Annual Test Day highlights new car quality

Last week I talked about the fact that there are no bad cars available any more. Even a £7,000 Nissan Pixo is a superbly capable little car. People who have talked to me about the article all wisely nodded and agreed. We’ve never had it so good.CHAL Banner

Unfortunately I was wrong. You can still buy a bad car and you’ll need at least £23,000 to buy one.

I was fortunate enough to attend the annual SMMT Test Day last week, an event held at a secret testing facility near Millbrook village just off the A421 in Bedfordshire, where the great and good of the car manufacturing world bring their vehicles for 300 or so motoring journalists to drive around a private circuit.

Being a bit of a fan of Americana, I jumped in to the Jeep Wrangler. Ignoring the directions to the off-road circuit, I instead headed to the hill route, a three mile piece of winding tarmac that covers almost every kind of road, from motorways, through fast, flowing country roads and down to the tight hairpins of a mountain run.

SMMT Test Day Drives 2012 Jeep WranglerThat was a terrible mistake. I could forgive the lack of power from the 2.8 diesel engine, as this is definitely a workhorse rather than a sports car. I could forgive the rather utilitarian interior too, as it’s a Jeep rather than a Cadillac, although the build quality appeared a little suspect. I had reservations about the fact that such a big car could be quite so cramped in the cockpit, but even that I can let go.

What I can’t forgive is its on road behaviour. Never before have I made so many steering adjustments in such a short space of time. Sadly, I think only 30 percent of them were actually doing anything. There was some grip at the front, or some at the back, but only occasionally was there grip at both ends. And then it would disappear completely. This two tonne behemoth wandered around the road more than George Michael on a Friday night.

Even on a billiard table smooth piece of tarmac, arrow straight and level in every measurable way, it still misbehaved. Braking in a straight line on this flat piece of track would normally see a car come to a gentle stop. Not the Wrangler, which decided to swing the back end out to the left for no discernible reason.

So I take back everything I said. You can buy a bad car in the UK.

SMMT Test Day Drives 2012 Renault TwizyThe rest of the Test Day was rather more civilised. The Renault Twizy was there, proving to everybody that it’s great for a 20 minute drive, or to rent while you’re on holiday in Marbella, but it’s not suitable for a rainy Wednesday in November on the outskirts of Droitwich.

Fiat’s 500c demonstrated that a tiny car with a two cylinder engine can be fun and frugal, explaining why the five year old supermini has reappeared in the top ten sales lists.

Suzuki and Kia presented their Mondeo rivals, the Kizashi and Optima respectively. Both showed that discounting these alternative brands is probably a mistake, but it was Hyundai’s i30 that showed that the usual European suspects need to start taking the competition from the east seriously.

From the east also was the Lexus IS-F, a five litre V8 engined continent crusher that, once you press the loud pedal all the way down, turns in to some kind of angry fault line that destroys the tarmac in front of it. It’s not exactly an eco friendly car though, seeming almost intent on destroying as much of nature as possible.

Smart’s Electric Bike certainly felt more green and happened to be great fun, with the electrically assisted bicycle making even a salad-dodger like myself feel like they could give Lance Armstrong a run for his money. You’ll need his money to buy it though, as it’s £2,500. For a bike.

SMMT Test Day Drives 2012 Chevrolet CorvetteYou could trade in ten Smart Electric Bikes for a proper sports car. After experiencing the Toyota GT86 in Barcelona I was keen to try its twin, the Subaru BRZ. Sadly the boys from Autocar put paid to that idea, making the small coupe point a number of different directions on the hill route, very few of which were forwards.

Even the Corvette Grand Sport , with its 6.2 litre engine capable of taking the car to 186 mph, didn’t try to kill me, despite the severe provocation coming from my right foot. Unlike the Jeep.

The Test Day proved that manufacturers across the board are bringing out better performing, better quality and less polluting vehicles. There’s never been a better time for new car buyers. Unless you’re buying a Jeep Wrangler.

[button link=”” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at on 28 May 2012.[/button]

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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