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Lotus Evora S Britain’s best supercar? More inside

Geneva Motorshow The star cars in Switzerland issue nine

april 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

Mazda MX-5 The sports car bargain of the decade

three’s a crowd! Is this the maddest car Morgan’s ever made? The Life On Cars verdict on the rev ived Threewheeler

SO this issue features one of the fastest cars Lotus offers and one of the maddest Morgans ever made. Which do you reckon I was looking forward to driving most? Yep, it’s the £30,000 roadster that appears to have lost a rear wheel. Don’t get me wrong, the Evora S is a stunning set of wheels in its own right, but I’ve driven midengined Lotuses before. I have never, however, driven anything that comes with just the three wheels, and definitely not one that’s directly connected to possibly the loudest motorcycle engine in history. In many ways these cars are complete opposites; one is willingly eccentric and idiosyncratic, the other’s far more subtle, sensible and soothing than you’d ever expect, but they both share at least one glorious bit of common ground. They show that cars created by craftsmen in tiny factories in the British countryside can still capture the world’s

attention. While I’ve never been to Morgan’s Worcestershire works I did get the chance to take in a tour of the Lotus factory when I picked up the Evora, and it was wonderful to see the love and attention that got poured into the Elises and Exiges dotted around the place. Nowhere else in the world creates the weird and the wonderful cars that we British petrolheads do, and I’m glad that Lotus and Morgan aren’t the only examples. It’s something I’m looking forward to celebrating at the Ormskirk MotorFest, which thanks to a bit hard grafting from West Lancashire Borough Council and Aintree Circuit Club is now being given a second run. If it’s anywhere near as enjoyable as last year’s inaugural event, it’s going to be a blast. But that’s another story for another issue. Until then, hope you enjoy this one...

David Simister Editor, Life On Cars


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Morgan Threewheeler: The new arrival is inspired by RAF fighter plans, as you’ll see on page 8. Image courtesy of Martyn Snape

In this issue 4 Coming soon The fastest Ferrari ever, a fire-breathing version of Volkswagen’s Golf cabriolet, and a frantic RS version of Audi’s A4 Avant are all on the way for Britain’s speed freaks. Brave pills at the ready...

6 Fire up the... The Honda Civic, as you’d expect, is quite a bit better than the one that went before it. The big surprise is why

7 Ormskirk revs up The Ormskirk MotorFest is back, and the organisers reckon the 2012 event will be even bigger and better than the first one

8 Plane brilliant The fighter-plane inspired Morgan Threewheeler gets the Life On Cars road test treatment. Luckily, it was dry that day

11 Lotus Evora S Can you live with a £60,000, mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive supercar on a daily basis? There’s only one way to find out

14 Geneva glitz Forget the silly concept cars, the real stars of this year’s Swiss show are the cars you’ll be driving next year

16 Mazda MX-5 You already know the MX-5’s one of the best new sports cars on the market. But are the older ones modern classics or trouble brewing?

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top cat

Jaguar finally unveils a load-lugging version of the award-winning XF FISHING, camping, horseriding and skiing. All things I imagine the Jag set love getting up to, but until now they've never really had the car to cope. If you wanted a finely sculpted, thoroughly British way of lugging your lifestyle equipment from the gymkhana to the ski resort you've only really had two options; a Range Rover or a Discovery. That's why I reckon Jaguar's onto a winner with something they should have come up with ages ago, in the form of an XF estate.

It gets off to a great start in my books simply because it's got a cool name - it is, ladies and gentlemen, the XF Sportbrake, which it makes it sound like an aerodynamic aid you'd fit to your snowmobile or mountain bike. I know it's a sort of unspoken rule among the executive car club never to call your estate an estate, but somehow Sportbrake has just got a bit more oomph than Avant or Touring does. Jaguar, who are revealing the XF

Sportbrake at this year's Geneva Motorshow, said: “Sharing its underpinnings with the XF saloon, the Sportbrake's overall length grows by just 5mm, its weight by less 70kg and its chassis structure matches the strength of the conventional XF. These characteristics mean the Sportbrake can closely match the acclaimed handling of the XF saloon yet offers a large and highly practical load space. “Every panel on the XF Sportbrake, from the B-

Pillar rearwards, is new. The strong silver signature line running the length of the car is extended while the CPillar is finished in gloss black, a trait shared with the XJ saloon.” Estate car practicality blended with the firm's refreshingly affordable 2.2 diesel lump should, I reckon, broaden the XF's appeal way beyond the members of your local golf club. Expect to see plenty of them on our roads when the Sportbrake gets launched later this year.

New Ferrari “fastest ever” FERRARI has just announced its fastest and one of its most expensive - cars ever. The Italian supercar specialists reckon their latest offering, the F12 Berlinetta, will do upwards of 220mph and rocket to sixty in a


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whisker over three seconds, while prototypes have already lapped the company's test track faster than any of their previous road cars. However, it's still some way off beating the official record for the world's fastest road car is

still held by the Bugatti Veyron Supersport, which maxes out at 267mph. If you need to ask how much it costs, you probably can't afford it, bu richer readers can find out more about the F12 Berlinetta at

some like it hot VW blends open top thrills with hot hatch power to create a GTI version of its acclaimed Golf Cabriolet VOLKSWAGEN has turned up the heat on its acclaimed open-top Golf by announcing a tyresmoking GTI version. Last year Life On Cars tested the Golf Cabriolet in 1.6 diesel form and was impressed by its build quality, style and value for money, but now the firm's decided to launch a go-faster version using

the engine and transmission from the GTI hatchback. While the GTI Cabriolet is slightly slower to sixty than its tin-top sibling it is otherwise business as usual, with the same 2.0 litre turbocharged engine, a choice of a six-speed manual gearbox or optional six-speed dualclutch DSG gearbox, and

the GTI hatchback's distinctive interior and exterior trimmings. The Golf GTI Cabriolet goes on sale in the UK in the second half of the year, with prices and further specification details to be announced in due course. For more details visit

RS4 returns to estate roots

GTI set to return Peugeot revives the 205’s spirit with a hotter version of its new supermini

A HOMAGE to one of the most fondly remembered hot hatches of all time is on the cards for Peugeot. The 208 GTi is nominally just for show at the moment - and will be officially unveiled at next month's Geneva Motorshow - but odds are that a production version, paying tribute to the legendary 205 GTi of the 1980s, will make it into the showrooms. The French firm has a history of producing hot hatch faves but with neither the 206 nor the 207 hitting the spot, Peugeot is keen to tempt keen drivers back into its showrooms with the 208. The 208 GTi, which takes its 200bhp engine from the RCZ coupe, is being mooted by the French firm as a spiritual successor to the original 205 GTi, which in the 1980s was a huge success for the company as the market for hot hatches boomed. The regular 208, which is available as a three and five door hatchback, will be available to order from Peugeot's showrooms later this year.

AUDI'S reputation for crafting some of the quickest estates in the business is showing no signs of fading after the firm announced a gofaster A4. The German company said that its new RS4 will

only be offered as an Avant - or estate car in plain English - but will offer buyers the chance to blitz the autobahns at up to 155mph while carrying a labrador/chest of drawers/IKEA flatpack (delete according to your

estate car needs) in the back. The RS4 Avant, which packs a 450bhp 4.2 litre V8 for power and gets to sixty in 4.7 seconds, will arrive in Audi’s UK showrooms later this year.

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fire up the... civic

Think it’s a case of same styling, same car? Then you’d be wrong; Honda’s been working very hard on the latest Civic SPOT the difference is a game I've never been especially good at, but it's one you'll be invited to play the first time you get a glimpse of this accomplished new Honda. If you’re in a cruel mood you might ask if Honda’s been using the photocopier rather than a designer. It does, if you're not paying attention and one passes you in the street, look almost identical to the outgoing model. But there's some clever thinking behind the evolutionary rather than revolutionary styling. It seems you, The Great


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British Public, loved the looks of the old one but got a bit hot under the collar about a couple of niggles. The spoiler cutting right across the rear window, for instance. Or the slightly weird and very glassy rear lights. Or the fact you banged your head as you got in the back. That's why the new one's seems the same despite being compellingly different on closer inspection.The old car's worst feature, amazingly, is a byproduct of its best; that its styling is such a brilliant aesthetic achievement. In 2006, just as Ford's restyled

Focus was losing its Blake's Seven looks, along came Honda with something that looked like it'd been stolen from the set of Bladerunner. Here was, in a field of humdrum hatchbacks, something which looked and felt genuinely radical and edgy. It's just a shame the rear doors had a roofline which cut right across where your head naturally goes as you're getting into the back seats. Admittedly it's business as usual at the back window because the spolier still cuts across it, but now at least it doesn't

obscur the rear view so much it annoys you. The rear lights are a lot more conventional and straightforward, and anyone hoping to get out of the back has got some good news. Your scalp will emerge unscathed! The new Civic isn't as much fun to drive as Ford's Focus or as achingly attractive as Alfa's Giulietta but goes for your head instead of your heart. So it's a single step back and about five steps forward for Honda. The new Civic is a little but duller, but an awful lot better.

motorfest: back on the map for 2012 A FULL-THROTTLE celebration of all things automotive will roar into action on August 26, it has been confirmed. West Lancashire Borough Council and Aintree Circuit Club said that the Ormskirk MotorFest, which brought thousands of visitors to the market town during last year's inaugural event, will be held on the Bank Holiday Sunday after the organisers managed to secure a £10,000 boost from north west firm the Belfry Group. Councillor Martin Forshaw, portfolio holder for Planning and Technical

Services, said: "Last year’s event was a huge success and proved to be an enjoyable and exciting day for all. With the sponsorship from Belfry Group, this year’s event looks set to grow and grow. "I look forward to working with Belfry Group and the ACC in order to make this year’s event even better." The council confirmed that this year's event will follow a similar format to last year's, with displays of classic and racing cars around the clocktower and in Coronation Park, while parades will be held

Full throttle show to return to the town of Ormskirk on the 26th of August after organisers get £10k sponsorship boost

on the town's one way system to entertain showgoers. Funding for a second MotorFest event was confirmed earlier this year, when the borough council agreed to invest £17,500 and for Aintree Circuit Club to organise the event. However, both the council and the organisers were keen to seek additional sponsorship to help make this year's event a success. Mike Ashcroft, chairman of Aintree Circuit Club, told Life On Cars that the club was delighted with the news and is looking forward to announcing

more details about entries for the event over the next few weeks. "We're extremely pleased that the second event has been secured, and that we've also got a sponsor this time to help support us to fund the MotorFest. It is a massive vote of confidence both in the event and in Ormskirk itself," he said. "The sponsorship means that we should be able to do more than we could with last year's event. I'm really looking forward to it." Check out the blog for more information. Life On Cars


chocks away and all that

The Morgan Threewheeler is a mad, impractical sports car which makes absolutely no sense at all. Which is exactly why you should start saving up for one, reckons David Simister 8

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FORGET footballers, astronauts and train drivers. When I grow up, I want to be a superhero. Not some latex-clad, cape-donning crime fighter you’d see in the movies either. I want to be a proper superhero in the plucky, stiff upper lip British tradition, a sort of Biggles meets Dan Dare sort of character. Naturally, a plucky, traditional sort of British hero needs a plucky, traditional sort of car. So I’ll be needing a Morgan Threewheeler as my sidekick. It is a new model for the Worcestershire-based sports car builders but not in the conventional sense; by ditching a rear wheel Morgan are revisiting territory they first trod a century ago, when the company appealed to the newfangled worlds of motoring and biking by fitting tiny little twoseaters with V-twin engines and minimal bodywork. Think of the new one, then, as a remake of one of Britain’s oldest automotive adventures. I know you’re probably thinking that putting a three-wheeled car from the 1920s with no doors, no roof and no windscreen back into production is a bit like Ford replacing the Focus with a recreation of the old Model T, but that’s missing the point. The Threewheeler isn’t so much a car in the conventional sense, but a three-wheeled event just waiting to be experienced. For starters, take the starter button you’ll have to press once you’ve squeezed into the

Morgan’s narrow, leatherlined frame. Admittedly, all sorts of mundane motors come with a starter button these days to inject a bit of fizz into the ignition process, but I’ve never experienced one that can only be accessed via a bombrelease you have to flip up with your finger first. The same bomb-release you’ll find fitted, by the way, to the Eurofighter Typhoon. That’s the sort of fighter pilot mentality the slightly mad and yet utterly endearing little Morgan puts you in as soon as you fire up the 2.0 litre S&S motorbike engine into life. The American-made powerplant, a favourite with Harley-Davidson customisers in the States, bursts into life in a deep, meaty rumble which reverberates off the nearby walls before settling into the lazy, laidback burble anyone familiar with a classic motorbike will recognise. Mounted right between the front two wheels, it’s a magnificently tractable engine which completely dominates any Threewheeler drive, because it offers up 120bhp in a car that weighs less than half what a brand new Fiesta does. You’d think that’d make the Threewheeler a frantic bit of fun and it is - but only when you’re happy for it come out to play. Admittedly, it’s not a car you’d ever want to take to Waitrose and if it rains you WILL get wet but for such an outlandish and overt bit of automotive engineering it’s remarkably civil, and it’ll dawdle along as long as you like. Right up, of

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course, until the superhero in you needs to do a bit of childish showing off. Plant your foot to the floor in just about any gear and the so-bonkersit’s-brilliant Threewheeler unleashes its considerable firepower in an explosion of noise and speed, which you’re all the more aware of because the wind’s hitting you straight in the face and because absolutely everyone for miles around is looking at you. If they aren’t, they’ll definitely hear you coming. Despite being friendlier and more manageable than I could’ve have hoped for - at first you’ll wonder where those beautiful wire wheels at the front are, but you get used to it - it is completely unlike anything I’ve driven before. It is a sort of cross between the open-air buzz of a micro light and the vintage style of a Sopwith Camel fighter plane with the deepthroated roar of an old TVR and the sheer punch of a motorbike thrown in.


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So it’s my kind of car and - at £30,000 - actually cheaper than the more conventional fourwheelers Morgan fans already know and love. The Threewheeler is noisy, impractical, eccentric and festooned with fighter jet technology for no reason other than it being cool exactly the reasons why my superhero alter ego would have one. It is a car which exists solely for the experience it provides, which is why I absolutely love it. Besides, Stirling Moss owned one of the originals from decades ago and described it as “a bit of a babe magnet”. I rest my case.

For more information about the Threewheeler and the rest of the Morgan range visit Lifes Motors on West Street in Southport, go to their website at or give them a call on 01704 531 375.

confessions of a supercar driver

What’s it like to live with a fast, mid-engined road rocket? Discuss, using the latest Lotus Evora S as an example

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THE deserted, sweeping ribbon of tarmac which ripples across the Derbyshire Dales was exactly what I’d been looking for. I’d finally found a road as astonishing as the Evora itself. My mission was one tinged with a touch of sadness - after five glorious days with one of the fastest and priciest cars Lotus makes, I had to take it all the way back to the factory in Norfolk to give it back, but I was in no rush, determined to eake out every mile for all it was worth. That’s how I’d found myself coursing over the Cat and Fiddle mountain pass, threading my way through Buxton and then onto a eerily empty back road on the way out to Derby. Devoid of other drivers and packed with hairpins, they were roads reserved for cross-country blasts on sunny summer days. Yet - weirdly - it’s on roads entirely wrong for the Lotus where the Evora

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really shines. That’s why this story begins not in the Peak District or even at the factory in Hethel – the spiritual home of all things Lotus, from Elan to Exige – but on the M6, heading north towards Coventry. The traffic jam, thanks to an accident, has backed up for miles. It is stuffy, confined, and frustratingly slow. There are hundreds of drivers here who have all have one thing in common. Not one of them wants to be here. If I could choose a car to tackle these congested conditions, it wouldn’t be a mid-engined, supercharged, rearwheel-drive, look-at-me supercar, and the Lotus Evora S is all of those things. It is a supercar because it goes like a jet aircraft, corners like a go-kart and looks like something styled by a Renaissance artist, but it’s a super car because it does all this with next to none of the drawbacks. It

Clockwise, from top left: The Evora’s form is compact since the original Elise of 1995; the rear detail is remis from the door mirrors is dominated by the mighty air s cosseting and comfortable Previous page: A sunset on

was – and I don’t say this lightly – no harder to drive in a motorway crawl than a BMW 5-Series. I know because this time last year, I drove an Elise, the modern classic which to this day can provide any motorist with a masterclass in how to do ride and handling properly. On the right roads, like any of the mountain passes in the Lake District, it was

sublime, but on the motorways it was a noisy companion and once you pull over you’d do your back in trying to get out.Naturally, I as tried to figure it out on the train down to Norfolk to visit Lotus’ factory, I cruelly concluded the Evora would be even worse. A big Elise with all the drawbacks, but with a bit of a supercar-style traditional truculence

t but still striking; the Evora is the first all-new Lotus scent of Ferraris such as the Enzo and F430; the view scoop; despite its supercar performance the interior is the beach at Southport highlights the Evora’s curves

thrown in. But it isn’t. It is, make no mistake, still a traditionally midengined supercar in all sorts of ways. Sure, it’s easier to get into than any other Lotus offering, but it still requires a slightly more agile frame than most. The rear seats are next to useless and when you first set off, it is very, very wide. Oh, and the supercharged V6 is like me – endlessly reliable,

but loves a drink. The Evora also comes equipped with one of the best reversing camera systems in the business, but you get the feeling it needs it because look through the rear window and pretty much all you'll see is the engine. But what an engine it is. Yes, it might be the same basic V6 that you'll find in the Toyota Camry but Lotus' crack team of

engineers have breathed on it rather heavily to make it into a monster of a mile muncher - and if you fork out for the Evora S version I tested, they'll bolt on a supercharger too for good measure. As you surge forward on a seemingly endless wave of torque you realise it's this 3.5 litre, 345bhp mechanical masterpiece which completely dominates the experience, rocketing you past just about everything at the subtlest flex of your right foot. What's more, it comes attached to one of the best handling cars I've ever driven - not, I'll admit, quite as immediate as the Elise, but somehow more reassuring for it. You feel absolutely everything through the wonderfully balanced steering but you won't feel it through the seat of your pants because the ride's far better than a low slung sports car's ought to be. As a result the ride and handling of this thing creates a wonderful conumdrum;

yes, you could happily use it on the motorway every day, but why would you when it's as good as it is on the twisty country lanes? The most energetic of the Evoras to date is by neither the headbanger the Elise is nor is it a cossetting grand tourer, but you’ll forgive it everything because it’s two brilliant cars in one. It's a thirsty executive express with cruise control, leather seats and satnav, and a stunning supercar crafted by hand by Lotus, the company that brought you the Elan and the Esprit. Oh, and it all comes in what I reckon is one of the best shapes on sale today – the Evora was and still is one of the best sports car shapes you can buy today. As a dream car it's right up there, and even as an everyday proposition I reckon its individuality, style and sheer punch edges it past the Jag XK and the rather obvious 911. All I need now is the right road... Life On Cars


IF you want to get clued up on the latest new cars on their way to Britain over the next 12 months, you'd do a lot worse than checking out some of the stars of this month's Geneva Motorshow. The Swiss city's automotive extravaganza has long been a favourite for car firms to show off their creations to customers for the first time, and this year's no exception. With everything from the sophisticated new SEAT Toledo saloon to a totally revamped Rolls Royce Phantom, there's a new arrival for everyone. Kia, for instance, is continuing its bid for automotive world domination with the second generation Cee'd, which in a bid to bring the Golf and Focus faithful into the showrooms is now designed, engineered and made in Europe. The outgoing version is already the firm's best seller over here, and with the new one looking considerably slicker it's bound to attract plenty of buyers. Mercedes came out with one of the car

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industry's worst kept secrets - that the new A-Class is completely unlike the ones which went before it. Lower, longer and sleeker, the Stuttgart firm's keen to leave behind the elk test handling notoriety of the original A-Class, and go chasing after the Audi A1's potential customer. It is, as Mercedes are keen to point out, a completely new design. The Hyundai Veloster, on the other hand, isn't a new design but the Koreans have decided to up the ante anyway by fitting it with its 1.6 litre direct injection engine with a turbocharger. With the curious three-door coupe now pumping out 186bhp, it's keen to woo keen drivers who otherwise might have had a hot hatch in mind. Nissan, meanwhile, has got us all patriotic by promising that a new hatchback based loosely on its Invitation concept car - think Micra or Juke size with more safety and eco-friendliness thrown in - will be built at the firm's UK plant up in Sunderland.

swiss beatZ

Forget the supercars, here’s the real stars of this year’s Geneva Motorshow

Whether Nissan can squeeze a third small car into its range is anyone's guess, but it's good news if you a) are looking for a freshly styled and utterly reliable supermini or b) have friends or family in the Sunderland area. But the Geneva show star I'm most looking forward to isn't the Series II Rolls Royce Phantom, the Ferrari F12 or the Range Rover rivalling

EXP 9 F from Bentley - it's the new Volvo V40, which shows what you can achieve if you give a Ford Focus some Swedish trimmings. Good looking, luxurious and packed with all the boringly Volvo safety kit you could ever ask for, I reckon making the V40 a hatchback rather than an estate for the first time could do wonders for the now Chinese-owned

Clockwise, from top left: The new turbocharged Hyundai Veloster; Nissan’s new UK-made model; Kia’s sleek new Cee’d; the lower and longer A-Class Mercedes; Volvo’s A3-rivalling new V40 hatchback is on its way

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modern classic Mazda’s MX-5 is a sports car bargain 16 Life

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THE NINETIES might have had more than its fair share of naff fashions and dodgy records, but it also gave the world an iconic new sports car. Mazda’s MX-5 is still a brilliant little car as a brand new buy but it’s this one, the 1.6 original, that set the motoring world alight with heady nostalgia when it first arrived on our shores in 1990. Small rear-wheeldrive roadsters were suddenly all the rage, and it’s arguable that it’s thank to Mazda’s retro effort that the likes of the later MGF, BMW Z3 and Fiat Barchetta arrived. The good news for car nuts is that the original – some say best – versions can now be picked up for peanuts, as I proved a few months ago when I paid less than a grand for mine. For that money it isn’t going to be perfect mine, for instance, had electric windows which didn’t work – but choose

carefully and you can still pick up one with tidy bodywork with all the important bits in good nick. Pay particular attention to its trademark feature, the soft top roof, because a leaky one can ruin the interior and costs over £100 to replace. However, I wouldn’t worry too much about going one which is a grey import or one with a lot of miles on the clock, because while my Japanese-spec Eunos Roadster has more than 100,000 miles on the clock it’s been looked after and feels very tight for its age. The original MX-5 is one of the best balanced sports cars you’ll find in any price bracket. But with summer fast approaching, the best time to buy one is now before everyone else decides they want one. You won’t regret it!

Life On Cars Issue Nine  
Life On Cars Issue Nine  

More motoring news, reviews and test drives from Champion journalist David Simister.