UK auto news

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Be a star in a reasonably priced car with the Top Gear Track Experience

08/01/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Videos, UK, TV/Movies

Kia Cee'd on the Top Gear Test Track

You're at the Dunsfold Aerodrome - more popularly known as the Top Gear test track - behind the wheel of a Kia Cee'd. You've got raw talent and know the lines because The Stig just showed them to you. So you cross the finish line in record time, knocking all the other celebrities off the top of the leaderboard. But you're not a celebrity, and nobody's interested in how fast you can drive a reasonably priced car. So you open your eyes and realize it was all a dream. Only it doesn't have to be.

That's because the BBC is cashing in once again on the popularity of its hit car show and inviting members of the paying public to play "our guest tonight" in Surrey, UK. With the Top Gear Track Experience, you get to drive the cee-apostrophe-dee around Dunsfold and take hot laps with The Stig himself. There's even an off-road course for drivers both young and old. All of which sounds rather compelling, if only we lived in the UK and had the £99 and an afternoon to spend.

The program reportedly opens on August 27, with availability depending on the filming schedule.

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UK police move to seize mobile phones after all accidents

07/29/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Government/Legal, Police/Emergency, UK

Drivers Face Added Penalties Using Mobile Phones

There's little question that driving while holding your phone is incredibly dangerous. In the UK alone, some 500 people are estimated to be seriously injured or killed each year because of car and truck drivers using their phones behind the wheel - a staggering figure that is leading British authorities to take controversial action.

The UK's Association of Chief Police Officers has issued guidelines to law enforcement officials to confiscate the phones of anyone involved in a traffic accident so that police can determine if they were using their mobile devices when the accident took place. If a driver is found to have been using his or her phone and caused a serious crash, that driver could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.

While the police are determined to crack down on phone use behind the wheel, others are justifiably worried about where the measure could lead. "I am 100-percent against anyone texting while drive," Hugh Bladon of the Alliance of British Drivers said to Visordown, "But I'm worried police could overdo it, just because someone is involved in a minor shunt, surely it shouldn't mean they should lose their phone." Imagine having someone hit your car, then having the police confiscating your phone, leaving you with no way to get home, and you can see what Bladon is on about. Beyond the inconvenience, there's also further privacy concerns - will UK authorities have the right to search the rest of your phone, including emails and text messages?

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Ford Fiesta becomes UK all-time best seller

07/25/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Car Buying, Economy, Hatchbacks, Ford, UK

Ford Fiesta in London

We may regard Ford as an American automaker, but ask a Brit and they may tell you otherwise. The Blue Oval has, after all, been selling cars in the UK since 1903, and started manufacturing there as far back as 1911 when it began local production of the Model T in Manchester. Last year Ford ended 100 years of vehicle manufacturing in the UK when the last Transit van rolled off the assembly line in Southampton, but it's still the biggest-selling automotive marque in Britain.

Ford has led the British market for 34 out of the past 45 years, selling more Fiestas than any other company sells any other car in the UK since 2009... when it overtook the Focus. In fact the Fiesta has now become the best-selling car in British history, topping 4,115,000 units since its introduction in 1976. The previous record was held by - you guessed it - another Ford: the Escort sold 4,105,961 units over the course of its 32 years on the British market.

Although the Fiesta is no longer manufactured in the UK (previous versions having been built at Dagenham until 2002), engines are: the EcoBoost line was developed at the company's R&D center in Essex and are built at the factory in Dunton, while its diesel engines were developed at Dagenham in East London. Even the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine in the Fiesta ST is built in South Wales.

Continue reading Ford Fiesta becomes UK all-time best seller

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Jaguar Land Rover puts the freeze on wounded soldier-athletes [w/video]

07/22/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Videos, Jaguar, Land Rover, UK

Invictus Games Training Jaguar Land Rover Gaydon

For athletes, the cold is often a powerful ally in treating injures, with RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) a popular means of treating muscle pulls, bruising and other common forms of discomfort. Did you know, though, that frosty temps are also popular tools for simply recovering from a rough training session?

Well, we're guessing Jaguar Land Rover knew that, as the British company was kind enough to loan out its climactic testing chamber to Jaco van Gass and Luke Darlington, a pair of veterans wounded in their service to Queen and Country. Van Gass, a former private in the Royal Army, and Darlington, a Royal Marine, are attempting to earn a spot on the British Armed Forces cycling team for the upcoming Invictus Games.

The Games, inspired by the Warrior Games held in the United States, are a sporting competition reserved for injured servicemen and women, either active duty or veterans, and is slated to take place from September 10 to 14 in London's former Olympic venues. Van Gass lost his left arm below the elbow after getting hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (he also suffered from a collapsed lung, punctured internal organs, severe shrapnel and blast wounds, a broken tibia and a fractured knee). Darlington, meanwhile, suffered a traumatic brain injury during action in Afghanistan, and he now suffers from weakness in his right side and cognitive issues.

As for why a pair of cyclists opted to take the military lingo "stay frosty," to its literal extreme, it's all because of cryotherapy. As explained in the video, full-body cryotherapy is an increasingly popular form of recovery training for professional athletes, as it forces the body to saturate the blood with powerful (and natural) endorphins, which can alleviate the stress and strain from training. That means quicker recovery times and, consequently, more training for athletes like van Gass and Darlington.

Scroll down to see the pair in action, as they prepare for the 2014 Invictus Games.

Continue reading Jaguar Land Rover puts the freeze on wounded soldier-athletes [w/video]

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UK woman has failed driver's test 110 times at a cost of over $5,000

07/19/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Government/Legal, UK

Reflections

In America, a driver's test seems almost like a formality. Can you park? Can you parallel park? Can you navigate down a road without hitting/killing any other cars, people, animals, houses, buildings, street signs or yourself? Yes, yes and yes? Congratulations, you're licensed to drive. Things are more difficult in the United Kingdom, it seems.

According to the UK Department of Transport, the average pass rate for both the theory and practical tests in the first three months of 2014 was barely half. While that's a discouraging stat, it hasn't put off a 28-year-old woman from the UK, who has sat through the practical portion of the test 110 times. At a cost of 31 pounds (about $53 at today's rates), she's shelled out over 3,000 pounds ($5,120), according to The London Evening Standard.

Now, we're not at all advocating that driving tests should be made easier. But after spending a pretty substantial amount of money, at what point should the UK driving authorities just waive the fees and let her try and sit the test again?

It's unclear if the anonymous woman, who happens to live in London and has a vast public transit network at her disposal, has passed the practical portion of the driver's test. She is, however, easily the record holder for most attempts at the written portion, with the next closest challenger at 86 attempts (he also hasn't passed).

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Williams opens new Advanced Engineering facility for road-car projects

07/14/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Motorsports, Plants/Manufacturing, UK

Williams Advanced Engineering

Formula One facilities seem to have a habit of expanding into road-car factories and development centers. In Maranello, the Ferrari factory grew out of the Scuderia's operation. In Woking, the McLaren Production Centre sprung up alongside the existing McLaren Technology Centre that houses the F1 team. And now Williams Grand Prix Engineering has inaugurated the new Williams Advanced Engineering facility in Grove, Oxfordshire, UK.

Although Williams may not produce any road cars under its own name, it has helped in the development of numerous projects for the road and track for other automakers. It famously collaborated on the Clio Williams that was one of Renault's earliest hot hatches. It helped Jaguar develop the (lamentably aborted) C-X75 hybrid supercar. It was a key partner in Porsche's 911 GT3 R Hybrid racer, has helped Nissan hone the GT-R and developed the batteries for the new Formula E single seater.

It's those kinds of projects that it will be working on at its new facility. The complex is the result of a $1.37-million investment, covers over 40,000 square feet, is designed to accommodate as many as 250 engineers and was opened on Friday by British Prime Minister David Cameron. It's designed to help Williams transfer its Formula One know-how - which is considerable with seven drivers' championships, nine constructors' titles and 114 grand prix victories under its belt - to the road in the areas of hybrid propulsion, vehicle dynamics, lightweight construction and advanced aerodynamics.

Although the Williams consultancy doesn't often divulge details of what it's working on for its paying clients, it has confirmed that it's "collaborating with Nissan on its high performance Nismo products," the results of which we're looking forward to seeing on the road in the coming years. Scope out all the details in the press release below.

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Top Gear in hot water after staging crash at scene of fatal accident

07/13/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: UK, Celebrities, TV/Movies

National Television Awards - Winners Boards

The guys from UK's Top Gear just can't seem to stay out of trouble, especially main host Jeremy Clarkson. Usually, it's the things that come out of their mouths that cause controversy, like the two recent accusations of using racing slurs. However, the show's latest problem came not from what was said but from where they were shooting and how.

According to the Daily Mail, Clarkson and James May were recently shooting a segment for the next season of the show in Charlbury, Oxfordshire, England. The filming involved the two of them crashing Peugeots that they were driving. May's car ended up in the ditch and Clarkson's in a field - hardly groundbreaking for Top Gear. The controversy arose because a woman died in 2010 in a head-on collision nearby on the same road, and while also driving a Peugeot.

The Daily Mail admitted that the choice of location was likely unintentional, and spokespeople for the show haven't commented on the incident. However, local politicians called the situation "reckless and insensitive." With the BBC already giving Clarkson his last warning to watch what he says, any added controversy for the show comes at a bad time.

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2014 Volkswagen Amarok Canyon

07/11/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Trucks/Pickups, Euro, Volkswagen, UK, Quick Spin

2014 Volkswagen Amarok Canyon

There are those European automakers that compete in the North American market and those which don't. Volkswagen, for its part, may stand firmly in the former category, but there are still entire model lines that remain out of reach for American buyers: diminutive hatchbacks like the Up! and the Polo, of course, but also entire brands like Seat and Skoda which (unlike Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini) aren't offered Stateside altogether. But there's another brand within the Volkswagen Group whose products don't, in Wolfsburg's estimation, warrant shipping to the United States - one that would be all too easy to forget. And that's Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.

Though its products wear the familiar VW emblem, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles stands essentially as another brand within Europe's largest and most successful auto group. It mostly produces vans like the Caddy, Transporter, Crafter and Caravelle, but is also responsible for the only pickup truck built in Germany: the Volkswagen Amarok. Like its van stablemates, the Amarok isn't offered in North America, so we crossed the pond to drive it for ourselves (and, of course, for you) to see what we were missing out on.

  • Previewed by the Robust concept back in 2008, the Amarok has been on the market (certain markets, anyway) since 2010. Assembled both in Argentina and in Hannover, Germany, the Amarok is similar in form to other short-bed, four-door pickups like the Mitsubishi Triton (similarly not available in America) and the Honda Ridgeline.
  • The version we drove on both paved and off-road sections of the Milbrook Proving Ground in the UK was the Amarok Canyon, a special edition that's based on the mid-spec Trendline (not on the base Startline or top-spec Highline) but upgrades with more bells and whistles, from 19-inch alloys and running boards (which are mounted too close to the body to actually use as a step) to tinted glass and two-tone upholstery. As a result of all the extra equipment, the relatively reasonable 20,000-pound UK starting price (before tax) balloons to a comparatively enormous as-tested price of 37,841 pounds (including VAT). That makes this fully-loaded pickup about the same price in the UK as an entry-level Touareg, which starts at nearly $45k in the US. Significantly more, for comparison's sake, than the Honda Ridgeline that starts here at just under $30k and tops out at $37,505.
  • Powering the Amarok Canyon - an interesting trim name considering the GMC pickup of similar size and nameplate - is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder TDI packing 178 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. (A scrawnier 138hp version available on base models.) It's mated to either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission, and drives through VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive system. We drove both versions, and found ourselves wondering why more pickups aren't available with stick-shifts back in America, because the combination of rough-and-tumble truck with manual transmission, quite frankly, proved intoxicating. (Last we checked, for reference, you could still get three pedals on the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, Ram HD, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma, but that's about it.)
  • With the six-speed manual, the Amarok Canyon will run from 0-62 miles per hour in 11.0 seconds and top out at 110 mph. (Add another 0.3 seconds and cut two mph for the automatic.) In other words, the Amarok is not one of Volkswagen's more performance-oriented models, but then it's not designed to be.
  • Driving the Amarok on a variety of surfaces, we were, however, impressed with the combination of truck attributes and German engineering - a rare combination considering that every pickup available Stateside is a product of either an American automaker or a Japanese one. Their trucks may be able to haul more than VW's, but if you've ever stepped into a pickup and felt a bit of a disconnect between the ruggedness of its construction and that of its fit-and-finish, the Amarok would likely surprise you with its German build quality. The overall feeling is of a truck - inside, out and underneath, right down to the knobs and interior trim - that has been hewn from sturdy materials.
  • What you shouldn't expect, however, is for the Amarok to drive like a Touareg with a pickup bed at the back. It's not a crossover - it's a truck, and it drives that way (even if it exhibits more car-like refinement than most). But after a day of piloting nimble hot hatches and cossetting diesel luxury sedans (more on those to follow if you watch this space), the Amarok proved a breath of fresh, earnest air and left us with a big smile across our faces. This writer never considered himself much of a truck guy, and in truth has not driven many pickups; it took the Amarok's unique combination of go-anywhere capability coupled with German engineering to really see the attraction (especially where necessity doesn't dictate the form).
  • Which only raises the question: should Volkswagen bring the Amarok to North America? We don't doubt that it would find a fair few customers in American dealerships (and maybe a few more in Canada, where European tastes often prevail), but the Amarok was never designed with the US market in mind. And four years since its introduction overseas, the opportunity may have passed VW as the Amarok soldiers along. But sooner or later, Volkswagen will have to replace the Amarok with a new model. When it does, we hope it at least takes American tastes and potential demand into account. Because as it stands, we're missing out.
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Caterham bids farewell to the Superlight R500

07/11/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Convertibles, Sports/GTs, Plants/Manufacturing, UK

The last Caterham R500

There are many things you could say about the Caterham Seven. It's ugly as a demon from hell, first of all, and it's based on a design so old it makes the Porsche 911 and Jeep Wrangler look like new technology. But it's also fast. Damn fast.

When Caterham introduced the Superlight R500 over six years ago, it emerged was the most extreme version of Colin Chapman's original design to date. It packs a 2.0-liter Ford Duratec four tuned up to 263 horsepower in a package weighing just 1,116 pounds. That 520 hp/ton power-to-weight ratio, channeled through either a six-speed manual or sequential gearbox and aided by launch control, is enough to send the R500 to 60 in a scant 2.88 seconds. It set a Top Gear lap time faster than a Bugatti Veyron and won the show's Car of the Year award.

But now it's time for the Superlight R500 to roar off into the sunset as Caterham is retiring the model, the final 174th example having been completed yesterday for delivery to Peru. In its place, Caterham introduced the supercharged 620 R last year with 47 more horses than the R500 to be the new fastest Seven on the road. Little wonder that Caterham has phased out the R500, then, but that doesn't mean it won't be missed for all its bonkers, naturally aspirated antics.

Continue reading Caterham bids farewell to the Superlight R500

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Opel launches new Corsa hatchback [w/videos]

07/10/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Economy, Euro, Paris Motor Show, Hatchbacks, Opel, Vauxhall, UK

2015 Opel Corsa

Though its brand portfolio may have shrunk in recent years with the loss of Oldsmobile, Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer, General Motors still sells its wares around the world under a wide array of brands: Chevy, Buick, Cadillac and GMC in its home market, Holden in Australia, and a whole mess of joint-venture brands in China. In Europe, however, it's all about Opel, with Vauxhall tackling the UK market with a nearly identical product lineup but a different badge. And it's those two brands through which GM has just revealed its new Euro-centric hatchback.

Representing the fifth-generation model for Opel and the fourth for Vauxhall (which badged the first-gen model as a Nova) is this new Corsa, replacing a now eight-year-old model. Set to be revealed at the Paris Motor Show in October, the Corsa represents GM's assault at the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo in the European market and slots into both brands' lineups in between the smaller Adam and the larger Astra.

It's based on a heavily revised version of the GM-Fiat Small platform that underpinned the model it replaces, not to mention a variety of other products from Opel, Vauxhall, Fiat and Alfa Romeo. Power options center around a new 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that uses a balance shaft (unique among three-cylinder engines) to reduce noise, vibration and harshness, as well as a turbocharger, direct injection and stop/start ignition to maximize output and efficiency. It'll be available in either 90- or 115-horsepower guises, and is joined by a 1.2- and 1.4-liter fours as well as a 1.3-lier diesel. Buyers will also be able to choose between three- and five-door body-styles, with design cues obviously borrowed from the more stylish Adam city car.

As the latest product from one of the world's largest automakers, the new Corsa also naturally benefits from the latest technologies inside the cabin and under the hood, details of which you can delve into in the pair of press releases under the videos below.

Continue reading Opel launches new Corsa hatchback [w/videos]

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