Motors »

  • What is in your 5-car Lotto garage?

    June 30, 2010 @ 12:57 pm | by Michael McAleer

    It is the pub chat we all love to do. You’ve won the Euro Millions lottery and money is no object. And now it is time to go car shopping. You can have five cars. But what are they? I get asked this quite a bit and it changes from week to week, but I will give you this week’s five and I’d love to hear yours.

    1) BMW E30 M3

    Perhaps the cheapest car here, you might ‘only’ pay €40,000 for a totally mint Sport Evo 3 but you can pay much less for a standard enough car. I love this because it is one of the most pure sports cars ever made.  Its high-revving four-cylinder engine and distinctive styling treatment made it a winner with enthusiasts the world over. A convertible arrived in 1988, broadening the appeal of this niche machine. Initial production was to be limited to 5000 vehicles, but throughout various model updates almost 18,000 were sold by the time production ceased in 1991.

    BMW E30 M3

    2) Porsche 911 Carrera RS

    Another old car, the Carrera RS would be the 911 I’d have in the garage. Sold been 1973 and 1974 it is regarded by many Porsche-nuts as one of the greatest classic 911s of all time.

    Porsche 911 Carrera RS

    3)Land Rover Range Rover

    If I had to drag myself kicking and screaming into the 21st Century then I think it is impossible not to have a garage without one of these in it. It would be the perfect everyday car and I’d need it to tow the old ones now and again.

    Land Rover Range Rover

    4) Porsche 911 GT3 RS

    Another Porsche. This one a little bit more modern. This race track / road car mix is perfect if you want to nip off to a track.

    Porsche 911 GT3 RS

    5) Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera

    Because Lamborghinis still appeal to the 5-year old in me. This light version has a V10, 570hp and is lightweight too.

    Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggara

  • 100 Years of Alfa Romeo – what are your memories?

    June 23, 2010 @ 11:17 am | by Michael McAleer

    100 Years of Alfa Romeo – what are your memories?

    My first memories of Alfa Romeo aren’t very pleasant, but they certainly left a lasting impression.

    It was probably 1984 and I was about eight years old. My father, who was motoring correspondent for The Sunday Independent was reviewing the Alfa 33, a car that was not Alfa Romeo’s finest hour by any stretch of the imagination. I was in the back seat and my father was driving rather ‘spiritedly’. The upholstery was biscuit coloured, I remember that much and I had eaten alphabetti spaghetti for lunch. I don’t think I need to spell out the rest, although my spaghetti did spell out something unreadable.

    Alfa 33: Unpleasant

    That was my first impression of Alfa Romeo. It was in a particularly bad time for the brand. The 33 and the 75 were the core models that had followed on from a period which has seen the Italian brand produce perhaps their worst effort, the Alfa Romeo Arna, which took the worst of Italian reliability and the worst of Japanese stying and the result was an Italian Nissan Cherry, something that nobody really deserved.

    Alfa Romeo was officially established in Milan on 24 June 1910. That year, a group of entrepreneurs and businessmen acquired Società Italiana Automobili Darracq, the Italian branch of the French car maker, and its Portello workshops on the city outskirts, and established A.L.F.A. (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili – “Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company”). The emblem underlined the new company’s ties to the city of Milan: a red cross from the city’s banner and the Visconti family “grass snake” (“Biscione” in Italian).

    Alfa 24HP: The first Alfa

    The 1930s were the years in which the Alfa Romeo legend took shape. Engine reliability was undisputed and the names of valorous drivers – Antonio Ascari, Gastone Brilli Peri, Giuseppe Campari, Enzo Ferrari, Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi – were on everybody’s lips. They won many legendary races: Mille Miglia (11 wins, an undefeated record), Le Mans 24 Hours (four consecutive editions), Targa Florio, and a very long list of international Grand Prix. In addition, the valuable indications arising from racing were transferred to standard production models

    In this week’s Motors you can read as Kilian Doyle meets an owner of an amazing 1930 8C as well as many more so-called Alfaholics as they tell of tales of good and bad about the brand.

    As an adult, my first experience of the brand came about in my first week as a motoring journalist. It was 2000 and my first ever press car was an Alfa Romeo 156, a car that was to both propel the brand back into the limelight once more and give the brand more fans than ever before.

    Alfa Romeo 156

    The 156 had been European Car of the Year in 1998 and it was selling like hot cakes in Ireland at the time. Suddenly buyers were being persuaded out of BMWs and Audis to buy a 156 because not only was it beautiful, but it drove really well and had brilliant engines.

    I fell in love straight away. I had friends who bought them, colleagues who got them as company cars and they were all rather pleased with themselves – for a while at least. Then, things started to go wrong. Alfa had produced their best car, but couldn’t make it reliable. There was a litany of problems with the 156. Do an internet search for Alfa 156 and Google will suggest the word ‘problems’.

    But it was marvellous. Soon after I was handed the keys of the 156 GTA, an amazing performance saloon which was quite terrifying at times and when the 147 arrived, this small Alfa looked like it was finally restoring Alfa Romeo to the glory years.

    But reliability has been an issue and despite many changes at the helm and lots of new models, sales here in Ireland have never again reached the levels of 2000. Back in 2000, Alfa Romeo sold 2,645 units, outselling Audi. In 2009, Alfa Romeo sold just 151 units and Audi sold 15 times more cars than Alfa Romeo.

    We want to hear your Alfa Romeo stories. Did you own one? Did you want to own one? Did you love it or did it break your heart? And, we want to know whether you think this brands really has a future in these days of teutonic motoring perfection.

  • From Japan: A walk around the Nissan Heritage Collection

    June 16, 2010 @ 9:01 am | by Michael McAleer

    Yokohama, Japan

    16.55 (GMT +8)

    We spent the morning walking around the Nissan DNA garage, which is a very cool collection of Nissan’s most important cars for the last 77 years. It isn’t open to the public, so I thought I would give you a walk around of the place in three parts. This one is for the real car nerds.

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  • Live Launch Blog: Nissan LEAF

    June 14, 2010 @ 10:24 pm | by Michael McAleer

    06.17am (GMT+8)

    Good morning from Yokohama, Japan, where we are here to test the Nissan LEAF electric car. We have of course, driven this car around a car park, around some cones, but that was a prototype. This will be as close to the production car as we have seen yet. We head to Nissan’s private track to try it out later this morning. I am not alone here either. Minister  for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan is also in Japan, as a guest of the Nikkei newspaper. As well as speaking on communications at a conference on cloud computing, he is going to meet with Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi to check out what they have coming down the line. He meets with Toyota today, to see the plug-in Prius and will meet with Nissan and Mitsubishi tomorrow. We will bring you more later this morning.

    09.35 (GMT+8)

    We have arrived at the Nissan Grandrive area, where we have seen the first look at what is more like a production version of the LEAF. It comes with the same light blue colour as the prototypes we have already experienced, but has a proper interior. We are just getting a presentation on the LEAF’s engineering. Nissan have had to find ways to reduce the sound of the wipers, because without an engine noise, the wipers were way too loud. They have also had to develop protruding headlamps, which deflect the wind away from the wing mirrors and there is a new aerial antenna too.

    Projected ranges for the LEAF in Europe

    A presentation on the range of the vehicle shows that things like use of air conditioning and the type of driving that is done by the driver will affect the range. These range from 76km on the highway with an average speed of 81km/h up to 220km when driving at a steady speed of 60km/h.

    This is where you plug it in!

    11.52am (GMT+8)

    We have just driven the LEAF in as close to production form as you can get and while we will reserve the full driving impressions until the review in Motors on the 23rd of June, we will say that we are incredibly impressed. It surpasses anything we have yet tried in an EV.

    Here is the finished interior of the LEAF

    The close-to production version of the LEAF

    Nissan LEAF plugged into fast charger

  • Live Launch Blog: BMW 5 Series Touring

    June 11, 2010 @ 8:56 am | by Michael McAleer

    Good morning from a very sunny Munich where we have arrived to drive the new BMW 5 Series Touring. With low emissions from the new range of diesel engines, the Touring offers the perfect alternative to the carbon-coughing SUV. We will bring you more throughout the morning and afternoon live from the launch.

    Press conference for 5 Series Touring to start at 11am. (10am Irish Time)

    BMW 5 Series Touring: On Sale in September

    We do know that the car will go on sale in Ireland this September and will cost from €45,730 for what will be the big-seller, the 520d.


    Frank-Peter Arndt is telling us that BMW has already sold more than 13,000 of the new saloon model and that there are waiting lists and that 50 per cent of all 5 Series models will be Touring models.

    He goes on to tell us that the average CO2 figure of the BMW fleet is now just 150g/km.

    Head of Exterior Anders Warming is talking about the exterior. He is finding lots of fancy ways of saying, “we added a large boot”.

    Just about to set off in the new 520d Touring


    We’ve driven just one model today, the 520d and this is the engine that will be the big seller in Ireland and it certainly is a good one. It is definitely geared towards economy and it isn’t a rocket but it is no slouch either. Also, the fact that it comes with Band B emissions means it is pretty cheap to run too. Perhaps this will persuade people out of SUVs and finally into the estate car again.

    You can read the full review of the new 5 Series Touring in Wednesday’s Motors.

  • Live Launch Blog: Saab 9-5

    June 9, 2010 @ 6:33 am | by Michael McAleer

    Wednesday 9th June: Trollhatten, Sweden


    You can’t really help yourself rooting for Saab. It is a little difficult to be impartial when you hear the story of how close Saab came to annihilation and when you listen to the infectious enthusiasm of Saab’s new Chairman, Spyker boss Victor Muller.

    Saab's new Chairman Victor Muller

    I found myself having a cup of Earl Grey tea with the giant Dutchman last night and as much as these guys usually smile at journalist’s musings on the future of the brand they own, you get a sense that this guy really loves cars and isn’t afraid of being adventurous.

    If you doubt this, then look at some of Spyker’s creations. I, like many journalists here have quite a deep seated passion about Saabs of old and have implored the brand to produce interesting cars again. “As long as I am involved, there will always be interesting Saabs,” came the reply, followed by a reassuring bump of my mug.

    Earlier that day at the press conference, he has spoken about how Saab could now really make decisions about Saab and that how Saab had lost its “Saabishness”. “We don’t really need new customers, we just want the old ones back,” said Muller, claiming that producing 250,000 – 270,000 per year would be about where Saab’s level should be.

    You get a sense that the Saab 9-5, which looked to all the world like it would never happen, is a car that they are quite proud of, but that it is also something of a legacy of a time they might like to forget. It is without doubt, a car with a strong GM influence and you can tell from use of Opel engines and the Opel Insignia steering wheel and gearstick. The styling is safe in some areas, but more dramatic in others. The chrome light surrounds and the rear LED lights have a faint whiff of Halfords to them, but they do separate the car from the likes of the BMW 5-Series and Audi A6, which have become increasingly bland in recent years as they become more mainstream.

    We drove the 160hp 2.0-litre diesel yesterday, with front wheel drive and a suspension set-up which thankfully, we won’t get. In Ireland, we are getting a sportier set-up and we hope that this won’t wallow about like the car we drove yesterday did. It was a car that went where you pointed it, eventually, but not without a whole lot of pitching. This car’s set up couldn’t have been more geared towards the American market, where Saab is about to embark on a major charm offensive in July.

    Later this morning, we travel to a track to try out the more sportier set-up, a car which we will get in Ireland and we’ve also to try the higher-powered 190hp TTiD and the V6 petrol version too. More later……

    Saab's new 9-5

    We have arrived at a secret handling circuit and it is lashing rain. This should be a good test of the car’s dynamics.

    Right folks, that is all for the Saab 9-5 today. Make sure to check in on Wednesday for the full review in Motors.

    Coming here on Friday…..BMW 5-Series Touring in Munich

  • Chinese students assemble Bugatti Veyron from used cigarette packs

    June 7, 2010 @ 11:45 am | by Michael McAleer

    If you can’t quite afford the massive price tag of the Bugatti Veyron, then you could take inspiration from this group of Chinese students who decided to make their own Veyron from used cigarette packets.

    Students from Xi’an University in China used 10,280 empty cigarette packs to make this car, which also does without the Veyron’s 8.0-litre W16 engine in favour of an electric motor. It was done, ironically, for World No Smoking Day.

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  • Why don’t we like estate cars in Ireland?

    June 4, 2010 @ 11:49 am | by Michael McAleer

    Opel Insignia 4x4 Sports Tourer

    As I write here, I am looking out at an airstrip, where Opel are demonstrating their new trailer stability assist, which prevents your boat or caravan fishtailing all over the road thanks to some clever ESP. And we have just arrived here in an Insignia OPC, and it is the estate version, the Sports Tourer. Opel told us yesterday at the press conference that around 45 per cent of their Insignia sales come from the Sport Tourer and it really isn’t hard to see why. They have just added 4×4 to the diesel version (which you can read a review of in next week’s Motors) and in terms of an all-round all-weather package it is remarkable. But it is likely to be largely ignored in Ireland.

    When you talk to the German executive manufacturers and look at their figures for sale of estates, then you see that in the case of Audi, 52.6 per cent of their A4 sales in Germany are Avant (Estate) yet in Ireland just 7.5 per cent of all Audi A4s are Avant models. The results are similar for the BMW and Mercedes-Benz too, with estate models occupying tiny fractions of the overall sales mix here in Ireland.

    Perhaps it harks back to a time when estate cars were absolutely rubbish. And it really isn’t that long ago. Early estate cars tended to be developed as something of an afterthought and as a result, felt like you were driving a wardrobe. Modern estate cars are developed from day one and with technology such as ESP and 4wd added to many of them, they are every bit as agile as their saloon or hatchback cousins.

    But we are not alone in ignoring the estate. Across the Atlantic in the US, the estate car is pretty much ignored. Some of it stems back to a stigma attached to the early station wagon cars, which were often bought of necessity and were largely replaced by the SUV. And as a result, with 50-60 per cent of all cars in the SUV being high SUVs, it becomes a dog-eat-dog world on US highways. Who is going to send out their loved ones in a low, estate car when you could be taken out by someone piloting a Dodge Ram?

    It does seem a shame though. I’ve just driven the OPC Insignia ‘enthusiastically’ around some twisty Italian roads and it is remarkably good. You would never guess that there is up to 1,530 litres of boot space behind you. I’ve personally owned estate cars and they make trips to Ikea a doddle and if you have an ‘active’ life like some people in car commercials do, you can throw a bike in the back. Or perhaps some scuba gear.

    In Ireland, for a time anyway, the SUV was king, but since July 2008, when we changed to an emissions based tax system, this has changed and sales of large executive SUVs dropped by an estimated 92 per cent and that, perhaps, has paved the way for a return to favour of the humble and overlooked estate car.

    And about time too.

  • Should we wear our green credentials for the world to see?

    June 2, 2010 @ 4:31 pm | by Michael McAleer

    Up until now, there wasn’t a lot of choice when it came to displaying your environmentally-aware motoring credentials. Aside from having a Greenpeace sticker on the back of your Citroen 2CV, it took until the Toyota Prius came along before you could really say that you were making a conscious decision to buy a car that was significantly cleaner and greener.

    And Toyota, with the design of the Prius, also seemed intent that you would stand out like a fur coat at a PETA rally. The Prius has a pretty distinctive body style, optimised for aerodynamics apparently, and this is a shape which has been mimicked by the Honda Insight and aside from carving you through the air with the minimum of drag it also a good a signal to other drivers that you care about the planet.

    The thing is though, that the Hybrid, as we now know, won’t be the green king for long. There is a new breed of electric cars coming, such as the Nissan LEAF and Renault Fluence EV that will make the Prius’ environmental-credentials seem a little passé.

    While the Prius and Insight Hybrid models do indeed have impressively low tailpipe emissions, they can’t compete with the non-existent emissions of the LEAF, Mitsubishi iMiev and Renault Fluence EV and the other breed of fully electric vehicles which are charging towards Ireland with their plugs at the ready.

    The LEAF does look futuristic, but not so radical that it couldn’t have just been a modern replacement to the Primera and Renault, with their EV version of the Fluence which looks exactly the same as the petrol or diesel versions, are giving customers a straightforward choice between petrol, diesel, or electric with the one body style. Carlos Ghosn, the head of the Nissan-Renault alliance and someone who took an early gamble on the success of electric cars, seems to be of the opinion that you don’t need to wear some sort of environmental uniform to choose an electric vehicle.

    So about the rest of us? The debate has reopened again about whether it is time to look at our registration system again. What has been probably the most simple to understand system in the world has not been without its critics and more recently they have come from the motor industry who feels that our current plates front-load car sales heavily to the first three to four months of the year and cause hassles at trade-in time.

    The argument has also been put forward that buyers of used cars should be able to change their registration plate to the county that live in, with the fees to change this going to the upkeep of the roads. Government departments are thought to be greeting any suggestion of such a change with a fair degree of frost, seeing an administrative aneurysm on the cards, but it is thought that they are in favour of some sort of change which would see drivers displaying what sort of energy rating their car has; green labelling of sorts.

    Perhaps this would take the form of different shades of tax discs or perhaps number plate? We know that in Ireland there are forty shades of green, but perhaps we would just need seven to range from motor tax band A to G? Or maybe it would be more severe than this, from green to fiery red perhaps, which would label the band G motorist, who has the means to pay €2,100 per year for their road tax and who despite contributing infinitely more to the government coffers than their greener motorists, should be labelled for their environment insolence?

    What this would serve to do though is assist those people who do have to drive larger cars, be they SUVs or otherwise to show that theirs is at the cleaner end of the scale. The CEO of a company might drive a BMW 520d with a tax band six bands cleaner than his golf club buddy who drives the M5. Perhaps, in the future, their registration plates will reflect this.

  • Volvo’s new pedestrian detection in action

    @ 3:23 pm | by Michael McAleer

    In this week’s car review of Volvo’s new S60 we got to test its pedestrian protection system. This video illustrates the system in action and explains how it works. It’s a very impressive feature for just €2,250 extra on the new car (that also adds adaptive cruise control, blind spot indication and the driver alert system.

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