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Issue Three







JANuArY 2011

C AR OF T H E Y EA R The best c a r f r o m a y e a r o f C h a m pi o n t e s t d r i ves w w w. l i f e o n c a r s . b l o g s p o t . c o m

Mountain due

Event of the Year 2010

For events taking place throughout 2011 go to the Life On Cars blog at:

EVENT: MiniMadMerseyside Lakes Tour 2010 DATE: Sunday, June 13, 2010 LOCATION: Hardknott Pass summit, Cumbria CAR: Austin Mini Mayfair, 1983 FEELING: Priceless


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In this issue 2 Best event A jaunt over some of Cumbria’s most challenging roads with a bunch of likeminded car enthusiasts, almost killing the now-gone Life On Cars Mini in the process

IT might be icy outside but none of these cars are the kind you'd be wise to give a frosty reception! Anyone who's read the last two issues of the Life On Cars Magazine is going to be in for a shock; there's no news, no test drives and none of the usual features, although they will be back early in 2011. But what you do get is a festive feast of some of the very best cars from the past 12 months, ranging from the strangely sublime Skoda Yeti, the ever entertaining Mazda MX-5, Peugeot's beautiful RC Z and many more, in a special issue given over entirely to the good, the bad and the ugly of 2010.

What wins? Well you'll have to read on to find out, but what I can say is if the car that has won isn't a collectable classic in 25 years' time, some hat-eating may be on the menu. If you’re still not swayed then head straight to page 14, for a round up of the best cars from the year to come. There's just time to mention about the next issue, which looks at the many events taking place over 2011. If it's anything like last year, it's going be be a belter. Life On Cars wishes both of its readers a happy Christmas and a full throttle New Year

Created by EdITOR david Simister dESIGNER david Simister



4 The class of 2009 The winners and losers from last year’s first-ever Life On Cars awards, including the Ford Fiesta, which took the overall honours, and the hideous Skelta sports car, which definitely didn’t

6 2010’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 From a electrically-powered MINI Cooper to a 170mph Lexus, this year’s offered some great motors. So it was no easy decision but the best car Life On Cars got to drive in 2010 was the [cont. page 8]

10 Special award Which goes to a car, person or event which has somehow marked itself out as worthy of extra recognition. Even if in this case the victor is in fact one of last year’s winners.

11 Best surprise Often you can tell whether a car’s going to be great even before you get behind the wheel. In the case of one particularly manic MPV, though, you definitely couldn’t

12 Best drive The fun bit.... trying to work out which of the sports car we got lucky enough to drive provided the biggest grin for your money. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it

13 Best road

Manufacturer photography courtesy of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (as Newspress); all other photography by david Simister.

It isn’t the M6 between Preston and Warrington, put it that way. It’s the best from the challenging corners, swooping straights and hairpin bends from a year of driving

Read Life On Cars each Wednesday in The Champion newspaper, on the web at and on the radio on from January 2011

14 The hits of 2011

Car of the Year 2010 © Life On Cars 2010

From the MG 6 to the McLaren MP4-12C, they’re all here in our special guide to next year’s most exciting arrivals. Except the cracking Toyota FT-86, which doesn’t arrive until the year after that. Pity really

16 Best bargain Not the MGB GT which cost £200 to buy, because it still isn’t finished yet. Nope, this is the story of a French hatch which impressed right up until the day it met its maker

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That was just so 2009...

These are the winners - and in some cases losers - from the inaugural awards last year Life On Cars car of the year 2009 - Ford Fiesta: The award went not to 2009’s best car but the one I liked the most. It was a toss-up between the IQ and Ford’s Fiesta, and on the basis that I might have to carry things as well as people, the Ford just snatched it.

Worst reliability Vespa PX125: I know it’s not a car, but any machine badly built by someone with no understanding of electronics means a truly scary reliability record.


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The Lady Gaga Award for Questionable Style goes jointly to the Australian-built Skelta, which has looks to scare small children.

The award for the car I was most looking forward to - Jaguar XJ: To be honest, I still am looking forward to the groundbreaking XJ, because despite getting used to its erm, challenging looks I still haven’t driven one yet. The runner up for this award went to the truly stunning Ferrari 458 Italia, which predictably I haven’t tried for size either. Toyota IQ: So chuffed was I with the tiny IQ’s packaging and handling that I had to invent a special award just to get it in last year. On page 10 of this issue, though, all will be resolved...

The utterly alive sensation from the Morgan 4/4 meant it won the award for Best Drive of 2009, although the sheer speed of BMW’s Z4 and the sprightly handling of Volkswagen’s Scirocco earn them honourable mentions.

The Llanberis Pass, in North Wales, might have won the award for Best Road but even that wasn’t as much fun as a caravan banger race in Carnforth, which won the Best Event award with ease. Spectacular and silly in equal measure, it’s still a great way to waste a Bank holiday weekend, and for much less than you’d think. Life On Cars


C a r of t h e Year : t he s h o r t l is t These are the five cars which left more of an impression than any other after being given the Life On Cars treatment and exactly what makes them special

Citroen DS3 “if the DS3's a sign of things to come, Citroen could be onto a winner. It's that rare thing; a Citroen that's cool.”.

September 2010

Honda CR-Z “It's an invitation to sample two extremes of driving and quite possibly a first in motoring; a hybrid car someone interested in driving might actually want to buy.”

July 2010

Car of the Year 2010 6

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Skoda Yeti “On the road the Swift is far more fun than you'd ever expect it to be. It's balletic rather than ballistic and relies more on its finely-balanced suspension than its 1.2 litre engine to put a smile on your face, but the charming rasp from the exhaust and the wonderfully communicative steering egg you on into every corner.”

“Almost everyone who came across the Yeti loved it for exactly the same reason; if you have a dog and enjoy going for walks in the muddy countryside, you're going to struggle to better the Yeti without resorting to much more expensive machinery. Buy a Yeti and your Labrador is going to love it. Luckily, so will you.”

August 2010

Suzuki Swift

October 2010

Peugeot RC Z

“A warning: do not buy this car if you don't like being looked at! So stunning is the riot of curves, dips and lines lavished on the RC Z, the pretty Peugeot hoping to take on Audi's TT at its own game, that you're going to get other road users pointing and staring. This isn't a car for the self-conscious.”

October 2010 Life On Cars


Green but bri WINNER : Honda CR-Z


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Car of the Year 2010

The Honda CR-Z is only the second car to win this award but it did it because it pulls off the historic feat of being the first hybrid you’d actually want to buy as a keen driver. Sure, its clever mix of petrol and electric propulsion means it’ll keep Greenpeace happy, but the real smiles are kept for the one behind the wheel, because it’s a delight to drive. Sure, the £20,000 GT is an expensive way to get just 122bhp, and it’s a tight squeeze into the rear seats, but the slick styling, revvy V-TEC engine and crisp cornering ability soon make up for it. Impressive as the DS3, Swift, RC Z and Yeti all are, they’re narrowly beaten by this brilliant blend of green and mean in a sporty package.

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White heat David Simister needed to be sure Toyota’s IQ was as good as he remembered it, so he took it to its top speed at the Millbrook Proving Ground earlier this year to find out

BLAME the Ford Fiesta. Because last year's Life On Cars car of the year award should have gone to this. Last Christmas, 2009's most radical car got robbed, and it's all my fault. You're probably sniggering as you read this, wondering how on Earth someone who's been lucky enough to drive a Morgan, a BMW Z4, a 414bhp Lexus supersaloon and a V8powered Cobra replica could possibly hold Toyota's IQ in such high esteem. It is, after all, a lot more expensive than the similarly small Aygo. And it's too tall. And it looks like it's escaped from the set of the next Pokemon movie. That's what I thought of Toyota's tiniest offering at

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first, right up until I opened the door and discovered the world's biggest car company had somehow achieved the impossible; their ridiculous two-seater Smart rival did, in fact, seat four. What's more, I could even get into the back! The IQ is easily the most ingenious piece of small car packaging since the original Mini - a car I've a known soft spot for went out of a production a decade earlier, but it managed it while still getting all the things you'd expect on a much bigger motor, including a 5 star Euro NCAP rating, into the mix. It is engineering alchemy, and it makes the Smart look like the class clown. What's more, I'd driven

Special Award 2010

one very briefly in North Wales last year and fallen in love with its surprising steering and handling, but just to be sure I borrowed another one at a test track day in Millbrook earlier this year. despite it packing a 1.0 litre, threecylinder engine it shot all the way up to 100mph on the high speed bowl, and on the twisty Alpine circuit it never felt anything less than safe and surefooted, if not outwardly sporty. But in the end it was the non-existent boot that cost the little IQ the ulti-

mate honour to the Ford Fiesta, which is also brilliant but in far more family-friendly way. Which is a shame, because whereas that car is the best Fiesta ever and by far away the best supermini you can buy, the IQ is so original in its thinking that nobody else has caught up with it yet. The Toyota IQ isn't the fastest, the roomiest, the prettiest or even the most entertaining car on offer today. But it is the smartest, and on that front there's still nothing to touch it.

Surprise of the Year Opposite: david Simister took the IQ up to 100mph on the track earlier this year. Above and below: It really does seat four, part of the reason Aston Martin are basing their Cygnet city car on the IQ. Vulgar IQ for Sports, bottom, not so impressive

Vauxhall Meriva 1.4 Turbo EVERYONE'S switching to smaller motors at the moment, and now it seems even daddy Cool has downsized. daddy Cool's old Vauxhall Zafira GSI was a cracking people carrier but I reckon if he got revived in another slightly cheesy TV campaign he'd probably be driving the new Meriva, which in 1.4 Turbo form is probably the unlikeliest driving hit I've ever come across. Whisper it quietly, but a car designed for the North Circular rather than the Nurburgring is an absolute joy to drive. Vauxhall's second geneation of the Meriva might be an upright MPV rather than a hot hatch but, particularly in the sporty Turbo spec, it has a manic sense of urgency, and is beautifully balanced on both the bumpy and the bendy bits of the school run. It's also joined the select group of cars that have suicide rear doors,

which sound dramatic but basically open backwards rather than forwards to make getting in a little easier. Mazda's RX-8 and the Rolls Phantom have pulled off the same trick in a bid to pull off spectacular rather than spacious, but on the Meriva it means you can get into an interior that feels very well screwed together a few seconds faster. The Meriva's a small MPV and by definition not the sort of thing to set your pulse racing, but whoever made the Astra, Insignia and Tigra look so stylish has managed the same trick with what should be a be a boxy shopping wagon. It's not the kind of car you want to warm to but the Meriva's magic stems from being a hugely practical and good looking little car which just happens to go like strink when you least expect it. daddy Cool, I reckon, would definitely approve. Life On Cars


The famous five Why Mazda’s MX-5 is still a sports car masterpiece

Driver’s car 2010 dESPITE driving all sorts of deliciously entertaining cars throughout 2010 there was only ever going to be one winner of this award. Mazda's MX-5. Even in the darkest depths of winter I found myself, sat snugly inside my heated, leather-lined Rover, looking longingly at a tidily-driven example of the world's best selling sports car. Once you've driven one, you end up addicted. The rear-wheel-drive roadster might be in its third generation but it's still proving popular because it offers you only the basic thrills you need to have a ball on Britain's

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back roads, meaning that once you get behind its cute looks it's still an absolute joy to drive. I got my first go in one in May, when I tried one with the optional folding metal roof around the Millbrook Proving Ground, and ended up hooked on its sublime steering, delicate handling and revvy little engine. I needed to work out a reason to get another go. Luckily, 2010 saw the 20th anniversary of the car's UK arrival, so on that basis I managed to borrow one, take it to North Wales, and spend a weekend rediscovering the region's best driving roads. Out of all the cars I've test

driven this year, I've never been so reluctant to hand back the keys! There are roomier, comfier cars out there but if you drive simply because you enjoy it you can’t go far wrong with an MX-5, particularly if you’re the sort of person who deliberately takes the long route just so they can go over a remote mountain pass on the way. If anything I reckon it’s actually better than the old British sports cars it's so often accused of mimicking, because unlike them the MX-5 actually works and means you can spend your weekends in the countryside, rather than the garage. Just

make sure you share the driving with whoever you take along for the ride, otherwise they’ll forget it’s a driver’s car and start going on about the interior being too cramped, the boot too small and the ride too firm. Put this way; I've also driven a V8-powered AC Cobra replica, a Lexus ISF, a BMW Z4 and a Peugeot RC Z coupe, and I'd still recommend the light little Mazda over any of them. But you’ll forget all of them on a cross-country blast in an MX-5, because even when it’s not its birthday the Mazda’s partying, and you’re always invited.

TRACK down the remote Yorkshire dales village of Thwaite and in return you'll be rewarded with the start of the Buttertubs Pass, a rollercoaster ride which tantalises and terrifies you in equal measure. With a sheer drop of more than 500 feet and a weak-looking fence always on your left hand side, it's not a drive for the fainthearted, but play it sensible along this route and it proves an irresistable mix of powerful landscapes, driving challenges and occasional geological titbits (the Buttertub rock formations, about halfway along the route, are well worth the stop). Carry on past the end of your route along the Cliff Gate Road towards Settle and you'll also get to discover the grandeur of the Ribblehead Viaduct, jewel of the Settle to Carlisle Railway. As roads go, it’s hard to find a better one.

Utterly Butterly Is this the UK’s most enjoyable road?

Buttertubs Pass, Yorkshire: All road images courtesy of Google Earth.

Best road of 2010 Life On Cars


Life On Cars’ top tips for a cracking 2011 plus the experts’ picks EAT your greens. What used to be your mother's teatime message is now the verdict of a group of automotive experts from across Europe. They've chosen the Nissan Leaf, an electric car with a battery range of 100 miles and a a pricetag of nearly £24,000, as the official 2011 car of the year because, like salad, it's good for you. But why would you want to eat salad when GR8Life can lay on a ten-course feast of the real showroom stars of what's shaping up to become a vintage year for great cars? The Audi RS3, for instance, is also a practical, five-door hatchback, but unlike the Leaf it packs a Porsche-matching 340bhp punch, thanks to the same twin-turbocharged engine which has already worked

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with great effect in the RS version of the TT coupe. At a touch under £40,000, it's most expensive A3 the company has ever made, but it's an A3 with attitude. It's the first of a raft of new models being introduced by the German motor maker this year, but the one everyone's got their eye on is the cute new A1, being introduced in a bid to steal sales from BMW's hugely successful MINI brand. Spiritual successor to the long-forgotten Audi 50 of the 1970s, it's not as style-conscious as the MINI and Fiat 500, but it will introduce the cachet of the famous four-ringed logo to a new generation of drivers. But the MINI's makers aren't going to let that happen without introducing a little competition, and hot on the heels of

last year's Countryman come the Coupe and Roadster, in yet another expansion of a model range originally based on the reinvention of a small car classic. This time, though, the new arrivals are smaller and sportier than the base car, and should prove a hit for anyone with a love of the small and sporty in their cars.

MG revival Another British reinvention is also expected to come to the country later this year - albeit with a little help from the Chinese - when MG launches its first truly new models in over a decade, in the form of the MG 3 and MG 6 hatchbacks. Fans of the traditionalist sports cars which once wore the iconic octagon badge might take a little con-

Europe’s magnificent seven

ThESE are the cars a number of motoring journalists from across Europe picked as their favourites of 2010. Not that we agree with their winner... 1) Nissan Leaf (pictured above) 2) Alfa Giuletta 3) Vauxhall Meriva 4) Ford C-Max 5) Citroen DS3 and C3 6) Volvo S60 and V60 7) Dacia Duster

vincing, but it's hard to argue with a very modern take on a famous marque that's been away from British showrooms a little too long. Italy's MG, you could argue, is Alfa Romeo, who after gaining near-universal praise last year for the Golf-chasing Giuletta hatchback are about to unleash their gorgeous Giula saloon in Britain later this year. As the replacement for the 159 it's going to face some very tough competition, but if looks were anything to go by it'd seem the Milan manufacturer's already onto a winner.

New BMW models Certainly it's going to be exciting in the visual stakes than BMW's 3-Series, which the spy shots seem to suggest follows the current car's conservative take on the junior executive saloon. Yet with the outgoing version now a regular fixture in the sharp end of the new car sales charts, you can bet it won't be long before you're seeing the new 2011 model on roads everywhere. The company's new 6Series is a much better bet if you want to get noticed, particularly as it'll arrive first in convertible form just in time for summer. Shedding some of its predecessor's more controversial curves, it's a poised and elegant proposition, particularly if you've got the 4.4-litre eight-cylinder engine in the new BMW 650i Convertible to power you along effortlessly. It would be a surefire contender for the title of

2011's most headturning convertible - if it wasn't for the first Porsche Speedster in a generation, which provided you can actually find one of these limited edition sports cars is a real treat for the eyes. The 911 Speedster might have 402bhp, 3.8litre flat-six engine - sat behind the rear wheels in true Porsche tradition and a very modern type of gearbox, but style-wise it's straight out of the James dean movies of the 1950s. If ever there was a tip for a coveted classic of the future, this is it. That and the spiritual successor to the fastest car ever to come out of a British factory, which finally goes on sale later this year. McLaren's snappily titled MP4-12C is the company's first road car since the 240mph F1 of the 1990s, and it's hoped it can capitalise on its Lewis hamilton reputation to steal sales from the Ferrari 458 Italia. Oh, and it'll cost just £168,500. Alternatively, you can save yourself more than £100,000 by going instead for the new Lexus CT200h, which isn't anything like as fast but fights back by being far more practical and having the novelty of being the firm's first ever small car, pitched as a Japanese rival to the BMW 1 Series. It's also powered by the company's proven hybrid engine technology, meaning that as well as promising up to 68mpg it's also good for the environment. It's a car that lets you eat your greens but - like all the other star cars of 2011 - will prove a delight to drive and own as well.

Opposite: The new McLaren promises to be one of 2011’s fastest arrivals. Right, from top: The Audi RS3 will be the company’s fastest ever hatch; BMW’s 6-Series is in UK as a cabrio first; the stunning Porsche 911 Speedster is £140K but already sold out; a few rungs down the ladder sees Audi trying to take on MINI with its baby A1; fun and frugal are combined in the CT200-h, a BMW 1Series basher from Lexus; and last but not least, the MINI range expands yet again with the curvy Coupe and Roadster

Read more motoring news and road tests from David Simister on the blog online at www. lifeoncars.blogspot .com

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A labrador of cars Bargain of the Year How one ancient French hatchback wormed its way into David Simister’s heart - and then got scrapped 1995 Renault 5: A SPECIAL prize, then for the most reliable car I've ever owned, which finally reached the end of the road earlier this year. Regular readers might remember how excited I got when I paid just £100 - the price of a first class rail ticket - for a Renault 5 last January, which I initially gave a reception frostier than the wintry weather which was gripping Britain at the time. It was, after all, a boxy French hatchback with faded paintwork, a suspicious


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amount of hay in the footwells and ice actually frozen into the rear tyre treads, effectively blessing it with racing slicks at a time of black ice and snow. I bought it not only because it was cheap, but because its unknown reliability record was still better than my 1983 Mini, which wasn't working at all. Since then it's been as far north as dumfries, as far south as London and along some of the country's most challenging roads in Yorkshire, Cumbria and North Wales in between, and over 11 months and just two oil

changes it never broke down. Icy weather? Journey across the country? Minimal maintenance? Not a problem for the seemingly indestructible little Renault, which no matter what you asked of it always burst into life at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, even two weekends' worth of welding wasn't enough to stop it failing its MOT earlier this week, and the news was far worse than I'd feared. To repair the rot beneath the front wings would take weeks and cost far more than the old

girl's worth, so after 16 years and 123,000 miles it's finally reached the end of its working life. As sad as it seems, she was off to the scrapyard. I won't miss the clattery old engine or spartan interior but I already miss lots of things about it, including its ridiculously spacious interior and its surprisingly sporty handling. But most of all I'll miss it as a bargain buy; £100 for almost a year's worth of malady-free motoring is going to be hard to beat. I loved it because it never let me down.

Life On Cars Magazine, Christmas 2010  
Life On Cars Magazine, Christmas 2010  

A festive special issue looking at the best cars test driven by The Champion in 2010.