Friday, 4 November 2016

ROAD TEST: Subaru Levorg GT

Confession time. I love Subarus.
I've had two Legacys, more Imprezas than many people have had cars and have long hankered after owning a fab Forester and the range-topping Outback, having driven one 1,200-miles to the Alps a couple of years ago. I love their low slung horizontally-opposed rumbly Boxer engines, that famously grippy symmetrical all-wheel drive system, their practicality, generosity and the fact they're just a bit different, quirky... unique even. It's a characterful, heady cocktail I'll gladly take a long pull on until I pass out.

But even as a die-hard Subaru flag waver, I admit to being a tad confused when they announced the arrival of the Levorg, a sporty family estate GT car to sit in a range with two great, much loved, sporty family estate GT's in it already.

And the name. Dear God, the name. Why?

Still, prejudice is a terrible thing, especially in motoring journalism (not that it stops most car hacks), so I was genuinely excited when the Levorg was delivered to Road Magazine HQ for a decent road test run to the glorious and suitably Subaru country of the Brecon Beacons.

And it instantly make a positive impact – hitting us with the shock truth that it's far better looking than its press pictures, is seriously slammed to the deck and clearly expertly finished.
And all for £26,655 OTR.

And we're pleased to confirm it's more than worthy of wearing the infamous scooby scoop.
In fact, the Levorg knocks on surprisingly well – producing a swifter than expected turn of speed from its diminutive 1.6-litre, 168bhp boosted Boxer DIT power plant.
This modern engine manages to strike a good balance between speed and economy, even if the distinctive flat four rumble exhaust tones are sadly lacking. And its figures of 8.9-seconds to 62mph, 130mph v-max and just shy of 40mpg average all seem perfectly plausible, although we managed mid-30s on our admittedly very hilly and quite spirited 650-mile test.

What does take a bit more getting used to is the only available transmission, a "6-speed" Constant Velocity Transmission (CVT), lineartronic unit.
First things first, this is undeniably very, very clever (varying torque and mimicking gear changes to keep you in peak power or eco rev bands to suit throttle load, speed and driving style) and it's also very much on message for its lowering emissions purpose and to suit the Japanese and EU Levorg demographic.
But... and it's a big but... it makes a slightly strained noise under serious load and is also sometimes painfully slow to react, even in 'manual' paddle shift mode, as well as being a tad lurchy.
Worse of all, it often detracts you from what is otherwise a fun and focused driving experience.
That said... there are times it's jolly easy to live with, taking the strain very well on a long motorway run and through cities. And sometimes it really does suit the Levorg, and the overly congested C21st roads it lives on. But out in the quite Beacons, on some of the UK's coolest, quietest mountain roads, it's less at home, which is surely not very Subaru now, is it?
It's a Marmite moment I guess... a necessary modern evil?
Still, I'd rather have a slick, snicky Subaru six-speed manual in there, to enjoy making the most of the broad spread of torque generated by the modern 1.6-turbo engine.

What is not in question is the handling, which is nothing short of superb, as the BTCC drivers will testify to.
Being so low slung, the low centre of gravity created by the Boxer engine and symmetrical gearbox configuration combined with literally perfect damping from a seriously sorted Subaru suspension set-up, great geometry and sublimely weighted steering with fabulous feeling makes piloting the Levorg a dream.
And with the grip limits of the talented chassis and excellent tyres being way above the power levels, you can spank the Levorg flat out, everywhere, and it won't miss an apex.
It's wonderfully neutral, brilliantly balanced and feels a hell of a lot more agile, nimble and accurate than a 1,500Kg estate car should do really.
And in this age of faux-four-wheel-drive, it's a genuinely fabulous feeling to be driving a car with a proper, full-fat, hairy-chested all-wheel-drive system that works this well.
Subaru, please never stop playing this card! It's a prile...

Inside, the Levorg is arguably the best-built Subaru ever, with a finish that's enough to satisfy the picky demands of a BMW 5-Series owner, and a generosity of standard specification that would make him or her fall to the ground in tears. You want for nothing inside and the new infotainment system is spot-on, very user-friendly and features the clearest and most useful reversing camera we've ever tested. Anyone who thought Subaru's are all a bit low rent should get into a Levorg to be proved wrong. The finish, quality, spec and intelligent, practical and useful layout is better than the latest Range Rover, costing four times as much. Comfier too.

What's not to like about the Levorg then?
Well, the CVT is a shame in my view: But maybe you'd learn to love it and drive around it's flaws/quirks and discover more benefits over time?
And the lack of fine flat four noises could be sorted with an aftermarket exhaust, should you be so inclined (when will I ever grow up?).
But one thing that can't be altered is the ride height: It's very low. And whilst that's a great thing on the road, if you think this is a Subaru happy in a field – the "farmer's choice" of old – think again. It'd get stuck the moment you went through the gate, not 'coz its AWD couldn't cope, 'coz it's slammed so low.

And, for that reason, I'm out!

I liked the Levorg (although I could never get used to saying that name out loud...), a lot. More than I thought I would. It's a great car that's very nice to drive, is practical to own and easy to enjoy. And I really did love the comfort, practicality, luggage/passenger/driver space, cubby holes, modernity, grip levels and its first class steering and agility... a lot.

But I reckon – gun to the head – I'd still rather have an Outback or Legacy, with a lovely, chunky Subaru manual gearbox. The "King of the Crossover" does everything so, so well, is just a fast and grippy (if not as sharp), even more frugal, even bigger, better equipped and costs only a few K more.

That said... if you're in the game for a fine, fun, fresh and frugal family car with good modern look and outstanding handling and have no absolutely desire to go in a field, or change gear ever again... then the quirky Levorg is 100% worth a look and is certainly another worthy addition to Subaru's fabulous fleet.

Friday, 21 October 2016

NEWS: @WalesRallyGB 2017 Set To Be A Gem

A whopping 148 top rally cars have entered the legendary gravel, mud & fog-fest that is the new-look, new-date Dayinsure Wales Rally GB – the penultimate round of the 2016 WRC calendar – which is all set to rip into the iconic forest stages October 27-30, with tickets now on sale from just £20 and kids all FREE as a half term treat!

And the freshly-crowned World Champion, Sebastian Ogier is all set for a gloves off, no pressure, no holes barred, flat chat blast on this all-star event, to win his forth Welsh rally event – which features a foot on English soil for the first time this century (since 1999!), at the new home for the big fun Rally Village at Cholmondeley Castle.

Other top #WRGB news includes a Special Group B Showcase at the Cholmondeley Castle RallyFest stage and a certain legend of the sport, Jimmy McRae taking part in the retro WRGB National Rally event, exactly 40 years since he first contested Britain’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship – thrashing an identical Vauxhall Magnum to the one in which he made his debut four decades ago in 1976. Cool eh?

Building on the huge success of recent years, this season’s eagerly-anticipated event promises to be even more spectacular, with a move to a new date at the end of October promising drier and faster action.

Moreover, reflecting the ‘Year of Adventure’ in Wales, this year’s speed tests are the longest and most challenging since the rally moved to its new base in the north of the country in 2013. The route comprises 22 special stages totalling 206 competitive miles. Adding to the degree of difficulty, many of these are tackled in reverse direction for the first time in a generation and are all run against-the-clock on a challenging mix of traditional gravel forest tracks and parkland roads.

After a glittering Opening Ceremony under the floodlights at Eirias Park in Colwyn Bay on Thursday evening, the intrepid crews face a marathon opening leg in mid-Wales on Friday. The weekend’s action is closer to the Deeside Rally Village and includes the popular, family-friendly RallyFest, which has moved to a new home at Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire, marking the rally’s first visit to the English side of the border since 1999. When all the dust and mud has settled, the valiant winners will be crowned on Mostyn Street in Llandudno early on Sunday afternoon.

Heading the entry list is reigning World Champion and defending Wales Rally GB winner, S├ębastien Ogier. That the Frenchman has won his fourth world title with two rounds remaining underlines his current superiority, but it doesn’t mean Volkswagen Motorsport’s top gun has had things all his own way in 2016. Indeed, no fewer than five other drivers have all tasted victory already this season and two of those – Andreas Mikkelsen (VW Polo R WRC) and Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 WRC) – are tied on points in the battle for second place in the championship.

Neuville’s team-mate Hayden Paddon is also in the race for runner-up honours and he’s sure to be a man to watch in Wales. Having grown up in New Zealand, he loves rallying in the forests, as does another of 2016’s winners, ‘Flying Finn’ Jari-Matti Latvala who lines-up alongside Ogier in the third of the pace-setting VW Polos. With Volkswagen and Hyundai still duelling it out for the Manufacturers’ Championship, there’s added pressure on their leading drivers, too.

There’s no such responsibility on the shoulders of home hero Kris Meeke, the year’s sixth different winner. The hard-charger from Northern Ireland is not in title contention as he’s only contesting selected rounds for the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team while helping Citro├źn to develop a new car for 2017. He has, though, already won in both Portugal and Finland – and now he’s aiming to become the first British driver to spray the Rally GB champagne since the late Richard Burns completed a hat-trick of victories back in 2000. Last year Meeke finished second behind Ogier, and fans will be hoping he can go one better next week.

“The excitement is really building,” confirmed Ben Taylor, Managing Director of Dayinsure Wales Rally GB. “We’ve got 22 of the finest rally stages in the world, a fantastic entry list featuring the world’s best drivers and a huge crowd anticipated.

“Better yet, we have genuine hopes of a strong British result, after Kris’ impressive performances this season. We’ll also be venturing into England for the first time in more than 15 years, both with a family-focused stage at Cholmondeley Castle supported by GreenThumb and a visit to historic Chester. It all adds up to an utterly unmissable world championship event.”

Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates, said: “This year’s Wales Rally GB promises to be another spectacular event and as our Year of Adventure 2016 comes to an end it shows the range of amazing adventures which can be had here in Wales. We’re looking forward to the 2016 event and to build on our experiences of previous years which have been such a success with fans and competitors alike and have given a major boost to the north and mid Wales economy.

“Wales has some of the finest rally stages anywhere in the world and Wales Rally GB is a showcase for the spectacular scenery and landscapes of north Wales.”

Advance adult ticket prices start at just £20 for the family-friendly RallyFest at Cholmondeley Castle, £25 for a day ticket or £99 for the full four-day event pass. What’s more, all tickets include free parking and an event programme priced at £9. Tickets are available for purchase on the day at £30 per adult per stage. Accompanied children under 16 are admitted free to all stages.

Since 2000, the entire event has taken place inside Wales but this year some of the excitement will be shared with those over the border with the rally route making two brief detours into England. The first is a spectacular gathering on Eastgate in central Chester on Friday evening, the second for a competitive stage at the Cholmondeley Castle RallyFest in association with GreenThumb on Saturday.The fun-fuelled RallyFest offers easier access, enhanced facilities and a host of day-long entertainment to make this the perfect family half-term day out.

Younger visitors will enjoy a host of imaginative activities being provided totally FREE of charge by RallyFest supporter GreenThumb, the UK’s oldest, largest and most recommended lawn care service. Its fun-filled marquee will include a Scalextric racetrack, face painting, a giant games area, a children’s craft workshop plus a selfie mirror and graffiti wall both with instant photos to take away. For the more eccentric, GreenThumb has also arranged somedramatic lawn mower racing!

Multiple mountain bike World Champion and Red Bull daredevil Kenny Belaey is bringing his breathtaking stunt show to Cholmondeley, too.

Other notable RallyFest highlights will include parades of historic and legendary Group B rally cars, appearances by past WRC champions, autograph and selfie sessions with today’s WRC stars, supercar cavalcades, SuperMoto bike racing, big screen coverage, live commentary, a catering village, trade stalls, mini tanks, a zip wire and a funfair. There will also be a wonderful opportunity to take a memorable passenger ride in a number of eye-catching classic and sports cars provided by the Sporting Bears Motor Club. These will be raising funds for Ty Gobaith, the only children’s hospice in north Wales.

The RallyFest follows a return to historic Chester the previous evening for the first time since the late and very great Colin McRae was crowned as Britain’s first World Rally Champion at the Cheshire city’s Racecourse in November 1995.

After Friday’s action in the Welsh forests, cars and their crews will start arriving on Eastgate in the late afternoon for autographs and selfies with the fans. Adding to the atmosphere will be street entertainment, a big screen and live commentary. Everyone is welcome and admission is free.

While access to the special stages is ticketed, there are several great opportunities for the public to savour the presence of the World Rally Championship in the region absolutely free.

Visitors are welcome to come to the buzzing Rally Village in Deeside during all four days of the event. Here, they will not only see all the rally cars being prepared for action but will also be treated to some impressive entertainment including a big screen, driver interviews, catering, trade stands, Scalextric, a funfair and simulators plus, on Friday and Saturday, some amazing bike stunt shows.

Visitors will also be able to experience a range of engaging interactive exhibits in the Big Bang marquee, aimed at stimulating interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

Also free of charge are the Opening Ceremony in Colwyn Bay and the Ceremonial Finish in Llandudno, as well as the special Time Control and Meet the Stars session in central Chester on Friday evening. For those in mid Wales, Newtown offers another great chance to see the rally cars and stars up close in the town centre at lunchtime on Friday.

The WRGB National Rally is an integral part of the WRC show. Aimed at enthusiastic amateur crews keen to be part of the UK’s biggest rallying festival, it follows the same route as the international stars, providing spectators with even more top class action.

As well as featuring some iconic rally cars from yesteryear including Subaru Imprezas, Mitsubishi Evos and large numbers of sideways Escorts, the National entry also showcases a few stars of its own.

Experienced Scottish driver Mike Faulkner is targeting a hat-trick of victories having won in both 2014 and 2015, while countryman Jimmy McRae is another to watch. It is 40 years since Jimmy first contested Britain’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship and, celebrating that anniversary, he’s contesting the WRGB National Rally back behind the wheel an identical Vauxhall Magnum to the one in which he made his debut four decades ago in 1976.

As befits any major international sporting event, Dayinsure Wales Rally GB enjoys extensive live and post-produced television coverage.

Both free-to-air Channel 5 and satellite broadcaster BT Sport will be screening a pre-event magazine show, daily highlights programme each day, plus live coverage of Sunday’s concluding Power Stage from Llyn Brenig. Channel 5 will also be broadcasting a highlights review show at 7pm on Monday evening.

Welsh language viewers can tune into S4C’s excellent Ralio+ programme. Its comprehensive coverage includes 30-minute daily resumes and an in-depth review show the following Wednesday.

Further coverage – as well as live on-boards plus a host of other exclusive content – is available online on the WRC+ platform via the official website.

Wales Rally GB Timetable

Thursday 27 October
08:00 Official Shakedown – Clocaenog
17:00-20:00 Opening Ceremony, Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay
17:30-18:00 Autograph session, Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay

Friday 28 October
05:30 Depart – Deeside
08:20 Myherin 1 (Stage 1)
09:11 Sweet Lamb 1 (Stage 2)
09:24 Hafren 1 (Stage 3)
11:15 Dyfnant 1 (Stage 4)
12:36 Regroup and Technical Zone – Newtown (20 mins)
13:54 Myherin 2 (Stage 5)
14:45 Sweet Lamb 2 (Stage 6)
14:58 Hafren 2 (Stage 7)
16:49 Dyfnant 2 (Stage 8)
19:05 Chester Eastgate Time Control
19:55 Service – Deeside (45 mins)

Saturday 29 October
05:45 Service – Deeside (15 mins)
08:18 Pantperthog 1 (Stage 9) no spectator access
08:51 Dyfi 1 (Stage 10)
09:27 Gartheiniog 1 (Stage 11)
10:23 Corris Regroup and Technical Zone
11:04 Pantperthog 2 (Stage 12)
11:37 Dyfi 2 (Stage 13)
12:13 Gartheiniog 2 (Stage 14)
13:18 Aberhirnant (Stage 15)
15:41 Cholmondeley Castle (Stage 16)
16:29 Service – Deeside (45 mins)

Sunday 30 October
07:20 Service – Deeside (15 mins)
08:31 Clocaenog 1 (Stage 17)
09:08 Brenig 1 (Stage 18)
09:28 Alwen 1 (Stage 19)
10:33 Clocaenog 2 (Stage 20)
11:14 Alwen 2 (Stage 21)
12:08 Brenig 2 Power Stage (Stage 22)
13:26 Ceremonial Finish – Mostyn Street, Llandudno

Get involved fellow bobble hatters! 

Monday, 26 September 2016

BLOG: Toddler + @Goodwoodrevival + Biblical Deluge = FUN? Amazingly, yes!

It says something about either;
1. My dwindling sanity, in middle age, or
2. The gravitational pull and incredible allure of "the world’s most popular historic motor race meeting" – Goodwood Revival – that I'm even slightly prepared to entertain packing up a boot full (including full vintage vibe threads naturally), braving finding somewhere (nice and pricy) to stay within a 30-mile radius of the stella event and driving 500+ miles with a three-year-old, around the M25, on a Friday afternoon, in early rush hour.
But the fact remains, myself, wife & Road Art Director, Bonnie and the Road Magazine child testing department took off on Thursday last week to circumnavigate the capital, delve deep into the dark woods of Sussex to stop overnight and awake refreshed at 0415 ("is it fairground time?") and don our period finery some hours later, to attend what is fairly billed as "the biggest and best historic motor racing party of the year" and "the only event of its kind to be staged entirely in the nostalgic time capsule of the 1940s, 50s and 60s that relives the glory days of Goodwood Motor Circuit."
Yup, last weekend was Mission Revival time!

The plan?
Use the inherent core DNA ability of the Road Magazine child testing department to get up insanely early (tick) to beat the crowds and get in and parked early on Saturday (tick), for a full day of retro revelry (tick, see on).
More specifically... the plan was to brilliantly balance: 1. My desire to get as close as possible to the world's greatest retro race cars and pour over the door-to-door action on the historic circuit & in the iconic white-washed pit lane. 2. My wife's desire to check out the hot men in uniform, pound the trade stands, swap female fashion tips and revel in cool American muscle (cars and blokes) and 3. Road Magazine child testing department's desire to "let's play" on the "new-one fairground" (no mention of cars, despite my unwavering best efforts!).
Easy, I thought – hazily picturing a mutually satisfying picnic hamper and champagne session on the retro rug, trackside, over-looking the terrific track action on the out-field, around Lavant, with a glorious arrival by vintage Tractor, to break up the day.
Revival = simples. Blissful. Fine, good old fashioned family fun.

Cue this weather forecast (left)... which actually turned out to be jolly and optimistic... seriously so in fact (and I am from the Lake District, so I know rain). Think power shower, on mist mode and you are close.
Never mind: Dunkirk spirit and all that... it's only a bit of, er light rain. Heavy shower. Downpour that'll be over shortly. Set in solid for an hour or so. Drowning us all like rats. All day. Darned nuisance. Fiddlesticks. Or something like that.
Cue plan B: Minimising the deeply unfashionista drowned rat look for the wife (who actually had the genius to wear both a hat and dark nylon vintage frock, looking gorgeous and unflappable in the process), keep the Road Magazine child testing department dry and uncranky (mission, given her ability to move fast, poor umbrella control and speedy fuse) and vainly attempt to keep dry...ish, whilst making the most of it, despite the truly biblical weather.
Could it be done?

You betcha!
Goodwood Revival may well be at its best as a fair weather event. But, as they do everything oh-so-jolly well, there's still a ton to do when it rains like Noah's about to make an appearance in the inaugural Kinara Trophy, and win. Easily. In the wooden arc, arms crossed up on opposite lock over the finish line.

First (critically dry) stop?
The now rammed, but still uttrely superb undercover of the Earls Court Motor Show – offering up a heady mix of 50s, 60s and 70s gems, including as a cenrepiece this year, those of tractor maker, Ferruccio Lamborghini in a stunning 'Raging Bulls' display, which all of us found most enjoyable to shuffle slowly around... the orange Miura and lipstick red Countach being our favourites inside, with the hilarious and quick-as-a-flash comedy banter of the Unigate 'Farmer's Wife' leading the way outside. "Get a picture and spot the family resemblance." etc. (see lead picture). Free bottle of (lush) Goodwood dairy milk to soften the (wind) blow and keep spirits and calcium levels high!

And so we float (almost literally) over to what would have been the Road Magazine child testing department's paddock piece de resistance in the usual Goodwood sunshine; the Wall's beach area – complete with retro deck chairs, and of course "Mr Whippy." 
This ancient, semi-iced child pacification device could be consumed gleefully, whilst we got the chance to utilise our precious Paddock passes and drool not over ice cream, but the finest vintage racers imaginable: The 1960 DB4 GT festooned in winner's laurels, all-white E-Type racer and plethora of Ferrari 250 GT's being this year's highlights for me and 60s Corvette Sting Ray and AC Cobra for design queen and muscle fanatic Bonnie. Road Magazine child testing department remains unbiased on selection, picking the one nearest her at the time of the question 'which one do you like?' being thrown.
Lovely stuff.

Paddock drooling is however of little consequence to the Road Magazine child testing department when Mr Whippy is over, the gloriously un-silenced engines fire up one after the other and the monsoon steps it up another gear (how is that even possible. We are down south, right?). 
We are by now literally soaked to the skin, but it matters not. 
Goodwood revival has the answer... escape the in-field crowds and head to the relatively newly conceived 'Over The Road' area "opening the door to a whole world of jollity," which is surely just the tonic, even if an incredibly brave claim indeed in these conditions...
But so it transpired to be.
The Road Magazine child testing department loved it: Capital L.
On and off the bum-soaking fairground rides, in and out of the exhibitor stalls and tents, pop wide-eyed into the Butlins tent for a spy at the big girls' roller skating fun, re-fuel with a hot dog, hook a duck and win a new cuddly toy, wobble, shake and dance at the superb hall of mirrors... the list of great fun stuff to do here with your family was endless. Worth the ticket price alone? 
Just maybe...
Certainly, with a brilliant array of classic cars on display and for sale for me to fantasise about and more right-on retro fashion, hipster designer and beautiful boutique stalls for the wife, Revival's 'Over the Road' tuned out to be a revelation for all the Road Magazine family, if not indeed the day's saviour!

It had been, I am ashamed to admit, seven years since I last personally attended Goodwood Revival – at that time, unmarried and without the Road Magazine child testing department. 
I had one of the times of my bachelor life – certainly the best UK car show I've ever attended in two decades of motor journalism and richly deserving of its 'do before you die' tag. I swept that day photographing stunning models and oh-so-cool stuff, drooling and dreaming about racing these rear-driven beasts around this heritage-rich, high-speed circuit, interviewing celebrities, meeting great people and sipping G&Ts and fizz from dawn until dark, all smiles. And it was wall-to-wall sunshine: A perfect revival if you will.
Topping that was always going to be tough. And the experience "en famile" was always going to be a different one, especially with the uncharacteristic, end-of-days weather system set-in...
But, do you know what?
Despite the inevitable parental challenges – solely brought about by the atrocious weather (have I mentioned that it rained somewhat?) – and the fact our clothes soaked up more water than we soaked up circuit action... I'll remember this one more, a whole lot more in fact... for having the privilege of sharing it with my gorgeous Goodwood girls and having some of those untouchable magic moments. Ones you can only get as a parent. 

Goodwood Revival, in the rain, with a three-year-old... fun? 
You bet your life it was.
Already booked in for next year, but maybe packing some period frogmen costumes. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

PRODUCT: @goodwoodrevival stand find: Toft Workshop

Serendipity is a wonderful thing! Diving for cover from a particularly cruel section of Saturday's storm at Goodwood Revival threw us blind into the trade tent of the family firm that is Toft Workshop.

The splendid sight that greeted us was nothing short of pure nostalgic joy – perfectly on message for Goodwood Revival – as neatly displayed on a felt cloth table was their wonderful range of "ethically sourced, hand made, completely unique and beautiful to look at" wooden gifts, all made from some seriously old and gorgeous reclaimed timber.

The Longhurst family have created the business from a work shed hobby – crafting simple, stunning and stylish children's toys from timber that is hundreds of years old. And here they are now, with a brand that deserves a boost – selling to just the right audience at Goodwood Revival. Good on them.

The timber toys are lovingly, carefully, slowly and skilfully crafted from bits of old church, ballroom floor and even wood reclaimed from the colleges of Cambridge. I think there was even talk of wood from an old banana drying room room from the 1800s! And they were doing live demonstrations creating these magnificent items to cherish at the Revival. The smell was fantastic.

Owner Dominic Longhurst greeted us drowned Revival rats with a much-welcome huge smile and proudly showcased his range of terrifically tactile toys – with the old kiddy favourites of trains (which the Road Magazine child testing department went home with), tractors and karts, to their brilliantly evocative (and ever increasing range of) models of retro racing classics, like the BRM V16 Type 15 & 30, Talbot T26C, Type 35 Bugatti and Ferrari 250 GTO.

"Because every piece created is unique, we like to treat them that way buy giving everyone its own personal number, which is stamped into the timber. To give a second life to this wonderful timber is really pleasing to us and we hope you get as much pleasure from our creations," said Dominic.

And that's Christmas and birthdays sorted for quiet a few people we know for quite a few years!
We wish you every success with the Toft Workshop toys folks!


Tuesday, 13 September 2016

PRODUCT TEST: Cybex Solution Q2-Fix Car Seat

Picking the right, safe, comfy, easy to use, affordable child seat for your precious cargo can be an arduous process when you first start parenthood and carting your kid about safely – ideally with the minimum amount of cussing and fussing.

Selecting one that's going to offer maximum safety, good snuggle-snooze factor, lasting longevity, easy-use and genuine affordability as your child grows up... harder still.

But fear not, we think we might just have found the answer in the aptly named Cybex Solution Q2-Fix.

The Road Magazine child testing department has already been a Cybex babe, growing up in the Juno 2-Fix model, which we loved – mainly for its innovative and super-slick and speedy safety cushion system, which has saved so much time and stress, is clearly very comfortable and also award-winning for safety. The fact it looks cool is a happy accident.

Right to the age of three, this Juno seat was her favourite and a no brainer from our POV... pretty much a faultless product in fact, so much so we have properly bought into the globally trusted, award winning and brilliantly designed Cybex brand.

The only downside with Group 1/2 Juno is that our little one is not so little anymore, and so we need a seat to fit her rapidly lengthening frame...

Enter the Group 2/3 Cybex Solution Q2-Fix, with it's clever ability to automatically grow with your child, right up until the age she's out of car seats and into boosters, at 12.

Cybex says: "With a one-handed mechanism and 11 adjustment possibilities, the height and width of the seat can be adjusted simultaneously. The seat can grow up to 8 cm in width and up to 20 cm in height. The child thereby always remains in the optimal protection zone of the head and shoulder protectors and never feels constricted, even towards the end of the usage period."
Clever eh?

The funky-looking, easy-assembly and easy-fit seat also features:

* Optimised reclining headrest (patented)
* Adjustable backrest for easy, safe fitting to a wide range of vehicles
* Automatic height and width adjustment (11 positions)
* Optimised Linear Side-impact Protection (L.S.P. System Plus)
* CYBEX Safety Pads
* ISOFIX Connect System
* Air ventilation system
* Super soft seat cushions

First things first, 'assembly' is a two minute job, simply fitting the L.S.P. System Plus cushions to the side of the chair, attaching the seat to the base and removing all the packaging. And fitting the seat into the Project Beast Range Rover could not have been simpler either, with the ISOFIX guides to assist in homing-in the two-click ISOFIX system (with a safe install clearly indicated by green symbol) and one handle to adjust the angle of the backrest, to fit snuggly and safely into the seat design. Fantastic.

Our test version arrived just in time for our long run to Goodwood Revival – 500+ miles round-trip of testing. And, with the Road Magazine child test department now capable of voting with her own voice and opinions, there was no hiding for the Cybex seat! 

Having been used to the security and feel of the safety cushion (which she also liked leaning on) in the Juno model, it took her by surprise that there was just a seat belt to secure her (safely secured in the slots designed into the seat, at either end, working in either direction, depending on which side of the car you choose to fit the seat on. She kept saying "I'm falling!" (despite being more secure than ever) until she got used to being free from her junior safety cushion... which literally took minutes.

And before long, she was feet up on the seat, head back in the snuggly head rest (fully reclined, as instructed!) watching the in-car DVD... clearly supremely comfortable. So much so in fact, after an exciting day at the Goodwood Revival, it took her no time at all to nod off for what looked like a perfect snooze, head firmly supported, body slumped and sunk into the soft fabric.

Another winner from Cybex: Safe, simple, stylish and snoozy! 

NEWS: Meet the AERO-P Atom, aka 'Vacuum Cleaner'

Question: What's more terrifying than the already nuts Ariel Atom?
Answer: One loaded with downforce! At standstill!
Welcome then to the next insane creation from the Somerset-based British sports car producers – AERO-P Atom, aka, the 'vacuum cleaner!'

In a press release issued just now, the chaps say...
"Shown on Wednesday 14 September during LCV 2016 (Low Carbon Vehicle Show) at Millbrook Proving Ground is the AERO-P Atom. Standing for Aerodynamic Efficiency Requirements & Optimisation Project the vehicle is part of an ongoing collaboration between Ariel Motor Company, TotalSim and Delta Motor Sport, investigating aerodynamics on current production and future technology vehicles.
"The aims of AERO-P were to minimise aerodynamic drag with innovative aero concepts, in order to reduce comparative CO2 emissions, while at the same time improving vehicle stability and safety. Using both passive and active aerodynamic solutions the project also looks at cooling and airflow management requirements on electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as conventional ICE cars, in order to maximise vehicle efficiency and performance. Although much of the project is still in development and remains confidential, an interesting demonstrable output already is the Atom test car giving downforce at any speed, including standstill."

Simon Saunders, Director of Ariel, said: "Although it’s a large and complex project, covering a lot of areas, performance is core to us. We’re moving towards the point where traction and therefore acceleration, particularly from standstill, are limited by mechanical grip so were trying to come up with ways of overcoming this. 
"One of our targets was to minimise or remove the need for aerofoils and have ‘downforce when stationary.’ Inspiration came from banned racing cars of the past, so there’s a big nod from us to Jim Hall’s 1970 Chaparral 2J Sucker Car and the Gordon Murray Brabham BT46B Fan Car of 1978. The Atom test car has been already been nicknamed The Vacuum Cleaner and hopefully it follows in the tradition of these two great cars."

Conventional aerofoils and aerodynamic devices give downforce at speed – the higher the speed, the higher the downforce. However the negative aspect of this is that downforce is not required for most of the time, particularly for road based cars during normal driving, and is not available at slow speed or when stationary. The ensuing drag of fixed aerofoils also not only reduces a vehicle’s top speed but has a marked negative effect on its fuel consumption as well as emissions. On the Atom drag can be increased by as much as 15% by adding conventional aerofoils with the resultant effect on fuel use and tailpipe emissions.

On the AERO-P Atom there are no aerofoils so drag is not increased, adding to the efficiency of the car as well as top speed. The downforce generated by the system not only improves cornering ability but also braking for track use and in emergencies, increasing performance while improving stability and safety.

Powered by two small, lightweight, high speed fans the Atom test car has an additional moulding and rubber skirts added to the bottom of the tub as well as ducting and a standalone battery pack. The ability to spin up the fans very quickly allows the system to be turned on and off when required, whether under acceleration, cornering or braking, either manually or automatically. Fans are therefore only running when there is a need and for brief amounts of time, for instance from start, when cornering or under braking. When not required at cruise and high speed conditions the system remains in stand-by, improving vehicle range and reducing CO2 emissions.

The Atom AERO-P demonstrator is just an initial mule test bed and doesn’t represent the production possibilities of the system which will be the result of further testing and development. The scope of the project also takes in wider passive aerodynamic design and the particular requirements of new technology power trains, not yet released and still under development.

"When the system is turned on the car visibly squats on the ground so you can see it working, which is pretty exciting," said Simon Saunders, "We’re already making about three times the downforce as aerofoils, but this really is just the first step and a very early stage in what is a large and complex project to bring to a production reality, so we have a lot more work to do."

The aerodynamic development was carried out utilising CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) by TotalSim, based in Brackley. From their original roots in Formula 1 TotalSim are now world leaders in aerodynamics and fluid flow problem solving working on all types of motorsport and volume production vehicles. Said Rob Lewis, Director of TotalSim, “CFD allows us to rapidly and cost effectively test different aerodynamic configurations, reducing the need for physical testing. The ability to create significant downforce at zero speed is very exciting.”

Simulated performance times and bench testing of AERO-P prototypes at full size were carried out by Delta Motorsport, based at Silverstone. With a background in technology transfer from motorsport, Delta’s multi discipline skills have seen them rise to the forefront of UK engineering consultancy and advanced technology projects. Nick Carpenter, Engineering Director of Delta Motorsport said, “We love working with creative, lateral-thinking businesses such as Ariel and TotalSim, coming up with – and then implementing – novel solutions to tricky problems. As with many of the projects we’re working on today, we see the trickle down from high-performance vehicles to conventional passenger cars over time, so it’s great to be ahead of the curve with these new technologies.”

The project was supported by Innovate UK via the Niche Vehicle Network and their annual R&D Competition. The AERO-P Atom will be on the Niche Vehicle Network stand on 14 & 15 September at Millbrook Proving Ground, Bedfordshire.

Nuts eh?
Bravo to the boys down there and all involved in this groundbreaking technical project. 
We wish you every success with it!


Monday, 22 August 2016

NEWS: Special Edition @SubaruUK Forester Marking 50th Anniversary of Heroic Boxer Lump

Subaru are celebrating 50 years of the awesome, low centre of gravity, horizontally-opposed, flat four Boxer engine this year – a personal favourite lump of ours – and have just released details of a Forester Special Edition, to help mark this auspicious occasion.

On sale from the 1st September, just 100 units of the specced-up Forester will be produced – priced at £29,995 for the petrol Lineartronic and £31,495 for the diesel Lineartronic. Based on the XC Premium model, the Special Edition model comes with £1,500 of additional equipment... at no extra cost. Both models come with Subaru’s comprehensive five-year, 100,000-mile warranty, #obvs!

Unique equipment for the Forester Special Edition includes Hunter Green Metallic Paint, front, side and rear under guards, wheel arch extensions and stainless steel cargo step panel as well as Special Edition brown leather seats with brown leather interior door grips, centre armrest and centre panel uprights. Not so sure on the seats, personally, but will reserve judgement until we see it in the flesh...!

Other equipment on the Forester Special Edition includes Subaru Starlink; a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, connectivity and navigation system, Hill Descent Control (HDC), X-Mode system, which intelligently manages the car’s power and torque, brakes and drivetrain to maintain traction on even the most slippery surfaces.

Discover more here.

Monday, 1 August 2016

NEWS: BAC Graphene Innovation @DiscoverMono

Over the weekend, BAC were playing with the famous RAF red arrows, raising money for charity and now they hit us with the an amazingly innovative car industry first... taking "a large development leap by using (super light, super-strong) graphene on the single seater supercar, the Mono."
Is this the new carbon fibre?

The uber-cool single seater track day special manufacturer BAC say the use of the innovative graphene material is a world first – further illustrating their USP ability of make technological advancements through their car building program.
The panel development was done in collaboration with Haydale Composite Solutions and the lightweight material that is stronger than its main rival carbon fibre features on the Mono’s rear wheel arches, bringing weight and performance benefits.
Trick eh?

Graphene is made of sheets of carbon just one atom thick, and is significantly lighter than standard carbon fibre. It is also stronger than carbon fibre, meaning that it can bring weight reductions of around 20% while being 200 times stronger than steel. These benefits could have implications for cost, performance and fuel economy when applied wider in the manufacturing process.
BAC chose to test the use of graphene on the rear wheel arches due to the size and complexity of the part, to thoroughly test the manufacturing process and how the material fitted in with the car.

BAC Development Director and co-founder Neill Briggs said: "BAC is uniquely placed in the automotive industry to be able to take innovative steps, and latest work with graphene is further proof of this. This development work is further proof of our ability to work with the very latest materials and innovators. At BAC we don’t wait for new technology to come to us, we actively seek it out and work with the very best in the industry to stay at the forefront of the automotive and motorsport industries.
"Making significant weight savings and improving body strength will allow us to offer improved performance to our customers. This is the latest in a line of ground-breaking innovations on the Mono, and we were delighted to have worked with graphene composite industry leaders, Haydale, on this exciting project."

Ebby Shahidi, Haydale Composite Solutions Ltd.’s Director of Aerospace and Defence added: "We are pleased to have worked on the design and development of the graphene enhanced carbon fibre materials for the BAC Mono. These initial materials have shown some major increases in impact and thermal performance coupled with improved surface finish and it’s pleasing to see these attributes being demonstrated on such a high performance vehicle as the Mono. We look forward to collaborating further with BAC and delivering even higher performance materials and components to increase the performance of this exciting vehicle."

BAC recently showcased the graphene enhanced Mono at the Science in the City festival in Manchester.