mkI equivalent, the Focus RS.

Focus RS

I would contest that this is a much nicer looking car; the detailing is better, the design is fresher and the face is much more, uhh, purposeful. When the mkI Focus was launched, it was a direct replacement for the Escort, which was one of the most tedious-looking cars Ford, if not the industry, has ever produced. As a consequence, with its radical, edgy styling (representing a new design direction for Ford, which they used in other models), the mkI Focus was revolutionary.

Happily this change of direction was a massive success for Ford, and now you can barely go outside without seeing a mkI Focus. The public loves them, and not without reason. The styling (both inside and out…the interior was almost as radical as the exterior), combined with the class-leading dynamics and reasonable pricing, makes it a clear leader in the mid-size hatchback segment. Perhaps the ultimate endorsement of this is the amount of people in the Motorsport club with a Focus ;-), the 1.8 is a great engine and the handling characteristics are nice and predictable…and it's comfortable too. If any Ford advertising executives are reading then you can happily use our recommendation in future advertising campaigns, in exchange for a small fee/fleet of STs :-p. Ahem…

(On a less tongue-in-cheek side note, the dynamics of the mkI Focus are so impressive that I believe Aston Martin used the Focus as one of many benchmark cars in the development of the recent V8 Vantage.)

Apparantly the mkII Focus also improves on the dynamics of the mkI, which is nice. Why though, has Ford decided to tone down the styling? Was that a conscious decision, or did the Ford top brass geniunely think that the mkII is, visually, an improvement? It's hard to tell; for example consider the recent Chris Bangle-designed BMWs, the styling of which has provoked miles of column inches themselves. Did BMW deliberately seek to attract attention to their model range with such controversial styling, or did they misguidedly think that they'd designed some impressive-looking cars? However, there are sound reasons why Ford would decide to tone down the styling, with the success of the mkI the mkII does not need to make such an impact on the marketplace; the Focus brand is already well-established.

So, perhaps toning down of the styling is an attempt to widen the demographic appeal of the mkII. Perhaps they decided to take the mkII along a different design direction in order to reinvigorate sales, theory being that the mere 'newness' of the mkII will attract more sales (and encourage old Focus customers to trade-in their mkIs for a mkII, which coincidently is excatly what my friend's parents have done). Incidently Jaguar has come under critisism for doing the opposite with the new XJ. Despite being technically a vast improvement over the previous-generation XJ, it looks the same as the old one, and so the majority of people aren't even aware that a new model XJ has even been released.

However, the old XJ was facing severe competition from the likes of BMW's 7-series and Mercedes' S- and E-Class cars. The Focus, on the other hand, has remained at the top of the sales charts pretty much since the day it was launched in the late nineties until it was withdrawn from sale with the introduction of the mkII. Hence, there is little need for Ford to go with a significant design change, for the better or the worse. However, once again, I could be wrong. Perhaps Ford felt that the market for the Focus was about to reach saturation point, and by releasing a new version of the car, they would be able to keep Focus sales strong without seeing any drop-off. In which case, good move, but it's a shame that Ford elected to make this move with a car that is considerably less-striking than the mkI.

March 11, 2006

A Dilemma

As the outgoing president of Warwick Motorsport (what a self–promotional opening line ;–)) I inevitably spend a lot of time talking about cars, racing, getting from A–to–B in the least time possible, etc etc. Recently that favourite topic of the Seven–Car Dream Garagetm came up, and it's a good topic. Unfortunately it's also a very thought–provoking one as well, so I spent an evening doing some research on filling the first garage bay.

Bay Number 1: The Beach-Buggy

Finding a nice beach is great. I like beaches where there's miles and miles of flat, uninterrupted sand. Preferably nice and soft up the top, and then slightly firmer towards the sea. You know how I mean? The former makes it easy to perform some specatular saves, with an accompanying cloud of sand, when you're throwing the frisbee around; whilst the latter is a lovely surface for playing football on or for just going for a run. Then of course you can throw yourself into the sea afterwards to cool off, or make frisbee–ing even more interesting :D

However, beaches always give you a problem when the time has come to clear off back home in the car. Inevitably you're covered in an unpleasant combination of sunscreen, sand, and seawater. Not good. So you get back home, and then next day you come to drive off to wherever life takes you. But disaster! There's sand in the footwell and the seats are covered in salt! What a minger! Obviously this is not desirable. Especially if you happen to have brought your Brabus SV12 to the beach, numpty. Although that is a cool thing to do, let's be honest, bringing your 200mph saloon with an optional boot–mounted server to the beach is a bit of overkill.

Brabus SV12 Interior

Back to the sand and salt in the car. Ideally what you should have done is given the inside of your car a hose down when you got back to base. But since you've been well–educated at the University of Warwick, you know that putting your electrically-adjustable leather memory seats, high-res sat-nav system and fly-by-wire driving controls through the rinser isn't going to do your warranty claims any good. You need a more practical car for taking to the beach. Something simple. Something designed to punished. You need a Caterham Seven.

Caterham R500

The Caterham Seven is a car with a rich history. I don't need to introduce it to you petrolhead bloggers, but for those of you who don't know what it is, it's quick. It's the archtypical, and to the best of my knowledge most popular, road–legal club–racing circuit car. it's basically an engine with seat and suspension bolted on. It contains only the basics…on some (high–end) models even the windscreen is an option. Nice. Simple. No fancy electronics. Therefore tolerant to a good hosing down. Perfect. Just make sure you get the blow–dryer out to get rid of the water in the footwell…opening the doors on the Seven to let water gush out won't do the trick, since, umm, it has no doors. Excellent.

It also has no roof either, which is ideal for a beach car. The smell of the air changes as you get towards the sea; sensing the salt and freshness as you get towards the coast is always a lovely moment. In the Seven, with no roof or doors, you wouldn't merely sense it; it would be more like a smack in the face. On a side note, the lack of roof or doors also means that the interior of the car won't heat up the in the sun whilst you're nailing the football 60 yards out to sea to see if the waves will bring it back (and they always do ;)).

However, although the Seven seems perfect, there is a drawback. You go to beach, you take a frisbee, football, towel, maybe some food, and of course your buddies. The Seven only has two seats…so you're limited to one passenger straight away….and limited bootspace. ie, none. Well, there is a token hole behind the seats for menial storage, I believe, but that will easily be filled by the frisbee. So what about the football? And towel? And cricket bat, if your friends are that way inclinded? There is a simple solution. Kick your buddy out of the passenger seat, sling the random stuff you want to bring in a kitbag, then loop it through the 4–point harness that would otherwise have kept your passenger in the car, and store it in the passenger seat. And then invite another friend with a car to come, and then you can play football with an extra five people.

Problem solved, and therefore the Seven has justified it's space in my 'Dream Garage. This is before I've even mentioned its incredible acceleration in all horizontal axes, the outstanding suspension control, high performance/£ ratio and its other supercar–scaring party peices. However, when I had finished my research into the Seven, something incredible occured to me.

Ariel Atom at Silverstone

This is a 300bhp Ariel Atom. This is known as a dilemma ;)

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