This is the first time that I’ve been invited to the SMMT testing day that I can remember. The SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) exists to support and promote the interests of the UK automotive industry at home and abroad. Working closely with member companies, SMMT acts as the voice of the motor industry, promoting its position to government, stakeholders and the media.
Some to the key facts and updates that stood out to me were:
- the UK automotive industry turnover is currently £77.5 billion;
- 814,000 people were employed;
- it added £22 billion in value to the UK economy; and
- exported products worth £40.1 billion, accounting for 13% of the UK’s total export goods.
- 1.67 million cars were built in the UK in 2017, the second biggest output since the turn of the century. Slightly down in 2016, 1.72 million.
- Jaguar Land Rover are the top car brand in 2017, making 532,107 cars.
- More than 8.1 million used cars sold in 2017.
- 39,675,562 cars on the road.
- Alternative fuelled vehicles continue to be popular, and new registrations are up 34.8%., they now take 4.7% of the market. Zero-emisson battery electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles take 0.5% of the market.
Anyway, why did I attend? To drive cars of course. Love driving new cars, and especially love those noise ones, or outrageous ones, or beautiful ones. The event was held at the Millbrook Proving Ground, Bedfordshire. For those of you that are not aware of it, it’s where James Bond threw his Aston Martin DBS off the road in Casino Royale. This piece of road is the hill route that I will refer to (55mph speed limit unfortunately, but for safety). I will also refer to a high-speed bowl, which is a two-mile banked circuit used for higher speed testing.
I’d never driven these cars before. Here are my summary thoughts on the driving experience.
Abarth 124 GT 1.4 MultiAir Turbo 170
Fantastic fun. Great sound. Stuck to the road like glue. I did Hill Route and the high-speed bowl in this car and had a blast. No price as of today, but coming in the next few week. A very memorable, fun, pocket rocket.
Audi R8 Coupe RWS V10
Epic. Super solid, super fast. A lovely sound. Velvet sounding. Not as grumbly as the Abarth GT. However, so much fun that I drove the hill route, then speed bowl, then hill route again. Naughty, but very very nice.
Mental colour. Best sound for sure. Specified up to the max. and £170k on the road. Hard to give an opinion as I was not allowed to drive on my own. Doh! I had a Merc. person as a passenger, so had to behave. Arrghhhh. And only allowed to go up to 80mph on the bowl.
Maserati Grandturismo MC 4.7 litre
Great sound. If you want noise, then this truly does bring the noise. Loud grumble alert. A very comfortable GT. Beautiful looks. £127k in this specification here. That’s a lot of cash. Too much in my opinion, so wait a few years and pick up second hand for half the price.
BMW i8 Coupe
Electric power. A great car. I love the design. I knew it would be bizarre to drive, given its electric heart beat, however, it’s silent yes, but there is the road noise, so it’s not quiet quiet. I did the hill route twice, once in sport mode, once in eco mode. The car is very intuitive, simple to drive. I liked it. I did the high-speed bowl as well. I favoured the sport mode and paddles. Annoyingly is upshifts for you if you do not change gear in time, I’m not sure if you can turn this off, but I did not find out if you can. It’s a cool car for sure. Prior to driving I thought I’d love it, however after a 20 minute drive I’m not sure it’s me, compared to the Audi R8, Mercedes-Benz GT or Maserati Grandturismo. I crave the noise. I love the technology though and the heads up display is good, but takes a little getting used to. Note, I kept taking the car settings off Eco mode, which made me think the car’s a little lost, it’s not a supercar for sure. But we still love the look.
Very very nice. A luxurious car that was silent, smooth and very cool. When you wanted to cruise it was super comfortable, and when you needed speed it had the poke required. A little disconcerting having never experienced it before, was when you veered into the wrong lane the steering wheel moves itself to bring you back into your lane. I took a drive around the hill route. A much more leisurely drive than those cars above. In the specification here the car is £80k on the road. I thought it would be much more expensive, so in that regard it’s probably good value.
As my son would say “sick”. Loads of fun, loads of great noise, and I liked it so much that I totally forget to press the +R to get more poke, and that alone says a lot. This car is a one off, and it’s great. I highly recommend, not that you could ever get your hands on one. I did the city route, hill route, then high-speed bowl. I had great fun in this car.
Mitsubishi Desert Warrior
Super super cool. This was the first car that I did not go above 30mph. I did the off-road route and this car eat it for breakfast. A super cool car. I’d love one. I love the looks, and it’s extremeness. This is an extreme one off, off-road sibling of the Mitsubishi L200 pickup, appropriately named the “Desert Warrior.”
Created in collaboration with Top Gear magazine, the Desert Warrior includes a host of upgrades over the standard L200 sold in markets outside the U.S. These mods include oversized wheels with self-inflating tires, a heavily modified suspension, an external roll cage, long range LED lights, and other updates that will help it navigate rough terrain. Bespoke Cobra racing seats can be found inside the cabin.
Lexus LC500 5.0L Sport + Pk ML HUD
Looks nice. Sounds great. Drives good. But at £88k that’s a lot of money, and personally I’d prefer many other cars than this one. It’s a 2 door, but seats in the back might as well not be there (why do they bother with this?). Heads up display is cool, interior wonderful like all Lexus’s. I did the hill route and high-speed bowl. It felt as powerful and fast as any of the other cars driven, except for the Audi R8. Not sure why you’d buy this to be honest.
Loads of noise. Loud, but loads of noise, but more noise than action. On the road price would be £49-50k.
Took it up the hill route and high-speed bowl. Lots of fun and good looking.
This is a truly wonderful car. A teenagers wet dream. £34k, which compared to all the other cars I drove, this is the best value car, most fun for the money for sure. Okay, you’ll either love or hate the looks. For me I’m okay with the looks. I guarantee that if you love driving you’ll be addicted to this car without question. This is a 10/10 drivers car, fun, loud, pulls and pulls, and I had a smile on my face the whole time I drove it. I drove this car twice around the hill route and high-speed bowl, and that should tell you a lot. Read Autocar’s 2018 Honda Civic type R GT review here.
In summary, when you drive so many cars in one day, it’s easy to choose your favourites. For me it’s very much, how it makes you feel, sounds and looks.
Of the cars above that I drove, favourite was the Audi R8. Best punch for your £ was the Honda Type R GT.
Most mental car of the day: The Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi (Rally Dakar 2018), that has won Dakar 3 times.
To be fair, the Mitsubishi Desert Warrior was only just behind.
A big thank you to all involved in the day, I had a great day out, and very much enjoyed my time in the cars, speaking to all the passionate car people, and very much look forward to the next event.