Blog: Dave LeggettSMMT Drive Day

Dave Leggett | 22 May 2003

I've been at the SMMT media test day today at Millbrook Proving Ground - near Bedford in England. It's a great opportunity to get behind the wheel of as many vehicles as you possibly can in seven hours. That volume in itself means that you sometimes get a different perspective. Here are a few initial thoughts and impressions on a few of the cars I drove.

First the good. Loved the Ford Streetka - just a great drive. I don't care if it's got a girls' car image, I'd have one. And hats off to Ford, getting a fresh product off such an old platform. Hyundai Coupe was a very pleasant surprise. If you remember the woeful S-coupe, this is in another league. The 2.7L V6 engine seemed to really do the job. Steering was fine. Well put together car. Audi A8 - I liked it, but I wasn't so sure about the silver plasticy interior. Mini Cooper does most things well. Jag XJ 3L V6 - just a class act. Renault Vel Satis I enjoyed. I still say it is crazy outside of France and its radical styling puts me off, but it is a nice car and the Renault interiors people have done a great job.

The bad: Mazda 2 was a major disappointment after the driving experience of the Ford Streetka. Notchy gearchange, uncommunicative and heavy steering, cheap plasticky feel to the interior. I was expecting better. Vauxhall Signum - the car for a family of four with two teenagers - was interesting but let itself down with some interior details that no-one liked. The Vauxhall/Opel guys should take a good look at the Vel Satis to see how it should be done.

London Taxis International (the London cab/taxi) - I really fulfilled my cabbie fantasy, but I feel a little sorry for cabbies. I wouldn't want one of these to be my working environment all day every day. Whilst the vehicle scores highly on functional aspects, it does not deliver a great drive and the gearbox and engine need to be worked very hard to make progress - gearbox isn't too smooth either.

The downright ugly: Chrysler Grand Voyager XS. I got to drive this because someone beat me to the PT Cruiser. Truly horrible - big, heavy and wallowy. Engine seemed to struggle with the task of moving the gargantuan beast, especially uphill. I know it's a big people carrier, but does it have to feel that bad to drive?

The brilliant but ever-so-slightly-vulgar award goes to the Rolls Royce Phantom. Journalists weren't permitted to drive, but just being a passenger transported you to another world. We were wafted in majesterial splendour and the silence inside the cabin was awesome. The power assist button to close the very heavy rear doors was missed on exiting, but then I guess the passenger normally has someone to open the door for them.

But the Segway Human Transporter was the hidden gem. Delphi had brought one along. Two minutes to get the hang of it and whooosh! Very clever use of gyroscopes. No more walking! Everyone who I spoke to who tried it, liked it. Will it catch on? Or be allowed to by the regulators? 5,000 dollars and it's yours apparently. I was told you can buy them through amazon and they will ship to Europe.


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