Page 1


Issue eIght

january 2012

w w w. l i f e o n c a r s . b l o g s p o t . c o m







Car of the Year 2011 i'll come clean; choosing this year's car of the year has proved a right old challenge. that's because - unlike the last two years - no one car has stood out head over shoulders over the rest, shining like a beacon of brilliance and overshadowing everything. But what's my problem in this special edition of life on Cars is your gain, because each of the five cars i've shortlisted would have confidently won the outright honours if it were 2009 or 2010. if you want to know right away what won then head to page eight but i'd suggest reading through the list of shortlisted contenders first, to find out just why the Volkswagen golf Cabriolet, Jeep grand

Cherokee, Citroen dS3 racing, Ford Focus and abarth 500C are such class acts. not that this is just about the car of the year - the whole issue celebrates the highlights of 2011 across the whole spectrum of motoring, as seen through 12 months of road tests, events and adventures with the Champion. Finally, there's a look ahead to 2012, which if it's anything like as productive as 2011 should shape up to be a bit of a bumper year for motoring. Enjoy reading this special edition as much as i've enjoyed making it! Life On Cars wishes all of its readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

David Simister Editor, Life On Cars Editor david Simister dESignEr david Simister


photography: manufacturer photography courtesy of the Society of motor manufacturers and traders (as newspress); all other photography by david Simister.

read Life On Cars each Wednesday in The Champion newspaper, on the web at Š life on Cars 2010


Life On Cars

Mercedes-Benz SLK: the latest version of the small german sports car was one of the new arrivals which impressed with its style and finesse but just missed out on this year’s shortlist. Image courtesy of SMMT

In this issue 4 Best event despite plenty of competition from across the region there was a clear winner when it came to the show which impressed Life On Cars - not bad for one which had its inaugural run earlier this summer

6 2011’s hopefuls the quintet of cars which proved particularly impressive and enjoyable throughout this year this far, picked from a cast of dozens of motors launched over the past 12 months

8 Car of the Year the cars tested by Life On Cars have been an eclectic bunch, including everything from the Kia rio to the rampant Vauxhall VXr8. But the best car Life On Cars got to drive in 2010 was the [cont. page 8]

10 Best road terrifying, tempting, tricky, tortuous, tantalising and tyre-wasting. this year’s best road invites plenty of adjectives beginning with the letter ‘t’ but it’s definitely worth the trip


Best drive

great roads are the perfect match for great drivers’ cars, and this year there have been plenty to reward any keen petrolhead. But one car this year really stood out as a masterclass in pace and handling

14 Special award Which goes to the set of wheels which somehow defies all the other categories but still manages to impress Life On Cars anyway. Especially if its an upcoming classic-car-in-the-making

16 2012 is coming nope, not a new version of the dreadful disaster movie but a whole new crop of cars for all budgets and tastes. david Simister picks a few hot tips for the biggest motoring hits of the next 12 months

18 Events galore!

never miss a regional motoring show again thanks to our special 2012 calendar featuring the best classic car events from across the north west of England and north Wales

20 Best bargain the tale of how the world’s least sporty rover managed to wind its way into the affections of a hard-nosed, throttle-happy motoring enthusiast

Life On Cars



The Ormskirk MotorFest inspired petrolheads to flock in their thousands to a West Lancashire market town

thESE are just some of the thousands of people who packed into ormskirk back in august to see a host of classic cars and bikes take to the town’s streets. the ormskirk motorFest, which was held on august 28, was a joint venture between aintree

Event of the Year 2011 4

Life On Cars

Circuit Club and West lancashire Borough Council which succeeded in bringing a century of full throttle heritage to a single town centre. among the petrolhead favourites were a Ferrari Enzo once owned by rod Stewart, a host of old F1 cars, and a top fuel dragster capable of 300mph.

at the time of writing there’s still no word on whether the event will happen again, but there’s no harm in keeping your fingers crossed. Go to the Life On Cars blog to read the special Ormskirk Motorfest preview magazine

Life On Cars


CAR OF THE YEAR 2011: THE FINAL FIVE Car of the Year 2011

The automotive achievers which stood out from the rest after being given The Champion’s road test treatment... ...and why some impressive new arrivals haven’t made the final shortlist 6

Life On Cars

The nearly cars

BY FAR the closest car to making the final cut was Citroen's C-Zero (above), simply because it's the first all-electric car I've actually enjoyed driving. But - as we wrote at the time - it's a great car ruined by a ridiculous pricetag. Vauxhall's VXR8 was addictively fast but always felt a bit too cartoonish to be a realistic prospect for everyday ownership, while Renault's run-out version of the Twingo Cup was let down by a cheapfeeling interior. Far better was Volkswagen's Polo GTi, which was a frantic and fun small car but never offered the same thrills as the hot hatches in this year's shortlist. BMW’s X3 also deserves an honourable mention, if only for being far better than I wanted to it be (but the Jeep’s still more engaging somehow). Biggest disappointment? The Audi A1, which promised much with its handsome styling but was badly let down by poor packaging, high prices and - worst of all an unforgivably poor ride.

Abarth 500C Essesse “If you want something with an endlessly engaging personality and sense of style than the Abarth will prove a characterful companion.” Life On Cars - October 2011

Citroen DS3 Racing “Loud, lairy and a little bit scary, the DS3 Racing might be better trimmed than some of its ancestors but it shows Citroen can still come up with a cracking hot hatch when they want to. It might not be to everyone's taste but it's seriously good fun.” Life On Cars - September 2011

Ford Focus “Should you buy the same car you know half your neighbours are going to buy? I would, because the latest Focus shows it hasn't forgotten how to make safe, sensible cars which just happen to be fun to drive, even if it isn't the image-conscious choice.” Life On Cars - June 2011

Jeep Grand Cherokee “The Grand Cherokee isn't the best off-roader I've driven but perplexingly it is my favourite, which has got more to do with its indomitable spirit than any ability to tick the boxes.” Life On Cars - December 2011

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet “The folding metal roofs which are de rigueur amongst its rivals might offer you more security, but on style alone the Golf's got ‘em licked.” Life On Cars - November 2011 Life On Cars


WINNER : Citroen DS3 Racing UNLIKE last year - where Honda's innovative CR-Z stood head and shoulders above everything else - picking a winner this year proved far trickier. The Jeep, for instance, impressed not only with its indomitable character but because it truly brings the American firm back into the offroader game, so vast are its improvements over the old model. But - in much the same way the Golf Cabrio is for open tops - the Grand Cherokee is astonishingly good without being particularly groundbreaking. Not something which could be said for the operatic Abarth, which blends a Ferrari-like engine note with cutesy-retro Fiat 500 styling and ragtop thrills for the first time. It was never anything less than an experience rather than a mere drive, but it just misses the final cut. The real agonising was over whether the winner should've been the Ford Focus, which achieves the impossible by being as remarkably brilliant as the original was. The forthcoming Focus ST, in particular, should match poise and practicality, but despite the all-crushing ability of the basic car I get the feeling there's more to come. Which is why the ultimate accolade goes to the lairy DS3 Racing, which takes one of last year's runners up and improves it more than enough to make it a deserving winner. Feisty, fun and affordable, it's a stylish small car which just happens to put a smile on your face.


Life On Cars


Car of the Year 2011



thE road you see here is the stunning horseshoe pass, a stone's throw from llangollen in north Wales. it's challenging, scenic and rewarding in roughly equal measure, but it's not the best snake of tarmac Life On Cars has sampled this year. last year the honour went to the wonderful Buttertubs pass, in north

yorkshire, while the road between Capel Curig and llanberis won me over a year before that, but this year its a trio of routes in the heart of the lake district which impressed me most. admittedly, i was in two great driver's cars - a lotus Elise and an original mini - on the occasions i tried it, but even so the

Road of the Year 2011 10 Life

On Cars

triangular run over the newlands pass, the hardknott pass and the B5289 to Keswick took my breath away. the end destination beautiful Buttermere - is worth the trip in itself but really the reward is in mastering the corners, conquering some of the steepest gradients in Britain and trying not to

lose your nerve when confronted with the prospect of a 500 foot plunge on the newlands. it might be crowded at the height of summer, but find the right day and the roads between Keswick and Buttermere are wonderful. they really are a set of roads beyond superlatives.


The roads that tempted and terrified Life On Cars in equal measure in the pursuit of driving nirvana throughout 2011

Life On Cars


Photos by Cornelia Kaufmann

The Lotus Elise is cramped, noisy and not especially easy to live with. But it’s also by far away one of the best sports cars ever made

Best Driver’s Car of 2011 12

Life On Cars


EarliEr this year i put my apex instantly. Even money where my mouth is though this is an entry and bought what i reckon level lotus, it’s a lotus all is the best sports car of the same, and that means all time. the mazda mX-5. quite incredible levels of the mX-5 was the car agility through the which won this award last corners. year, thanks largely to its i borrowed one for a grin-inducingly good week in the spring and handling being offer to even though the everyone, all of the time. temperatures in the lake Certainly its feelgood district were still well factor is easier to access below freezing in the than this, the latest mornings - i simply didn’t version care of the because the iconic “Point the Elise 1.6 Elise S lotus was that at a bend and much fun. Elise, a car that it might - BANG - you’re be even in its through the apex unforgiving cheapest but you’ll form will instantly. Even happily set you though this is forgive the back Elise just an entry level about nearly ten Lotus, it’s a anything, grand even if your more Lotus all the spine has than a long since same.” new mXstopped 5. it’s working also far after all the harder to get into, a lot attempts at getting in and more spartan once you do you’re soaked because clamber inside, and its you’ve forgotten how to roof is a tricky affair to get the roof back on. it is be mastered rather than that good a car. enjoyed. Would i have one? no, But the difference because i don’t think i’m between an mX-5 and an supple enough to use one Elise is like watching a every day and i can’t band on television rather afford to have a £30,000 than seeing them live, lotus as a fun and frantic because when it comes to set of wheels for the steering, handling and weekend. if you can, cornering the lotus is on however, i’d thoroughly an entirely different recommend what has to level. be one of the most hit a tricky corner in an involving driver’s cars on mX-5 and - as i’ve offer in any price bracket. discovered with mine if you want a lesson in you’ll either have a whale how a really, properly of a time drifting gently sorted sports car should or you’ll crash. point the go, stop and handle, you Elise at a bend and need to get behind the Bang - you’re through the wheel of an Elise. Life On Cars


A SWIFT WAY TO HOT HATCH HEAVEN Special Award 2011 The gong that goes to the car ineligible for Car of the Year but somehow too memorable to go without a mention. This year, a hot hatch that’s been read its last rites but still proves to be one of the most grin-inducingly great small cars you’re likely to find for any amount of money

18 Life

On Cars

it was on the hardest road i could find that this giant-killer of a car really started to shine. the hardknott pass, you'll know if you've ever tried tackling, is one of the hairiest roads on offer anywhere in Britain. With its unforgivingly tight turns, relentless climbs and sheer drops it proves a difficult drive in just about anything, with small cars overwhelmed by the constant demands of the gradient and larger leviathians threatened by the risk of a close encounter with the rocks strewn on either side of the needle-thin road. a five-year-old hot hatch from Japan, however, was having none of it. there is only one reason why this giantkiller of a car isn't the running for this year's life on Cars award - it is, believe it or not, no longer a brand new model. yet of out of all the cars i've tested this year - and that's a list that includes the lotus Elise and the Vauxhall VXr8 the Suzuki Swift Sport left by far the biggest impression. in a logical, box-ticking sense the little Suzuki doesn't stack up, which probably explains why the oriental firm's already replaced it. While it's built more than sturdily

enough, the interior's hardly the last word in style or sophistication, while the space offered both in the back seats and the boot is a long way off what you'll get in a brand new polo or Fiesta. But you'll forgive the Swift Sport absolutely anything if you're a keen driver, because for B-road blasts i can think of few better companions. the best front wheel drive car i've ever driven - and i know i'm biased on this one - is the original mini, but the Swift Sport is about as close you'll get with crumple zones and airbags. the little Swift really is a revelation through the corners, while the revhappy 1.6 litre lump really makes the most of its 123bhp, determined to keep its tyres on the tarmac and a smile on your face. it even looks like a hot hatch should; pert and purposeful, like a mini Cooper or the original golf gti. Bereft of silly badges and go-faster stripes but garnished with just the right amount of jewellery, it implies what it can do without shouting about it. the Suzuki Swift Sport is an entirely deserving candidate of the special award, because it's a wonderful, wonderful little car.

Life On Cars


jAG’S “NEW E-TYPE” AmONG 2012 HITS David Simister picks his tips for motoring’s biggest hits next year

doES your new car, when it arrives at some point next year, have to be a car at all? renault's obviously feeling more radical than usual, because it's hoping that for at least some of you the answer's going to be a defiant, yet environmentally aware, no. it's hard to know what the twizy is - renault says it's called an EV, but it's a sort of electricallypropelled cross between a car and a quad bike - but the French firm reckon enough people will be prepared to take the £7k plunge when it goes on sale next year. only time will tell whether it's a success, but it does look fun! it will, however, have to be more than just fun-

16 Life

On Cars

loving to beat a triad of city car contenders launched by the Volkswagen group, which you're bound to start seeing in supermarket car parks within the next few months. the VW Up, the Skoda Citigo and the SEat mii are all badgeengineered versions of each other, but the basic package brings some very clever and space-efficient engineering into a surprisingly small package. Unlike the unloved Fox before it, the Up should prove the small car to beat when it goes on sale.

Sporty But to win enthusiasts over they're going to have to beat a reincarnation of a life on Cars favourite,

in the form of Suzuki's latest Swift Sport. the old Swift Sport, as you'll have already read, has already proven to be a thriller on the right roads and the cooking versions of the new Swift, which life on Cars tested last year, have shown the Japanese firm hasn't forgotten how to make its small cars fun. the new Swift Sport, which is faster, stiffer and more powerful than its predecessor, should prove a riot to drive. a target peugeot are also aiming straight at with the latest in their long line of superminis, the 208, when it goes on sale in the spring. the 205 is widely credited with reinventing the firm's image in the 1980s, while the 206 is still well regarded for its pert

looks, but the French are keen to make up on the ground they arguably lost with the 207. if the company's larger cars of late have been anything to go by, peugeot will have pulled out all the stops to make the 208 a memorable little motor. yet where peugeot are busy getting back to basics, BmW are seeing how far they can stretch their small car icon with yet another twist on the reinvented mini. this time they've taken the controversial Countryman and made it into a threedoor coupe, called the paceman, in a bid to bring even more buyers into the company's British showrooms. the question's a simple one they've already tackled successfully with the

Countryman; is a stretch too far? i doubt buyers will be as hard to find for the latest version of porsche's 911, which replaces the outgoing 997 model despite looking almost exactly the same to the untrained eye. not only is it longer, lower and wider, but it's also stiffer and more powerful, and it's unlikely the germans are going to get their sports car icon wrong for the first time in its near 50 year history. Expect to see one parked outside your local golf club later this summer.

Patriotic that's if the wellheeled car enthusiasts haven't gone for what's sure to be a patriotic choice, in the production version of Jaguar's longawaited small coupe. the production of the CX-16 is likely not only to be called the XE, but is almost certainly going to be viewed as the spiritual successor to the E-type. no pressure for Jaguar, then, but with given the success of the XF, XJ and XK it's difficult to imagine them mucking their smallest sports car in a generation up. not rich enough for a Jag or a porsche? then fear not, because toyota and Subaru have teamed up to deliver what could be the most tantalising petrolhead recipe ever to come out of Japan; the rally-bred punch of Subaru's flat four engine technology mated to the traditional toyota recipe of a hairy-chested, rearwheel-drive coupe. it

doesn't matter whether you go for the Subaru BrZ or the toyota gt-86; underneath they're both the same car, and they'll still drum up 200bhp for less than ÂŁ30,000.

Opposite: the new sports car from Jaguar is likely to be a production version of the lithe C-X16 concept car.


Right, from top: toyota and Subaru Weirdly, the European have teamed up to competition comes in front-wheel-drive form, make a traditional with both the Ford Focus sports coupe for St and Vauxhall's astra the enthusiast; it’s VXr offering up even more all radical for the power in suited-up new renault twizy; hatchback packages. Whether they'll prove any the new Focus St more fun than the is the latest in a Japanese coupe long line of fast contenders remains to be seen, but if you watch the Fords; the Skoda Citigo is the Sweeney when it hits the big screens later on this cheapest variant year, you'll know at least of Volkswagen’s the Ford will come with new Up; the dacia some movie star duster will finally credentials. arrive in the UK in have i left the best until last? it depends on 2012; the latest whether your ideal car is version of the an off-roader built in evergreen porsche romania. the dacia 911 looks similar duster's been on sale on to its predecessor the continent for almost two years, but next year but is a very difit'll arrive on British ferent beast under shores, with aggressive the skin pricing and proven renault technology in its armoury. it might not be 2012's most groundbreaking motor but i'd bet on seeing a duster long before i spot a twizy.

Read more motoring news and road tests from David Simister on the blog online at www. Life On Cars



Some of the best motoring events England and North Wales set to th January May Sunday 15th: Wirral to llandudno mini run Sunday 29th: mini Fair 2011, Staffordshire Showground, Stafford

February Sunday 12th: Skipton Car and Bike autojumble, auction mart, Skipton, north yorkshire, 01697 451882

March Saturday 17th: rainy City Custom Car Show, Event City, Urmston, greater manchester. 01484 667776. Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th: north West indoor Classic Car Show, Event City, Urmston, greater manchester. 01565 723863.

April Sunday 15th: mgB 50th anniversary run, historic motor Centre, gaydon, Warwickshire. 01926 641188. Sunday 22nd: St george’s day drive-it-day rally, lancs auto Club

18 Life

On Cars

May Bank Holiday 2012: north Wales Splash dash, Cumbrian Cruisers (www.splashdash.cumbria Sunday 20th: garstang Car and Bike autojumble. hamilton house, garstang, lancashire. 01697 451882. Saturday 26th: the Fellsman rally, lancashire auto Club. Sunday 27th: Cheshire Classic Car and Bike Show. includes Jaguar day. Capestone hall, Cheshire. 01484 667776.

June Monday 4th: yorkshire Classic Car and Bike Show. ripley Castle. 01697 451882. Sunday 10th: garstang Classic Car Show. hamilton house, garstang, lancashire. 01697 451882. Date TBC: the lakeland tour 2012, Ullswater, Cumbria Friday 15th: Sunday 17th: Cholmondley pageant of power. 01829 222432. Sunday 24th: totally transport Festival and Blackpool run, South


s from across the north west of hrill petrolheads through next year promenade, Blackpool Sunday 24th: lancashire Classic Car Show: hoghton tower, near preston, lancashire. 01484 667776. Saturday 30th - July 1st: Classic american Car Show. tatton park, Cheshire. 01565 723863.

July Sunday 8th: garstang Car and Bike autojumble. hamilton house, garstang, lancashire. 01697 451882. Sunday 8th: lydiate Classic Car and Bike Show, 288 Southport rd, lydiate, lancashire Saturday 14th: the 17th Coast to Coast rally, lancashire auto Club Sunday 22nd: north Wales Classic Car Show, Bodelwyddan Castle, denbighshire. 01484 667776. Sunday 29th: Classic Sports Car Sunday and north West mini Show. Capesthorne hall, Cheshire. 01484 667776.

August Saturday 4th - Sunday 5th: Woodvale rally, raF Woodvale, Southport

Sunday 5th: yorkshire Classic Car Show. ripley Castle, north yorkshire. Sunday 5th: 3 Sisters run, lancashire auto Club, three Sisters racetrack, Wigan Sunday 12th: lytham hall Classic Car and Bike Show. lytham, lancashire. 01697 451882. Sunday 26th: Cheshire Classic Car and Bike Show. Capestone hall, Cheshire. 01484 667776. Sunday 27th: lakeland Classic Show. hutton in the Forest, Cumbria. 01697 451882.

September Sunday 16th: garstang Car and Bike autojumble. hamilton house, garstang, lancashire. 01697 451882. Friday 21st - Sunday 23rd: highland Scottish tour, lancashire auto Club Details correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change. If you spot a detail that needs changing or would like to get in touch with details of your own event, send an email to david.simister@hotmail.

Life On Cars


Bargain of the Year

How to get a comfy cruiser for just £300

RELAX, IT’S A ROVER FUn, frantic, frenetic and unforgiving. these are just some of the things my 1995 rover 214 SEi emphatically isn't. it is however roomy, practical, refined, effortlessly easy to drive and as everyone who's joined me in it on a journey has testified - cossetingly comfortable. one thing it definitely is, then, is cheap for what it is, because this little slice of limo-esque luxury set me back just £300.

20 Life

On Cars

admittedly, it doesn't really like damp starts but that aside it's also been crushingly reliable, sailing through the same mot testing station that condemned my old renault 5, its predecessor, to the scrap heap last year. not only is the rover better built, but it's faster and quieter too. it's delivered me to the far reaches of Cumbria, north Wales and Bedfordshire without complaint so

far this year, but by far its finest hour has been when i asked it - a 16-year-old rover, remember - to land's End. not only did it get there with a week's worth of camping gear in a boot with the rear seats folded down, but it got all the way home without any issues as well. it could be that it’s a particularly well looked after example, but i think its honda heritage helps. peel away the badges and

the British garnishing and this is a honda. the old but depressingly reliable Concerto, of course, but that’s no bad thing. that's why it's beaten the world's cheapest mgB, a mini that refused to break down and a bangerpriced mazda mX-5 to the title of Bargain of the year, the small award that honours the car that's given me the most for my own hard-earned money. long may it continue...

Life On Cars Magazine, Christmas 2011  
Life On Cars Magazine, Christmas 2011  

A look at 2011's best cars in this special edition of the Life On Cars magazine created by Champion writer David Simister.