Category Archives: Automotive

Any posts to do with the automotive world – my love of cars, motorbikes and related topics such as the highway code and driving

My car history part 21: Finally content?

I’d finally made the decision to buy my next car and had travelled by train to London, over a 2 hour trip with a bus journey added on, to buy the ‘perfect’ car for me – at that time – Mellie, a 2008 Mercedes SLK 200K.

True, it didn’t have back seats.

It didn’t have a spacious hatchback.

But I didn’t really need those; if I ever needed more than 2 seats, I had the use of the fiance’s RAV4.

What ‘Mellie’ did have was looks, fun factor, lack of cabin noise, decent commuter engine power, good fuel economy, and more importantly, for my bad back, exceptionally comfortable seats.

And I’d bought this one as she had heated seats!

Except… on the way home I’d found out that mine didn’t work.

It’d been a private sale, and sold as seen.

I’d figured I’d got a bargain anyway. The car was at least a thousand pounds cheaper than anything remotely similarly, with the specs I wanted – the closest example was £1500 more from a dealer.

So I looked at getting the heated seats repaired.

How much do you think Mercedes wanted for this simply electronic fix?


Well – that was for a new seat base – as they don’t do a ‘fix’.

Plus labour, to remove the old one, and fit this one.

As Bart Simpson would say: Aye Caramaba!

And that wasn’t even Mercedes themselves, but an independant specialist – i.e. cheaper!!

I did some research.

It seemed heated seat failure is a common problem. Something to do with people kneeling on their seats backward to clean the interior /wipe the rear screen; the wires in the base snap under the pressure. Or simply burn out.

I looked at getting a replacement second hand seat base – but finding the right model, drivers side, with a heated seat element, known to be working… I couldn’t find any.

I considered swapping the passengers side over to mine; after all, it was only me using the car on a regular basis. I queried on a SLK forum as to whether the sides were interchangeable; it seems that the seat backs weren’t, but the bases potentially were – yet when I investigated further I found that there was a difference in the wiring – the passenger seat has a pressure sensor connected to the airbag/SRS system.

The purpose of the sensor is to determine whether or not to employ the passenger side airbag in the event of a crash, depending on whether someone is in the seat or not.

I didn’t want to be messing around with pressure sensors and airbag wiring – I’d read enough warnings about accidental deployment and ‘confusing’ the computer so that it though an airbag had been deployed or was faulty, and having to visit Mercedes to have it (at expense) put right again.

Fortunately there were some articles on how to fix your heated car seat, and others on how to safely disconnect the airbag.

There wasn’t one clear article for my model on the whole procedure, but I managed to piece them together and very carefully attempted to remove my car seat.

I was missing the right star shaped socket for the seat belt attachment, so had to fork out £7 at my local B&Q for one.

Eventually though I was able to remove the seat, it’s cover, and with the help of a multimeter I already have, trace the fault and find the bad wire!

SLK seats removed
‘Mellie’ the SLK – with seats removed

I’d bought a cheap soldering iron from Maplin for £15, and enlisted the help of my fiancee, who has much steadier hands than me – her being a makeup artist and doing eyelash extensions probably helped! Plus, bizarrely, she already had some experience with a soldering iron… and I hadn’t!

She proceeded to fix the damaged wires and the next day I refitted the seat… and lo and behold, the heated seats worked!!

£22 repair.

A bit better than Mercedes’s price 🙂

(I posted the details on the SLK forum for anyone else that was suffering from the same issue)

So, I now have the ideal car, with heated seats… am I still happy with it??

10 months later…


Sort of.

I’m missing having something with more ‘oomph’; it certainly feels a little underpowered sometimes. I don’t think it’s been maintained particularly well though, and I realised that the air filter hasn’t been replaced for a long time – an upgrade to a ‘green cotton’ air filter is supposed to help, so I’ve order one and I’m waiting for it to arrive – let’s hope it helps.

But I am starting to get an ‘itch’ for a change…!

My car history part 20: A wise purchase?

I’d travelled all the way down to London on the train with my 6 year old daughter to see a perfect sounding next car: a Mercedes Benz SLK 200K.

Believe it or not, this sporty number was actually one of the most practical cars to suit my needs: sculptured seats that supported by troubled back beautifully; heated, too, to help soothe away my pain; reasonable but not excessive power suited to my commute, but also reasonable fuel economical.

This one sounded ideal in terms of its specs and price – in fact, it seemed too good to be true.

My problem had been with it being a private sale; I’d been concerned about the lack of any guarantee. So I’d called around
the local garages to see if someone could check it over for me.

I’d opted for Halfords Autocentre’s free 12 point safety check.

Never again.

Oh, the guy on the phone at Halfords had been very helpful. I’d explained the situation and told him what time my train would arrive and asked how long the check would take etc etc, and he’d assured me it would all be fine.

The grumpy over worked mechanic in charge on the day though had a somewhat different attitude.

If I don’t have a ramp, I don’t have a ramp“.

Much appealing only left to a half hearted response that if I left it with him then he might be able to do it by the end of the day.

I couldn’t wait til the end of day.

The owner couldn’t wait til the end of day.

My six year old daughter, remarkably patient up to this point, couldn’t wait til the end of the day.

I’d have to make the decision myself.

But how to test drive a two seater car when I’m there with my daughter, without driving off in the car and leaving the owner alone?

I hinted at this possibility.

He didn’t seem to get the hint.

I hinted a little stronger and started suggesting some sort of security deposit.

He didn’t seem to like the idea.

In the end, he suggested that as we were now in a corner of the supermarket car park which was quiet, we could have a drive and my daughter could wait at the side. I didn’t like the idea of leaving my daughter, but she was quite happily playing some make believe game on her own and when I asked, and suggested that I would literally just drive down one straight, turn around and come back, and I’d have her in sight all the time, she was quite happy for me to do that. I got a pang of guilt and even started to say that actually, no, I wouldn’t bother, I didn’t want to leave her, and she – very practically minded for one so young – actually insisted that I test drove it ‘to make sure‘.

As it was, it was a very brief ‘test drive’, as I really didn’t want to let her out of my sights, so I only drove the car for about 100m, turned around and came back again! Still, at least I was able to check the basics, and ensure that gear changes, brakes and steering all seemed ok.

I probably could have drove for longer – my daughter wasn’t concerned at all and was still happily playing – but I had a good feeling about the car and made the decision to buy it.

We shook hands and did the deal. I did an online transfer and he confirmed the payment had been made. The paperwork was
signed over coffee (and apple juice for the little one!) and Mellie (short for Melinda The Mercedes) was all mine!

As we drove out of London and headed for the M1 home, I was able to finally drive her properly – I was terrified I was now going to find some major fault.

The steering and overall handling felt good…

The engine pulled well and sounded sweet…

All the electronics worked…

No, hang on.

They didn’t.

When I pushed the electric heated seat switch, the lights came on… but only for a few seconds. Then they went out.

The seat didn’t get warm.

I tried on the passenger seat – no problem there. Annie was enjoying her heated back.

My seat was cold.


I’d specifically bought this car as I wanted the heated seats (to help with my back problem).

When we’d sat in the car I’d tested it!



I hadn’t.

I’d sat in the passenger seat with my daughter on my lap when we’d drove across the Sainsbury’s car park to the Halfords branch. I’d pushed on the heated seat light on my side – and the owner had pressed his (drivers) side briefly, showing me the LEDs light up.

What I’d not really taken in was the fact he turned it off a couple of seconds after, whilst I was waiting for the passenger side to warm up.

So he must have known the drivers side didn’t work.


Well – it wasn’t the end of the world. I’d just have to get it fixed.

Can you guess how much Mercedes wanted to fix a heated seat??

Mellie - the Mercedes SLK 200
Mellie – the Mercedes SLK 200

My car history part 19: Decision made!

I was still struggling to choose my next car; one that would suit my particular set of needs, but primarily, one that would have suitable shaped supportive seats for my back problems.

I’d test driven 7 different cars:

  • Peugeot RCZ 1.6T 200
  • Nissan 350Z 3.0
  • Mazda MX-5 Mk3.5 2.0
  • Volvo C30 2.5
  • Mercedes SLK 1.8
  • Toyota GT86
  • Jaguar XF 3.0D

I’d liked the RCZ but was put off by it’s ‘Frenchness’, high price for the model I really wanted, and I wasn’t yet convinced about its seat comfort.

The 350Z had been great fun but my coccyx had screamed blue murder at me.

The MX-5 was almost as fun as my 20 year old model, and although improved on the gearing and road noise, still wasn’t ideal for my daily commute.

The Volvo had surprised me with it’s power and comfort, but had lacked a certain sportiness and hadn’t felt quite ‘me’.

Maybe I needed a set of fangs.

Volvo C30 - for Vampires only?
Volvo C30 – for Vampires only?

The Mercedes SLK had also surprised me with it’s unexpected lack of German character and it’s sheer fun factor; but the model I wanted was out of my budget.

The GT86’s seats had failed dismally without having even got out of the showroom: I just couldn’t get comfortable. Plus it was way over my budget.

The Jaguar XF was an impressive car, but far too big and heavy for my particular likes.

I was down to my final option: the BMW Z4.

Would I like it?

Well… I took one for a spin, explaining both my back problems and the need for something ‘comfortable’ and not too noisy on my commute.

The salesman was one of those types that talks a lot and listens little. He ‘knew’ what I want and dismissed everything I said. I explained again how I needed to get the car up to 60 or 70 (not unreasonable on a test drive) to check the gearing and road noise, and I suggested a short route to get to an appropriate road.

He insisted on doing it his way, and took me to a 40mph road that he suggested we could get up to a decent speed on.

Due to other traffic, I didn’t make it over 35mph.

So I wasn’t really able to see how it compared with the MX-5 in terms of high revving/gear ratio and noise through the softtop at speed.

However, I’d already decided I didn’t like the car – it reminded me too much of the BMW 3 series I’d owned – it lacked ‘soul’.

It just wasn’t fun.

Yes, I imagine a larger engine one could be fun, but then that would take me over budget and leave me with a gas guzzling beast.

So: back to the drawing board.

Realistically, I was left with only the RCZ.

Or was I?

I spent a few more weeks looking at alternatives, but nothing floated my boat.

I looked for cheaper RCZs.

I looked at hiring one for a few days, to get a better test drive and ensure I’d be making the right decision, but couldn’t find any locally.

I looked for cheaper SLKs.

And found them.

I really didn’t want the older model, the facelift was slightly ‘prettier’ and packed a few more horses under the bonnet, the former having 163bhp and the preferred having been tweaked to 184bhp – and that was only just enough really for me.

The problem in searching for them was that the model change had come in mid year, so looking for 2008 cars in my price range tended to return just the older models. But by regularly checking, and scouring every picture to try and work out which one it was, I was finding a few private sales at around the 10K mark.

Their mileage was a little high compared to the RCZ – around 70K+ – but I could live with that. What I was fussy about was that I wanted heated leather seats; cold leather is unpleasant in the UK climate. Heated seats also assisted with my back problems.

Mercedes SLK
Mercedes SLK

A few ideal specimens came up over the course of a few weeks – I wasn’t going to rush this (not this time!!) – and I made enquires. There were the usual problems: that’s one already sold, we have another coming in – costs more, or the wrong colour, or the wrong spec; yes that’s available, but it’s a Cat D/damaged car; ah, we can’t find the service history sir, or, oh yes sir, that is available, but there was an error in the advert and it doesn’t currently have an engine or wheelsok, that last one was an exaggeration, but that’s more or less how it was going.

A lot were simply too far for me to travel. I was looking at locations near to my home or my work (being 50 miles apart anyway), but even if I tried to leave work early to see a car, the garage was often closed. Private sales were better in that sense, but I didn’t seem to be finding any locally.

Weekends were the best time to travel, but I normally had to pick up my six year old daughter by 5pm on the Saturday, so that complicated matters.

However, what appeared to be the perfect car came up in London, mid week, when I was taking my daughter for the whole weekend. I realised that she loves the train; so we could make a day out of it, and break up the drive home with a treat, going for a pub dinner.

I made enquiries about the car.

It sounded ideal: the right spec, with heated leather seats, the right colour, mid mileage. The owner would be around to show me at midday on the Saturday, so we could easily get a train down and make it a fun day trip.

Yet there was a nagging doubt at the back of my head: what’s wrong with it?

We all get that feeling sometimes when we’re about to buy a car, or something else relatively expensive. But the price seemed too low; was something mechanically wrong with it?

It had only recently had an MOT – on which there were no advisories. The owner seemed to have a genuine reason for sale.

Perhaps it was a good one.

Being a private sale though, there were no guarantees. So I decided to look into local or mobile garages that perhaps could give it a quick once over. I checked with the owner, and he was happy for me to do this – there was no hesitation, so I got a slightly better feeling already; perhaps he had nothing to hide.

I contacted a few mobile companies but they didn’t have any free slots that day; the most local garage was only open in the morning. However, it seemed that there was a Halfords Autocentre very close by. I rang them up, and asked if they offered any kind of pre-purchasing car check.

Apparently they offer a free, 12 point, safety check. The very helpful guy on the phone ran through the points checked.

It sounded ideal.

I asked if I could book in a slot for that day and he assured me that it was no problem.

All sorted…

My daughter loved the train journey down; we made the most of the trip and had a picnic on board, and I promised to take her for some pub food on the way home again. She was even keen to see the new car, perhaps my car obsessions over the years having made some impression on her (oh dear).

We met the owner at the large Sainsburys car park, just next to the Halfords.

The car looked a beaut. All the docs checked out. I hopped in the passenger seat and my daughter sat on my lap for the very short drive across to Halfords – where all hell was breaking loose.

Several cars were queued up, and we could see several in the workshop, on ramps, having work done, by several frantic
looking mechanics, running around like headless chickens.

Leaving the owner outside I popped into reception to confirm my appointment. There was no one at the desk. After a few minutes I heard car horns outside – the SLK was blocking the workshop entrance.

We moved it, a car drove out of the workshop, and another drove in. Spotting a mechanic, I started to say I had an appointment, and was quickly told to speak to ‘the gaffer’, who was also running around looking somewhat harangued.

I finally managed to get his attention.

I repeated my comment that I had an appointment for a safety check.

I got a surly response of “yeah you’ll be lucky” or words to that effect.

Recovering myself from this unexpected rudeness, I went on to politely say that I’d rang in and pre-booked a slot. He looked around at the ramps in a pre-occupied manner and finally told me that I’d have to leave the car with him, and he might be able to fit it in, but it wouldn’t be done until the end of the day.

I explained that I was here with the owner of the car and he wouldn’t be happy to wait around, and neither could I. He basically said “well I’ve got no ramps so what can I do“.

I explained again that I’d called in and specifically booked an appointment, and had told them on the phone the situation
and had even checked how long it would take, and I’d been told there would be no problem.

He replied more or less along the lines of “so what, if I don’t have a ramp, I don’t have a ramp“. He then added that bookings weren’t guaranteed.

I was stood there, in the rain, with a rather awkward looking owner and my six year old daughter.

I attempted again, explaining that I had travelled down from Nottingham to Hendon on a train, specifically to see this car, and to get it looked over, and could he possibly help.

He glanced around again at his busy bay and simply replied “it’ll be the end of the day“.

I looked at the car owner whose look told me that wasn’t acceptable, so in desperation I asked if it were possible for someone to have “just a quick check“. He replied in an unnecessarily harsh tone that there was “no such thing as a quick check“.

We were forced to leave.

It was too late on a Saturday afternoon to be able to get anyone else to check the vehicle.

I’d come all that way…

So what did I do?

My car history part 18:

I was considering a choice of eight different cars.

Three Japs, two Germans, a Swedish, a French and a Brit.

Quite a mix. The only common aspects were:

  • I liked the aesthetics
  • Enough power for my regular motorway commute, without being excessively thirsty
  • Comfortable bucket/sports seats – which seemed far better for my back problems than standard cars

The contenders were:

  • Peugeot RCZ 1.6T 200
  • Nissan 350Z 3.0
  • Mazda MX-5 Mk3.5 2.0
  • Volvo C30 2.5
  • Mercedes SLK 1.8
  • BMW Z4 2.0
  • Toyota GT86
  • Jaguar XF 3.0D

Unfortunately the GT86 was ruled out almost immediately. I spent 15 minutes wrestingly with the seat controls in a Toyota showroom before giving up – I just couldn’t get comfortable. I didn’t even take it for a drive. Admittedly it was out of my budget too – but it’s probably one of my most desired cars at the moment, ever since I first saw one; and if it drives anything like the old Celica, I’ll love it.

But my poor back was protesting; I needed something more comfortable.

The Nissan 350Z next then. This was my second fave in terms of looks. But it was also the least practical – I wasn’t going to get a great amount of miles per gallon out of it’s 308bhp engine!

Still, I spotted a perfect example and managed to arrange a lengthly test drive. For a good 30 minutes or so the owner took me for an impressive test drive. It felt comfortable; my upper and lower back were nicely supported.

But when it came for me to take the wheel – disaster.

Somehow, in the drivers seat, the seating position meant that I was putting pressure on my injured coccyx (tailbone). It wasn’t even the ‘new’ or more recent back pain (which had stemmed from sitting poorly due to the original coccyx injury) but the more acute ‘pain in the arse’ (almost literally) original cause of all my back woes.

It wouldn’t do; I tried all sorts of seat combinations, but something about the overall seating position of the car meant that with my hands on the wheel and my feet on the pedal, my tailbone took too much of my weight and yelled out in protest.

I’d liked the car a lot; ok, I prefer the ‘kick’ of a turbo rather than a linear powertrain, but the three hundred odd horses on tap pretty much compensated for that. I even looked into the possibility of fitting different car seats in it, but realised that they it could be difficult and costsly, and there were no guarantees it would work.

I went back to the RCZ. I’d already had two test drives, and couldn’t quite make my mind up. It only had a 1.6 engine, but the turbo charged ‘standard’ version still packed 156bhp, and felt nice and nippy. The 200bhp version was even more fun. And it’s quirky looks and funky interior held my interest. But was it comfortable enough?? Maybe. It was more comfortable than the Leon… but it wasn’t as comfortable as my MX-5.

The main problem though was that I was having a image concious issue – I didn’t want a Peugeot! I didn’t want a French car!

My girlfriend suggested I try a Volvo C30. A Volvo?!? But they’re for old men!

Well… not really these days. Especially the C30. But then is it getting a bit too girly, or a bit too much of a Teenage Vampires car??

Volvo C30 - for Vampires only?
Volvo C30 – for Vampires only?

I figured it was worth a shot, and test drove a 2.5 turbo model.

I was impressed.

The seats were awesome; very supportive. The 220bhp engine pulled aggressively and eagerly. Handling – not bad. Not bad; but it felt a little heavy, a little ‘high’, somehow. It was trying to be sporty… but not quite making it.

Ultimately I decided that it wasn’t really the car ‘for me’, despite it being a damn good little car. I respected it.

Then I drove a Jaguar XF. Silly choice really, after deciding that the Volvo wasn’t sporty enough – the Jag is a huge beast! But I was tempted by it’s luxury – surely this would be a comfortable and practical car for the commute? And the 3.0 diesel boasted around 260bhp yet could still get around 40mpg – very tempting!

To get one in my price range though, I had to look at high mileage models. I found a beaut in a gold colour with 140,000 miles on the clock. Too many? Hmmm. The motor was a proven solid lump (Ford engine) so should be good for much more. I took it for a spin.

First point: they’re all autos. I much prefer a manual. Yet it has the flappy paddles to be able to downshift and have some fun when you require.

And fun I had. After being stuck in a traffic jam for 20 minutes, we finally got onto some back roads and let rip. She flew! Ok, there was the slight hesitation from both the huge diesel lump and the turbo, and the auto box – even with me manually flicking down with the paddles – but I could live with it. The growl from the engine was incredibly satisfying too.

What I couldn’t live with was it’s sheer weight & size, and the terror I felt going through the corners at speed.

Yes, it gripped well, but it still felt like a elephant on roller skates whizzing through a narrow canyon.

Perhaps I’d get used to it… as we worked our way back to the dealers, the traffic built up again, and I found myself getting irriated trying to squeeze it’s bulk through the narrow streets and gaps in the traffic.

Truth be told, I much prefer smaller cars.

And suprisingly, I wasn’t finding the seats very supportative – my back was aching after our 45 minute spin.

Another one ticked off the list.

What about an MX-5?

I didn’t mean another 20 year old MK1 – I was on my fifth and (hopefully) final! The gear ratio, small engine and thin soft top meant it wasn’t suitable for my lengthly motorway commute; too much loud high rev howling for a relaxing daily journey.

But what about a more modern version?

I’d hired and driven a MK3 when I’d taken the Transfagarsan Highway through the Romanian Transvaal mountains a few years before. I’d found it underpowered, as the MK3s are significantly heavily than the original MK1. I double checked though; it seemed I’d hired a 1.8 model, and there were 2.0 models available.

Would a newer, more powerful, more modern geared, improved softtop be suitable? I’d read that wind noise was much less.

Only one way to find out.

I found a suitable model at a dealers about 40 mins from home on a bright Saturday lunchtime and headed over, to be greeted by a rather lovely 20 something lass who took me out for a spin. Trying not to be distracted by her chatty flirtatiousness and shapely legging clad legs, I tried to concentrate on what could end up as Maggy the Sixth.

I loved it.

The seats were just as comfortable as it’s predecessors.

The engine was eager and compensated for it’s weight gain over it’s earlier brethern. It even made a nice noise.

The gears were better spaced… but…

Not enough. I hit 70mph and she was stil revving highly; not as much as my 20 year old beloved (and I’ve talking about Maggy now, not the hottie beside me) but it was still going to prove inefficient on a motorway run, and annoying – yes, the wind noise was reduced, but not so much.

If something happened to Maggy… and I had a sensible commuter car… then yes, I’d have one of these. But to have two MX-5s, even with their differences, wasn’t really the answer.

Six down (although I was still considering the RCZ at this stage), two left.

I found a suitable Mercedes SLK 200; the 1.8 supercharged model, in Derby. It was a 2008 model with the slight facelift and the improved 184bhp, up from 163. I.e. not particularly powerful compared to some cars I’d been looking at, but it was small and light.

What concerned me was it’s ‘German-ness’ – every German car I’d driven had lacked “soul”. I was also concerned by the thinness of its sports seats; the shape would be good for my particular back issues, but they might be too firm.

I slipped into the seats and felt like Cinderella’s foot must have felt slipping back into that lost glass shoe – it was the perfect fit.

I took her for a spin.

And soon had a huge grin planted all over my face!

It was so much fun. The little Merc was a German with a wild side! The handling was swift and responsive, the supercharged engine eager and nippy. Sure, it lacked grunt at the top end – but would suffice for the commute. The hard metal roof meant there was no road noise issues either.

The problem was, I didn’t want this car.

Well, not this particular one. It was way too much (14K – I was looking more at 10, 12 at a push) and the wrong colour.

So I started looking around…


The pre-face lift model was all I could afford. But it was nowhere near as pretty, and potentially underpowered.


Back to the drawing board?

No: one more option: The BMW Z4.

I found one very local to me, at a bargain price… 2.0 engine in a car that size… this had to be a go-er!!

My car history part 17: Back problems

So, I’d made my mind up to get rid of the practical, efficient diesel hatchback after only a few months of ownership.

It wasn’t quite as efficient as I’d hoped – particularly on the commute I was taking regularly, and I was finding the seats quite uncomfortable. It was starting to have a few age/mileage related issues too. And she was hardly a looker.

But I’d decided to not rush into it this time, and do my research.

The Peugeot RCZ had caught my eye. If I was willing to overlook the fact that it was French, then it seemed a very tempting choice – 44 or 42 mpg from a 156 or a 200bhp engine – rear seats (small, but many of my previous cars had zero back seats), decent boot space, and quite exotic looking.

I took one for a test drive, and liked it.

But did I like it enough?

I’ve driven too many cars for a 10 minute test drive, bought them, and then found annoying characteristics. I needed a long test drive.

I managed to get a 20 minute test drive. But this was the 156bhp model and think I preferred the 200bhp version; I needed to compare. But the nearest in the spec I liked was over a 100 miles away. And pricey.

I was also worried about my back.

I’d been having some problems due to an old back/coccyx injury, my long commute and the utterly useless office chairs at work. I’d started the ball rolling with the Health and Safety people who were supposed to be getting me a new chair, but the usual inefficient bureaucracy & red tape were causing delays and I still had a crappy chair, and my back was not very happy with me.

Hopping into my 20 year old MX-5, with it’s snug sporty seats, I was comfortable.

So perhaps sporty, bucket type seats helped my back more than the rather non descript seats in the Leon. The RCZ seats were rather sportier – but I wasn’t convinced that they were comfortable enough.

Perhaps there were some other options?

Over the next few weekends I test drove an additional seven different cars.

I’d decided that fuel efficiency and practicality weren’t the biggest factors after all, and added some less sensible cars back onto my ‘desired’ list. The cars I drove were:

  • Nissan 350Z 3.0
  • Mazda MX-5 Mk3.5 2.0
  • Volvo C30 2.5
  • Mercedes SLK 1.8
  • BMW Z4 2.0
  • Toyota GT86
  • Jaguar XF 3.0D

Yes indeed – 5 of those don’t have back seats and hardly met my new ‘sensible’ mindset to cars. But it’s incredibly rare that I need them; I’d borrow the girlfriends RAV4 if required.

Oh, and I took out another RCZ – just in case.

In truth, I didn’t test drive the GT86 in the end – I just sat in one. And unfortunately knew that it would be no good for my back.

Plus it was out of the price range!

Nissan 350Z - a sensible car option?
Nissan 350Z – a sensible car option?

Some only fit in the price range (£8-10K, £12K at a push) by having high mileage/older age.

So which one would I choose?

My car history part 16: Ooo la la

I’ve owned Leona, my ten year old Seat Leon 1.9TDi, for a couple of months now, and, perhaps predictably, I’m bored.

It was a good choice and more or less meets my requirements for a daily commuter, but I’ve decided to treat myself to something a little flasher.

I’d considered the Audi TT and A5; the Merc CLC or a Jag XF. I’d ruled out the Hyundai Coupe and the Honda CRZ. A GT86 would be great but I will have to be patient until the price drops somewhat.

One day, I was sat in Leona with my 6 year old daughter, waiting for her to finish the snack we’d just bought at the supermarket before setting off to visit a relative. A car pulled into the space in front of us.

I asked her what she thought of it.

Her response was simple: Buy it.

And I’m seriously tempted to take her advice.

There’s one problem…it’s French.

A Peugeot.

A true petrol head can’t own a Peugeot, can they?!?

But this is no ordinary Peugeot – it’s the stunning RCZ.

It’s sleek sexy lines and unique double bubble roof are captivating.

The Peugeot RCZ
The Peugeot RCZ

But did I mention it’s French?

And that it’s a Peugeot?

I’d already suffered with the unreliability and expensive servicing of the Peugeot 306 I had owned for three years. Did I want to go down that route again?

I started to do some research. No doubt the engine options were rubbish, and they were terribly unreliable.

I was suprised to find that this isn’t the case.

The engine options (aside from the top of range and expensive RCZ-R model) are a 2.0 litre diesel or a 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol engine in two different guises. Dismissing the diesel, I looked into the 1.6 petrol option – surely that would be too small and underpowered? My 306’s 1.6 engine only produced 90bhp.

But that was back in 1993, and it was a natural aspirated engine.

This turbo charged unit produces either 156bhp or 200bhp.


Assuming at the time that the 200bhp engine would be horribly inefficient – ‘better’ (sorry Peugeot) car makers typically struggling to better 35mpg with a 200bhp engine – I considered the 156bhp option. Would that be enough power?

The car is pretty light, and reading the official as well as owners reviews, it sounded sufficient – and promised an excellent 44mpg.

That’s about what I’m getting when driving the Leon, erm, ‘enthusiastically’.

So perhaps the 200bhp option wouldn’t be so bad… I guessed 36mpg.

The official combined figure is 42mpg.

That’s impressive. Go Peugeot!!

But how realistic is that claim?

I checked the owners reviews.

A Peugeot RCZ in grey
A Peugeot RCZ in grey

The more I read, the more I fell in love. The RCZ sounds perfect for me. It’s fast enough, makes a nice noise, is spacious (at the front – rear is for children only, which is fine), and is surprisingly efficient.

Some people were only getting 32mpg, but they weren’t even trying. I read that most people doing regular ‘motorway speeds’ were getting around 40mpg, which I’d be very happy with for a 200bhp petrol engine. Revs at 85mph in sixth gear were reported to be 2,500rpm – that’s the same that Leona achieves at that speed (apparently, of course), and that’s a low revving diesel. So it’s comfortable & quiet & economical at those speeds.


Hang on hang on hang on.

I’ve been down this road before.

I always buy a car and then get bored or realise it’s not suitable in some way or another after 2 or 3 months.

Won’t this be the same?

Well, in this case, I won’t rush into it. I can’t – I don’t have the money to.

So I will take my time and read more information, check out potential problems etc, and try and go for a test drive in one.

And so what if it’s a Peugeot? It’s a RCZ. It’s still special.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t have special needs, like most of my previous car choices.

My car history part 15: What next?

Leona and I aren’t getting along as well as I had hoped.

Don’t get me wrong – the Leon is an excellent car and the reasons I bought her for were all good, and the criteria has more or less been met.

Let’s recap those points.

  • Sensible – yes, spacious hatchback, storage cubbies, drinks holder etc
  • Fuel efficient – yes, the 1.9TDi VAG engine is probably the best diesel in that price bracket
  • Reasonable power – yes, 150bhp is plenty to safely overtake, convenient for motorway miles
Leona (Seat Leon) and Maggy (MX-5)
Leona (Seat Leon) and Maggy (MX-5)

Yet strangely enough, I’m not comfortable in her – I’ve been struggling with back ache. Ok, the back ache was due to sitting / sleeping in awkward positions on a couple of long haul flights, and having an awful new office chair – but Leona wasn’t helping. I decided to use the MX-5 one day, and despite the small cabin, and the fact that the aftermarket cup holder (there isn’t one as standard) is inconveniently placed so that for the first 20 minutes of my morning commute I’m having to change gear in a very awkward manner to avoid knocking over my coffee cup, my back was actually happy for the first time in days.

Perhaps all these years of driving daft sports cars has moulded my back so that I’m more comfortable in a sports/low coupe type car?

As it was, I had the seat set low in the Leon for that ‘sportier’ feel. However, it wasn’t very comfortable – it felt like even though I was fairly close to the wheel and had a good arm reach, my left leg had to travel a long distance to fully engage the clutch; and returned to it’s rest position was bent up too much. I even started getting pins and needles in my right leg!

However, I’ve found that a lot of adjustment can be made to the seat, especially with the height. Bringing the seat up to almost maximum height has more or less resolved the clutch pedal issue and I’m no longer getting pins and needles in my other leg. But the higher seating position is less ‘fun’, and I’m still not as comfortable as I’d like to be.

Moving onto fuel efficiency… well, it seems I can get 54mpg… but OMG I have to drive like an old aged pensioner to achieve it. I tried it for a week but the depression I suffered wasn’t worth it.

Driving ‘realistically’, and trying to change gear as soon as I can without spoiling all of my fun, and at prolonged speeds of – well, let’s say, ‘typical UK motorway speeds’, then we’re looking at somewhere around 45mpg, max 50mpg.

That’s not bad – but not quite as good as I’d hoped.

Because, moving onto the third point, power: is the mpg figure good enough to justify having a less powerful (than cars I normally have) diesel (when I prefer petrol)?

Possibly. But I started having a look at other options out there… just in case.

The conclusion I came to previously, and that I’m still arriving at, is that the 1.9TDi diesel engine still is the best you can buy for the money, in terms of power vs efficiency. The diesels that came in after 2005 to meet new legislations are less efficient (although admittedly more environmentally friendly) and prone to problems. The latest diesels are excellent, but out of my price range.

Or are they?

I’ve decided that having a 10 year old car – and one that was out of date for its year anyway (it having been around 4 or 5 years and the new shape having come in the year later) – as my daily commute is fine – but not as pleasurable as I’d like.

Loving cars as much as I do, I feel that I’d like something that bit ‘nicer’.

I’d set my budget for the Leon at 3 to 4 grand, and had purchased Leona bang in the middle at £3500.

Looking at the market and what options are available, I’ve decided to save up over the next few months and treat myself to something in the £10,000 price range early next year.

Is that enough to buy me one of these ultra efficient, powerful, diesel cars?

Sadly, no.

But it does open up the option of some newer petrol engines which offer a reasonable amount of performance for the ‘claimed’ MPG figures.

Besides, I’d prefer a petrol engine – I’ve had two diesels now, and the big heavy rumbly lumps aren’t winning me over… yet. I’m very interested to see how Jaguar’s new XE with it’s lightweight aluminium body and lightweight Ingenium engines fair… but it will be some time until they are affordable to me!

So… what cars do I like? What meets my criteria?

I’m thinking a smart/sporty looking coupe, with a spacious yet sporty, low seated cabin, with hatchback/decent boot practicality.

Something with between 150 and 200bhp, probably a 1.8 or 2.0 turbocharged petrol engine?

Hyundai Coupe S3
Hyundai Coupe S3

I’ve always liked the third generation Hyundai Coupe, the S3. I owned a first generation model – it was a tad unrefined, but fun. I looked into the S3, but was disapointed with the engine range – you either have a lacklustre unit that’s also not particularly efficient, or an over the top V6 that drinks petrol like my best friend drinks beer (far too quickly).

How about the Honda CRZ? That’s an ultra funky looking thing… and I like to be different. But it’s way too underpowered for my liking.

A Beetle? Too cute.

A Mini? Too – well, not too small – mini’s these days are pretty large – and I did used to quite like them. But for some reason, they just don’t appeal to me any longer. I guess they’ve become a bit too popular.

An Audi TT? Ah… now we’re talking. Nice lines, a bit different looking, comfortable cosy and sporty cabin… there’s even a diesel option. But I’ve ruled that out… it’s the same 2.0 unit my brother experienced numerous problems with in his A4, and not really to my liking either. But the 2.0 petrol unit looks pretty good – claimed combined figures of 34 mpg – is that good enough??

Not sure… would have to check the ‘real world’ figures – and it’s motorway cruising efficiency.

I actually raised an interesting question on pistonhead regarding reduced fuel efficiency at higher speeds, and the effect of drag – worth a read at Cars economy.

Besides, the TT’s are a little common… and ‘hairdresser’ ish. Although can I actually say that, when I love MX-5s so much and I’m on my fifth??

Moving swiftly onwards…

Audi A5? I loved these when they first came out. I still like them. There’s a 2.0l petrol option with reasonable economy I’d consider. I love the amber/terracotta leather they do in one model… but otherwise the interior is a tad dull. Would an A5 be ‘interesting’ enough for me?

I considered the more luxurious options… how about a Lexus? Nothing takes my fancy. A Merc? The CLC is quite nice… more sporty than most Mercs. The problem I’d found before is that most Mercs are autos, and I prefer a manual gearbox. However, the CLC does come in a manual version. There’s a good range of engines, with power and MPG figures in the acceptable ball park… should I get a Merc?

Quite possibly. But how about a Jag? I’d love to own a Jaaaaag (the way Jeremy Clarkson pronounces it). The XF is a lovely looking car – although I prefer the facelifted front end version, and that’s out of my price range. The other issue is the engine options; realistically the only desirable option for me is the 3 litre diesel. This is one time I’d consider a diesel again – 240bhp and 42mpg? Sounds great! The other issue though with the XF is that’s its an auto only car.

So a diesel, and an auto? Not really my cuppa tea, luv.

There’s something about the XF though, something unshakable. Perhaps I should test drive one, just to be sure.

Desirable... the car's not bad, either (GT86)
Desirable… the car’s not bad, either

What about my good old friend Toyota? I’ve already had a Celica – and they’re too outdated now… it’s replacement is the GT86. I would love a GT86… that’s right up my street. But they are still too new, and expensive. I will have to wait a few more years.

Then I found a car I would never had considered before…

How to save on car insurance (and bike insurance)

Car insurance is one of the biggest headaches for many motorists, but through the years I’ve learned a few useful money saving tips I’d like to share.

My first car cost as much to insure as it did to buy: about £350. This was back in 1995 as a 17 year old lad for a 1980 1 litre Austin Metro. It’s worse though for the youth of today; we’re talking one to two grand in insurance for a similar modern equivalent depending on various factors.

One solution for younger drives is to not insure themselves, but be named on their parents policy. To do this though, it really needs to be your parents car and not your own, the theory being you’re not the main driver, and hence the insurance cost is reduced as the risk is then reduced – the younger driver considered to be only using the car on an occasional basis.

Another problem with this though is that you don’t build up any no claims bonus (although the fact that you’ve driven on someone elses policy/another car is usually taken into account when you come to insure yourself in later years).

On the flip side, it may be worth adding a parent to the young drivers insurance policy: the risk is lowered (and hence the cost) because it is considered that the more experienced driver is driving the car a portion of the time, and the younger driver less so.

This isn’t also a good approach for younger drivers, but those that have expensive insurance for other reasons such as: having only lived in the UK for a short time, older but new/less experienced drivers, those with points/criminal records etc.

For example, my girlfriend was able to reduce her insurance cost by about 30% by adding me as a second driver. It would have been even cheaper if the car had been fully insured in my name and she was added as the second driver, but as she is indeed the main driver, this could be taken as fraud! Besides, I already had two other vehicles so splitting no claims cost issues arose, and she also wanted to build up her own NCB (No Claims Bonus) so that future insurance for her would be cheaper.

Younger drivers should also look around for insurance companies specifically tailored to new drivers; there are a few companies that offer reduced price policies. The larger ‘household name’ insurance companies have to cover a larger range of drivers and therefore price younger ‘higher risk’ drivers higher.

Similarly, if you are an older driver, look around for insurance companies specifically tailored to more experience drivers, such as Saga Car Insurance.

Many factors other than age and driving years experience influence insurance costs. Your geographical location, or where the car is kept overnight or during your working day is taken into account too. If you live in a ‘dodgy’ area then parking your car on the road can increase the insurance costs; if you have a driveway, or even better, a garage, this can help significantly. Similarly consider you work parking situation: if you are parked in a secure office car park it’s going to be better than city centre or even residential street parking.

Then there’s the number of miles you do per year. Typical commuters may do 10,000 to 20,000 miles per year. Usually if you specify your estimated mileage around these figures then no-one queries this; but if you know you will do less than 10,000 miles, look around for insurers that take this into consideration; you can save yourself quite a lot with some policies. For example, Adrian Flux and some other ‘specialist’ insurance brokers consider that a ‘cherished’ car may be something you are driving much less often and taking more care of. I’ve saved money for many years by insuring a second car under Adrian Flux’s ‘cherished’ policy with a limited mileage policy. It’s still insured for use to commute to work; but the theory is that I will be using the other vehicle as the daily commute the majority of the time, and the second car is more for weekends/casual use.

Beware though: they do check that you aren’t exceeding the mileage limitation. I had one car with a limit of 5000 miles when my work situation meant I did around 12,000 miles per year; the second car was set at 10,000 miles per year so I just kept an eye on the odometer and ensured I didn’t exceed the limit.

Points on your license will of course increase your insurance costs; all I can say is try to avoid getting these in the first place!

NCB built up over the years also considerably reduces your insurance price. They say that even one years NCB can reduce your premium by up to 30%, and four or five years can reduce the cost of insurance by even 60%. You can also pay a premium to protect your NCB. This may or may not be worth it, depending on the amount of the premium and the likelihood you may need to make a claim. Are you naturally clumsy/lack coordination/have already had a few scrapes? If you’ve been driving a few years without an accident then you may decide to take the ‘risk’ of not protecting your NCB, it may actually pay off over the years.

Deciding what to cover and not to cover is always a gamble with insurance, of any kind. It may or not pay off. The same goes for excesses. Insurers usually insist on a compulsory excess charge in the case of a claim, but offer you an voluntary excess figure in addition. Keeping this low means your annual insurance will be higher; if you are likely to make a claim then it may be worth doing so; especially if you make multiple claims in a year. Setting a higher excess means your annual insurance will be reduced; but if you do have to make a claim then you’ll be forking out more later.

Again, it’s a gamble.

Always try and pay your insurance annually rather than monthly; the percentage charge added by paying monthly can be significant. Put aside a little each month ready for next years insurance.

Many insurance companies now offer multi-car policies. The idea usually is that most households have more than one vehicle, so the insurance brokers offer you a discount for insuring both with them. This normally works by splitting the NCB across the cars.

For me this has allowed me to own multiple cars; I’ve regularly had two cars; a two seater for weekend fun, and the other for the daily commute/family practicality – I’ve had three cars at once several times and even four at one stage, although that was more to do with mechanical problems and struggling to sell one or two cars!

Always use the online comparison sites, such as comparethemarket, moneysupermarket and gocompare – even if it’s just to get an idea. Never just renew with who you are currently insured without looking about first; often loyalty is NOT rewarded and the premium is sneakily put up without a reason!

Note that the comparison sites often make ‘assumptions’ about the car and may not be suitable for modified or imported vehicles.

Check the comparison sites and ring your current insurer and let them know what you’ve found. You should at least be able to get 10% off, but they might still be more costly than what you’ve found online. Once I found the company I was currently insured with quoting online significantly less than the renewal price I’d been mailed. I rang them up and they said that they couldn’t match it over the phone; I was best cancelling and renewing it with them through the comparison site! As it was I found another company even cheaper…

Another point to note is; don’t always buy it via the comparison site. As I said, it’s a good starting point… it may however been worth contacting the top / best priced insurers individually. If you do this online, they’ll likely come out at the same price… which is fine, as you can then use TopCashBack.

I’ve been using TopCashBack for years and it has literally saved me over a thousand pounds. The idea is that you sign up with them, search for the company you wish to purchase a product though (they have many but of course not everyone), click via the link to go to that companies site, and if you make a purchase, you receive cash back.

This can be as little at 0.5% and up to 50%. I’ve used them to save on hotel bookings (normally around 5-12%), new phone contracts (had about £80 cashback once) and utilities (think I got over a £100 for switching energy suppliers on one occasion); but they are also excellent for car (and other) insurance policies. I recently had a Ducati 749s bike insured with one company for about £600. I downgraded to a Ninja 250 with only a month of my policy left, so there was no charge/refund. I then got a letter from them quoting a renewal price of £180. Great, I thought, that’s much cheaper. But before renewing I went online and used the comparison sites… and found several policies for around £85.

I then visited TopCashBack and searched for those cheaper insurance brokers, and found one of them was offering £20 cashback.

So I was able to reduce my insurance renewal from £180 to only £65!

You can join TopCashBack by clicking here.

Another cashback company worth checking out is Quidco.

If you try and insure an imported or modified car you may also find that the ‘usual’ insurance companies will charge a premium. It’s worth looking around for companies that specialise in cars of this type. I’ve already mentioned Adrian Flux for their ‘cherished’ car insurance – they split the NCB across multiple cars too; companies such as Brentacre, A-Plan and Carole Nash are good for imports and modified car insurance.

Some companies charge an addition premium for each modification a car has. This can be extremely costly for a heavily modified vehicle. Brentacre insurance simply classes the car as ‘modified’ and then calculates the premium based on the power (BHP) of the vehicle instead. This enabled me to insure an imported and modified car for only £600 when everyone else had quoted well over a grand.

Car forums are a great source of information for car insurance. If you are planning on getting a particular car for which you have had high insurance quotes from your current insurer/the household insurers, register on a forum specific to that vehicle and have a look at what people are recommending, and make a post if necessary, specifying your particular criteria/issues – you never know, someone else may be in exactly the same boat and be able to help you save money.

Another point to note is whether it’s actually worth claiming in the event of an accident. Not only do you risk any no claims bonus you may have accrued, excess charges can make it not worth the cost. It may just be cheaper to get it fixed yourself, or if it’s minor, just leave the damage alone. Even if you have protected NCB, the fact that you have made a claim is on record and you need to state the fact when looking for new insurance in years to come – and that fact is factored in; you are now higher risk!

A frustrating point too is that if someone crashes into you, and it’s clearly their fault – and any damage/injury is settled through the insurance, that too is on record. No matter that it wasn’t your fault – someone, you are now classed as a higher risk, and your insurance costs will go up. Statistically, someone that has been involved in an accident, regardless of fault, is more likely to have another accident in the future, than someone that hasn’t.

So if damage is light and there are no injuries, it may even be worth settling personally.

I’m not a car insurer or solicitor though so always take legal advice if unsure!

A final tip: keep your distance. That rule has saved me so many times. Not only from my own occasional lapse of concentration and having spared myself some room to brake or manoeuvre in, but from others behind me that haven’t seen me brake/slow down; I’ve been able to move forwards more or out of the way to avoid them driving into the back of me.

Happy motoring all 🙂



My car history part 14: From Lotus to… Skoda?

At the end of August I finally managed to sell the RX-7.

Even after it’s engine rebuild, it hadn’t been quite right. It had scraped through the MOT with many advisories. I decided to be honest about it’s problems and re-advertised it at a lower price, listing the issues. I had a a lot of interest; over a couple of weeks, I probably had about fifteen people contact me.

Only a couple came to see it.

The first guy found several more problems and walked away.

The second person found even more… but was a great guy, and even fixed one problem for me!

In the end, a company specialising in selling RX-7s came to have a look.

And guess what?

They found even more problems.

I was offered a low amount for them to take her away, fix her up, and sell on.

My insurance was about to run out, my adverts had expired, nobody else seemed to have the cash or were trying to sell their cars first, I didn’t want to use it for the work commute as it was too thirsty and I was worried I would make it’s problems worse, and even though I absolutely loved the MX-5, Maggy the 5th, it wasn’t the ideal car for doing a 50+ mile to work and back again down motorways slog…

I took the low offer.

But what to replace it with?

In my last post, I decided to finally be sensible, and get the efficient, diesel hatchback I should have bought on many, many occasions.

I’d done some research.

  • Diesels from before about 1998 were loud, smokey, and slow.
  • Diesels between 98/99 and 2005 were a bit more refined, efficient, and although there were some slow ones, it seemed there were plenty of nippy ones that were still efficient – some offering 130 or 150 BHP yet still getting over 50mpg, some even up to 65mpg.
  • Diesels between 2005 and around 2010 didn’t seem as good; new emissions laws meant a slight drop in power, as well as efficiently – the 130 BHP ones getting more like 45mpg. New technologies had to bought into play quickly and resulted in a few technical flaws; people were suffering from injector or DPF (Diesel Particle Filter) issues.
  • Modern diesels, in the last 3 or 4 years, were incredibly efficient, and powerful. Yet they were too new; too expensive, and problems along the line yet unknown.

So a diesel from the early noughties sounded good to me.

I’d started off looking at the BMW 1 series and Audi A3. In the price range I was considering, it would have to be a 109 BHP BMW
118d. Would it be powerful enough for me?

I took one for a test drive. It was fine; but nothing exciting.

I then tried a slightly newer 2.0 A3. That pulled beautifully; but was a bit pricier, and I realised it had a DPF, and other known (expensive) issues.

I considered a BMW 3 series from that era. But I’d had one before – albeit a 3 litre petrol model – and that had been a bit dull. Plus checking the ‘real world’ MPG figures seemed to suggest I’d only get around 45mpg.

What I found was the VAG (Volkswagen Audi Group) engines of that age seemed to be superior; in particular, the 1.9TDi.

This was featured in a wide range of cars. One of the best seemed to be the Audi A4 ‘B5’. I spoke to an old work friend, who had owned a 2002 model. Supposedly the 130 BHP model he had owned achieved more MPG that the official figures – very rare – and had said that even ‘ragging it’ would be able to get over 50mpg, and he could achieve 55mpg without any major effort. It was also supposedly somewhat underrated at 130 BHP, and in reality was producing closer to 150 BHP…

I was very interested.

But I’ve always preferred hatchbacks over saloons.

So why not the A3 1.9TDi?

Real world MPG figures seem to be much lower. As far as I can ascertain, the engine isn’t exactly the same, and it’s mounted in a
different way. A cars gearing, weight, wheel size, aerodynamics and all sorts of other factors come into play regarding fuel efficiency.

So which other VAG cars were there out there with more or less the same engine, with good MPG reports?

There was the VW Golf – but it seemed most models were the dull 90 or 110 BHP models; and they were relatively expensive, compared to the A4.

Then there’s the VW Passat, Bora or Jetta – all pretty good – but not quite as ‘pretty’ as the A4.

Or there’s the Skoda – the Octavia is actually not a bad looking car.

A 130 BHP early noughties Skoda Octavia 1.9TDi could be purchased at a very reasonable price, and would be very efficient, yet nippy enough.

Hang on.

I used to drive a Lotus Elise.

Am I going to really buy a Skoda?

The old Jasper Carrott joke sprang to mind.

Two policemen are manning a speed trap. A Skoda goes past… one of the officers says to the other:

‘Sarge I’ve got his number……his chassis number’

From a Lotus Elise...
From a Lotus Elise…
... to a Skoda?
… to a Skoda?

At the end of the day though, it’s just a badge.  Skoda’s have come a long way since those days. The VAG cars are more or less the same: why be embarrassed about driving a Skoda Octavia when it’s practically the same car as an Audi A4 or Volkswagen Passat?

I did have to admit to myself though, that if I could help it, I’d rather not buy a Skoda… and to honest, I prefered the look of the A4.

I went to look at a beautiful looking example in a dark grey in Derby – it had been sold before I got there. On the way home, I went for a look
at one in Risley, but I wasn’t sure about the colour – a very dark blue. I was also less impressed with the condition of the car; although it had only had one owner, and was the same age as the previous grey car in Derby (2002), it looked rather tatty. Still, I took it out for a test drive and was very pleased – yes, I could happily buy one of these.

So I bought a Seat Leon 1.9TDi FR 150.


Well, it seemed that the real world MPG figures were even better for the Leon – even owners of the sportier FR / Cupra model with 150BHP were reporting over 50mpg with normal driving, and some claiming to even get 65mpg. It didn’t seem to make much difference having the lower powered 130BHP model.

It’s lighter than the Audi, and had the practical hatchback. I wasn’t 100% sure about the looks though, and had been determined
to take a closer look at one and have a test drive – but just couldn’t find any locally.

In the end, I’d sold the RX-7 on the Wednesday and wanted a replacement ASAP, so set out to Seat town of the UK – Peterborough.

At least it seemed that way; there were five or six on sale there, and none in Nottinghamshire. Three in particular took my fancy, and I decided that if I didn’t like the way they looked or drove in comparison to the A4, that I would then head towards Leicester where there was a couple of good examples of the Audi.

I loved the first Seat Leon I checked; I had a great test drive and was very impressed with the performance: how could a car this nippy get 50-65mpg?! I wasn’t so keen on it in silver though and although the advert said that it had the service history, the dealer told he was still ‘waiting for it from the previous owner’. Hmmm.

Next one – a lovely example in black. The dealer was useless though and the car stank of cigarette smoke, so I moved onto the next.

And bought it!

Leona (Seat Leon) joins Maggy and Mimi
Leona (Seat Leon) joins Maggy and Mimi

Leona has now joined Maggy and Mimi on my ever changing driveway. I’m hoping though now that there will be a period of stability:
the girlfriend loves her car, Maggy will always remain, and, so far, Leona is delivering. I’ve finally managed to find an efficient and practical diesel hatchback that’s also great fun to drive. I’m just hoping now that she delivers on the fuel performance… I’ve only driven back from Peterborough to Nottingham in her so far, so haven’t made any measurements. But at a ‘nice’ motorway speed, the extra sixth gear meant that she was quiet and pleasantly ambling along at only a couple of thousand RPM… as opposed to Maggy at that speed in fifth gear howling her socks off at almost 6000rpm…!

So let’s hope this is the final part of the story… at least, for a couple of months 😉


My car history part 13: Bikes, planes and automobiles

In summer 2014 I replaced the excessive and untrusted Italian bitch, my Ducati 749s, with a smaller yet beautifully sculptured, Kawasaki Ninja 250R.

'Nikita' - my Kawasaki Ninja 250R
‘Nikita’ – my Kawasaki Ninja 250R

What a lovely bike! It’s so light to handle, I feel as if I could chuck it over my shoulder. The Duc had been a swine to get out of the garage, and I was always afraid to drop her (again).

I had been worried that a downgrade from a 750cc superbike to a 250cc bike would be a huge disappointment, but I’m actually very happy with the Ninja. It’s a more modern bike; no faffing with a choke, and she starts every time, unlike the troublesome ‘Daisy’ (Daisy Duke). She’s much lighter and accelerates well enough for my needs and gets up to 95mph – erm – that’s plenty, thanks!

I’m now enjoying biking again for the first time in a year. The Ninja seems to go around corners much better too; I’m not having to overthink this counter steering concept; I just look where I’m going and go there! On the Ducati it seemed it would never turn in time… admittedly it’s not a bike for beginners!

The current line up: MX-5, RX-7 and RAV4
The current line up: MX-5, RX-7 and RAV4

Car wise, the other half’s Lexus RX300 has been sold to friends, so it’s nice to see it in good hands, and after test driving a few replacement RAV4s, found the perfect one: ‘Mimi‘, pictured to the right of Maggy and Becks. The latter, the RX-7, is back and up for sale and several people are interested. I’m current using my beloved MX-5 BBR turbo, Maggy, for my commute to work.

We managed to do an excellent trade in of the Scirocco for the RAV4, the plan now being to sell the RX-7 and buy a fuel efficient diesel for the long commute.

So that would be:

  • RAV4 – for the girlfriends job
  • MX-5 BBR turbo – for fun – and I will never get rid of this car!
  • Ninja 250R for weekends and convenience
  • Sensible car for my commute

I’ve finally become sensible.

No more silly 20 year old supercars.

Have I become too sensible and boring?? Will I stop wasting money on motorised contraptions??

Well… we did go for a flying lesson the other week.


And it turns out that you can buy a two seater for only 10 grand… 😉

Next part of the story: From Lotus to… Skoda?