Blog: Dave LeggettSMMT Test Day

Dave Leggett | 22 May 2009

Yesterday was the annual blast at Millbrook Proving Ground hosted by the SMMT that gives journalists a chance to try out a few cars on the tracks. Yes, it was fun – but also useful. Besides the cars, there's the opportunity to talk to car company PRs and, of course, colleagues who write about motors for a living. It's good because you get to chat to guys who write for consumer/enthusiast pubs as well as the business/industry people you deal with all the time.

I won't go through the list of cars I drove, but I will share a few observations (which are a little random; I didn't have time to drive everything and not all manufacturers were there).

  • Citroen C3 Picasso looks like a winner. Great package for the price. I also know that production of the car in Slovakia is going well, so it's the right car to catch the European incentives wave just now. The design is particularly pleasing I think. It should attract people who want some utility on a small footprint and with some funky style thrown in. It's clearly not an econobox hatchback. Might be a few people with small SUVs who consider a car like this when they decide to replace (it's in a similar bracket to the Kia Soul).
  • Fiesta 1.6 diesel Zetec S. Just superb. Precise steering, lovely weighting, firm but fair ride, great around bends.
  • Toyota iQ. Comes with the usual Toyota values that people love, but I thought it was a little disappointing. Interior design was a bit odd in my view – hard to describe, but the main dash looked like it had had the vertical binacle bolted on as an afterthought. Externally, it looks a bit like a Smart, but there are seats in the back, so that's good. But GBP11,500? A bit steep, particularly when...
  • can get a Hyundai i10 for GBP7,000. At that price it's a steal. Superb interior – simple but clean design and quality plastics used. 1.2-litre engine not at all bad.
  • I was drawn once more to the Chrysler 300C. Every time I see one, I'm curious about the person driving. Hey you, why you got Chrysler, not BMW or Merc? Do your friends think your choice of car suggests that you need help? Maybe, but it's a car with massive presence and you are obviously not following the herd. I can't help liking the boldness and sheer Americanness of the design. In black, with the 20 inch wheels and loaded up it's a formidable offering. There's an optimism about the way it looks, almost exuding a kind of self-confidence about America that perhaps harks back to another age.  
  • I did also go for a drive in a Mercedes E-Class Coupe. It is a truly great car (in red with a glass panoramic roof - a GBP1,300 option) and it delivers all those things that you expect a Mercedes – conceived and executed with traditional Teutonic efficiency – to do. And Mercedes is signed up for the UK scrappage scheme. Eh? A ten-year-old banger out the back to a GBP30,000+ Merc is some stretch - how would that work? The man from Mercedes threw some light on that. Imagine a well healed household with a married couple, and some teenage offspring living at home. All household members are driving. Pa likes the look of a new car. On the bottom rung, one of the offspring is running a twelve-year-old Polo that has been fine for him/her to learn in and bash about a bit. That's the car that is traded in for the GBP2,000 incentive. It's musical chairs with the other cars in the household and that's the job done.

Talking of cars for teenage kids. I met an interesting chap who was evaluating cars for his offspring.  He looks familiar I thought. I last saw him in person on stage at Earls Court in the 1980s. It was Nick Mason, drummer with Pink Floyd who also happens to be a petrolhead and is serving as President of the Guild of Motoring Writers (and he is apparently taking his duties seriously).

I restrained myself from asking him what it was like working with 'Syd' Barrett in the late 1960s or what his favourite track to play was, but we did talk about electric cars. I wondered if his garage – which I know is chocca with classic sports cars – has an electric car or hybrid in it? He was interested in the technology, but no, he said, and he proceeded to explain why, with impeccable and concise logic. 'It's early days - they'll get a lot better. Remember digital cameras?' He was always the sensible one in the band.


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