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Richada

Richada
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Member since: 07.10.2005

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    • Audi A4 2.0 TFSI S Line / Car / 132 Readings / 115 Ratings
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      30.06.2009 18:52
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      Personally I would attach a health warning to this one.

      WHAT IS IT?

      The Audi A4, is a compact five seat (just) four door saloon car and a very well established competitor in the coveted "junior executive" segment, therefore competing with badge icons such as the BMW 3-Series and C-Class Mercedes.

      In terms of size and purpose, this is a segment of the market populated with an immensely diverse and eclectic choice of models from the Alfa 159, through the Ford Mondeo and Mazda 6 to the Volvo S60 and yet in terms of sales, currently at least, Audi, with the A4, is showing all-comers the way.

      Audi, and most owners, view this car very much as a "premium product", those who have read past RICHADA car reviews will know that I put no store whatsoever in so called "premium" branding and judge all cars on merit according to how I, as a driver, find them - irrespective of the badge.


      WILL IT FIT THE GARAGE?

      At 4703mm long and 1826mm wide, unless you have a particularly small one, yes it should indeed fit inside your garage.


      WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?

      At £27,830 (aren't these modern day "Cortinas" getting pricy?) and packing 211bhp, the Audi A4 2.0TFSi S Line, that I am reviewing here, is towards the top of a bewilderingly comprehensive range of models. It is the most powerful and expensive four cylinder front wheel drive A4 saloon.

      The A4 range starts at £20,485 for the 118bhp 1.8TFSi and tops out at a whopping £33,700 for the 237bhp 3.0 TDi Quattro (four wheel drive) Executive S Line. With each engine configuration Audi offer a quattro (four wheel drive) variant - indeed I will be offering an argument for not offering certain models, the 2.0TFSi included, with only front wheel drive.


      IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR?

      This is very much a "fleet" model and indeed it is as our company's fleet manager that I am reviewing this car. As a business we have only recently acquired a pair of Audis, an A6 and an A2. I was actually more than surprised to be loaned this particular car by the supplying dealer of our A6, the more that I drove it, the more eyebrow raising proved their choice of loan car......

      ......as a garage owner I would like to think that I would be responsible enough NOT to be lending a total stranger a 211bhp courtesy car - especially if I had no idea what his "regular" car was.


      A TECHNICAL TERM EXPLAINED - without letting the cat out of the bag prematurely, I do need to explain a technical point in order to aid the uninitiated in the reading and assessment of both this review and the specific product being reviewed.

      In the course of this review you will read in several categories an automotive technical term "torque steer". Rather than assuming that you all know what this is - many of you may indeed, without ever having experienced it, and to those I apologise - I felt an explanation is in order.

      Putting it as simply as possible, torque steer is felt through the steering wheel, which writhes and fights in the hands as each front wheel competes to put drive to the road. In the severest of cases the whole car may "snake" up the road until the torque transfer between both wheels has equalised. This is only experienced in the lower gears in some front wheel drive cars, thankfully in the 21st century only powerful ones at that. This affect can be particularly dangerous if both steering and acceleration inputs are required at the same time.


      COSTS

      There are models in the A4 range, mostly the diesels it has to be said, that are extremely sensible purchases, either from a business or private point of view, this turbocharged 2.0 petrol model is less likely to be one of them though.

      As a company purchase, the remarkably low 149gm/kg CO2 rating stands it in good stead, indeed its closest rival, the BMW 325 looks decidedly smoky and costly by comparison.

      In view of the performance offered, an insurance grouping of 15 (out of a total 20) appears more than reasonable too.

      Not a subject usually mentioned in my car reviews, but tyre replacement on this very powerful front wheel drive saloon is going to be a major budget item, if you do a high mileage, choosing the four wheel drive Quattro model will keep you from the tyre fitting bay for considerably longer.


      PURCHASE COST 6 / 10

      Looking around a basic Audi A4, there is no doubt left in my mind that you are paying around a £4000 premium for the cachet of having the four ringed badge on your car.

      The A4 is Audi's most profitable model and I can offer a strong argument for the next model up the range - the A6 - in that it offers much more car for very similar money, but that is hardly the point here, it is the 2.0 TFSi S Line A4 that I am examining and to be honest it is hard to justify the £27,830 list price of this car, that being before you start playing the usual German marques option game.


      THE OPTIONS GAME: 7 / 10 or "How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?"

      This being an S Line trim car, it comes with a set of smart alloy wheels and sports trim as standard. Whilst the days of very austerely equipped German cars are thankfully now gone, do not expect to see leather seats, a sun roof or a premium stereo system included in the price, nor indeed Audi's fine MMI controller, but then as it has no standard sat-nav system the Multiple Media Interface is hardly required anyway.


      DEPRECIATION 8 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost.

      The A4, as a range, has a fine reputation for holding onto its value, however I am less than sure that this particular model will be number one choice when it comes to a second hand A4 purchase - it certainly would not be mine that is for sure!

      With a calculated retained value of 48% (less powerful A4 models achieve 50%) after 3 years and 36,000 miles this A4 2.0TFSi pretty much tops the class - even a BMW 325 only holds on to 40% of its initial value after the same period.


      FUEL ECONOMY 6 / 10

      I do not care what fantastic claims Audi make for the fuel consumption of this car - I know what I got out of it, and indeed what its overall average consumption for the first 4000 miles of its life had been!

      In my, admittedly, short tenure it achieved less than 20mpg, overall it had managed 23.7mpg. Whilst those two figures are not actually outrageous, considering this A4's somewhat alarming performance, in real terms they are figures that I find unacceptable - particularly in view of that 149 CO2 figure and Audi's overall average 44.1mpg claim.


      SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 8 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?

      Whilst, the brand new, Brighton Audi premises maybe the ritziest motor dealer in town, according to their fixed menu pricing this car should cost less than £1000 to service over three years and 36,000 miles ownership. That may not look cheap, but it is highly class competitive in this day and age.

      I also have to comment here that if the standard of customer care displayed by this, my local, Audi dealership is representative of the marque nationwide, then you are going to be made feel like a valued customer - a welcome change from the norm in my recent experience.


      Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in.......

      THE EXTERIOR:

      STYLING 7 /10: A very subjective category here.

      I was a great admirer of previous A4 designs; however with this, the very latest model, I think Audi lost their touch somewhat. Exaggerated on "my" particular car by the very pretty, but totally unsuited to the shape, pale metallic blue paintwork were the deep side panels and rather clumsy bonnet to front wing design and join. This car is recognisably an Audi, an A4 at that, from any angle, it is just that in an attempt to make it look more modern and muscular, in styling terms Audi have rather thrown the baby out with the bath water.


      OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 8 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?

      In all honesty, whilst the motoring press all hold Audi up as the benchmark in terms of manufacturing quality and finish, no company is turning out badly built cars these days.

      Yes, the latest A4 is a finely made car, but no better made than £15000 cheaper Korean cars that carry far more generous guarantees. Carrying the price premium that it does, I am expecting the extraordinary at this level, in fact, the A4 is no better made than a similarly sized, but much cheaper Skoda Octavia (like Audi, also a Volkswagen product).


      SAFETY 5 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it.

      In terms of passive safety Audi have packed all the modern safety aids available into this car. You are likely to emerge from a crash in pretty good shape, possibly better shape than from its competitors even. In isolation a 10 / 10 score here then......

      ......However, and this is a big one, it is my strong opinion that this specific A4 model is seriously lacking in the area of active safety - i.e. you may be more liable to have a crash in it the first place, simply due to the engine being far too powerful for the chassis. I have driven many, far more powerful cars, both before and since this one and have come to the conclusion that the 2.0 TFSi should carry a health warning.

      Why I am so concerned and being so damning of it on this vital point? Well the A4 chassis in front wheel drive only form, is manifestly incapable of handling the huge surge of torque provided by the engine at low revs.

      I am not talking about full bore acceleration test starts here either, no, I am talking about 50 yards of snaking and wrestling with the steering wheel as you merely pull away from the curb at ordinary speed going up hill. If you actually pluck up the courage to drive it harder and faster you will experience this highly unpleasant torque steer in second and third gears too. I drove it on bone dry, well surfaced roads - I do not even dare to imagine how unsafe it feels on wet, icy or loose surfaces.

      Whilst my "regular" car is a four wheel drive Subaru which, like my previous front wheel drive Honda, displays no torque steer characteristics, I have since driven a 300bhp Ford Focus RS, which, whilst being much faster than the A4 2.0 TFSi also felt 100% safer on the road at ordinary town speeds.


      THE INTERIOR:

      ERGONOMICS 4 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.

      Odd that, thanks to my standard car review layout, this A4's two fatal flaws should appear here back to back!

      Sit in any of the passenger's seats in an A4 and this car has an admirable interior. In an automatic version of this same model, ergonomics would probably be less of an issue for the driver, however, in this six speed manual one, the three pedals are seriously offset to the centreline - that centreline being defined by the position of the steering wheel.

      I know that this is a serious fault in all A4, A5's and to a much lesser extent the A6, where the offset is barely noticeable. However, the S-Line package in the A4 actually accentuates the problem as you sit on much more firmly bolstered seats. Due to this, for me, thanks to having to drive it with my whole body twisted sideways in the seat, this is by far the most uncomfortable car that I have driven in many years.

      If you are a company driver covering many motorway miles a year, you can expect to be spending time off work due to back problems that you were never before aware of having.

      An hour at the wheel, on a proper test drive, would put me off of buying an A4 on this point alone.

      Apart from the ever maddening electric hand brake switch (I simply loath these things - whoever does them none of them work intuitively - or progressively), the rest of the controls are well and simply laid out. Unlike other Audi's fitted with the attractive MMI central rotary control, the A4 is refreshingly easy to operate without


      VISIBILITY: 9 / 10

      Whilst my own Subaru Legacy offers the best all round visibility that I have come across, the A4, even with its heavy pillared design, actually gave me no cause for concern on this score at all.

      Being fairly high up the A4 range this model is fitted with the full-house front and rear lighting system with the flashy LED daylight running lights and rear LED side and brake lights too. The only lighting innovation missing here are the steerable headlights now becoming more common.


      SPACE: 8 / 10:

      Class competitive is probably the best way to describe this one. Some class competitors such as the Insignia - the Vectra replacement, have shrunk inside, whilst others, like the 3-Series are more commodious than they used to be. The A4 has grown externally - the boot is bigger than it used to be too, but the interior has remained much the same as before, fine for four adults, cramped for three across the rear seat.

      If you need more space in all directions and a massive boot, then the Audi A6 offers vastly more car for very similar money.


      STYLE 10 / 10:

      As those who read my reviews regularly will know, I put great store in the interior style of a car. This is where the A4's greatest strength lays. The latest model has pretty much taken the styling and architecture from the superb A6 interior and scaled it down.

      The rest of the interior is equally well styled, but it is the dashboard that stands out as an automotive masterpiece.

      My comment, expressed out loud whilst behind the wheel, that I would take this dashboard out of the A4 and put it in my own car (sans the electric handbrake obviously!) says all it needs to here.


      MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 9 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners?

      In this class of car, the A4 S-Line is as close to Aspreys as you are going to get. Whilst the exterior may be more ordinary, the interior fit and finish are extraordinary and fully in keeping with the style.

      High class materials, including decent half leather upholstery, blend seamlessly to give the impression of quality and class. Probably not entirely worth paying a £4000 premium for, but at least the interior ambiance goes some way to letting you know why an A4 is so expensive in the first place.


      AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 9 / 10: Strange grouping?

      Tricky one to assess this as the car that I was driving was equipped with a superb and very expensive optional 505 watt 14 speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. However, assuming that it had the same head-unit and fantastically clear frequency / mode screen on the dashboard, then the standard set up is not going to leave you feeling short changed.

      Now being fully used to the slow warn up / cool down of diesel climate control systems, the one in the petrol engined 2.0 TFSi A4 was mighty impressive in its speed of response and of the fine control provided by the totally independent left and right (dual zone) controls.


      ON THE ROAD........

      ......Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.

      NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 6 / 10 Silk purse or sow's ear?

      We live in a day and age of 2.0 litre family cars powered by highly efficient turbo-diesel engines. When a 2.0 litre petrol rival to these units appears, a fascinating comparison arises.

      Conventional thinking should dictate that the petrol A4 knocks the spots off of its "inferior" diesel rivals. At heart I am a petrol head, and that should be the case here, only it turns out most definitely not to be. Petrol or not, this car has a very "ordinary" sound to it as it goes about its business, it is not noisy or notably quiet either, just completely soulless in character aurally.

      As for vibration and harshness, well if it is possible to describe a car as being harsh, but without vibration, then the A4 2.0 TFSi is the very definition of that contradiction in terms! Thanks to its' frankly frightening power delivery, coupled with over-firm sports suspension, it is a "harsh" car.

      Conversely, thanks to its superb build quality, especially in the cabin, there are no vibrations.


      PERFORMANCE 7 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?

      Never was my 'Sh*t off a shovel' quip better suited!

      This car is a flyer, no doubt about that - "open it up" and it leaves ordinary traffic way behind in its wake......

      ......what you are able to observe of it that is. Theoretically then, I should be giving the A4 2.0 TFSi a 10 score here. The trouble is that driving it at all speeds takes such dedicated concentration that I walked away hoping that I never drive one of these again.

      There is a very old saying that goes 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely', this car then has absolute power and passed through only the front wheels too. Between 1000 and 2500rpm the power delivery is so vicious, and accompanied by that awful torque steer, that you simply do not want to use it.

      Used as a motorway cruiser, merely left in sixth gear you are unlikely to criticise its performance - but first of all you have to get it to motorway speeds and out of the torque steer zone.


      RIDE & HANDLING 4 / 10

      The one area of dynamics that Audi have consistently fallen behind in is here in the ride and handling departments. Whereas the standard and SE specification latest generation Audis are now acceptable, rather than class competitive, the S Line, with its sports suspension and ultra low profile tyres falls woefully short of offering an acceptable ride.

      Couple the rock hard, jarring, ride with the dreadful torque steer at lower speeds and you have a poor handling car too at ordinary road speeds. The A4 was never designed as a track racer and yet that appears to be what the S Line specification is geared up for. On well surfaced German autobahn maybe this car would come alive; here on UK roads it simply falls so far short of being acceptable that I am amazed that Audi market it here.


      CONCLUSION - Would I buy one myself and would we want to drive it to Poland in a day?

      If you have read the review above I really do not need to answer either question here!

      This car is so dreadfully flawed in two distinctly different areas that quite seriously it amazes me that the A4 is so popular a choice, especially amongst high mileage business drivers like myself.

      As for driving it to Poland, no, I could not, due to the driving position, drive ANY A4 to Poland, my wife certainly would not want to travel with me in a car so hard riding as this either.


      FINAL SCORE: 121 / 170 - 71.1%


      An unusual scoring result this time as 71.1% really does not reflect just how much I disliked this car, and for such blindingly obvious reasons too.

      That its score is as high as it is, can only be attributed to Audi's interior designers, were it not for that fine interior, excepting the offset driving position, this car would, as far as I am concerned, have very little to recommend it.

      Putting that score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria:

      AUDI A4 2.0TFSi SLine - 71.1%

      ALFA ROMEO 147 1.9JTD Lusso (5 Dr) - 67.8%
      FIAT PUNTO GRANDE SPORTING 130 Mjet - 75.9%
      FORD KUGA 2.0 TDCi TITANIUM - 64.7%
      HONDA ACCORD i-DECT EX GT (2008 Model) Saloon - 69.4%
      HONDA ACCORD i-CTDi Saloon - 80.0%
      HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC SE - 78.2%
      HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC S i-SHIFT - 68.8%
      HONDA CIVIC IMA SE - 73.5%
      HONDA JAZZ 1.4 SE CVT-7 (Automatic) - 74.7%
      SUBARU OUTBACK 2.0D RE - 85.3%
      SUBARU LEGACY 2.0D RE SALOON - 85.8%
      SAAB 9-3 TiD Vector - 68.2%
      SAAB 9-3 TiD Linear CONVERTIBLE (2007 Mondel) - 74.1%
      VAUXHALL ASTRA TWINTOP 1.9 CDTi DESIGN - 78.8%
      VAUXHALL VXR8 - 84.1 %
      VAUXHALL MONARO VXR - 71.1%
      VW PASSAT TDi 140 S ESTATE - 71.7%
      VOLVO S60 D5 SE - 70.6%

      RICHADA © June 2009.

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      • More +
        13.05.2009 19:42
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        If you are looking for peace and tranquility do not expect to find it here!

        KASPROWY WIERCH - WHERE ON EARTH ARE WE?

        Unless you happen to be Polish, from the Tatra region of Slovakia, or have holidayed in the mountain resort of Zakopane, there is no earthly reason why you would be expected to have heard of this particular location.

        Yes, in case you are still guessing, I am reviewing a mountain here, Poland's most popular ski mountain at that!

        In order get your bearings, let me explain that Mount Kasprowy Wierch is located immediately to the south of Zakopane, the most popular winter resort in Poland. Its' summit actually forms part of the Polish / Slovakian border along the High Tatras in the south east of Poland.

        In turn, Zakopane is located about two hours south of Krakow by road or rail, which in all likelihood, if visiting the area, is where you will have landed, having flown there.

        This particular area of the Tatra Mountains is the most accessible, both for Polish tourists and others visiting the region. Consequently, summer or winter, this is not an area in which to escape from the maddening crowds. If that is your intention and the Tatras' are your desire, then I would recommend trying the Slovakian side of the border, it is quieter there, although the slopes, being south facing, are covered in snow for less of the year. That hardly represents the spirit of this review though!


        PONY & TRAP or SHANK'S PONY?

        OK, so you find yourself in Zakopane and want to see the sites. Kasprowy Wierch will appear in all the tourist guides, assuming that, having read them and indeed this review, you wish to visit, then how do you find it?

        Zakopane is not a big town; it is quite possible to see everything you need to there on foot. Sign posting is very good and you will also find the locals helpful, most speak surprisingly good English too - they have after all made a living out of tourism since Victorian times. During the summer you will hear as much (American) English spoken on the streets there as Polish. Therefore asking someone how to get to Kasprowy Wierch need not be feared.

        Cheap and good maps are also available from vendors in the town centre.

        You have a choice of three ways of doing this, in ascending order of cost: on foot, by taxi or mini-bus or by horse and cart. Whichever you choose you will, unless going VERY early in the morning (before 7.30am), end up at the back of a long queue upon reaching the cable car station.

        Visiting Zakopane in 2007 and 2008, we actually left our car in the hotel car park and, with map in hand, merely followed the tide of hikers straight up the hill from Krupowki, Zakopane's famous main street, in the centre of town.

        Be warned though, especially if you are not physically fit, this is a long - 2.5 kilometre - and increasingly strenuous - up-hill walk to the cable car station at the foot of the mountain.

        Kuznice (the name of the road) leading up to the cable car station, is only open for licensed traffic, there is a large, guarded, on street car park at the bottom, from where the taxi's charge 10PLN (about £2) each to take you the 2.5km to the cable car station. In 2008 we did just that, walked to the car park and hopped aboard a mini-bus which sped us to the end of the road.


        THREE CHOICES REDUCE TO TWO

        Arriving at the end of the road by foot, taxi or carriage, you are now at the foot of the mountain and can either, if suitably equipped and shod, carry on climbing, or join the queue for the cable car.

        In 2007 we arrived here over-heated and tired from the climb, only to join the back of a very long queue, we did not stay long however! Those coming out of the cable car were advising that it was a complete waste of time and money - the whole mountain was buried in cloud, there was no view from the top! We decided to leave it for another day.

        That day arrived in spring last year (28.04.08), a late spring at that in the Tatras, from our hotel in Zab, overlooking the impressive range behind Zakopane we could see that the north facing slopes were still covered in snow. We finished breakfast as early as we could and, to save time, jumping the queue on the walkers, took a mini-bus to the cable car station. Even soon after 8.30am there was a very long queue, we waited around an hour to board the cable car. An hour should be regarded as a very short wait, most here queue literally for hours on end.


        RICHADA'S NEW EXPERIENCE OF THE DAY

        I did not say too much beforehand to my (Polish) wife about the cable car, however she was aware that this was going to be my first such experience at the age of 45. As a child my parents regularly took me on holiday to Austria, Italy and even Switzerland, however my father, being terrified of heights, always made sure that we never got anywhere near a cable car!

        Heights affect me in different ways on different days, whilst not knowing just what I would make of the cable car I was strangely relaxed about the whole experience, even having shuffled along in that queue for an hour.

        Whilst my wife actually carried out the ticket purchasing in Polish - it is usually quicker that way, English interpretations are posted at the kiosk window. The cashiers also speak some English.

        Having paid, that is not the end of your queuing; now it's a further twenty minute slow shuffle up the many steps and around the corner onto the cable car "platform". For those of you who have never boarded a cable car, this is like a railway station in miniature, the suspended car pulls up at a platform level with the floor of the car, you enter through a sliding door.

        In summer 2006, our first visit to Zakopane, the cable car service was not running, the reason being that the whole apparatus, including the cars themselves, were being replaced. Personally, especially in view of the ramshackle appearance of the old cars, I was very glad of this, and had no fears on safety grounds at all.


        UP, UP AND AWAY

        You may not give it a second thought as you swiftly and silently glide away from the platform, marvelling both at the scenery and at the modern car in which you are travelling, but, when started in August 1935, this was a major feat of engineering.

        Nearly all the construction work had to be carried out manually, 600 men were employed in the building of the line. Due to the topography, everything had to be carried from a point half way to the top, the men worked between 14 and 16 hours day, much of it in the dark through the winter, very dangerous and uncomfortable construction work. Incredibly by March 1936 it was open to the first fare paying passengers. One of the first passengers was Ignacy Mościcki, the then President of Poland.

        The journey to the top of Mount Kasprowy takes approximately 12 minutes and is in two stages, which, when getting on the car, we were not aware of. At 1325metres (4347ft) above sea level, there is a change station at Myslenickie Turnie. This works like clockwork, as your car reaches this point, the descending one is just pulling into the station. You merely step out of one, walk around the corner and onto the "up" platform and step into the other, identical, cable car.

        The cars themselves are still very new and smart. Strictly standing room only, there are straps to hang onto if you wish; this is an extraordinarily comfortable ride. You admire increasingly breathtaking views through huge windows and there is a roof-light too, presumably doubling as an emergency escape hatch.

        The two cars are manned, although it occurred to me that the staff have a rather long and boring day, operating the car involves no more than pressing a lift type button. As is usual in Poland you will find that the radio (RMF, the Krakow based commercial station) is playing constantly, although it is not loud enough to drown out the increasingly excited hubbub of your fellow 59 passengers - yes these cars carry 60 passengers at a time!

        We were lucky in that at the end of April last year there was still a lot of snow on the Tatra Mountains, approximately half way between the transfer station and the summit we reached the snow line, changing the scenery altogether. This made sun glasses a necessity, especially under the stunning bright blue sky with which we were blessed on the day.

        For those interested in a few more technical details:

        Length of line: 4291.59 metres

        "Base" station at Kuznice: 1027 metres above sea level

        Summit station at Kasprowy Wierch: 1959m.a.s.l.

        Maximum rate of climb: 22%

        Summit of the mountain: 1987m.a.s.l. (6519ft)


        WAS ALL THAT QUEUING WORTH IT?......

        ......Yes, undoubtedly it was, the view, and indeed the whole experience, at least on the day that we did it, was breathtaking. Whilst recognising that this review will be a lot less graphic in black and white, I will attempt to describe here in words what this trip was all about for us, as non-skiers.

        I also have to say there was an element of 'no it wasn't', but that is really due to the crowds, I always envisage mountain summits at remote, lonely, even spiritual places - none of that applies here, thanks to the commercialism of the place and facilities that you would simply not expect to find at the peak of a mountain in the Tatras.

        We came here primarily for the views and NOTHING could detract from the fact that they were stunning. The resulting photographs, the best mountain ones that I and Mrs R have ever taken, speak for themselves. At just over 6500ft Kasprowy Wierch cannot exactly be counted as a high mountain, however, what it lacks in height, it more than makes up for in terms of beauty and position. It is very much centred in the Tatra Mountains, offering views to the east and west, a panorama of the Slovakian Tatras to the south, as well as to the north over the huge Polish Podhale Plain below.

        For views alone, nothing that we saw from the top of much higher Swiss Alps could compare in beauty to this.

        A far as I personally was concerned however, physically at the top of Kasprowy Wierch I was feeling most unwell. A combination of factors, the incredibly blue sky, the burning hot sun and deep frozen snow under my booted feet made me feel quite sick. Without decent boots you are unable to walk at all up there as the snow is constantly packed to ice by the throngs of visitors. Since breaking my leg and ankle on just such a surface in Poland three years ago I am also unduly wary of my safety in such conditions.

        Mrs R left me sitting on my waterproof in order to climb right to the very summit and take the photographs, I was simply feeling too sick and scared to attempt climbing any higher than we already had. Sitting here for maybe half an hour I was able to observe the thousands of people around me. Nearly all appeared to be Polish, a small minority had brought skis and were skiing down the mountain and returning on one of the two chair lifts, but extraordinarily the majority appeared to have come up here to strip off and get a quick sun tan! Surely a sun bed in Zakopane would be a less expensive way of doing that!

        Photographs taken, view admired and re-united with my wife, we still had approximately forty minutes to kill before making the cable car descent. Incidentally, if you are more adventurous than we, you can walk down the mountain; it will take approximately two and a half hours.


        MOUNTAIN TOP FACILITIES

        There are two substantial stone buildings here. The higher of the two is the weather station, Poland's highest altitude building - it is not open to the public. Below it is the cable car station, which has been extended into a large building containing a two storey pizza restaurant, shop, comprehensive toilet and shower facilities and, reportedly, some guest rooms, which I have to say that I have never seen advertised.

        On a day such as the one we had, it seemed a shame not to have a bite to eat in the restaurant, where we consumed very good pizza, albeit at an (understandably) inflated cost. Strangely it did settle my stomach somewhat and being indoors admiring the view out of the burning sun was a relief.

        The toilets were good, immaculately clean, but again, understandably in this instance, charged for. Everything that comes here to be sold eaten, or indeed removed, has to be done by the cable car itself, the logistics of running such facilities are expensive - and fascinating at the same time!

        The shop was less than impressive, the same touristy items as on sale in dozens of shops in Zakopane and for less money at that.


        BACK DOWN TO EARTH, WITHOUT THE BUMP

        At the appointed time your ticket is passed through the machine and you step onto the platform for the descent.

        The return journey on the cable car is somehow more sombre, that sense of anticipation has gone. Whilst still taking photographs one is aware of the radio playing now in the back ground. The view now facing you is of the vast plain to the north of Zakopane. Twelve minutes after leaving you are back to the Kuźnice base station.


        ROUNDING OFF A VERY INTERESTING EXPERIENCE

        Rather than merely walking, or boarding a taxi, for our return trip. into Zakopane, we had a stroll down through the beautiful woods adjacent to the road. In a sense I actually enjoyed this more than being on top of the mountain. We were at last alone with nature, a bubbling mountain stream, little ponds and bird song surrounding us.

        It took us just over an hour to get back into town, in all a morning well spent, with the exception of the queues, which as we left the cable car were very long indeed!


        JUST A PASSING THOUGHT.......

        A while ago I reviewed a neighbouring "attraction" - Morskie Oko, which, in terms of sheer tourist numbers, is probably the only similarly popular (read crowded) attraction in the area.

        Poland, although far from short of beautiful scenery, is not well served for tourist attractions in the sense that we know them in the UK, consequently there is almost unbearable pressure on the ones that do exist. As at Morskie Oko, so too here at Mount Kasprowy Wierch, to my eyes at least, the pressure of visitor numbers is so great that it is severely impacting the very environment that those visitors have come to admire.


        SEASONS & PRICES (CABLE CAR):

        As prices are constantly changing I would suggest checking the following link, apologies for the Polish language, but the only up to date prices appear to be on this site:

        www.kasprowy-wierch.pl/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=90&Itemid=48

        I will however interpret it for you for future reference!

        Sezon = season / Poza sezonem = out of season

        The current "in" season runs until 30.09.09, the out of season from 1.10.09 to 19.12.09

        (zl = PLN = Polish zloty. Today, 18.04.09, £1.00 = 4.88 zl)

        normalny (gora) = normal ticket (going up) - 30zl / 24zl

        ulgowy (gora) = concessionary ticket (going up) - 25zl / 19zl

        normalny w dół = normal ticket (down only) - 19zl / 15zl

        normalny (gora-dol) = normal return - 40zl / 34zl.

        Return tickets are strictly "timed", once at the summit you have an hour and forty minutes before joining the cable car for the descent.

        (Prices correct as at 18.04.09)

        The ticket structure is complex and there are various concessionary fares for guides and skiing instructors. The information that I have given you here should allow you to at least to make sense of the fares.


        Richada / Dooyoo © May 2009

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          05.05.2009 23:26
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          A surprisng hit in the Richada household!

          THE GADGET IN QUESTION

          I have read enough digital photo frame reviews here and elsewhere to assume that the general format of this product will be familiar to most. However, without wishing to state the obvious, the BT eFrame 1000 8" is an 8 inch digital frame on which you can view photographs.

          This is a market flooded with similar products now, so presumably in order to appeal, you have to offer a unique selling proposition (USP). As you will discover a little later, I bought this product rather on impulse - an offer I could not refuse indeed. Unusually for me, I had done remarkably little research on the subject and was therefore rather ignorant of this item's rather handy "USP".

          WHY BUY A DIGITAL PHOTO FRAME?

          Again, maybe the answer seems rather obvious, you take digital photographs on your camera and then wish to display them, but surely, you can do that either on your laptop, PC or even television screen.......

          ......well yes, indeed you can. All of those media however require a 'captured audience' in a sense, i.e. you heard family and friends in front of whichever screen you've chosen and they are trapped in front of it until you cry halt.

          Now, I don't know about you, but in my experience at least, on the whole, two things occur to me about such screenings:

          1) The photographs that you are subjected to are either:
          a) technically poor, or
          b) excruciatingly boring to watch, or indeed often both!

          2) The whole experience lasts far too long, the guests are bored to death and have an unusual tendency to be 'otherwise engaged' upon repeat invitations.

          In the old days of course we all sat around the fireside and looked at photographs either neatly filed in a proper album, or shuffled from a pack stored in an old shoe box. Either way one could carry on making polite conversation about nothing in particular whilst feigning an interest in the photographs......

          ......no prizes for guessing where I'm heading here now!

          Buy a digital photo frame then because it is actually a great and discreet conversation starter, rather than killer. For me it has replaced the photo albums, only it is even more low key, if sensitively positioned, people can choose whether to take notice of it or not.

          As an additional bonus of course, your precious photographs do not become encrusted with fatty, salty finger marks from the Cheesy Whatsits.

          Fine, I have sold myself the idea of buying a digital photo frame, what next?

          THE PURCHASING DECISION

          Last summer, we presented - well sent along with a family member in our stead actually - a very attractive looking 7 inch HP digital photo frame as a wedding gift for a friend in Poland. This cost about twice as much as I paid in March this year for the BT eFrame reviewed here. Whilst the HP had many good reviews, and an attractive choice of two 'snap on' frames, it was relatively basic. It did just as described - showed photos from digital memory cards from the camera, no more, no less.

          However, for us, a digital photo frame was one of those things that, unless presented with as a gift, was a very low priority. I had been eying them up in ASDA, the £99.99 Sony one looked good, there were a couple of cheaper (and nastier) alternatives there too and, naturally, a whole host of internet bargains only a few clicks away.

          I knew what I was prepared to pay for a digital frame for our own home, unless ASDA knocked that Sony one down to half price, then we were going without, until, one day, quite out of the blue, an email pinged into my inbox from the BT Shop......

          RICHADA'S RASH ANDTOTALLY OUT OF CHARACTER PURCHASE

          ......in truth I am one of the least susceptible people to advertising that anyone has ever met. Dubious of many special offers and always of the mind that something is 'cheap for a reason', I purchased the BT eFrame before I had even had a chance to call Mrs R and say "come and have a look at this!"

          An 8 inch photo frame for £39.00 including free registered delivery - with a choice of days (2-4 Working Days between 7am-6pm) on which delivery could take place - seemed too good to pass up.

          Indeed there was a cynical thought in my head; at this price, if we didn't actually decide to keep it, that this would make an excellent Christmas or birthday present.

          I tend to reason that BT does not put their name to any old cheap rubbish, after all that would be a fine way to loose business for all of their other highly profitable services. I had also read some good reviews of their on-line shop, from whence the tempting email had come. At £39.00, clicking "order" was one of the easiest decisions that I have made on the internet, this had "bargain" written all over it - at this price, in reality, it would have to be pretty poor to disappoint.

          According to the BT on-line shop this same frame had been selling for around £130, bearing in mind its' features, that did not actually surprise me.

          A SURPRISINGLY BIG BOX.....DELIVERED ON TIME TOO!

          We were staggered at the size of the box that our, gifted, HP photo frame arrived in, so were therefore not surprised when the BT one arrived in a box large enough to have contained a small portable television!

          The contents are fairly simply packed, but cleverly wrapped to prevent damage in transit, both box and contents were totally factory fresh. All materials used, including the Quick Start Guide are recyclable.

          Like it or not, if you want a proper instruction manual you are going to have to download it via Adobe and print it yourself, mean or ecologically conscious on BT's part? I'll let you be the judge that.

          As far as the hardware goes, the box contains the surprisingly large photo frame itself, the screen may be 8 inches (200mm), corner to corner, but the surround is another 2.5ins (60mm), making this a fairly large frame. Weighing in at 785 grams (yes, I did just weigh it!) this frame is no lightweight either.

          The remote control, batteries included, is small and light, along with it are packaged the mains power lead, USB lead and CD ROM containing the Manager Software.

          RICHADA, A KID WITH A NEW TOY.....ALMOST!

          Resisting, in my short lunch-break at home, the temptation to rush into setting up the eFrame, apart from screwing its' simple and secure stand in place on the back of the frame, I placed the contents back in the box to be set up at leisure in the evening. Having a natural fear of "gadgets" as my mother refers to all such items, I was convinced that setting it up would take for ever.

          In actual fact, the BT eFrame allows you so many different options that setting it up can be as simple, or complicated, as you want to make it. The more complicated the set up that you choose, in practice, the more simple and un-demanding it proves in later operation.

          In its' simplest form this can be used immediately, straight out of the box. Plug it in to a mains supply, take whatever type of memory card your digital camera contains......

          ......and providing you have some photographs on it, plug it in to one of the slots on the side (it accepts: SD, MMC, Memory Stick Pro, Compact flash or USB memory stick) and they will start showing immediately on the screen......

          WOW! WHAT A PICTURE!

          ......be prepared to be simply blown away by the picture quality at this point. Full size files from your (for example) camera's SD card, or (more complicated set up) downsized from your PC, are really shown off to their best affect on the BT eFrame's screen. The colours are superb, no matter which camera took the original image. I have been admiring my own photographs for over a month now and am still amazed at the picture quality on this screen.

          For me, the first picture that I saw on this screen scotched any ideas whatsoever of giving this photo frame away as a present!

          NOW FOR THE EXCITING BIT - READ THE QUICK START GUIDE!

          OK, so we have done the easy bit, proved that the frame actually works and has a superb picture. In practice the simplest functions are entirely intuitive, at £39.00 it would do what many frames more than twice the price will without even consulting the instructions at all.

          However, the BT eFrame has that USP, it can be set up to work wirelessly from your computer. You are going to need a wireless router in order for it to do this - there is no Bluetooth option. By lucky coincidence, our internet is 'broadcast' to us wirelessly via a BT Home Hub, how much this aids the set up in terms of compatibility I cannot tell you as I have not set it up on any other router.

          TRY PRESSING ALL THE RIGHT BUTTONS - AND NUMBERS!

          The set up is done entirely using the small and simple remote control supplied with the eFrame. Like most set up operations with new digital devices, it is the first things that you do with it that are the most taxing and complicated.

          A single press of the OK button brings up the Setup Wizard; this allows you to follow the screen prompts to input current time and date information, letting you get used to the remote control input method before the more serious stuff starts to appear on screen.

          The eFrame automatically scans for local wireless networks - ours found three, presumably our own, plus those of our neighbours! Usefully the strongest signal is shown at the top and is highlighted in blue, if that is not your own network, then simply scroll up or down on the up or down arrows until your own network is highlighted blue, upon which select OK.

          The most technical part of the whole process is finding and entering your WEP encryption key, before getting in a flap, as I did, have a look at the back of your router - chances are it is printed on a label there - enter it and hey presto! The eFrame will, providing you have entered your key correctly, show "CONNECTING" and then tell you that you are successfully connected to your computer.

          A useful tip here is to have your eFrame and computer screen in the same place whilst doing this, it will save a lot of time and effort running from one room to another to see what is going on. Once set up to work wirelessly of course the frame can be placed anywhere within wireless range of the hub.

          LOAD THE SOFTWARE

          The very simple operating program for the BT eFrame 1000 8 will take up a mere 4KB of your valuable disk space. In my opinion the BT software is the weak link of this set up, simple to operate it may be, but it also limits the functions - particularly the wireless options - that one feels this frame SHOULD be capable of performing.

          Once loaded, clicking the BT eFrame icon brings up a menu of six buttons; Copy Photos, Copy Music, Manage Flikr Albums, Find Photos on my Computers and Software Update.

          COPY PHOTOS?

          This one gives you the option of copying digital photographs from your PC to the small internal memory on the eFrame. To be honest I have not used this one as it seems rather pointless, when either the wireless or card option will allow a much better and longer lasting slide show.

          MANAGE FLIKR ALBUMS

          OK, hands up, I do not have any Flikr albums to screen in this way, but the BT eFrame will pick up photographs from the on-line photo sharing site.

          COPY MUSIC?.....THAT'S THE FIRST WE'VE HEARD OF THAT.....

          .......and once you've gone to the trouble of setting it up you'll probably wish that you hadn't heard it in the first place! I had to convert my iTunes MPEG4 to MP3 files and then download them (wirelessly) onto the eFrame. Problem is that, restricted by that tiny onboard memory, you can only get around twenty average length tracks onto it.

          What I fail to understand is why you are not able to wirelessly "broadcast" music from your PC to the eFrame the way that you can photographs.

          However it is not the size that I'm beefing about here, but the quality of the tinny stereo speakers on the back of the frame. My argument would be that if it cannot provide better sound quality than this, BT would be better off ditching the audio capability altogether.

          Personally, thanks to the mediocre sound quality, I run silent picture shows on the eFrame.

          FIND PHOTOS ON MY COMPUTERS......

          ......now we're talking. Opening this icon allows you to select photo files from wherever you have them stored on the computer. Having done that you can wirelessly broadcast as many photographs as you wish to the eFrame.

          Some experimentation, and a liking for varied picture shows, lead me to setting up a dedicated file for this on my desktop. When I download a batch of photographs from my camera to the PC, I copy and downsize a few of the best for storing in the "eFrame File" on my desktop. Currently I have around 250 photographs in the file, which take a couple of hours to complete a full cycle.

          You may wish to set up separate files for screening dependant upon mood or your guests' preferences. However you choose to set this one up, I recommend downsizing your photographs - I use the standard MS "Web Large" size i.e. 640 x 480px, which keeps the file size down and the quality more than acceptable. I also advise you to turn any vertical format photographs up the correct way, nobody wants a stiff neck from looking sideways at photographs.

          Incidentally, if most of your photographs are in portrait (vertical) rather than landscape format, you may wish to alter the eFrames stand to allow the frame to "stand-up", you will of course then need to turn your horizontal pictures to suit.

          Changing the picture alignment can actually been done on the remote control, although it is a lot less fiddly and a lot more professional looking if they appear on the screen correctly in the first place.

          ANYTHING ELSE I'VE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY?

          Once you get used to using the remote control, you will find some useful "extra" features. One of my favourites is that you can zoom in on a photograph in three stages, then move about the picture at the enlarged size, great for finding yourself in a crowd shot!

          Another useful feature is that via a USB lead - probably provided with your camera, you are able to screen photographs directly from your camera to the eFrame.

          Through the on-screen menus, using the remote control, you can choose various "effects" between photographs, oddly the only one that I would actually like to choose - a fade in and out - is not an option.

          USUALLY IMPRESSIVE THEN, ANY DRAWBACKS?

          Nothing in life is perfect, and at £39 I certainly was not expecting the BT eFrame to be. In, almost, daily use I have found its performance to be rather temperamental. 75% of the time it works perfectly, then you will find that upon switching it on, it simply refuses to "hook up" to the computer saying that it cannot find a wireless network. On other occasions it simply freezes mid picture show, such I guess are the vagaries if the otherwise excellent wireless technology involved here.

          The remote and on screen menus allow you to select the length of time that the photographs appear on the screen.....theoretically. In practice the on-screen time depends entirely on the downloading of the pictures to the eFrame, some appear to stay on the screen for ever, others are gone in a flash - I have set the duration at ten seconds, this seems to have little affect on their actual on-screen time though.

          I have not checked the extreme of the wireless range, our BT eFrame sits in the far corner of the lounge, the PC on which I write this, and that the picture file is located, is some fifteen feet away through a brick wall containing a fireplace.

          IS THIS A GADGET WORTH HAVING, WAS OUR £39 WELL SPENT?

          Oh yes! In all honesty I would have been quite happy to have paid twice as much for the eFrame, it rapidly became my favourite toy. On each occasion that we have entertained since its arrival, we have found it to be a great and discreet conversation starter.

          I tend to sit mesmerised by its stunning images, in a way that I have never done so on a computer slide show - simply because the colour and depth to the pictures are so very good.

          OK, THE CRUNCH - MARKS OUT OF 10 TIME!

          STYLE: 6
          FINISH: 9
          DURABILITY: 8
          EASE OF SET-UP: 8
          EASE OF USE: 9
          PICTURE QUALITY: 10
          SOUND QUALITY: 3
          FEATURES: 8
          VALUE FOR MONEY: 10
          RECOMMENDATION: 9

          An 80% score then - a very high recommendation indeed, Richada's "toy" is an official hit then!

          This item is currently showing as "Discontinued" on the BT Shop site, it is however available on eBay for between £50 and £60, even at that price, personally, I would purchase it.

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            29.04.2009 21:34
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            An experience to be remembered.

            WHY DID WE BOOK THE PARK HOTEL BAD SALZIG?

            In a nutshell we required overnight accommodation in Germany for the night of 6th October 2008, we had planned a scenic return trip from Switzerland via the Rhine Gorge in central Germany.

            For various reasons, mainly attributable, it has to be said, to my scrooge like ways, I was aware, before arriving there, that due to the incredibly high cost of accommodation in Switzerland, the Wildbach Hotel in Brienz would not be to our usual standard. And so, in reality, had it turned out not to be. Partly in order to make it up to my dear wife, I had decided to splash out on a rather more luxurious billet for our overnight stop in Germany on the way home.

            Having had extensive, almost entirely positive, experience of hotels in Germany, thorough internet research of dozens of hotels in the "Romantic Rhine Valley" threw up this one, the four star Park Hotel in Bad Salzberg, as something a touch out of the ordinary and luxurious. This impression, both my wife and I had gained from reading hotel site reviews on this particular hotel. At a discounted internet booking rate of 99.50 Euros it was around 25% more expensive than our usually more than acceptable accommodation in Germany - we were looking forward to something a little special here......


            HOTEL DESCRIPTION / OUR PERCEPTION FROM HOTEL PUBLICITY

            ......that impression being bolstered all the way by the Hotel's own internet presence. I suppose that we should, rather than being curious, have smelt a rat when looking at the individually "themed" rooms offered here - some decidedly odd - one of them is "Leyland" for goodness sake, featuring none other than iconic old red double deckers.....

            ......However, although a hotel of 100 years standing, it did all look very new and clean, the dining room also looked very attractive. The final icing on the cake was that all the published guest reviews were written in glowing terms about the food (and wine).

            Once again, although the Park had an English "button" on the site, I failed to make it work and had to make do with the native German language, although I have to say this is becoming easier to understand as years go by and more experience is gained with hotel bookings!

            Our 'net browsing concluded and not knowing the area at all, it seemed well worth a try, even if being the most expensive hotel that we have ever booked in Germany.


            BOOKING PROCESS 9 / 10

            As with our overnight stay at the Hotel Traube on the way down to Switzerland, we booked this one through the German hotel booking site www.hotels.de. This site actually has the advantage of giving a full English description to all hotels listed, it also provides a location map showing the Park to be very close to, but not on, the west Rhine bank.

            As with previous bookings made through hotels.de, this one was made without problem.


            LOCATION 5 / 10

            There's location and then there's location! Had this hotel been situated in the outskirts of a city, the location would indeed have been agreeable enough - a solid 8 score being the result - had that been the case, but it clearly was not!

            This is the scenically beautiful, enchanting even, Rhine Valley, we saw and passed so many superbly located hotels over the ten miles or so before our GPS delivered us to the door of the very disappointingly located Park Hotel. In order to arrive at the Park, we had been directed off of the main road (the yellow route 9 from Bingen to Koblenz), up through some intimidatingly narrow side streets to find the hotel located on a "Y" junction on the way out of town.

            Situated opposite a pretty, but small, Park in a middle class residential area, this is a quiet location on the outskirts of Bad Salzig. Bad Salzig itself is a dormitory town about a mile south of Boppard, the main tourist centre in the area. Our problem with Bad Salzig was that there was absolutely nothing to see or do there, had the hotel been located on the Rhine waterfront it would at least have had scenic views and somewhere pleasant to stroll after dinner.

            The Park Hotel in Bad Salzig is certainly not one to use unless you arrive by car, according to their web site it is located one kilometre from Boppard railway station - it felt much further than that driving there in the car.


            FIRST IMPRESSIONS 6 / 10

            Once again this was a case of wondering if we had arrived at the hotel photographed and described on the internet. Granted, it was a rainy October afternoon when we arrived, but quite honestly on the sunny morning that followed the Park looked no more impressive.

            Car parking was grossly insufficient for the 30 rooms - the hotel was far from full and we parked where directed in the front garden under a sap dropping tree, a fact only discovered upon using the screen-wash the following day!

            The general surroundings were neat, if unspectacular, an impression that continued upon approaching the reception desk, located up a short flight of stairs outside the front door.


            CHECKING IN 6 / 10

            The receptionist who greeted us was hardly the most welcoming of hosts, more coldly efficient than any we have encountered during our German travels. To our surprise she escorted us (no help with the luggage was offered) to an annexe, which had not been referred to on any site visited, located on the other side of the hotel garden.

            From entering the front door to being deposited in our room had taken a matter of perhaps two minutes. Few explanations of the facilities were given and we had to ask for the meal times.


            ON THE WAY TO THE ROOM i.e. how easy is it to find your way around? How accessible is if for less able persons? What condition are the public rooms and passageways in? 5 / 10

            Once again it struck us quite strongly here that German hotels really are only suitable for those like ourselves - i.e. the fully able bodied. The annexe was approached via a full flight of outside stone steps, even for us laden with luggage they were slippery - for elderly or disabled they would be lethally dangerous.

            As already mentioned, there were steps also up to the front door, even more to the restaurant if that was how you might approach the Park.

            The public passageways of the annexe were clean and modern, light and spacious. The very shiny floor tiles however were slippery as those walking in from outside walked both damp and leaves onto them, if I allowed my factory floor to be that slippery I may well be liable for prosecution under health and safety laws here.

            In order to have a meal, or just a drink at the bar, a walk down those slippery steps and across the garden has to be taken. If it is pouring with rain - as it was - you have to dress up in overcoat merely to go to dinner or breakfast, not ideal, especially at the prices charged here. If we stayed here again I would undoubtedly request a hotel - rather than annexe - room.


            THE ROOM 3 / 10

            Once the receptionist had beaten her hasty retreat, my wife and I were left standing in the middle of this huge room looking at each other, almost, in horror! I find it hard to find the words to describe the total tackiness, the bad taste, the sheer naffness of the décor and furniture here. Regrettably even the photographs that I took of it fail to fully convey the horror of the gaudy colour scheme or tarty cheapness of this hotel room.

            We looked aghast at the murals covering the wall behind the bed and the dreadful "clouds" on the ceiling. The murals appeared to be someone's childish idea of a biblical times river scene...again words are failing me here.

            Those who know me will all describe me as a "blue" person - I dress in blue, used to have a blue car, blue is my favourite colour. This room was almost sufficient to expunge any likening for the colour blue......

            ......superficially it was actually a very well appointed room, containing gadgets that I have not seen in a hotel room before - such as a CD / DVD entertainment system linked to the television. It looked impressive in a gadgety way, but sounded unimpressive.....why am I not surprised?

            Oddly in this enormous room the television itself was a tiny portable - the brackets remaining conspicuously on the wall where, presumably, a large, flat screen, one had been removed.

            Below our feet and just to put the finishing touch to the grotesque ambiance of our room was the orange shag pile carpet. My wife is rather too young to remember them, but memories of those 1970's "Emmanuelle" soft porn films for whatever reason sprung to mind......we were left giggling all the way back to England about shag pile carpets - little things and all that!

            Regrettably all of the superficial "flash" could not fail to disguise a basic lack of both quality and functionality. Both doors to the en-suite and the room were noticeably low quality flat panel ones lacking even the basic refinement of a proper door-frame! Not being one for admiring myself in the mirror the lack of such a feature in the room is of little consequence personally...but at 100 Euro per night my wife seemed to view it as an omission!

            Nor, for those who like to partake in a tipple or two, was there a mini-bar.

            The large, free standing, wooden wardrobe, king sized bed and leather tub and desk chairs all looked somewhat Lilliputian and lost in this room. The two bed side tables and desk stand - completely taken up with the entertainment system - were supplemented by a coffee table.

            In a room this size, one would expect to find some area suitable to work at, especially as the Park bills itself as a conference venue - here no such facility was provided.

            To the left of the bed was a large, double opening window overlooking the garden, to the right the door into the en-suite.


            THE EN-SUITE 3 / 10

            The en-suite was really no better planned than the room itself. The décor and lighting was still far too "loud" for our taste. Particularly disconcerting was the fact that there was neither obscure glass, nor a curtain of any sort, covering the two bathroom windows - heaven knows who may have been watching, or filming even, one's ablutions or from where. I am not known for narrow-mindedness, but even I draw the line at bathing in public.

            The shower was unusable due to the fact that it was an over-bath one and had no form of screen or curtain - use of the shower would have flooded both en-suite and carpeted bedroom.

            We avoided flooding the room with the shower - that was an all too obvious trap......

            ......unfortunately, less obvious until I had actually used it, was flooding the floor with WASTE water from the bidet! The leaking pipe underneath the basin did not become obvious until pulling the plug on it - at which point water spurted out in all directions underneath it. Not the usual German plumbing efficiency on display here!


            DID WE GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP? 9 / 10

            This room was definitely at its best after the lights were switched off - although I swear that those side tables and the desk actually glowed that hideous blue in the dark.

            Yes we did sleep well enough, the room was quiet, as were the surroundings allowing us to sleep with the window tilted inwards. The laundry was clean, soft, fresh and white. The bed comfortable, the only complaint here being the flattest, softest pillows that we have ever encountered - no matter, we just used the cushions from the tub chair to supplement them!


            FACILITIES ON OFFER - No score here, different grades / prices of hotel understandably have different facilities.

            I have this horrible suspicion that this is one of those hotels that on paper manages to tick all the boxes, but in reality the facilities are probably as much a let down as the room itself. From the website, not our own experience, I can tell you that the Park offers a fully equipped wellness centre, including sauna and solarium, it also offers bike hire, laundry service, secretary service and has wireless internet connection throughout......useful if there happened to be somewhere to place your laptop in the room!

            One thing that I did notice was that pets are "accepted"........yes that may be the case but would they accept being in a room like this......

            ......although undoubtedly they, and their fleas, would appreciate the shag pile rather more than we did!


            BREAKFAST / OTHER MEALS, FOOD & DRINKS 7 / 10

            As with any other German hotel that we have stayed in, the food was superb; not only the evening meal, which we paid an exorbitant 69.20 Euro for, but also breakfast which was included in our room rate.

            Even here there were "issues" I'm afraid!

            We took, as is our habit, an early evening meal, having booked a table for two in the restaurant for 6.30pm. We were shown to our reserved table in the far dark corner of the bar by the receptionist, who was now doubling as our waitress.

            Whilst the candle lit ambiance was not unpleasant here, we were sat all alone in an area that clearly was NOT the restaurant, all the other diners were being seated in the conservatory next door. We soon realised that the bar area acted as a corridor through from the kitchen - it turned out to be a very "busy" meal, even with only the two of us seated here.

            Highlight of the meal actually turned out to be the house white wine - a local (Boppard) Riesling, a couple of bottles of which we picked up for a fraction of the cost in a supermarket before returning home the following day.

            By the time dinner finished we were feeling utterly segregated, why had we been separated in this way from all the other diners? It has certainly never happened to us anywhere before and felt surprisingly uncomfortable......

            ......when the breakfast server attempted to seat us at the same (dark) bar table the next morning I had had enough. English / Polish or not, this time we stood up for ourselves, insisting on sitting in the conservatory restaurant with all of the other guests! Once located by the window we enjoyed an excellent buffet breakfast with one of the best ranges of cereals, cold meat cuts, cheeses, salads and breads that I have seen anywhere.


            OVERALL VALUE FOR MONEY 2 / 10

            Do you really need me to elaborate here?

            Overall, the Park Hotel, Bad Salzig, was very poor value for money. The ingredients that we look for in a good hotel were simply missing here. This hundred year old hotel should have had real character; unfortunately any character that it may have once possessed has been eradicated, to be totally pimped rather than modernised.

            It is located close to some stunning scenery, all of its competitors are located IN that same stunning scenery, it seems that its owners have attempted to create an attraction out of the hotel itself, and in our eyes at least, have failed - miserably.


            HOW LIKELY AM I / ARE WE, TO USE THIS HOTEL AGAIN?

            My wife and I are quite unanimous on this: NEVER AGAIN!

            This is a hotel that we have since alternated between giggling and having nightmares about. Quite weather it was worth 168.70 Euro - around £150 at the then exchange rate - in order to have a story to dine out on I'm not sure.


            RICHADA'S HOTEL RATING 55 / 100

            In order to put that score into some kind of perspective, here are my current hotel rankings - all reviewed and scored using identical criteria:

            Ringhotel Friederikenhof - Lubeck - Germany - 92%
            Hotel Traube - Offenburg - Germany - 88%
            Amber Hotel - Chemnitz - Germany - 86%
            Swallow Bower Hotel - Chadderton - 83%
            Grand Hotel, Torquay - 83%
            Innkeeper's Lodge, Chester Northeast - 83%
            Innkeeper's Lodge, Stockport - 83 %
            Innkeeper's Lodge, Hull - 81%
            Preston Swallow Hotel - Samlesbury, Lancashire - 74%
            Hotel Drei Schwanen - Hohenstein-Ernstthal - Germany - 72%
            Hotel Viktoria, Cologne - 70%
            Innkeeper's Lodge, St Albans - 65%
            Hotel Piast, Boleslawiec (Poland) - 64%
            Chadwick Hotel, St Annes - 63 %

            PARK HOTEL - Bad Salzig - Nr Boppard - Germany - 55%

            Innkeeper's Lodge, Lichfield - 39%

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              16.04.2009 19:34
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              A hotel that we will long remember - andfor all the right reasons.

              WHY DID WE BOOK THE HOTEL TRAUBE in OFFENBURG?

              The Hotel Traube was not actually our destination, although for reasons that will become clear later, possibly we were left wishing that it had have been! Being 1st October, with the days already rapidly shortening, I did not wish to drive all the way from our home in Brighton to Brienz (our final destination) in Switzerland in one day.

              Compared to our marathon drives to Poland, both in the summer and at Christmas, you may be asking why we "chickened out" and stopped barely an hour's drive north of the Swiss border. Firstly I was behind the wheel of a four day old car; this precluded the usual "flat out" dash through Germany and, secondarily, we had been searching for reasonably priced over-night accommodation in the famous old city of Heidelberg......

              ......"Reasonably priced" and "Heidelburg" turned out to be a contradiction in terms.....

              ......trace the A7 (E43) autobahn to the south into the Black Forest and you find the conveniently located town of Offenburg, where accommodation looked better suited to my pocket.

              Searching three different German hotel discount websites we came up with a short list of two hotels - the first of which turned out to be uncomfortably far off of our route. Reviewers' comments like "hard to find" and "off the beaten track" were not encouraging either, after all I would have been driving since around 4.30am, an easy to find location was preferable.

              So, the Hotel Traube (in this country that would be Hotel Grapes - not quite the same ring perhaps?) sort of chose itself.

              HOTEL DESCRIPTION / OUR PERCEPTION FROM HOTEL PUBLICITY

              If "choosing itself" sounds like the most damning of feint praise, actually the hotels own website made it look very attractive - a small garden with an impressively large fountain and welcoming flags of all nations fluttering in the breeze in front of the main entrance.

              I have before made the mistake of booking hotels in Germany from German language sites - and indeed we took the plunge here, on this occasion expecting a much larger hotel than the one that presented itself when we arrived there.

              Hotel publicity leaflets in our room informed us that the Traube is one of a group of four privately owned, Koslowski Group, three star hotels - all located in and around Offenburg. Each of the four is very different in character, the Traube being the most homely looking.

              BOOKING PROCESS 9 / 10

              Whilst the Hotel Traube website may be entirely in German, the site that we most often use to book our German hotels - hotels.de - is in English, with both Euro and £ Sterling shown as the nightly room rate, this including breakfast.

              Be warned that very often breakfast is not included in German hotel tariffs, it tends to depend on which site you book through as to breakfast being included or not, hotels.de may look more expensive than other sites, add around 12 to 14 Euro each for breakfast and booking the room through this one usually makes very good sense indeed.

              You are actually charged in Euros, upon checking out, obviously at the exchange rate on the day.

              The current rate is 75 Euro per night including breakfast - that for a double en-suite room. A triple (suite) room is 95 Euro.

              LOCATION 10 / 10

              We really liked the location of the Traube, it was situated on the opposite side of Offenburg to the motorway and yet was only three and a half miles, around ten minutes from it. The area that it was located in was extraordinarily similar to our own suburban, residential, one here in Brighton, right on the edge of town, bordering in this case the Black Forest with its steeply sloping south and east facing vineyards.

              During our stay, the sky was dark and grey, it was raining when we arrived and yet even seen at its worst this still appeared an attractive location. The road running past the hotel was not a particularly busy one, on the opposite side of it was an immaculate little park, the centrepiece of which was the delightful fountain shown in the photographs below.

              A five minute drive from the hotel brings you to the centre of Offenburg, a typical German regional town, mostly modern, but with a quaint old town located off to one side. Regrettably we were not here for long enough to stop and admire the town; the poor weather was off-putting too.

              FIRST IMPRESSIONS 8 / 10

              Compared to the large, modern, hotels that we usually use in Germany, this one was small and almost rural in character. Initially putting the car in the restaurant car park over the road, we walked across to the well signed, yet discreet, reception.

              There was a quaint and very "German" character to the older (late 18th Century) building here, we assumed that this was where we would be staying; however the rooms are located in a modern annexe block to the left of the reception. Outside the front door is a veranda complete with tables and chairs, a lovely place to sit out with a drink and watch the world go by in the summer.

              Having said all of that, having looked at the website, I did wonder if we had arrived at the same place as shown, it looked altogether smaller, less impressive and more like a private house - all of which turned out to be to the good.

              CHECKING IN 9 / 10

              The gentleman owner, manning the reception desk, spoke no English and quickly summoned a waitress to take our details and show us to our room. Whilst her command of English was patchy at best, as with all of the staff members encountered here at the Traube, she could not do enough for us.

              A major advantage of pre-booking hotels such as this via the 'net is that you can check in without fuss, even if English is not spoken by the staff - just as we did here. We were from the car to our room in less than five minutes.

              ON THE WAY TO THE ROOM i.e. how easy is it to find your way around? How accessible is if for less able persons? What condition are the public rooms and passageways in? 7 / 10

              This is not a suitable hotel for the less able bodied. There are steps up and down into both houses and then indeed onto the pavement outside. The breakfast room in the hotel annexe is situated in the basement. Whilst the annexe is a modern three storey building, there appeared to be no lifts at all.

              The reception, bar and restaurant are located on the ground floor of the older building which is around 75 yards from the front door of the annexe, certainly far enough away to get drenched on a wet night, as indeed it was when we were there!

              I have to say that an elderly friend of ours, who regularly visits Germany, would find this particular hotel altogether too challenging.

              For those of us who are younger and / or fitter the Traube is of an extraordinarily high standard in terms of cleanliness, décor and even orientation. This is not a large hotel, and finding your way around it is far from difficult.

              As the waitress showed us across the enclosed car park - covered parking on one side of it - she invited us to move the car in here, much more convenient (and sheltered) than the large car park on the opposite side of the road.

              I should perhaps mention here that checking out is handled by the lady serving breakfast, there is a small office on the left hand side as you enter the annexe, she spoke not a word of English and yet our check out was swift and efficiently carried out.

              Were it not for the restricted access issue, the Traube would have scored an easy nine out of ten in this section.

              THE ROOM 9 / 10

              The rooms were all refurbished in early 2007. Assuming that ours was representative of them all, they are bright, warm, and very comfortable.

              This was not the largest room in which we have stayed, the over-large bed taking up too much space, but it was well planned and modern in its appointments. You enter the bedroom via a small hallway, which contains a huge wardrobe, certainly more hanging space is provided than you could ever need.

              In the bedroom, apart from the bed, was a small built in desk unit with chair, above which, taking up very little room on the wall, was an excellent large flat screen television. Both CNN and BBC World News were provided, for a hotel TV the reception was extraordinarily good too.

              Bedside tables with individual lamps are provided on both sides of the bed.

              On top of the desk is a mini-bar. Unfortunately ours was faulty - the compressor making so much noise that we had no choice but to un-plug it, so noisy was it that you could not hear the television above it!

              A feature that we really appreciated at the Traube was the window shutters. Modern roller shutters operated from inside the room, they made the place completely secure, almost blacked out the room, but allowed the windows and French door to be left open for ventilation.

              Our room - number 34 - faced the driveway into the car park. Most rooms, including ours, have a balcony.

              THE EN-SUITE 7 / 10

              Whilst spotlessly clean, as was the rest of the room, the en-suite had certainly seen better days - primarily in the olive green 1970's period when it was built!

              A full sized bath with shower over were provided, unfortunately both the shower head and shower screen were extremely wonky, making taking a shower an unnecessarily messy and precarious business.

              Homely touches here included the provision of soft, fluffy white, bath robes and good quality cream soap, plus a basket containing bar soaps, shampoo and a shower cap.

              It still frightens me to see here - as elsewhere in Germany - an electric plug and a powerful hairdryer located immediately adjacent to the wash basin. I wonder how many Germans are "fried" in their bathrooms each year? Certainly a lot of English children, electricity and water would not mix too well!

              DID WE GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP? 10 / 10

              Clearly, it would not be fair to the Hotel Traube to deduct five points here for being woken up extremely early (before 6.00am) by a loud German businessman smoking and holding a mobile conference call outside on the adjacent balcony to ours.

              Having un-plugged the mini-bar, and apart from that selfish behaviour of the fellow guest, we did indeed enjoy an excellent nights sleep in Offenburg. The walls are thick, the door seals well, and there were no outside disturbances at all. The bed was as comfortable as any in which we have slept and the temperature in the room could be easily controlled to suit any preference.

              FACILITIES ON OFFER - No score here, different grades / prices of hotel understandably have different facilities.

              With two single, nineteen double rooms and two suites, this is by no means a large hotel. It will accommodate small conferences - parties of up to twenty being catered for, a choice of two conference rooms being available.

              Wireless internet access is available throughout the hotel.

              Unlike several German hotels that we have used, of higher status than this, the Traube offers full bar and restaurant service. It turned out to be very much my kind of place - no swimming pools, no "wellness centres", nothing indeed that we were paying for but had no intention of using during an overnight, or short break stay.

              BREAKFAST / OTHER MEALS, FOOD & DRINKS 9 / 10

              The food here actually moved me to write notes for this review immediately after dinner.

              RICHADA, not usually given over to using superlatives, especially in regards to hotel food, often finds in Germany his vocabulary being stretched to the limit in order to describe the sheer taste and quality of the dishes consumed.

              Each German hotel in which we stay seems to outdo the last on this score and, whilst very different in culinary style to those that we are more used to in the centre and east of the country, the Traube was no exception feeding and "watering" us in terrific style.

              With the same waitress that earlier showed us to our room serving us, we had no trouble deciphering the menu, we requested, and were presented with, an English translation of the menu. A good tip this, taught me by my Polish wife, if you find yourself abroad it is always worth asking in case they have an English menu - it amazes me how often that they do!

              The Traube is very popular with local residents, who all know the proprietor well; it appears to double as their "local" which only goes to enhance its authentically local and friendly character.

              The bar come restaurant, if in this country, I would describe as a trifle "forced rustic" with its over use of redundant cart wheels and horse bridles, it is some time since I have been in an English pub looking like this - but if the ambiance was similar.....

              .....the food was most certainly NOT!

              The website had described the food as being Mediterranean in style, this was our first experience in southern Germany and the food choice was certainly different to any we have been offered further north or east, but it was not exactly Italian in style either - but then, there is more to the "Med" than Italy! My notes actually start by describing dinner as "out of this world" - that covered the flavours, the fact that 50 Euros covered the cost of the huge two course gourmet dinner (we really could not manage a sweet!), plus two fresh apple juices and 0.5 litre of superb locally produced wine, was merely the icing on the cake.

              We started with an Alsace speciality (correct me if I'm wrong but hardly Mediterranean that!) a form of wafer thin pizza - one vegetarian the other ham - both set in "heavy yoghurt". What really impressed us was that the waitress quite openly steered us away from ordering one each - far too big to manage she said, asking the proprietor if we could have half of the dish each to share - generously he willingly obliged and we were charged accordingly. It was served in two halves on a wooden board for us to share. I am not a pizza, nor yoghurt (heavy or otherwise!) lover - these two dishes were, however, mouth wateringly good, especially washed down with what was probably the best dry white wine that I have yet tasted.

              The main course was of comparable quality and equally interesting. Five different skewered meats, under-cooked as requested, served with a huge portion of beautiful fresh locally picked field mushrooms, cranberry sauce and a shredded pasta type mix. All were superbly cooked and very well presented.

              Rarely have we so enjoyed a meal as much, the dinner menu alone would take us back to the Hotel Traube in Offenburg.

              Breakfast in the morning is served in the much more business like surroundings of the annexe basement. I have to comment that the bread offered in this region is less outstanding than further north in Germany, however there was a good choice of breads, spreads and cereals. The choice of hot foods, cheeses and meats was however quite limited. Fresh fruits and yoghurts were available however.

              OVERALL VALUE FOR MONEY 10 / 10

              A really strong showing here and I could not find reason to deduct from a maximum score.

              As far as I am concerned The Hotel Traube offers very comfortable accommodation and outstanding food (and drink) at an incredibly reasonable price. Once again this is a hotel that puts any English hotel to shame in so many areas.

              HOW LIKELY AM I / ARE WE, TO USE THIS HOTEL AGAIN?

              My wife commented that the en-suite was very much like someone's private bathroom. In many respects that comment was equally valid for the rest of the hotel, which genuinely felt like a cosy private residence. Indeed this was a rare hotel in which, brief though our stay, we very much felt like honoured guests rather than mere "punters".

              For me, the Hotel Traube would be a prime reason for spending more time in this region; we would very much enjoy a rather longer return visit to this particular hotel.


              RICHADA'S HOTEL RATING 88 %

              In order to put that score into some kind of perspective, here are my current hotel rankings - all reviewed and scored using identical criteria:

              Ringhotel Friederikenhof - Lubeck - Germany - 92%

              HOTEL TRAUBE - OFFENBURG - 88%

              Swallow Bower Hotel - Chadderton - 83%
              Grand Hotel, Torquay - 83%
              Innkeeper's Lodge, Chester Northeast - 83%
              Innkeeper's Lodge, Stockport - 83 %
              Innkeeper's Lodge, Hull - 81%
              Preston Swallow Hotel - Samlesbury, Lancashire - 74%
              Hotel Drei Schwanen - Hohenstein-Ernstthal - Germany - 72%
              Hotel Viktoria, Cologne - 70%
              Innkeeper's Lodge, St Albans - 65%
              Hotel Piast, Boleslawiec (Poland) - 64%
              Chadwick Hotel, St Annes - 63 %
              Innkeeper's Lodge, Lichfield - 39%


              CONTACT DETAILS:

              Hotel Traube
              Fessenbacherstrasse 115
              77654 Offenburg

              www.hotel-traube-offenburg.de

              Tel: (+49) 0781- 28 42 86 0
              Fax: (+49) 0781 - 28 42 86 29
              Freecall (inside Germany): 0700 - 93 68 70 0

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                15.04.2009 22:21
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                So good that we took up my own recommendation - twice!

                WHY DID WE BOOK THE AMBER HOTEL CHEMNITZ?

                Requiring a convenient hotel to stay in overnight on our return from Poland last May, we discovered the Amber Hotel whilst searching for hotels adjacent to E40 (the main East / West continental route) in the Chemnitz area. in 2007 we stayed in a hotel called the Drei Shwanen, previously reviewed - about five miles to the south west of here. The Amber looked perfectly situated (and easy to find) very close to a motorway junction.

                The fact that it was a four star hotel offering a double room on the Saturday night for a mere 68 Euros made it all the more attractive!

                HOTEL DESCRIPTION / OUR PERCEPTION FROM HOTEL PUBLICITY

                From the hotel website this looked like a "Eurostandard" (read bland!), modern, business hotel. A four star hotel with 103 rooms, I have to admit that it was the very reasonable price that actually caught our eye.

                The information given showed it to be situated on the edge of Chemnitz Centre, a large "Freeport" style shopping centre, which we have driven past a dozen or so times, next to the E40 motorway. My only reservation, before arriving there, was that this could be one very noisy nights stay!

                BOOKING PROCESS 6 / 10

                Whilst on the hotels own site this looked - and at the time of booking, around six weeks prior to our stay - very simple indeed, when we arrived, there were not only TWO (named) parking spaces reserved but also two rooms. This was a first; we had assumed that we had made a single booking for a double room.

                As both my wife and I are very experienced at booking hotel rooms, usually using the internet, I can only assume that this site was rather less easy to use and understand (even in English!) than is the norm for German hotels.

                LOCATION 10 / 10

                My fears, having viewed the website, regarding the location of this hotel were completely unfounded.

                Yes, it was very easy to find, just two minutes from the motorway outside Chemnitz, but once we arrived we could neither see nor hear the motorway traffic. Located on the edge of the Chemnitz Centre, which on Saturday evening was open until 9.00pm gave this hotel an added attraction too. Opposite the hotel is a Chinese restaurant, just in case the hotel is not able to satisfy your taste buds......we thanked our lucky stars that we decided against a Chinese that evening......

                For the purposes of an overnight "transit" stay in Germany travelling through to Poland, the location of this hotel actually could not be beaten. In the morning my only worry was that being SO close to the motorway the cars engine would be nowhere near the required full operating temperature upon joining this stretch of very fast (de-restricted) motorway!

                FIRST IMPRESSIONS 5 / 10

                To be honest, we wondered if indeed we had arrived at and parked outside a hotel! It looks far more like a modern office block - standing on the car park at least, the words Amber and Hotel are not very prominent at all!

                Indeed, on the wall above the entrance Hotel Plaza is what it said, a tad confusing we thought.

                Reinforcing the office theme was the car park, where we had taken the precaution of pre-booking a space. Apart from the novelty of seeing our (in Germany at least rather unusual!) surname in print (on two spaces!), the parking reservation turned out to be 6 Euros entirely wasted. The car park is large, completely flat and fully surfaced with brick paving. Small trees are dotted around, but all in all it looked very much like any office car park anywhere.

                The entrance is obvious and a menu board posted very discreetly outside the door is the first indication that we have indeed arrived at a hotel!

                In a four star hotel I would expect the convenience either of electrically opening doors, or a good old fashioned revolving door - here we struggled with luggage and opening two very heavy glass doors to gain entry to the reception.

                Stepping inside, the Amber could hardly have been more different to its outward appearance. The reception and large seating area around it were every inch what we would expect in a modern four star German hotel.

                CHECKING IN 10 / 10

                The receptionist spoke quite acceptable English and we had no problem whatsoever over correcting the double booking, she simply cancelled the second room.

                On this Saturday afternoon the Amber was very quiet and the booking-in process was an unusually leisurely and chatty affair, we asked about the shopping centre and its opening hours and also, of course, the hotel restaurant.

                Clear instructions were given as to how to find our room and assistance offered, and declined, with our luggage.

                ON THE WAY TO THE ROOM i.e. how easy is it to find your way around? How accessible is if for less able persons? What condition are the public rooms and passageways in? 8 / 10

                There is a lift to all floors, as is usual we took the exercise and climbed the stars. Finding the room was easy enough - albeit a long walk down a rather depressingly dark corridor to get there. Our room - number 121 was a non-smoking room on the first floor.

                The décor on the stairs and corridor floors and walls was plain and rather dull, although one can only say that the whole place is spotlessly clean.

                THE ROOM 8 / 10

                The only reason that this room drops two points is the fact that in a four star hotel in this region I would hope to find air conditioning. We know from previous experience in the area that the weather can be unbearably hot, especially in June and July. In early May it was as hot as we would comfortably have wanted it to be here - that with the window left open.

                The décor and room layout were absolutely typical of similar hotels in which we have stayed in Dresden. Compared to the average English hotel room, this is large and airy with two opening windows. A double bed created from two singles is also the norm, individual duvets being provided.

                Mounted on the wall is a large flat-screen Philips television, offering many satellite channels - the only English speaking one that I could find being CNN news, again very typical in East German hotels. Usefully it also has a neat digital alarm clock built into the bottom of it.

                A proper desk, two chairs and a small side table were provided, along with a bedside table. The lighting in the room was plentiful for all purposes, whilst the immaculate cream walls and white ceiling also enhanced the air of "modern cool" here. This room may have lacked character somewhat, but the colour scheme and layout were well thought out and restful in nature.

                The view from the window was one of leafy suburbia and countryside - our room was located at the rear of the hotel and was I suspect rather nicer - and quieter - than the rooms at the front overlooking the large car park.

                THE EN-SUITE 9 / 10

                Apart from lacking in "freebies" which so many seem to delight in taking away from a hotel, the en-suite was everything that you could wish for. Spotlessly clean, well stocked with (amber coloured - the ONLY connection found!) fluffy towels, everything worked exactly as it was designed to do.

                Very pleasant smelling liquid soap dispensers - of a brand that we did not recognise - were attached to the wall next to the basin and over the bath. Both bath and shower are provided; I enjoyed a relaxing bath before going to bed.

                After some years of travelling abroad, it still takes me by surprise to find an electric plug socket sited immediately adjacent to the hand basin, in this case there was a powerful hair dryer located just above it.

                DID WE GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP? 10 / 10

                As is so often the case, only one squashy pillow for each side of the bed was provided. After dinner we requested and were given two extra pillows by the receptionist.

                The room proved quiet, the curtains kept out the light, but allowed sufficient air to flow through the open window, whilst the bed was as comfortable as any that we have slept in in Germany. I am not the best sleeper when away, especially in a strange hotel, but here, at the Amber Hotel, there was nothing to interrupt a good nights' sleep.

                FACILITIES ON OFFER - No score here, different grades / prices of hotel understandably have different facilities.

                The Amber Hotel Chemnitz offers a wide range of facilities, as would be expected and in line with its four star status.

                During an over night stop we do not have time to actually use the Sauna and "Wellness" facilities, nor indeed the cosy TV lounge off to one side of the reception area.

                Unfortunately in the evening it was rather too cool and breezy to sit out on the lovely little terrace behind the restaurant, but food and drinks can be served outside - particularly useful for smokers in the summer who are banned from the restaurant.

                Unlike a couple of other four star hotels in which we have stayed in Germany, the Amber had a very attractive bar, as well as a very well kept billiards table. As business hotels go, this is a very relaxing one in which to spend time - either networking or purely relaxing after the day's work is done.

                BREAKFAST / OTHER MEALS, FOOD & DRINKS 10 / 10

                The food was superb!

                Oddly, we had looked at the menu board outside the entrance and not really been attracted to any particular dishes. However, after a days driving followed by a long walk around the Chemnitz Centre shops we were looking forward to a good meal. Fortunately, for the sake of this review, if nothing else, we decided to "eat in".

                As is my tradition now, I am not going to give you a blow by blow description of the food that we ate that evening, suffice to say here that it was all of the very best quality, perfectly cooked and beautifully presented.

                If I have to single out a particular dish it would be my main course - chosen from the "Regional Specialities" menu, roast wild boar with mushrooms, served with potatoe au gratin. I eat wild boar in Poland and enjoy its gamey flavour and meaty texture. Here it had all of the flavour, but the meat just literally melted in the mouth, it really was an extraordinary culinary experience.

                We both ate three courses here; the emphasis was most definitely on quality rather than quantity, the meal being rounded off by the most divine Tiramisu that we have ever tasted! In England I would have expected to pay around £40 to £50 per head for a meal of this quality - depending on the location. Here at the Amber Hotel in Chemnitz the food bill came to a mere 43.00 Euros, a further 9 Euro being added by the consumption of four superb multi-vitamin juice drinks.

                Equally matching the quality of food was the standard of service offered in the smart, but relaxed restaurant. The manager was a true professional - who spoke very good English and took an obvious pride in ensuring that all of his guests were completely satisfied with their meals. The two waitresses (one being the receptionist - presumably bored with nothing to do on the desk!) were equally attentive and efficient.

                I have read several reviews praising a great, paid for, evening meal, and then going on to criticise the "free" breakfast. Here at the Amber that simply was not the case. Breakfast started early - 6.30am, even on this Sunday morning and finished well after we had left. A typical continental buffet spread in appearance, in fact, again, all of the food presented was of the best quality.

                A wide range of cut meats, cheeses and some cooked sausages, eggs and bacon were all sampled and enjoyed. I did not actually indulge in one of the many cereals on offer, but fresh fruit salad and as much of that superb multi-vitamin juice as you wished to consume were provided.

                Coffee was brought to the table in a flask, whilst a box of speciality teas was provided on the buffet, where boiling water could be obtained from a samovar. As is the norm in Germany, a superb range of bread and pastries was on offer and I also discovered a wonderful nutty chocolate spread in a dispenser, I have no idea what the brand was - it was not Nutella - but it was the best spread that I have ever applied to bread!

                OVERALL VALUE FOR MONEY 10 / 10

                Anyone that has read my previous hotel reviews will know that I very rarely walk away from a hotel totally satisfied. Value for money and English hotels are a direct contradiction in terms - in Eastern Germany it would seem that this is not the case.

                The very unassuming looking Amber Hotel, all things considered, probably offered the best value for money of any hotel that we have stayed in anywhere. It would thus be unfair to award it anything less than top marks here.

                HOW LIKELY AM I / ARE WE, TO USE THIS HOTEL AGAIN?

                Almost certain to is the answer to that.

                Thanks to its ideal location, travelling east or west through Europe on E40 and the excellent value for money - especially bearing in mind the quality of the food - we actually look forward to returning to the Amber Hotel in Chemnitz.

                RICHADA'S HOTEL RATING 86 %

                I am starting to feel that I am on some sort of crusade here, but the Amber Hotel in Chemnitz really highlighted for me just how poor the standards in many English hotels have become.

                Not only that, but over priced too.

                We have on two recent occasions paid somewhat more to stay in Lodges in this country, which frankly have been so far below the standards set here that it is pitiful.

                The very low key Amber thoroughly deserves its place at number two in the table below - behind another, truly exceptional (German) hotel.


                In order to put that score into some kind of perspective, here are my current hotel rankings - all reviewed and scored using identical criteria:

                Ringhotel Friederikenhof - Lubeck - Germany - 92%

                Amber Hotel - Chemnitz - Germany - 86%

                Swallow Bower Hotel - Chadderton - 83%
                Grand Hotel, Torquay - 83%
                Innkeeper's Lodge, Chester Northeast - 83%
                Innkeeper's Lodge, Stockport - 83 %
                Innkeeper's Lodge, Hull - 81%
                Preston Swallow Hotel - Samlesbury, Lancashire - 74%
                Hotel Drei Schwanen - Hohenstein-Ernstthal - Germany - 72%
                Hotel Viktoria, Cologne - 70%
                Innkeeper's Lodge, St Albans - 65%
                Hotel Piast, Boleslawiec (Poland) - 64%
                Chadwick Hotel, St Annes - 63 %
                Innkeeper's Lodge, Lichfield - 39%

                POSTSCRIPT:

                Since initially writing this review last summer, we have TWICE returned to the Amber - either side of Christmas. If anything our second and third stays (again in room 121!) were even better than in the summer. The Christmas menu was superb, as were the lavish decorations inside the hotel. I can think of no finer reccomendation, other than to say that we would not look for another hotel in which to stay in this particular area.

                CONTACT DETAILS:

                Amber Hotel
                ChemnitzPark
                Wildparkstrasse 6
                Chemnitz-Rohrsdorf

                Tel: +037 22 513000
                Fax: +037 22 513100

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                  09.04.2009 19:50
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                  Keen on Swiss train spotting? If not, give it a miss!

                  WHY DID WE BOOK THE HOTEL WILDBACH in BRIENZ?

                  For more years than I care to remember I dreamed of returning to Switzerland, specifically to the Bernese Oberland region of central southern Switzerland.

                  As a child, travelling with my parents, we used to stop in a small town called Brienz overnight on our way through to northern Italy. The last time that I was here would have been as an eight year old in 1970. So beautiful is the scenery of the area that it left a lasting impression. When the idea of driving to Switzerland for a weeks' holiday cropped up last summer, Brienz almost chose itself as the logical place to stay.

                  Having decided that the Bernese Oberland was to be our destination, we narrowed the search for a base - or hotel - to the Brienzee, the large lake surrounded by mountains to the east of Interlaken. Switzerland was never known as a "budget" destination and when researching hotels, this was quickly reaffirmed, indeed even booking through internet sites there were no bargains to be found.

                  Our short list came down (as usual) to two hotels - plus one that I last visited as a child - the Hotel Baren in the centre of Brienz. Fortunately, as it turned out, the now very dilapidated Baren appeared on no websites whatsoever, a straight choice then between the Strand Hotel in Iseltwald on the southern lake shore, or the Wildbach on the opposite shore in Brienz.

                  The Strand was a rather larger, grander three star hotel, with modern "international" style rooms. Its setting looked idyllic however and, at around £80 per night - this was October and therefore off-season - comparable in price to the two star Wildbach almost opposite on the lake. However, one thing put us off, unnecessarily as it turned out, according to the website, there was no hotel; car park, merely "parking nearby in a public car park".

                  The Wildbach not only had its own car park, but also appeared much more genuinely authentic Swiss Chalet style in its appearance, we do like to sample the local flavour if possible when we travel - and know that the car is safely parked at night!

                  HOTEL DESCRIPTION / OUR PERCEPTION FROM HOTEL PUBLICITY

                  Leading on from the above, we researched the Wildbach thoroughly and decided that, according to the website, it was just what we were looking for, a small, homely, hotel with a proper Swiss atmosphere about it.

                  This, verbatim, is what the hotel's own site has to say about it:
                  "The rustic 2-star-hotel is located on the panoramaroad in the direction of Interlaken, 1km away from the city of Brienz. The location on the shore of lake Brienz is unique - just in front of the door of the hotel you have the possibility to swim in the most cleanest lake in Switzerland. The amazing view will hypnotize you - the beautiful, green Alps fall steeply into the lake, broken by the thunderous waterfall".

                  There are some none too great photographs shown too, a little hazy and out of focus. I thought that, at the time of booking, was strangely at odds with the Swiss reputation for precision and accuracy in all things. What did make us just a little suspicious was the fact that there was no picture of the hotel from the front. Those who read my reviews regularly will be aware of how much store I put in photographs - especially when it comes to hotels!

                  Switzerland is a nation renowned for hotel keeping, although, to be honest, many of the ones we had investigated on the internet appeared to be grossly over-priced, even compared to the rip-off tariffs charged right here at home. The Wildbach by comparison appeared to be a refreshingly authentic and honest hostelry, even if, for a mere two star establishment, £80 per night for the room (B&B) did, still, seem rather steep.

                  "Appeared honest"......keep that thought in mind as we approach the First Impressions category!

                  BOOKING PROCESS 10 / 10

                  A surprise here, although we booked the Wildbach through Booking.com, one of very many booking sites - all offering the same room rate (I did warn you that there were no bargains to be had!) - when we checked out, the hotel actually charged us in £ Sterling. This very neatly avoids the FOREX commission charge which appears against all of our usual European MasterCard payments.

                  The actual checking-in process was faultless, we assumed that we must have been the only couple checking in that Friday afternoon as we were referred to by name upon walking into the Wildbach, a nice touch bearing in mind our first, very alarming, impressions!

                  LOCATION 5 / 10

                  There are two entirely opposed ways of looking at this one. On the hotel publicity material it looks totally idyllic; facing Switzerland's cleanest lake, separated only from it by a none too busy and very scenic road. It is less than a mile away from Brienz, in the summer a gorgeous walk along the lake shore, or indeed a short hop on one of the lake steamers, which stop at the Hotel's very own pier.

                  And all of that is absolutely true......providing you are standing with your back to the hotel, facing the beautiful lake and mountains above it......oh and make sure your MP3 player is turned up VERY loud too......

                  FIRST IMPRESSIONS 3 / 10

                  ......"Pardon? Sorry, didn't catch that!"........

                  We had, so far, enjoyed a wonderful day driving down through Switzerland from Germany, the weather was beautiful. Deliberately I had left the motorway at Thun in order to take the scenic road along the northern lakeshores, firstly of the Thunnersee and then the Brienzersee. There was very little traffic on the road, even stopping every ten minutes to take photographs of the ever more beautiful unfolding scenery, it was still only two o'clock as we approached our hotel.

                  We were impressed to find that the little Hotel Wildbach actually featured on Beckie, our German GPS system, as we rounded a blind bend she piped up with the reassuring message that: "you have arrived at your destination". The Wildbach was not in site, but a very large, impressive, metal railway viaduct was!

                  Parking on the large car park we looked back to see that the attractive looking, traditional wooden, Swiss Chalet style hotel had been built directly UNDER a stone railway bridge leading onto the metal viaduct to its right. The reason for the slightly dodgy photographs was all too painfully obvious; any picture of the hotel from the front would show the railway line going straight over the top of it.

                  Mrs R looked at me in horror! "Oh my GOD, you're never going to sleep......" an express train at that very moment thundered over the top of us completely drowning out the rest of her sentence.

                  Her next sentence was along the lines of 'do we really want to stay here?'

                  By sheer and happy coincidence a lady leaned out of the car parked next to us; "are you English?" she asked with a slightly Brummie accent. She and her husband owned a holiday flat further up the lake, above the same railway line. They reassured us that the trains did not run after 11.00pm and started no earlier than 6.30am - not a place for a lay-in then!

                  During our conversation several trains passed overhead, the slow ones were even worse, the noise they made drowned out the conversation for a much longer period!

                  CHECKING IN 7 / 10

                  We did not really get off to the best start at the Wildbach, having looked forward to this holiday for a very long time, my wife was really concerned about my being able to rest sleeping "under the arches". The fluent English speaking hostess - no name or title was offered at all - seemed very put out when Mrs R asked her directly if the trains were a disturbance "we have never had any guest complaints" came the curt reply.

                  In typically efficient Swiss style all of the details were correct and she issued us with a rather tatty looking plastic key-card, which she said could be replaced if we "have a problem with it". The owner, the following day, without us asking replaced this for us with a new one.

                  We had been driving since 9.00 and wanted something to eat, unfortunately, at 3.15pm this was a problem, the lady actually intimating that this would be a considerable inconvenience, but that if we insisted she would see what was available in the kitchen. We did not insist, booked an early dinner for 6.30 in the non-smoking area of the restaurant and hastened into Brienz in order to grab a snack from a supermarket.


                  ON THE WAY TO THE ROOM i.e. how easy is it to find your way around? How accessible is if for less able persons? What condition are the public rooms and passageways in? 8 / 10

                  Inside, this is a small, homely hotel with just six rooms of varying size and comfort. The key card allows you 24 / 7 access through the back door, which, although on the second floor, is approached up a steep driveway under the railway arch to the rear of the hotel.

                  Unless in some way physically disabled, there is no problem with orienteering your way around the Wildbach. There is no reception or bar as such, the ground floor being taken up by the kitchen and two rooms of the restaurant, the smaller of which is non-smoking. The staircase rises through the middle of the house, opening onto a landing on which all six rooms are located, the three at the front having en-suite bathrooms, the three to the rear - directly under the railway, having a shared bathroom - also situated on the landing.

                  The general impression is of a very well kept B&B rather than of a hotel as we would recognise it. The general décor throughout is clean and bright, practical rather than luxurious.

                  Those who are less able on their feet should not consider the Wildbach as a base. It is totally unsuitable for wheelchair users, there are steep steps approaching it from the car park at the front, a rough and bumpy track from the back.

                  The public area downstairs - this establishment is primarily, as it turned out, a restaurant with rooms - is very rustic in flavour, all stripped wood and bare wooden tables. In the centre of it burns night and day a log stove, this proved uncomfortably hot if you were too close to it.

                  THE ROOM 10 / 10

                  The room, in its way, was perfect. We had been given the best room in the house, situated at the front on the eastern corner of the building. The owners are justifiably proud of this room and it is the one shown in the publicity material.

                  Rather in the style of the restaurant downstairs, it was all plain wood, the eaves having been used as decorative architectural features; some were even painted with alpine flowers. Unusually the room was approached down a small flight of stairs having entered the door. The en-suite was tucked discreetly away beside the stairs which were at an angle, giving both room and bathroom an interestingly irregular shape.

                  The furniture was pretty much standard, as you would expect; a double bed with built in side tables, a desk come dressing table and a television on top of its own side table. Slightly less usual perhaps were a large arm chair and a small bench seat filling the gap between the wardrobe and bedside table.

                  Outside however was to be found the piece d'resistance, the balcony was almost as large as the room! A large dining table and four chairs were provided here, along with an easy chair. Naturally the balcony faced the superb view and not the railway viaduct!

                  By any standards this was a delightful room, one of the best in which we have stayed anywhere indeed, as well as being comfortable, well appointed and attractive to look at it was also immaculately well kept - so clean indeed that we could have been the first guests ever to have slept here.

                  THE EN-SUITE 9 / 10

                  I know that for many the lack of a bath would be a black mark here, but there simply was not room for one and the very best use had been made of the space available. The toilet, shower and hand basin were all spotlessly clean too.

                  Only the very most basic of toiletries i.e. unbranded liquid soap in dispensers by the basin and shower were provided - the Swiss certainly do not believe in giving anything away!

                  DID WE GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP? 7 / 10

                  Oh so tricky to answer that! Maybe the Swiss high altitude air agreed with me, or the stop-watch accuracy of the rail timetable just happened to fall into my regular sleep pattern, but yes we both slept well enough at the Wildbach.

                  The trouble here is though, that if you want a late night, followed by a lay in, this simply isn't the place to provide it. Those trains are very noisy - I hate to think what sleeping in one of the rear bedrooms here would be like, they are directly below the tracks.

                  Judging by the sheer lack of traffic in the evenings on Swiss roads, the Swiss people appear to stay indoors and go to bed early. The hotel and railway tend to force you into adopting this rather rigid routine, which, when you are on holiday and not having to get up in the morning to go to work, becomes rather tiresome after a couple of days.

                  FACILITIES ON OFFER - No score here, different grades / prices of hotel understandably have different facilities.

                  Given that this is only rated as a two star hotel, and that there are only six rooms, the lack of facilities is only to be expected. You will not find a bar or lounge of any sort here, indeed the only guest "facility" that I could find as such amounted to a little library situated on the upstairs landing. There were plenty of English books too - but then everyone in Switzerland appeared to speak English anyway!

                  As with many Swiss hotels the Wildbach is set up for al-fresco dining, a large terrace outside the front of the restaurant is not only popular in the summer, but also it would seem on fine autumn days. The fantastic view can only partially make up for the rather disappointing food......

                  BREAKFAST / OTHER MEALS, FOOD & DRINKS 5 / 10

                  Bearing in mind the prices charged, even by inflated Swiss standards, I can only say that in a culinary sense the Wildbach was disappointing. On that first evening we finished up paying almost £50 for a single course meal with an apple juice each. My wife very much enjoyed her locally caught fish dish, my wild game on the other hand was distinctly lack-lustre and certainly worth nowhere near double the cost of a far superior, but similar, dish that would have been served in most German hotels.

                  It almost seems churlish to mention the size of the portions here.....smaller than in any other place which we ate over the following four days.

                  After the dinner experience, we had no great expectations of breakfast and were not surprised at the sheer lack of choice and mediocrity of the fare on offer. A continental breakfast, the best part of which was the excellent coffee, it amounted to little more than bread and jam with some of the worst, most highly processed slices of meat that I have ever come across.

                  The contrast with much cheaper or similarly priced establishments over the border in Germany was stark indeed. We were wondering just what German or American guests would make of breakfast at the Wildbach!

                  OVERALL VALUE FOR MONEY 4 / 10

                  Having visited and really enjoyed dinner (£49.75 for three courses) at the Strand Hotel on the opposite side of the lake, we had come to the conclusion that, beautiful as our room was at the Wildbach, we had definitely made the wrong choice of hotel. At the Strand we had a superb three course dinner for the same price as the meal we had on the first night at the Wildbach. The Strand also had far better facilities, a bar, a proper reception and a much better appointed dining room.

                  Initially we had formed the opinion that Switzerland was just an extremely expensive place to stay and that the Wildbach was probably par for the course. That was until we visited Grindelwald, famous mountain resort and location of hotels large and small - all offering better value rooms and much cheaper food. Grindelwald is no more than a thirty minute drive from Brienz.

                  Our total bill for the four night stay, including that over-priced meal, came to £428.90. There were no "extras" at all on the bill. On hindsight, even by Swiss standards I do not think that represents very good value for money - by any standards in any other country in which we have stayed, it represents downright poor value.

                  HOW LIKELY AM I / ARE WE, TO USE THIS HOTEL AGAIN?

                  Regrettably we would not use the Wildbach again. An aspect not touched on was the coldness and near hostility of the one staff member who was there most of the time. Guests appeared to be an inconvenience, very simple, and we thought reasonable, requests were met with the kind of cold distain that makes one feel thoroughly unwelcome. An example of this was requesting not to sit adjacent to the log burning stove at breakfast - the table which she had prepared for us was unbearably hot, we very politely requested to sit away from the stove by the window where we had dinner the previous evening. This was met with an alarmed:

                  "But THIS is YOUR table."

                  "I'm very sorry but we are not going to sit there."

                  Instead of quietly laying up the other table with fresh crockery, they were noisily removed from "our" table and slammed down onto the one by the window.

                  Even had the Wildbach offered a warmer welcome, we would not return to it on value for money grounds anyway. The Bernese Oberland is not short of hotels, you just need to search a little harder in order to find one offering more for the same money - do not expect any to be cheap though!

                  RICHADA'S HOTEL RATING 68 / 100

                  In order to put that score into some kind of perspective, here are my current hotel rankings - all reviewed and scored using identical criteria:

                  Ringhotel Friederikenhof - Lubeck - Germany - 92%
                  Hotel Traube - Offenburg - Germany - 88%
                  Swallow Bower Hotel - Chadderton - 83%
                  Grand Hotel, Torquay - 83%
                  Innkeeper's Lodge, Chester Northeast - 83%
                  Innkeeper's Lodge, Stockport - 83 %
                  Innkeeper's Lodge, Hull - 81%
                  Preston Swallow Hotel - Samlesbury, Lancashire - 74%
                  Hotel Drei Schwanen - Hohenstein-Ernstthal - Germany - 72%
                  Hotel Viktoria, Cologne - 70%

                  Hotel Wildbach - Brienz - Switzerland - 68%

                  Innkeeper's Lodge, St Albans - 65%
                  Hotel Piast, Boleslawiec (Poland) - 64%
                  Chadwick Hotel, St Annes - 63 %
                  Innkeeper's Lodge, Lichfield - 39%

                  BOOKING SITE & PHOTOGRAPHS / LOCATION MAP

                  www.universehotels.net/hotel/67546-HotelWildbach-Brienz.html

                  www.hotels-and-more.ch/en/bern/brienz/hotel_wildbach.php

                  I am taking the unusual step of publishing links to two booking sites for the Wildbach, unfortunately here on Dooyoo we are unable to publish our own photographs. The second site is actually "open" enough to show a picture of the front pof the hotel with the viaduct running over it.

                  CONTACT DETAILS:

                  Wildbach 1149,
                  3855 Brienz Am See
                  Berner Oberland
                  Switzerland

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                    08.04.2009 19:23
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                    One of Britain's best visitor attractions

                    It is many moons since last I wrote about a ship, that being the S.S. Great Britain, which given the slightest opportunity, I urge you to visit in Bristol.

                    Why mention that here? Well, there are many similarities between the two preserved ships and, I rather suspect that, an enthusiast of one is likely to find much of interest in the other. Both are equally important milestones in the history of shipping, Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Britain being the first iron hulled steam propelled ocean going liner, Isaac Watts' HMS Warrior being the first Iron Clad Warship.

                    If it were possible to look at the two ships side by side, anyone could be forgiven for assuming that they were contemporaries, in fact they were built and launched almost a generation apart - the Great Britain in Bristol in 1843 and the Warrior in Blackwall, on the Thames in London, in 1860.

                    The fact that the two technically similar, but completely diverse in purpose, ships were designed, built and commissioned so far apart was indicative of the very conservative Royal Navy of the time.


                    ISAAC WHO?

                    I K Brunel went on to become a household name, and not only in his own time, but also down through the ages. He probably has more fans today, including myself, than he had a hundred years ago, even Jeremy Clarkson has furthered his cause on television.

                    Where does that leave Isaac Watts? Clearly, looking at his lasting creation in the shape of the Warrior, he was a talented naval architect. He was not, however, a visionary as was Brunel. That could actually be a rather unfair assumption, we will never actually know, for, as a naval architect, he was subject to all manner of politics and a chain of command. Although even the great Brunel himself, autocratic as he was, had to contend with company owners and financiers, he was not constricted by them in the way that Watts would have been working for the crown.

                    The crown of the day was Queen Victoria, the British Empire was rapidly building, Britannia ruled the waves, even with a Royal Navy then outdated by around 100 years. The world was a much larger place than it is today and the Industrial Revolution had already had just as profound an affect on society as the Computer Revolution has had over the past twenty years.

                    What has all this to do with the Warrior? As with all historical attractions it did not merely "materialise", the very reason for it being a visitor attraction today is that it is an historical artefact of an era that is now well beyond anyone's living memory.


                    THE CONCEPTION

                    In that a ship is "born", then by definition it must be conceived. Down the ages, like we humans, ships have evolved and developed since rudimentary dugout canoes were used in pre-historic times. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, never had such huge strides in marine technology been made possible than during the nineteenth century.

                    Until 1860 naval vessels looked pretty much as they had done for the past several hundred years. Clearly the Royal Navy, and navies of foreign powers, had reached the ultimate limit of what could be achieved with a wooden hull. Warships of the day looked very much like HMS Victory (also now on display in Portsmouth Historic Naval Dockyard), multi-decked, top heavy gunships, powered by acres and acres of canvas sail.

                    150 years later this may seem laughable, but HMS Warrior was the first modern battleship, born from a need for the Navy to modernise rapidly, ordinary merchant shipping long having overtaken it in terms of size, prestige and technology.

                    In May 1859 the Controller of the Royal Navy, Admiral Baldwin Walker commissioned Isaac Watts to design a steam and sail powered iron hulled battleship. The crude low pressure boilers of the day were inefficient and required huge tonnages of coal to be carried; the sails were used almost all of the time, the engine only for carrying out manoeuvres and for continuing under way in a dead calm. The coal bunkers held 850 tons, whilst the sails had a combined area 48,400 square feet - this was to be a colossally big ship compared to any other naval vessel then afloat. Building a ship of this size could only be achievable using an iron frame and hull, just as Brunel had done.

                    Cynically, and with the benefit of the history books, one may well draw the conclusion that Admiral Walker's priority above all else was to build his ship as large and imposing as possible as a way of impressing the Royal Navy's superiority over the oceans of the day. If that were indeed the case, then he must have retired a proud man, the Warrior having met and exceeded all of his expectations.


                    S.S. GREAT BRITAIN TECHNOLOGY

                    Whilst Brunel had no direct design input in the Warrior - he died in September 1859, fifteen months before she was launched, his influences throughout were undeniable. Having largely invented the technology, Wattts had little choice but to follow, adopting many of Brunel's innovations. A very specific example of this was that recognising the limitations of sail and propeller power, the lifting propeller system - whereby it could be cranked in-board, out of the water - in order to save drag was designed in from scratch. Following entry into service the Great Britain had later been thus converted.

                    Surpassing even the engine technology was the construction of such an enormous hull. Clearly for a ship of this size, required strength and desired operating speed, an iron hull was the only solution. The S.S. Great Britain had doubled the size of ANY ship afloat in 1843, HMS Warrior was to do the same for the Navy. At 418 feet (127 metres) she was to be 120 feet longer than any previous naval vessel.

                    Where the two ships varied substantially was in purpose. The Great Britain was the world's first ocean going liner, uncomfortably cramped by modern standards, it was, when launched, the last word in luxury and speed. Naturally as a battleship, a gun platform even, HMS Warrior varied substantially in concept. At the heart of Warrior is a strengthened 'citadel', an armoured oblong 4.1/2 inch thick, wrought iron, box forming the main centre section of the hull.

                    My references to Warrior here as a 'battleship' are strictly speaking incorrect. In Naval terms she was designed as a frigate, the definition of that type of ship being one that has all of its guns mounted on one continuous gun deck.

                    Due to the size and weight of Warrior, Watts reasoned that, being a much more stable gun platform, he could mount much larger guns than had ever before been used on a naval vessel. A wooden battle ship, such as the Victory, with multiple gun decks, was at the limit of stability when firing 32 pound cannons. For Warrior, 26 muzzle-loading 68 pound (31kg) and 10 breech-loading 110 pound (50kg) guns were designed and built.


                    BUILDING THE WARRIOR

                    Designing such a monster was nothing compared to actually building it using the technology available to Victorian ship builders. Naval shipyards and dry docks were configured for ships of the size, weight and wooden construction of HMS Victory. The majority of naval; ship-wrights were skilled carpenters, few, if any, had worked in iron previously.

                    Walker and Watts had little choice but to commission the famous Thames Ironworks to build their new ship. This was the only shipyard in the country at the time large enough to build such a ship. It was also experienced in working with iron and had previously handled naval commissions so knew how the lines of communication worked.

                    The engines and boilers were also built on the Thames, by Penns at Greenwich. It was once the building had started that the very appropriate name of Warrior was chosen for the ship, an aged wooden hulled battleship of the same name having recently been de-commissioned.

                    In total 900 men were employed in the construction of Warrior, the anticipated launch date was for the summer of 1860, but due to much procrastination on the part of the navy over the guns, the launch was delayed until 29th December 1860.

                    Fitting out took a further eight months, at the end of which this ship, at a cost of £390,000, was commissioned in Portsmouth on 1st August, 1861. She was the largest, fastest warship in the world, but more importantly, carried more firepower than any other ship afloat.


                    WHAT Mr DICKENS HAD TO SAY ABOUT IT:

                    "A black vicious ugly customer as ever I saw, whale-like in size, and with as terrible a row of incisor teeth as ever closed on a French frigate"


                    WHAT RICHADA HAS TO SAY ABOUT IT:

                    Rather than just taking the contemporary Charles Dickens' word for it, since June 1987 we have actually been able to go to Portsmouth and see this ship for ourselves in order to make up our own minds about it.

                    The years between its' launch in 1860 and the return of the Warrior to Portsmouth as a floating museum in 1987 were, in truth, rather uneventful. The Warrior never fired a gun in anger. By her sheer size and power she proved to be a magnificent peacekeeper, quite simply no foreign power was foolhardy enough to take her on.

                    As with all modern technologies, rapid development takes place, rendering quite recent designs obsolete almost over night. Five years after entering service, the navy was ordering the first of the now ubiquitous "turret" type ships. Warrior's size and speed were poor substitutes for much more manoeuvrable ships entering service with other navies. Her steering gear was primitive - very similar to the old wooden hulled navy ships that she replaced, in less than ten years sails were disappearing from the Royal Navy too.

                    HMS Warrior saw in total twenty two years of active naval service, before returning to Portsmouth to have her machinery and guns stripped out. She remained in naval service in Portsmouth Harbour performing various support duties until 1929, when she was converted for use as a floating oil jetty and towed to Milford Haven. So sound was her hull that she sat at anchor for a further 50 years performing this task.

                    In the meantime all of her contemporaries had long gone to the scrap yard; by 1960 she was the only remaining Royal Naval battleship afloat. This fact that had not gone unnoticed by many naval historians and even, critically the labour politician John Smith, who as MP for the City of Westminster had set up the Manifold Trust, whose aim was to preserve and restore endangered items of national heritage. Smith was very much aware of the Warrior and her current situation; in 1968 he even held a meeting with the Duke of Edinburgh - known to share similar interests, especially maritime ones, in order to discuss the Warrior's potential future.

                    In 1976 her service at the oil depot in Milford Haven finally came to an end, plans were already well afoot for her restoration, indeed John Smith and the Manifold Trust had already agreed to finance the total restoration of the ship, estimated at between £4 million and £8 million.

                    Warrior was handed over to the Greenwich based Maritime Trust, who already tended for such notable ships as the Cutty Sark and Captain Scott's Discovery. Late in 1979 Warrior, barely recognisable as the ship she now is, was towed into Hartlepool where, over the following eight years, total restoration took place.

                    Fascinatingly, much of the restoration was carried out using the journal and drawings of a fourteen year old midshipman, Henry Murray, who, whilst serving on the Warrior had taken copious notes and drawn out detailed plans of the ship's decks.

                    Much of the original ship was saved and preserved. The iron hull, main (timber) and lower decks are largely original; however the upper (weather) deck was completely replaced, using period timber from a demolished, Victorian, Bradford warehouse. A team of 140 craftsmen made the Warrior a labour of love in Hartlepool, and the results, then, as now, are extraordinary.

                    I can guarantee that anyone remotely interested in maritime history, ships, or even in a wider context, Victorian history, will be impressed by the sheer attention to detail shown on board this ship by the restorers. Even where non-authentic materials have been used, for example the colossal guns, which have been cast in fibreglass from moulds made from an original, the result looks perfect. The detail is extraordinary - right down to the captain's pictures in his cabin, Midshipman Henry Murray, I am sure would be delighted at his legacy.


                    WARRIOR AS A VISITOR ATTRACTION TODAY

                    I do not really need to explain to you how to find HMS Warrior, get anywhere close to Portsmouth and follow the brown "Historic Dockyard" sign posts and the mighty Warrior is hard to miss. The Historic Naval Dockyard has its own pay and display car park under a large block of flats, it is modern, well lit and extremely well sign posted as you approach the harbour.

                    Travel by train and alight at Portsmouth Harbour Station; Warrior is berthed adjacent to the main dockyard entrance, less than two minutes walk from the train.

                    From either Gosport, or the Isle of Wight, you can even arrive here by ferry, both of which use the station as their terminal.

                    All of the local busses seem to stop either at the Dockyard, or the Station, whilst many of the "coastal" busses do too.

                    All in all, the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, home to the Warrior, is a very easily accessible site.

                    Warrior now forms the largest, most impressive part of the Historic Dockyard experience. Assuming that, as well as admiring the ship from the gate - you will need to take a harbour tour boat to get a good view of the stern - you wish to board the Warrior, a ticket will need to be purchased from the Dockyard Visitor Centre just beyond the gate. I will post the times and current prices at the end of this review.

                    Having visited Warrior twice now, I would advise doing as we did in September, and arrive at 10.00am when the dockyard opens. This way you will have this large ship pretty much to yourself to start with - a bonus for those, like me, who wish to take plenty of photographs. Later in the day or, as my first visit, on a special occasion - "Navy Day" - you will find even the vast decks of the Warrior uncomfortably crowded. I would also advise against attempting to pack the whole Dockyard Experience into one day, there is far too much to see and take in to be comfortably done in a day. This is the very reason that I am reviewing HMS Warrior as a separate subject to the Dockyard itself.


                    STEP ABOARD & BACK 150 YEARS IN TIME

                    The words detailed and impressive seem to have featured boldly so far and I am unable here to impress upon you enough the sheer scale of this ship. I first went to see it with my father many years ago - probably around 1990, when Warrior still very much had a "new" look and smell to it. Wonderfully preserved and maintained, the Warrior has since lost that "new gloss" and, in my opinion at least, is all the better for it.

                    You step aboard via a floating pontoon and ramp - which naturally enough varies in steepness according to the state of the tide, there are no steps, making at least the weather deck fully accessible for wheel chair users.

                    First impressions of the deck are the sheer amount of open space, making even the huge cannons mounted on gun carriages look toy like. Other notable features are the notoriously inaccurate compass - near useless on early iron hulled ships like this - and the colossal helm, at which up to sixteen seamen would wrestle in order to keep the ship on the correct course.

                    Once on board you have access to the whole ship, although parts of it, such as climbing the near vertical steps to the bridge, will require you to be in pretty good shape! Before descending the steep steps to the lower decks, take in also the superb views of Portsmouth Harbour from the stern.

                    Impressive as it is, one cannot picture this ship with 700 servicemen aboard; below decks at least to us it would have seemed cramped and uncomfortable. For Victorian sailors used to damp and cramped conditions on previous ships it would have been near luxury. Adding to this would have been its massively increased stability, especially in stormy conditions.

                    The main, or gun deck as it was referred to, forms the main "citadel" section of the ship. Again a huge open space, just as well as this was where the crew worked, ate, and slept in this "safe" central area of the ship. Progressing through the Warrior you gain a real insight into the life of the Victorian sailor, even those not interested in ships and the navy cannot fail to be impressed by the superbly re-constructed (galley) kitchen, or - a first on a naval ship this: the washing machine!

                    Along with the cooking and laundry facilities, all other aspects of running the ship are open for our inspection. The store rooms for both arms and victuals', even the ship's jail has been fully restored.

                    Also present on board is much evidence of the strict class hierarchy that existed in the Victorian Navy, just as it did ashore. According to rank, skill and profession, so members of the navy took their place aboard ship. All enjoyed significantly better living conditions than their forebears - from the captain down. This was a very different navy to the one familiar to Admiral Nelson aboard his flagship, HMS Victory. Indeed, visiting both of these ships is an education in that sense above all else. However, the Victorian navy was far more "modern". Uniforms were supplied, press gangs were a thing of the past - all aboard Warrior were there because they had chosen to sign on, usually for ten years at a time. For all ranks aboard, the quality of life, in all probability, was far higher than ashore.

                    Having seen the vast open areas where the ordinary ratings lived, we progress through the ship to the officer's quarters and messes, progressively more comfortable, until reaching the captains cabin, which resembles more a luxury hotel suite of the time.

                    In a sense the engineer in me finds the lowest decks of all the most fascinating. Remembering that this was a pioneer steam ship and that the huge boilers were very inefficient, the machine spaces and boilers take up a huge amount of space. The noise, heat and sheer physical effort on the part of the stokers and engineers working down here is difficult to simulate in this now static exhibit. The boiler room is below the water line and today has a clammy, chilly feel to it, at sea, under steam the temperature down here would have been about 43degC.

                    If you are at all claustrophobic, large as this area is, I do not recommend visiting this, the lowest of the four decks. It is quite dark and one feels pleased to be back up on deck after spending any time below the water line.

                    Very much enhancing any visit to the Warrior are the "Quartermasters", in 1860 period uniforms on board the Warrior. They are a well briefed and a mime of information about the ship. Similarly the volunteer staff below decks who are only too pleased to fill you in on any detailed aspect of the ship, or life aboard the ship that may be of particular interest.


                    FACILITIES

                    Being part of the Historic Dockyard, means that as a visitor to the Warrior, we are well serviced as far as toilets, cafes, shops and restaurants go inside the dockyard site itself. Much pride is taken in the general appearance and cleanliness of the whole site, and for this reason alone I class this as one of Britain's best tourist attractions.

                    Just outside the dockyard gates are further facilities in the form of pubs, fish and chip shops and a vast range of eating and shopping opportunities at Gunwharf Quays which is less than a ten minute walk. In terms of value for money, I would tend to recommend eating at Gunwharf Quays.


                    CONCLUSION

                    I can think of so very many reasons for recommending a visit to HMS Warrior, and indeed, very few not to - even for those entirely disinterested in matters maritime. This may not be a cheap day out, but it is a very good value one, and for all the family at that. For those who live more than a day trip away from Portsmouth, this is a fascinating city, with much to do - apart from the dockyard and personally I would thoroughly recommend making a long weekend break of it.


                    CONTACT:

                    HMS Warrior 1860 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard - PO1 3LJ

                    (GPS users - Car Park PO1 3LA)

                    Tel: 023 9277 8600

                    EMAIL: info@hmswarrior.org

                    WEBSITE: www.hmswarrior.org

                    TICKETS & PRICES:

                    Tickets can be purchased on-line or at the gate. Be warned there are long queues on bank holidays and during summer weekends.

                    I would advise buying on-line: www.historicdockyard.co.uk/tickets/ in order to dodge the queue when you arrive.

                    Current (April 2009) ticket prices:

                    Adult £12.50 - 60 years+ £10.50 - 5 to 15 years + Students £8.50 - Family ticket (2+2) £33.00.

                    Please not that these are "Single Attraction" tickets for the Warrior only.

                    The all inclusive Annual Dockyard Admission ticket at £18.00 represents much better value and gives you unlimited access to the Warrior for a whole year, as well as a single visit to HMS Victory, the Mary Rose and a Portsmouth Harbour tour by boat.


                    OPENING TIMES:

                    10.00 - 17.00 Every day except: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

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                    • I'm Not Racist But... / Discussion / 85 Readings / 67 Ratings
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                      04.04.2009 11:30
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                      Another century brings another ethnic minority and the inevitable problems that accompany it.

                      I don't know about you, but I often think that anyone who starts a sentence with the line "I'm not racist but......" usually continues to dig themselves into a pit which quite clearly marks them out as being a racist, or rather more politely, in my own charmingly old fashioned terminology: prejudiced.

                      Yes, this is about racism, but surely it cannot have passed your notice that racism very often goes hand in hand with other prejudices including religion, homophobia, and even sex prejudice.

                      Why is this?

                      My simplistic theory, for what it is worth, is that as humans we are programmed to fear what we do not understand or have no experience of. Fear yes, but surely, also as humans, we should have intelligence enough not to turn that fear into bigotry and hatred?

                      As I said, it is a very simplistic theory and in an ideal world it should stand up, unfortunately none among us live in that ideal world, it is a theory tested on all sides by factors, generally, far beyond our control.

                      For very obvious reasons I hope that this "review":
                      a) does not turn into a tirade and that
                      b) having read it, you will not draw the conclusion that Richada is a racist.

                      MY BACKGOUND

                      I was born to white English parents in 1962, a very different era indeed, especially in the then "genteel" Home Counties. The world was so much larger then, the British Empire was still a vivid living memory for many, especially those retired in the very area in which I was bought up.

                      Indeed, our very own green and pleasant land actually ended at Watford Gap, beyond which the likes of "us" did not dare to venture.

                      Oh yes, Brighton had a smattering of Italians and Poles, even a few Chinese in the restaurant trade, but it was far from the cosmopolitan city that it has turned into during the last thirty years.

                      My father, particularly, grew up in frightfully middle class London suburbia before the Second World War and held very strong views.....somewhere to the right of Alf Garnet I used to think when I was in my young teens. Now in hindsight I realise his quite extreme views were only a reflection of his totally "white English" upbringing.

                      Until the age of nine, when I was set away to boarding school, I had no experience of "foreign" children at all, even holidaying in Austria and Italy we had not really come into contact with foreigners - merely staying aloof and maintaining that good old stiff upper lip.

                      At boarding school it was suddenly quite a novelty to be sharing dormitories and showers with boys (it was a single sex school) from all over the world. And do you know what? We were all exactly the same. No matter what the colour of our skin, nor even our native tongue, we were all in that same lonely boat together.

                      Quite unwittingly, my parents had sent me to a place that my father would have regarded as hell. My best friend was Jamaican; I had friends also from Ghana, Holland, America and one, oh yes, from Guildford!

                      This is indeed the only aspect of boarding school that I now, over thirty years later, feel REALLY benefited me - after six years I, nor any other boy that had been there at the time, could have walked out of that place a racist.

                      Returning to Brighton for the last two years of my education was a bit of a shock, the Sixth Form College here at that time seemed a very select establishment by comparison, I do not believe that any of my year were actually born more than about four miles away from the very building in which they were studying!

                      During the years that followed, my career brought me into contact with many nationalities in far too many situations and circumstances to go into here. I have actually suffered from "inverse racism", as I call it, on a couple of occasions, but more often than not it was the shocking and unexpected reaction of some of my older colleagues that really took me by surprise.

                      Inverse racism? Yes, one, totally lazy individual - "the world's laziest man" I used to refer to him as. Never done a stroke of work in 30 years, but that, at the very hint of a request to carry out a task would retort "you're only asking me to do that because of the colour of my skin", there was no way around it, director after director attempted to oust him, but with no success whatsoever.

                      With the approach of the current century our business had no choice but to become far more cosmopolitan - our largest customer started sub-contracting work around the globe - Malaysia, Australia, Poland, to name just a few. This lead to an extraordinary and life changing "happening" in my life, in 2000, I met a beautiful young Polish tool buyer over the telephone; we fell in love and were married the following year.

                      I rather hope that this preamble and my "international marriage" status will give some balance to the following paragraphs.


                      MY OPINION

                      Oh dear, heading into really deep water here now, I will try not to actually, but these are my own very personal views and 2008 was the year in which they actually crystallised in a sense.

                      Two completely divergent factors for us came together to throw into sharp focus the cause of racism in this country. I cannot speak about it in broader terms than nationally, as that is all that I have experience in.

                      The two "factors" are the recent and rapid growth of the predominantly young Catholic Polish community right here in Brighton, and the largely Muslim, Asian community in the north west of England - and I am going to highlight Nelson in Lancashire here - although many of the mill towns of that area are similarly populated ethnically.

                      Starting up in Nelson, we spent four days, on business, in the area back in late October - a whole day actually working in and around Nelson itself. Those not involved in the engineering industry may not realise quite how strong this sector of industry still is in today's depressed economic climate. Many small engineering companies and toolmakers are working flat out up in Lancashire to satisfy the demands, primarily, of the aerospace industry.

                      To me, as a southerner, this is an honest "working" area of the country, an area where extreme Pennine beauty rubs shoulders with grimy, rather old fashioned industry. It is an area where the industrial revolution took off thanks to the Victorian cotton mills, which in their day attracted huge numbers of cheap, largely Asian, immigrants. Driving around the area in 2008 we felt as never before the "them and us" factor, and it was in Nelson that I actually voiced for the first time my observation to my wife;

                      "I wonder why you never see mixed groups standing around chatting here?" It was lunch time in Nelson and there were groups of maybe six Asians standing around on street corners quite happily passing the time of day. At 3.00pm on those same street corners there was not an Asian in site, only the odd lone white person.

                      The point that I am rather clumsily trying to make here is that after well over 100 years, the two groups simply are not integrated, large parts of Nelson are "little Asia". Obviously I was not around when the mill workers arrived in Lancashire......

                      ......but fascinatingly, I was very much around, and in a sense, right in the "thick of it" when, about five years ago, the large influx of Poles first took place in my own home town.

                      My Polish wife came here in 2001 and married me before Poland became part of the EEC. By choice she fully integrated with English society, although obviously retains deep roots in Poland. Our home here is a happy fusion of English and Polish culture.

                      Through our local church, we have an elderly female Polish friend, who following capture by the Nazi's lost everything and was eventually shipped to England - traded for her brother who was forced to labour for the Germans, she never saw him again. Arriving here not speaking a word of English, she later married an Englishman and brought up her family here. She has very strong views, views which I actually find myself increasingly sharing, about immigrants, of all nationalities, integrating into the country in which they choose to settle. So strongly does she feel about this, that she will actually refuse to speak in Polish to any of our Polish guests who are capable of speaking English. I am often amused by the fact that she speaks in English to my wife - even if I am not in their company!

                      In the case of Polish workers coming here, the majority have a surprisingly good command of English language. One tends to expect this to improve once they live in England. In one notable case of my acquaintance, due to living in an entirely Polish household and only associating socially with Poles, her English has actually become progressively worse during the past year.

                      Our elderly Polish friend's views are, in my opinion at least, formed by circumstance, age and wisdom. Regrettably they are not shared by the majority of, much younger, foreign nationals entering this country, all too many of whom wish to extract the benefits that we have to offer, whilst making no effort to integrate whatsoever with society here.

                      Many of these immigrants, or migrant workers as they start out, no matter how well educated, are simply not well adjusted to living and working abroad. I am of the mind that exactly the same path was trodden by the Asian mill workers in the Victorian era as is now being followed by the recent, and continuing, influx of Eastern Europeans who are currently here merely to work.

                      Just as their forebears, many are attracted to this country by the idea that the streets are paved with gold. Many that come here are actually not very bright intellectually, cannot speak a word of English and are at once prey to fellow countrymen acting virtually as slave masters.

                      I often wonder what it must be like for many who get off a bus at Victoria Coach Station, having travelled over a thousand miles across Europe, only to be faced with the stark realisation that not a single word is written in their native tongue.

                      Seeing one fully developed ethnic minority (very much a majority in the area in which they live) in Nelson, albeit a much smaller and less cosmopolitan centre than Brighton, leaves me with an uneasy feeling about my wife's compatriots here in my own town.

                      Just like the Asians in Victorian times, the Poles are a willing (usually more skilled and educated too) workforce who have filled a lot of mundane jobs that English people simply regard as inferior or too poorly paid. Initially this may well be seen to our advantage, although personally I feel that in many cases they are carrying out work so far below their capabilities that this in itself will lead to problems eventually.

                      As we all know, there is far more to life than purely work, you cannot keep any section of the community imprisoned in their work twenty-four seven. Many Poles draw comfort from and build a life around their local (Polish) church. Most towns of any size where there is a Polish community have a Polish priest conducting a Polish Mass. Unusually, here in Brighton, thanks to a still strong ex-pat Polish community after the Second World War, that actually pre-dates the falling of the borders.

                      However, the old Polish priest is now gone - replaced by the "new guard". Indeed the elderly War evacuees have now been totally swamped by 18 to 25 year old Poles who have arrived over the last five years. It is a young and vibrant community now, centred in an area close to the centre of the city, the very good Polish shop on one side, the charming old English church in which the Polish Mass is held on the other.

                      98% of Poles are Catholic and obviously the Catholic church in England has, quite naturally, very much welcomed this considerable swelling of its ranks here. Understandable as that is, unfortunately, from what I have witnessed, it is also actually furthering the segregation of the Polish community. My wife and I were both shocked at the Polish priests' very obvious disapproval of my wife's' attendance at English Mass in her local community, rather than in "his" Polish church. Such a pity our elderly Polish friend was not in attendance at that meeting, I rather suspect that the priest would not have had any legs left to stand on!

                      Apart from on purely racial grounds, what possible motivation could a priest have for separating husband and wife in worship I wonder?

                      Regrettably, until the powers that be - in the Polish case, the church - start actually "preaching" integration, we are rapidly heading for yet another minority, foreign speaking and living "enclave" within English society.

                      There are some that will tell you that this will only be a temporary situation, that all of our guest workers will go home to start a prosperous new life in their own countries. Had we been in Nelson 150 years ago, I am sure that we would have been hearing exactly the same thing.

                      Integration is not a one way street. It is a mutually beneficial process, unlike in 1962, or 1862 come to that, the world is a very small place now, a very cosmopolitan place, we either choose to integrate or, by nature of circumstance, continue, through no positive choice of our own, to become ever more racist.

                      A sad, but inevitable conclusion.


                      Richada / Dooyoo © April 2009.

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                      • Looking Back at 2008 / Discussion / 50 Readings / 44 Ratings
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                        01.04.2009 18:38
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                        An unfashionably good year here.

                        Just for a change from my never ending stream of car reviews here on Dooyoo, something completely different - indeed a whole category that I had no idea even existed.......

                        RICHADA CELEBRATING 2008

                        I extend my sympathies to all of you who had a thoroughly bad 2008, 2009 can and will only be better for you. Not being one of life's great optimists, I am not usually given to passing much thought on either having a good or a bad year, what has gone has gone, is in the past and cannot be changed, what is to come - that is what matters.

                        When Richada says that 2008 was not a bad year, then I guess that you can assume that out of his 46 it was probably one of the best. Personally speaking, in our own household at least, it was one of good cheer and remarkably little sickness, discontent or sadness.

                        What follows is a very personal recollection of 2008, any opinions expressed are purely personal, if they offend then I apologise profusely in advance.


                        2008 ON PAPER

                        For me it is of some regret that, towards the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, putting pen to paper is becoming a rapidly outdated concept. 2008 was the first year in which I did not actually sit down and WRITE, with my own fair hand and fountain pen, a letter of any kind.

                        As a very young lad at school I remember, with some pride, being taught properly how to write - joined up letters. Biros and felt tip pens were not allowed, messy, blotchy fountain pens were used for all subjects. I cannot remember the name of the manufacturer of the cheap school issue, one - only that for a Christmas present in 1972 (my first year at boarding school) I received, from my parents, a beautiful stainless steel Parker fountain pen, with my name engraved upon it. Although it is long worn out, it remains one of my most treasured possessions. Indeed several years ago my wife, presented me with a superb new Schaeffer fountain pen, regrettably it has seen little use.

                        Naturally I did "write" in 2008, birthday and Christmas cards being the most personal items. Review notes were also hastily scribbled out - particularly the ones for the car reviews - I knew at the time that it would take many months to actually commit them to "Word", hand written notes are invaluable to me, both for review writing and every day life. Richada Enterprises, whilst having relatively modern systems, can hardly claim to have a paperless office, manual records are still kept, telephone orders are still written by hand.

                        As a result of the reduction in writing, especially with a "proper" pen, I now find that my, once really rather presentable, handwriting has turned into a rather messy scrawl, of which I am no longer remotely proud.

                        Regrettably internet publishing leaves no space for proper handwriting, will the fountain pen follow the typewriter into obscurity I wonder?


                        2008 ON SCREEN

                        In case you had not already guessed, the screen to which I refer is the very one in front of you right now......

                        ......the one that for me, progressively over the last ten years, replaced pen and paper.

                        Unlike the very many of you who use the PC as a games console and general entertainment centre, I use mine more as a glorified word processor. Actually that is to grossly diminish the role that it plays in my life, without it my photography would be altogether incomplete, as would my latest and most frustrating application - the dreaded iTunes program. Naturally the screen also spends a fair proportion of its daily life beaming the contents of the "www" into the Richada household.

                        On screen over the past twelve months I have actually started keeping my diary again, this lapsed around four years ago when I became more involved with reviewing. This is indeed one "application" that was carried out using the faithful fountain pen, until my first PC and printer arrived in around 1995......the internet took a further five years to arrive, hard to think now that I have only been using this incredible resource for eight years.....difficult to remember life without it!

                        I digress, back to the diary. It is no conventional daily one, oh no! Since first learning to drive in 1980 / 81, I have kept what I always used to refer to as my "Car Diary". In fact it was always more of a record as to where I have been and with whom, naturally of course too a running commentary on whichever car that I owned or was using for any given journey. It contains not only words, but many pictures over the years. The PC is actually a fantastic tool for this application as the words and pictures can be integrated seamlessly onto the same page - having now access to a colour laser printer the whole result looks most professional - even if it is bad form to say so myself.

                        Yes, as many have always suspected here, my life does and always has, revolved around cars!


                        2008 ON WHEELS

                        A good year in my motoring lifetime 2008, especially as after four and a half years and 96,000 miles, my rather un-loved 2004 Honda Accord Diesel was traded in for a superb new Subaru Legacy Diesel at the end of September. That was undoubtedly my motoring highlight of 2008. The Legacy had been on order since April; it was built to our own specification - pearlescent white paintwork with ivory leather upholstery. Believe me it looks much better than it sounds - everyone to have seen it says so too.

                        My wife and I were delighted to receive an invite to Company Car in Action back at the end of June, many of the cars driven there I still have to review, but 2008 broke records both in the number of different cars driven and in the total number of miles covered, especially the 9800 during the last three months.

                        As is usual nowadays, business saw us cover a lot of England during the year, three continental trips in all too - two in the Subaru and a summer trip to Poland in the Honda accounting for most of the miles covered. Always most relished is the opportunity to drive in Germany, where large sections of the motorway network remain de-restricted. Few English registered cars I suspect cover as many miles per year travelling "flat out" as mine.

                        Speed may well be dangerous in the wrong hands (and in an inappropriate vehicle) but yes, it is addictive!

                        During 2008 I drove:

                        22,288 miles

                        and used 490.3 gallons of fuel - that is a combined average of 45.46mpg.

                        Nobody could be more pleased than I to see the price of fuel falling then!

                        Not included in that are the 13 different cars driven at Millbrook. During the last twelve months, in total, no fewer than twenty-two cars have passed through my hands:

                        BMW 320d SE Convertible
                        BMW 635d Sport
                        Citroen C5 2.2 Exclusive Saloon
                        Citroen C5 2.7 HDi V6 Exclusive Estate
                        Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Titanium
                        Ford Escort 1.4i Van
                        Ford Focus 2.0 5dr Titanium
                        Ford Mondeo 2.5T Titanium X
                        Honda Accord 2.2 i-CTDi Executive
                        Honda Accord 2.2 i-DTEC EX GT TECH (2008 model)
                        Honda Civic IMA
                        Honda Civic Type R
                        Honda Jazz 1.2
                        Honda Jazz 1.4 CVT
                        Mercedes CLC180K Sport
                        Mini Cooper CVT
                        Subaru Impreza 2.5 WRX STi
                        Subaru Legacy Outback REn Boxer Diesel
                        Subaru Legacy Tourer RE Boxer Diesel
                        Subaru Legacy Tourer REn Boxer Diesel
                        Subaru Legacy RE Saloon Boxer Diesel
                        Vauxhall VXR8

                        It is a piece of cake picking the car I liked the least, and by a country mile......

                        ......sorry, but you will have to hang on a touch longer for the review in order to find out which one it was.

                        Choosing my favourite from the above list is altogether more difficult. The car that I am driving now, the diesel Subaru Legacy Saloon has to be the real world top dog here, especially at less than £20,000 for which it can easily be obtained. In a 'money no object' scrap though I would have the very devil of a job choosing between the pig ugly, but fabulous to drive, BMW 635d Coupe and the Vauxhall VXR8.

                        Go on then, I'll take the VXR8, a more original - and spacious - choice.


                        2008 ON HOLIDAY

                        Well I guess that those three continental trips, the last of which actually saw us into 2009, count as holidays.

                        In late April we drove out to Poland, the centrepiece of our two and a half week holiday being a close family wedding. Close indeed, the parents of the groom are my in-law's brother and sister. To save you wracking your brains over that one, allow me to explain: my father in law's brother married my mother in law's sister!

                        Having been there for a week in chilly, wet weather, fortunately it brightened up for the big event, held in the magnificent (modern) White Church in the centre of Mielec. The following week we escaped for a few days to our favourite hotel, the Redyk, situated in a village called Zab (Trans. Tooth) high up in the Polish Tatra Mountains. We hit lucky, the snow stayed and continued to fall late into the season, the scenery was magnificent, as were the photographs of snowy mountains under stunningly blue skies.

                        It was during those few days in the Tatras that in 2008 I took my first trip in a cable car, to the top of Mount Kasprowy Wierch. This was an experience that I had always been frightened of - on the day I really enjoyed it and would not think twice about stepping into a cable car again. Indeed it is another subject that I have long put off reviewing; if nothing else, it would give me the opportunity of sharing the superb views of the Tatra Mountains with you.

                        Over the last several years we have fallen into the habit of taking a short break holiday in October, sometimes a long weekend in this country, but the last two years we have been on the continent - but not Poland! This year from the early summer I had been toying with the idea of a "surprise", for my wife at least, trip to Switzerland. In the event, due to the arrival of the new car, the whole thing was actually planned at the last moment - less than a week before we went!

                        The whole experience, whilst being a good one, seemed to be fraught with hang ups. We usually plan such adventures well in advance, from previous experience they tend to go far more smoothly. Some problems such as the Channel Tunnel fire - causing us to go by ferry from Dover and loose around four hours to gales in the Channel were well beyond our control. However, hastily booked hotels, both in Germany and Switzerland brought us one good night out of six, that being in the Black Forest on the way down. The reviews on the hotels concerned should soon follow here on Dooyoo.

                        Switzerland, as a country, was everything that we had expected it to be, superb scenery - mountains and lakes just the way we most like it, and as a bonus, near traffic free roads too! However, we were taken aback in this land, famous for tourism and hotel keeping, to find that right at the close of the summer season, we felt far less than welcome in many places that we went. Initially we felt that we had just made an unlucky choice of hotel, but even in shops and restaurants we felt more of an inconvenience than a valued customer.

                        Maybe recessions never touch Switzerland - it is, at the prices charged for everything, certainly a country for the rich - a touch of common courtesy though never goes amiss, no matter how prosperous you may be.

                        On the return journey I had been recommended to take a small detour in order to see the "Romantic Rhine Valley". Looking at the map and working on our schedule, this actually appeared a perfectly sensible over night stop on the way home. Around an hour on the autobahn from Cologne and our usual route back to Calais - not that on this occasion we used it - the Rhine Valley is one destination that we intend to re-visit as soon as possible. Not only, even after the Swiss mountains, is it extremely beautiful, the people there generally were far more accommodating, even if far fewer speak English than in Switzerland. Even a bum choice of hotel failed to dampen our joint enthusiasm for this beautiful region of Germany.

                        Our final excursion abroad took us back to Adrianna's parents in Poland for the Christmas and New Year holiday period. Following the Swiss trip and many business miles since, the car was by then fully run in and raring to go. I thought that in the Legacy I had purchased a very sensible, spacious and safe four wheel drive saloon. On the German motorways it proved itself to be an amazingly rapid sports saloon, cruising happily at an indicated 140mph. In cold, snowy Poland too, thanks to four wheel drive, we were able to go wherever we wanted in it, not giving a second thought to the bad road conditions!

                        The second to last day of the year found us in Krakow, probably our favourite city. It was (literally) freezing cold and after walking on the pavements for about three hours we were both suffering from very cold feet - in spite of wearing proper winter boots and socks! A superb lunch was also enjoyed in our favourite little Chinese restaurant, even at today's dreadful exchange rate, under £12 for as much, very good, food as the two of us could comfortably eat, is superb value for money too! As recently as three years ago, we were able to eat here for around £4.00 each including drinks!

                        This is not the first time that we have rounded off the year in Krakow, and for whatever reason it feels entirely appropriate to do so - the place has a fantastic atmosphere as they prepare for the huge Sylvester (New Year's Eve) party in the large Rynek (square).


                        2008 ON CAMERA

                        My trusty Nikon D50 digital SLR camera has now taken some 18,807 photographs since being purchased in March 2006. In 2008 I took no fewer than 7713 shots with it, whilst it remains a superb camera, it is now starting to show signs of use (rather than age) and I am, this year, likely to supplement it with a rather higher specification Nikon D90.

                        The D90 is the first D-SLR camera capable of taking High Definition movies of 5 minutes in length, so who knows, 2009 may see my debut on the silver screen after all!

                        Digital (still) photography continues to give me great pleasure, since a young age I have always enjoyed taking photographs, on a 35mm SLR camera maybe a couple of hundred pictures per year. I wonder what would have been said only 10 years ago if you had told me that I would be taking nearly 8000 photographs a year.....that at almost no cost whatsoever!

                        Every day life is far better documented now thanks to digital photography. We take photographs of what seem to be totally mundane events and objects, things that with a film camera one would never have "wasted" a shot on. What this does do though is provide us with a much better record, and more importantly, our descendants with a far more detailed impression of just what life was like year by year. With digital photography it is not even necessary to date the pictures.......still useful if you re-name the files though to give a clue as to what they contain!


                        2008 ON HOME

                        We spent 2008 negotiating with an architect. Since moving into our home, a two bedroom detached bungalow in December 2001, we had been thinking about converting the loft space into living accommodation. We were invited to have a look at an old friends roof conversion 'in progress', a slightly smaller semi-detached bungalow than ours, this triggered a renewed interest and introduced us to our architect.

                        A man of indeterminate, late middle years, he turned out not to be at all as I had imagined an architect to be. My wife and I had fairly definite ideas of what we wanted to achieve in terms of using the space in our loft. Once the two chimneys are removed, we figured that there would be ample room for two good sized bedrooms and a family sized bathroom........and so there is.

                        Why then, did it take the architect a whole ten months to come up with a plan that I had actually presented to him on our first meeting? And before you start thinking that he was milking us as a cash cows, no, the whole project was on a pre-agreed 'fixed cost' basis. Why also do these people take it upon themselves to brick up perfectly good windows downstairs in rooms totally unaffected by the conversion?

                        In hindsight, I really rather wish that I had purchased a suitable computer program and done this myself, I think that I would have been around £600 in pocket and probably come up with an equally satisfactory result.


                        2008 ON CHARITY

                        Those of us who are fortunate enough to have, I feel increasingly more strongly, should at least make some effort to share with those who do not. In practical terms, for me at least, this is a very difficult subject, I have you see, always had a deep seated suspicion of those that run charities and indeed the huge money making machine that many of the larger ones have developed into.

                        You may well pillory me for this, but when it comes to money, I really do firmly believe that charity begins at home. I am neither a lender, nor a borrower by nature, in terms of "charity" I am increasingly of the mind that hands on is the best policy.

                        My 'charity giving' is actually a little more complicated than that. There are two kinds of charities, those for the needy and those "hobby" charities, which many of us support to further our own interests. Of the latter group I include the National Trust, English Heritage and The S.S. Great Britain Trust, all of which I have been a member of for many years now. To my mind none of these "hobby charities" count as truly needy, yes, they do provide employment and yes all have outstanding educational merit. This however is not, hand on heart, why I continued in 2008 to support them, no, it is for our own interest and yes, pleasure.

                        My wife is a Polish Catholic and was raised in very different circumstances to myself and in all probability 99 out of 100 who read this. In times of communism, society itself was very different the majority had precious little, everyone looked after each other and shared what little they had. Materially things and views have now changed in Poland, but my wife has changed my life in very many ways - most importantly the ones that do not show. Over the last eight years I have become far more charitable in the true sense of that word.

                        For several years she had wanted to become involved with the Brighton Soup Run, a local volunteer organisation which is about as "hands on" as you can get in terms of charity. About three years ago, through our local church, we volunteered our services and were placed on a rota, which had us serving soup on the sea front here twice a year. This increased in the following year when we signed up for the "emergency rota", which finds us being called out sometimes at very short notice.

                        Early in 2008 we became full members, on the second Wednesday of every month at 8.00pm our team, my wife and I plus another lady, are out on the sea front serving hot soup, tea and usually cakes to anyone in need.

                        The Soup Run is an incredible organisation. It runs on almost zero funds, we donate time and food, and thanks to our own favourite local Italian restaurant, Donatello's donating fresh soup every night, 365 days a year, the lonely, needy and homeless of Brighton are served bread, soup and tea.

                        Since now doing this on a much more regular basis and getting to know some of the 'clients' rather better, I have discovered that this whole set-up actually goes far deeper than merely providing a free hot meal - no questions asked. In many cases it is the only human contact that many of these poor souls have in a day.

                        Before getting involved in the Soup Run, I have to say that in my ignorance I rather regarded the vagrants as a blight on our city. Having invested a little time in getting to actually know some of them, I have discovered that many are thoroughly decent people. Many are also extremely lonely and merely seek a sympathetic listening ear which is not offered anywhere else.

                        There are 101 reasons why any one of us could find ourselves unexpectedly down on our luck. If we should find ourselves in this unfortunate position I can only hope that we too could be looked upon kindly and offered a helping hand by more "respectable" members of society.


                        2008 ON POLITICS

                        Politicians? Stuff the lot of them! What a total and utter mess they have made of all this.

                        Oh of course, it is a 'world recession' Darling, nothing to do with you then.


                        2008 ON WORK

                        2008 simply, and it has to be said quite unexpectedly, proved to be our best year in a decade. Richada Enterprises is a family owned and run precision engineering firm. Through the early noughties we, when everyone else was booming, made year after year of loss - quite how we survived, a long and difficult story, is anyone's guess, but in 2008 we turned a profit - for the first year in this century.

                        The Company was founded by my late Great Uncle Bill in 1932, times were much harder then than now even, yet historically the firm has always bucked the economic trend. In my twenty eight years in the business this will be the third recession that we have seen, during both of the previous ones we continued to thrive.

                        This time around it turns out that we have an extraordinarily fortunate customer base. Unusual in industry, we still have around 1800 "live" (well some of them only just!) customers. These are primarily at the cutting edge of technology; the aerospace industry which, thanks to Airbus remains very strong, and the Formula 1 motor racing circus which, although no longer the money no object business that it once was, still thrives in this country.

                        However, amongst this largely happy picture there are one or two notable exceptions, J C Bamford, better know to most of you as JCB being the most upsetting. The largest private company in the UK, it is rather like our own family business, but on a much larger, global, scale. Over the past three decades JCB has known nothing but success. That all ended very suddenly at the start of 2008, the building industry being the first to feel the freezing cold bite of the "credit crunch" as it then was referred to. Those that know the company, either as customers or suppliers will know how hard this has hit the business. Whenever you enter a JCB site you cannot have helped but to have sensed the great atmosphere about the place - in my experience with the biggest companies in this country, conversation with the staff usually involves "retirement" and a fair amount of bitching about "management". At JCB that has never been the case, a loyal and happy workforce have shared in the fantastic success, and now, regrettably, find themselves paying the price of a downturn in their market which has absolutely nothing to do with their efforts or product.

                        During 2008 my personal role in our own company changed very little. Due to a combination of unforeseen circumstances, I found myself having to sub-contract work, quite simply because we did not have the capacity to handle the increase in demand. This is the first time in seventy-seven years that we have had to do this.


                        2008 ON GREAT UNCLE BILL

                        The last section very neatly brings me right back to the very first week of 2008 and to the founder of our modest business.

                        In a sense a final chapter was drawn in the life of my dear, late, Great Uncle Bill in 2008. Although strictly speaking Gwen, his widow, died in 2007 - immediately before Christmas, the funeral did not take place until 3rd January. Although I just know that Bill would have been urging me to do so, on the grounds of taste and decency I, regrettably, felt unable to publish a review about this hilariously awful occasion, just maybe I will pluck up the courage one day......

                        ........a quote, though, standing outside the crematorium; - Gwen's stepdaughter from her second marriage to Gwen's stepson - Great Uncle Bill's eldest son:

                        "Who'se goin' to pay 'im then?" pointing at the funeral director standing right next to her!

                        Oh Bill if only you knew!!!!!!

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                        • Honda Civic R-Type / Car / 66 Readings / 63 Ratings
                          More +
                          29.03.2009 13:12
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                          Advantages

                          • Reliability

                          Disadvantages

                          Fast - but too compromised to live with on a daily basis.

                          WHAT IS IT?

                          Bright red, that's what it is!

                          ......Sorry, just my little joke there. The Civic Type-R is the sportiest Honda in the range now that production of the S2000 sports car has ceased. Based on the attractive three door Civic, itself a later addition to the already radical looking five door family hatch back, the Type-R has been made over into the archetypal "hot hatch".

                          For the non car-aficionados amongst you, a "hot hatch" is a sportified version of a usually mundane hatchback, this is a market defined by the iconic VW Golf GTi, which to this day is one of the Civic's greatest rivals.

                          The beauty of a hot hatch is that it should retain much of the practicality of the car upon which it is based. In some respects the Civic is a fine starting point, primarily interior and boot space, in others, visibility in particular, it is not in its' donor form a very practical car anyway. To my mind at least, the best sporting hatchbacks have always been developed from a good all-rounder, in this respect the Civic starts with rather a handicap.

                          The previous generation Honda Civic was an altogether different kettle of fish. The very humdrum "breadvan" styling majored on practicality, but when developed into the Type-R became an aspirational enthusiast's car. Press and owners alike sung its praises; you can even find glowing reviews of the previous model on this very site.


                          WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?

                          The Honda Civic Type-R is actually a very simple range; there are just two standard models - Type-R and Type R GT, plus an all white limited edition called the Championship White......

                          .....as Honda are no longer in the Fomula One championship, one can only assume that the Type-R Championship pays homage to the BTTC, Touring Car Championship where Honda have been successfully campaigning this car.

                          The subject of this review is the GT, the best equipped version, although either of the other two models are mechanically identical, apart from the limited slip differential fitted to the Championship Type-R.


                          WILL IT FIT THE GARAGE?

                          Probably yes.

                          At 4250mm in length the Civic is one of the most compact hatchbacks.

                          However, at 2046mm wide it feels a tight squeeze driving it into my narrowish garage.

                          Mercifully the large door mirrors fold in at the touch of a button!


                          IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR?

                          I am reviewing this car with my fleet manager's hat on. Thanks to my invitation to the Millbrook Testing Ground from Fleet News Magazine to their Company Car In Action event, I have been able to compare many cars back to back, using two test tracks that simulate driving conditions that you would be hard pressed to encounter during many thousands of miles of ordinary motoring.

                          Millbrook is a venue, that having attended for years, I am thoroughly familiar with. It allows direct comparison between various models. Being "closed circuits", the facilities there also allow you to drive at speeds which would, on public roads, be highly irresponsible. The importance of testing cars in this way is to find out just how a car behaves in extreme conditions i.e. on the limit, for instance in an emergency braking situation on the road, or perhaps a rapid and not anticipated lane changing manoeuvre.

                          In addition to that, and since my experiencing the Type-R for myself, my brother-in-law has recently purchased an almost new example of this car.......if you are reading this in colour, the (very!) red one photographed here!


                          COSTS

                          "Costs a bomb" would be my glib throwaway line here - maybe not to buy, but the running costs for a car of this size and ability are pretty eye-popping!

                          Bearing in mind the "fleet" connection here, as a company run car, this is not going to add up financially. Whilst the list price is class competitive enough, the CO2 level at 215 grams per kilogram puts it into a high (31%) BIK tax band. In money terms, it is going to cost a 20% tax payer £97 per month, whilst at 40% that will cost you £194. These figures may have been class competitive three or four years ago. Now they are not; the low list price being more than compensated for by the high CO2 figure.

                          Not only that, but with road tax also now levied on the CO2 figure you'll end up paying £210 per year for the tax disc, I pay just £115 on my 150bhp Subaru.


                          PURCHASE COST 9 / 10

                          On the face of it, £19,000 is not a lot to pay for a 200bhp sports hatchback. On a £ per performance judgement, if that is your priority, it will come very close to leading the pack.

                          The GT is no stripped out lightweight sports car either, it comes as standard with much of the equipment in a top of the range five door Civic, although certain, costly, items - such as the satellite navigation system are options. Perversely Honda have stripped the 2009 model of xenon headlights, a strange economy indeed in a car of this performance potential.

                          Right now, spring 2009, Honda should be offering some juicy discounts on these cars in order to sell off the huge stockpile built up prior to the ending of Civic production in the Swindon plant a couple of months ago. You may well find a dealer offering a new one for the price of a second hand example.


                          THE OPTIONS GAME: 7 / 10 or "How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?"

                          This is an unusually tricky one to score this time. In its "stock" form the Civic Type-R GT comes with all the equipment that you will probably expect in a car of this type. However add all the options, as has been done to my brother-in-law's ex-garage demonstrator and the cost of this car tops out at £23,330. To that you can add another £372 if you fancy one that is not so very red - it only comes in silver and two shades of black as an alternative.

                          Some examples of the visible options fitted: the ultra-low profile 19" wheels are £1225, the "Image pack" (black sporty addenda to the bumpers front and rear) £792, whilst the sat-nav and integrated telephone is a combined £1375 "option pack".


                          DEPRECIATION 6 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost.

                          My local Honda dealer is currently offering a 300 mile, three month old one of these cars for £16,500. There do seem to be rather a lot of them on the market of all ages, primarily because they are an expensive car to run - which takes an undue toll on the biggest running cost of all - depreciation.

                          Feeding this is that the Type-R attracts slightly more affluent "boy-racers" who tend to have little respect for a car and merely want to go fast and create a lot of noise. This tends to result in second hand cars being in a below average condition which will reflect strongly in their second hand price.

                          On the other hand there are those, like my brother-in-law, who will lavish attention on the car and treat it well. This is an unusual car in that respect - two entirely different owner profiles, leading to two entirely different results in terms of condition, beware, that is not always reflected in the second hand value, more than ever caveat emptor here!


                          FUEL ECONOMY 6 / 10

                          My brother-in-law would have you believe that this car will average 38mpg. He will also tell you that 55mph is its most economical cruising speed. Those two facts, in conjunction, I have no reason to doubt. But neither I, nor the majority of Type R drivers, drive like that in the real world. Realistically, the Type-R is going to deliver between 26 and 29mpg, the majority of owners doing well to see 30mpg from it.

                          Whilst to many, including myself, this looks like a pretty thirsty small car, it is far more economical than some delivering similar performance, but pales beside a Golf GTi or Mini Cooper S, which would have no problem averaging around 35mpg.

                          A restricting factor, bearing in mind its GT pretences, is an eleven gallon fuel tank, covering little more than 300 miles on a tank-full of fuel these days is nothing to write home about.


                          SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 5 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?

                          Honda dealers are generally of a very high standard, but it looks as though you are paying for a quality service. Estimated service costs over three years and 36,000 miles are £1231 that compares to a Mini at £542 or a VW at £980.

                          I did warn you that the Type-R was an expensive car to run!


                          Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in.......

                          THE EXTERIOR:

                          STYLING 9 /10: A very subjective category here.

                          Stay away from bright red - attracts far too much attention - and some of the blatantly chavvy body kits (self explanatory) and this is a very good looking car. If you wish for discreet performance then a silver one will hardly be noticed, although silver simply does not suit the shape. Best option by far is the unusual metallic bronze / black.

                          The Type-R looks a trifle "under-nourished" on the standard 18 inch wheels, which are similar in design to the ordinary 17" ones supplied with five door models, the optional 19 inch rims suit the car better.

                          I know that there are those who will never find the current Civic model attractive - especially from the rear, the Type-R is undoubtedly the best looking of the range though, thanks to the fully colour co-ordinated bumpers and wheel arch extensions, which on lesser Civic models are finished in dark grey, unpainted, plastic.


                          OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 8 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?

                          Closely inspecting my brother-in-law's 2009 model, I am a little concerned that the standards at Honda's UK Swindon plant were starting to slip somewhat. Previous Type-R's, including the one driven for this review, have been immaculately finished. His however showed uneven fit of both the front bumper and extended rear spoiler.

                          A further concern, as with any recent Honda is the durability of the paint finish, with less than 4,000 miles on the clock, the red example that you see here had more than its fair share of stone chips. At least being flat red, the touch up applicator matches better than any metallic one.


                          SAFETY 6 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it.

                          In spite of all the airbags and modern safety kit being standard kit on this car, there are many other cars that I have felt safer driving. The Type-R is one of those cars which you feel has been developed to the limit of its potential, indeed some of the compromises made in order to turn the humble Civic into a sports car have compromised its safety.

                          The usual up-rating of brakes has taken place; the stopping power is well up to the performance of the car.

                          In a crash the three door body shell has proven to be immensely strong, you may have seen on one of the TV Police series the Type-R that finished up upside down having leapt off of a road at colossal speed and ended up in someone's attic! My wife and I simply could not believe that the driver had actually survived such an almighty crash.

                          That driver was obviously going suicidally fast, however at speed on a good handling circuit, such as Millbrook, this car has a very stiff, unforgiving chassis. Combine that with rather sudden and quite vicious reaction to both the accelerator and steering wheel and this I count as a particularly dangerous car in the wrong, usually inexperienced, hands.


                          THE INTERIOR:

                          ERGONOMICS 5 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.

                          When launched, the spaceship interior of the Honda Civic was truly radical. In the Type-R, the sweeping digital dashboard feels right at home, especially the large digit speedometer frantically flashing in order to keep up with the break-neck pace of acceleration in this car.

                          Suit it or not, I have driven many Honda Civics over the last three years and am used to the dashboard layout. Sit a "newcomer" in it though and the ergonomics are totally bewildering. At first site buttons and a myriad of digital displays from everything from the heater temperature to a gearchange shift light seem complicated and randomly scattered.

                          Add to that the length of time and amount of fiddling that it will take you to get comfortable (find the ideal driving position if you can!) behind the wheel and this is one of the least driver friendly cars that I know.

                          The heavily bolstered sports front seats are very comfortable however.


                          VISIBILITY: 2 / 10

                          My brother-in-law's car has the "luxury" of an impressive, full colour, rear parking camera, which is displayed on the large, central, GPS screen. Laugh and call it a gadget if you will, but the first time that you select reverse gear in this car you will see just how essential a device that is. The standard five door Civic has miserable vision to the rear and rear three quarter, the Type-R is significantly worse.

                          Those huge tombstone front seats rob you of over the shoulder vision - through the passenger window too even, the rear quarter pillars in the three door car are simply huge and then, to cap it all, the view through the rear view mirror is almost non-existent thanks to the huge rear spoiler cutting the rear window in half.

                          The very poor visibility further hampers the safety aspect of running one of these cars and indeed would be a prime reason for me not recommending it to you.

                          On this score alone, I would not purchase one myself.


                          SPACE: 9 / 10:

                          Even with those space robbing front seats, a strong showing on this score. The Civic is an incredibly roomy car inside, with a large square boot too. The three door version has just as much space in the rear - but for only two, rather than three passengers. There is a catch though, seated in the back you are likely to feel claustrophobic due to those very heavy rear pillars and the small blacked out rear windows.


                          STYLE 8 / 10:

                          I actually like the interior style of the Type-R, it suits the image of the car. However I would fully respect your opinion in not liking it!

                          All is black and red inside, the soft surfaces on the seats, doors and carpets being finished in red, whilst the hard plastic surfaces are black. All the instruments illuminate in red, completing the theme.


                          MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 5 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners?

                          Going towards the Ratners end of the scale here, sorry to say. There is nothing wrong with the interior finish, more the materials used, which, after several years on the market, now look very cheap indeed compared to the competition.

                          It may be that I have been spoiled with the superb materials used inside my own Subaru, but the Honda is full of brittle shiny plastics which look as though they were re-cycled from the Star Ship Enterprise, circa 1974.


                          AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 7 / 10: Strange grouping?

                          Whilst working very well, unfortunately the controls for the audio, climate and indeed GPS systems are of brittle plastic, they do not feel any better to the touch than they look.


                          ON THE ROAD........

                          ......Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.

                          NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 6 / 10 Silk purse or sow's ear?

                          I have to say here that the difference between the latest 2009 model and the 2008 car is remarkable. This is worth bearing in mind if you are considering a second hand, rather than new car.

                          Had I written this a month ago the score here would have been a lowly 4. The engine in the latest car is so much smoother and quieter that you would hardly believe it was the same one as previously supplied. I do not know how Honda have modified it, but it is all to the good.

                          However, anyone who drives a car will know that there is so much more to the overall experience than purely a refined engine. In other respects the Civic remains rather rude and crude, especially in the way that it rides. So stiff is the suspension on this car that ordinary road surfaces see it crashing and skipping about where other cars would simply glide along. Harsh is a very good word for it.


                          PERFORMANCE 10 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?

                          The headline figures here are 6.6 seconds from 0-62mph (100kph) and 142mph top speed.

                          It is difficult to put into words for you just how fast this car feels, on a race circuit, or, come to that, on the A1 in Lincolnshire!

                          Personally I favour speed without the drama, however thanks to its flash and burn power delivery, the Civic Type-R is very fast indeed and feels it! The 2.0 non-turbocharged engine has the most advanced version of Honda's VTEC system. I am not going to go into great detail here in order to explain how this works, but in driving the car you feel a massive change in personality as 5,400rpm is passed and the car flies up to the red-line which is at a heady 8,000rpm.

                          On the road, if you stay blow 5,400rpm, you will wonder what all the fuss is about. The engine does not develop very impressive torque, which will leave you changing gear frequently in order to keep up with ordinary traffic speeds. Press the accelerator harder though and once the VTEC comes into play - you'll know it from the dramatic change in engine sound - and you need to keep your wits about you in order not to tail-end the car in front......

                          ......or flip the car into someone's attic!


                          RIDE & HANDLING 6 / 10

                          This is what makes the Type-R so very unsophisticated as far as I am concerned. The standard Civic is already bordering on the harsh for a family hatchback, the Type-R takes that one step beyond the acceptable in a standard road car.

                          Even if you want to take this car track racing due to its rock hard suspension it will be compromised through the corners, as it skips and jumps its way through them rather sweeping through as you would in for example in a Golf GTi or Impreza.

                          As far as I am concerned, there is a brittle edge to the handling, imposed by the hard ride that means that I am neither comfortable driving, nor enjoying the experience, in a Type R Civic. In a sense the worst of both worlds, made worse by the fact that so many other sporting cars do it so much better.


                          CONCLUSION - Would I buy one myself and would we want to drive it to Poland in a day?

                          No, and I am developing a pain in the neck even THINKING about driving over 1000 miles to Poland in it......

                          .....but I know someone who intends to do just that in his!


                          FINAL SCORE: 114 / 170

                          In the hands of a very experienced driver this is a very fast car from point to point on a country road. However, few of us are that experienced, or skilled, nor indeed want to live with the severe compromises that a Honda Civic Type R places upon us on a daily basis.

                          You may well have different priorities to I, different motoring preferences indeed. There are those that love this car and will feel that I have been unduly harsh on it in my scoring and opinion here. However, this is a Richada review and I have driven many of this cars competitors under identical conditions and know how much better other cars can achieve the same goal.


                          Putting that score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria:

                          HONDA CIVIC TYPE-R GT - 67.1%

                          ALFA ROMEO 147 1.9JTD Lusso (5 Dr) - 67.8%
                          FIAT PUNTO GRANDE SPORTING 130 Mjet - 75.9%
                          FORD KUGA 2.0 TDCi TITANIUM - 64.7%
                          HONDA ACCORD i-DECT EX GT (2008 Model) Saloon - 69.4%
                          HONDA ACCORD i-CTDi Saloon - 80.0%
                          HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC SE - 78.2%
                          HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC S i-SHIFT - 68.8%
                          HONDA CIVIC IMA SE - 73.5%
                          HONDA JAZZ 1.4 SE CVT-7 (Automatic) - 74.7%
                          SAAB 9-3 TiD Vector - 68.2%
                          SAAB 9-3 TiD Linear CONVERTIBLE (2007 Mondel) - 74.1%
                          SUBARU LEGACY 2.0D RE SALOON - 85.8%
                          SUBARU OUTBACK 2.0D RE - 85.3%
                          VAUXHALL ASTRA TWINTOP 1.9 CDTi DESIGN - 78.8%
                          VAUXHALL VXR8 - 84.1 %
                          VAUXHALL MONARO VXR - 71.1%
                          VW PASSAT TDi 140 S ESTATE - 71.7%
                          VOLVO S60 D5 SE - 70.6%

                          Richada © March 2009.

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                          • Subaru Legacy 2.0D RE Saloon / Car / 64 Readings / 54 Ratings
                            More +
                            27.03.2009 16:36
                            Very helpful
                            (Rating)
                            17 Comments

                            Advantages

                            • Reliability

                            Disadvantages

                            Rare quality, rare exclusivity and a great all-round drive.

                            Having painted a rather odd and confusing picture with both my title and the pros and cons listed above, a brief preamble to the review is in order.

                            I am sure you all know how it is; you buy a car and suddenly every second car that you see on the road is like your new pride and joy. For me, during my last twenty eight years on the road it has always been thus, that was until making, what in hindsight now appears to be, the giant leap of motoring faith that is Subaru ownership.

                            Whilst the Impreza is a common enough sight, the Subaru Legacy, in any model shape, is extremely rare on UK roads. Our car, the Legacy Diesel Saloon, actually appears to be unique. It has now been with us since 26th September 2008 and has covered over 12,000 miles driving through no fewer than seven countries; in all of those miles we have not seen another single one! Can our pearlescent white diesel Legacy Saloon really be the only one of its kind in the whole of Europe?

                            Well, actually, no, I have recently made contact, via www.uklegacy.com, with at least two other drivers of similar cars, one here in England, the other in Southern Ireland.

                            Enjoy, as I do, having something rare that nobody else appears to have, it is a little unsettling that so very few others have chosen this same car, can my judgement really be that poor I wonder?

                            WHAT IS IT?

                            As in all probability you have never actually seen one of these cars, I will explain what it is. The Subaru Legacy Saloon is a four door, medium size, family saloon car that will comfortably seat five people. It could be compared in size to a previous model Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Vectra or to any number of Japanese Saloons such as a Mazda 6, Toyota Avensis or Honda Accord......

                            ......oh yes, the Honda Accord, the very car that I traded in against this one.

                            Unlike any of these cars however, the Legacy, like all genuine Subarus (I do not count the Justy as a proper Subaru) has permanent four wheel drive, the rest, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class accepted, have drive only to the front wheels - the German duo being rear wheel drive.

                            WILL IT FIT THE GARAGE?

                            Dimensionally it is 4.665 metres long (exactly the same as the last model Accord) and 1.73 metres wide. That last (width) dimension may not mean very much to you, but it is a vital bonus to Legacy ownership. Most modern cars, including the Accord, are 2 metres wide - or more. The Legacy although full-width inside, is an old fashionedly narrow car which, in crowded city streets, offers you a tremendous advantage - it also gives me more room to get in and out of it in the garage!

                            WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?

                            When replacing my very fully equipped Honda Accord 2.2 i-CTDi I sought to match the specification as best I could on the Subaru. This meant choosing a mid-range Legacy with the new Boxer Diesel engine. There are three models only available, all are extremely well equipped, the base model carries the "R" designation and, currently, has a list price of £20,075, my model is the RE at £22,030, whilst the range topping REn is £23,400.

                            The R model coming equipped with xenon headlights, front fog lights, metallic paint, alloy wheels, heated front seats, trip computer and a six disc CD audio system, is something of a bargain. My RE adds electrically adjustable (with two position memory) drivers' seat, full leather upholstery, and an electric sun roof. The REn has a state of the art integrated trip computer / DVD and satellite navigation screen.

                            All diesel Legacy models share the same 150bhp engine and five speed manual gearbox. No automatic model is available, the three model designations merely denoting trim level rather than any variation in mechanical specification.

                            If you like the look of this car, but cannot bear the idea of driving a diesel, Subaru also offer 2.0 four cylinder and 3.0 six cylinder versions - both share the unusual flat or Boxer cylinder configuration. In order to explain this unusual engine layout to you, unfortunately I will have to go into a few technical mechanical details, if that side of things bores you, please feel free to skip this section and move onto the next.

                            Conventional engines have their cylinders cast upright and in line - or in a "V" (or "W") configuration. Whilst this produces a compact engine it is also tall and places the mass high up in the car, putting the overall centre of gravity higher than is ideal.

                            A Boxer engine has its cylinders mounted on their sides, i.e. parallel to the road, and on opposite sides of the engine block. This not only places the weight very low in the car, but also offers advantages in terms of smoothness; in operation the opposing pistons cancel out each others vibrations.

                            Usually diesel engines need to be bigger and stronger than petrol ones, often cast in iron rather than aluminium too, thus adding to the weight. In the case of Subaru's aluminium Boxer Diesel, the engine is both more compact and lighter than their own equivalent 2.0 litre petrol unit.

                            WHY DID I BUY THIS CAR?

                            Confession time here, in purely emotive terms, for more years than I care to remember, I have fancied running a Subaru Legacy, in all forms I have found it a very desirable car. For many years I have been attending road test days and driving these cars, on every occasion coming away thinking how "right" they feel and what "nice" cars they are to drive.

                            Why then has it taken so long? Truth be told, had I been single and still buying my own cars privately, I would have, some time ago, probably been driving a six cylinder petrol version of this same car. In the real world though I have other sizeable commitments, am married and have a company car. The 3.0 litre Legacy is a very expensive car to run, not only having a high CO2 level, on which company car tax is based, but also it drinks a lot of fuel - twice as much indeed as the diesel!

                            Until Subaru came up with a diesel engine, even their smaller engined Legacy models were not a viable option financially. In early 2007 I read that Subaru had spent eight years developing a four cylinder 2.0 litre flat four (A.K.A. Boxer) diesel engine and were going to launch it in the Legacy range early in 2008.

                            Whilst strictly speaking my Honda was already overdue for replacement, there was nothing on the market that really appealed sufficiently for me not to wait for the Legacy......

                            ......and wait for this car we did!

                            The order for it was placed on 21st April and we finally took delivery on 26th September! If you chose to order one now the delivery time, from the factory, should not exceed six to eight weeks.

                            COSTS

                            Overall this is not going to be a cheap car to run, but then neither, in this day and age, are any of its rather more obvious competitors.

                            My assessment in this section is going to be largely comparative to my previous car - the diesel Accord, which is very much in the same market place as the Legacy Saloon. In turn over four and a half years and 96,000 miles, the Honda itself proved to have above averagely high running costs compared to other cars - particularly the two diesel Saab 9-3's which we have on our company fleet.

                            For company car drivers the 148 CO2 figure will be significant as currently that will leave you paying 20% Benefit in Kind tax on this car, a very good result indeed for a 150bhp, four wheel drive family saloon.

                            When Subarus land on UK soil, I.M. (the importer) fit a Thatcham Category 1 alarm to them. Not only does this give you some peace of mind that you will find the car where you left it but, financially, it also puts it into a competitive 13E (or 26 on the 50 group system) insurance group. However you will find yourself cursing the operation of that alarm for several months after collecting your new Subaru!

                            This helps it on the way to an overall cost per mile figure of £0.545 which, whilst not exactly low, is class competitive. As yet, unfortunately, it is too early to calculate my own cost figure to see how that compares, so, for the time being at least, we will just have to take "What Car" magazines' calculations as gospel in this case.

                            PURCHASE COST 10 / 10

                            Here in the UK at least, the Legacy, in any trim variant is a motoring bargain. My £22,000 RE model is probably the optimum model in the range, although I would not blame anyone for saving £2000 and forgoing the leather interior and sun roof.

                            In the Eurozone this is a much more expensive car, around 32,000 euros in either Southern Ireland or Poland for instance.

                            In fact you really do not need to spend that amount on a new one of these, I actually tracked down a choice of colours through an internet broker for £19,000 on the road - this car is an absolute steal at that price.

                            A replacement Accord for my last one would have been just under £25,000, an Audi A4 or BMW 320d with this equipment level would have been in the region of £28,000 - add another £2000 or so for four wheel drive on the Audi, not available at any price on the BMW.

                            Hopefully, without me going into any greater detail, the above will have explained my 10 / 10 rating in this section......

                            THE OPTIONS GAME: 10 / 10 or "How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?"

                            ......and indeed in this one too! This is an unusual car in that, refreshingly, there is no factory options list at all.

                            The Legacy comes as standard with just about every piece of equipment included in the price that you can think of, even metallic paint, charged at around £500 by most, is included. The latest models even include the auxiliary socket for an iPod or MP3 player - we paid the dealer £128 to fit it on ours.

                            Apart from that, the only additions that I required were dealer fit "maps and flaps", and those were actually quite reasonably priced at £132.

                            DEPRECIATION 6 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost.

                            There are two opposing ways of looking at this one. With such a rare car it should hold its value well, finding a second hand one will be a near impossibility. On the other hand, maybe nobody will actually desire such a rare car on the second hand market, which will make this a very difficult car to sell on.

                            I am going to err on the pessimistic side here, the much more popular Tourer (Estate) and Outback models will re-sell fairly easily and at a good price, the saloon is not a popular car, even with the dealers, and is likely to be under-valued as a result.

                            As I intend to keep this car for four years and 100,000 miles, personally, depreciation is not my main concern.

                            FUEL ECONOMY 8 / 10

                            The best that I have achieved in terms of fuel consumption is 45.8mpg, the worst 29.6mpg, that for a 134 mile flat out run on a deserted German autobahn between 9.00 and 10.10am on a Sunday morning.

                            Do not believe the manufacturers' fuel economy claims for ANY diesel powered car. I learned this from my last one - the Accord, which consumed over 20% more fuel than Honda claimed. The Subaru again reflects this 20% margin, so far I have achieved 39.22mpg over just over 12,000 miles, that against a Subaru claimed 50.7mpg on the combined cycle. The Subaru trip computer is also a good 10% optimistic incidentally.

                            For a car of this size and performance that is not bad - but far from outstanding, and actually a good 4mpg less than I was expecting to average. Other owners experience with Diesel Legacies indicate that this car will become more economical after 15,000 miles - we will see and I will update this review.

                            SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 6 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?

                            Well, right now, I feel as though I just did!

                            The 12,000 mile service, carried out at my dealer, Bell & Colvill near Guildford, Surrey, came to £244.04. For a simple oil-change service, that is steep by any standards - when I also see on the invoice that a 10% discount has been given (that is for returning to the supplying dealer) insult is added to injury!

                            In actual fact, at the time when handing over my credit card in payment, I already thought this a mighty expensive service, the following week I learned from a new friend on www.uklegacy.com that in the West Midlands this service costs £150, in the Thames Valley £185.

                            It looks as though the further you live away from the Home Counties the less a Diesel Legacy is going to cost you to run. £150 is good value - £185 what I would have paid Honda Chiswick for a similar service on the Accord. Before the more comprehensive 24,000 mile service I will be ringing around alternative dealers for quotations.


                            Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in.......

                            THE EXTERIOR:

                            STYLING 9 /10: A very subjective category here.

                            I think that this is a very handsome car indeed, so too do many complete strangers who have actually commented on what a "great looking car" it is. I have had more conversations with passers by about this particular car in the last five months than I have about all of my previous fifteen cars over the last twenty-eight years!

                            It is not avant-garde in styling in the way, for example, of a Seat or Citroen, much more traditional, how a BMW might now look had Chris Bangle not gone to work with his "flame surface styling" regime actually.

                            The Diesel is undoubtedly the best looking Legacy, that power bulge and air intake in the bonnet give it a sense of purpose missing even in the much more powerful 3.0 petrol model. Mine also arrived with gunmetal grey alloy wheels, which set off the pearlescent white paintwork superbly, as does the unusual dark chrome radiator grille.

                            At the rear Subaru have endowed the Legacy with twin exhaust pipes - one each side, do not look too closely though, the chrome trims are "dummy" outlets disguising the much smaller and conventionally turned down diesel pipes.

                            OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 10 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?

                            Quite the contrary.

                            The first time that I washed this car I was actually blown away by the sheer attention to detail that had been paid in its design and construction. The designers at Subaru are clearly experienced in creating cars that last. Due to the lack of water traps, the well fitting frameless door glass and the absence of "stuck on" chrome trim this car is a joy to wash.

                            Inevitably a lack of water traps means a lack of rust prone areas too. Parts of the bodywork that on most cars are steel, on the Legacy are aluminium - the bonnet and boot lid primarily. Other parts such as the sills under the doors and the leading edge of the rear wheel-arches are plastic, again, less prone to stone chipping and totally immune to rust. The wheel arches themselves all have plastic liners, the rear bumper and front wings are both pre-drilled (before painting) for the mounting of mud-flaps should you so choose, one of several of those 'why don't they all do that?' features on this car.

                            Maybe more impressive even than the quality of the materials used and design is the way that it has all been assembled. Over the years I have owned many cars, not one have I found as fault free as this one externally. This is the first car on which the paint finish is entirely floorless for example.

                            SAFETY 9 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it.

                            Because the Legacy is such a low volume seller here in Europe it has not been subjected to the standard NCAP safety tests that its competitors have. However, on the American market this is a very popular choice, in US tests it is classified as the safest car on the road.

                            When you start driving a Legacy, at all speeds and in all weather conditions, that last paragraph will come as no surprise at all. Even after driving an Omega well over 100,000 miles, followed by 96,000 in the Accord, this car has a noticeably greater safety margin built into it - both passively and dynamically.

                            From the driver's point of view, so safe is its' handling that I dread to think how you would have to abuse it in order to crash in the first place. Assuming that an accident is unavoidable, although the Legacy would give you every chance of avoidance thanks to its incredibly strong brakes, responsive acceleration and fantastic grip, then the bodyshell itself is also massively strong.

                            You are surrounded by every currently available air bag and along with active head restraints and seat belt pre-tensioners are likely to come out of an accident unscathed which many cars would place you in hospital from.

                            As far as I, the driver, am concerned, in day to day motoring, this simply feels to me like the safest car in which I have ever driven - and by some considerable margin.

                            THE INTERIOR:

                            ERGONOMICS 8 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.

                            In a sense that no modern Honda has ever done, this car simply feels "right" from the moment that you sit behind the wheel. With the Accord after over four years I still found myself fiddling with the seat controls attempting to find the perfect driving position.

                            However, the Honda and Omega before it had superb seats and this was our main fear with the Legacy, that it would not provide eighteen hour comfort on this score. Fortunately we were wrong; the front seats at least have proven excellent in all-day use. Nobody has tried out the rear seat for more than five hours, although there were no complaints!

                            Finding the perfect driving position is childs-play. Once you have very quickly done so there is even a two position memory so that you and your partner can swap seats and be away in an instant.

                            It is not just the seat position either. This car has all the primary controls (steering wheel, gear-lever, hand brake and pedals) exactly in the right place. The instruments have a superbly clear no-nonsense clarity to them too in all light conditions. Indicator and wiper stalks are simple and intuitive to use too.

                            Whilst, being an engineer, I am appreciative of the, slightly, above average effort required to operate the clutch and gear box, some may find this car a little heavy to drive compared to many, particularly, Japanese saloons. Being very sexist about it, twenty five years ago, we might have described this as a "mans car"...

                            ......well at the end of the day I do fit that particular bill!

                            VISIBILITY: 9 / 10

                            Nobody however is going to criticise the fabulous view from this car, which once you get used to its narrowness, makes it an absolute cinch to park.

                            The frameless doors, combined with slender and cleverly raked door and windscreen pillars mean that this car has the best all round visibility of any modern car. It further builds on these attributes by providing large door mirrors and an equally useful rear view mirror.

                            One feature that I really like on this car is that both door mirrors fold in electrically at the touch of a button, useful when parking on the road or in a narrow multi-storey parking bay.

                            The door mirrors also carry the repeater flashers for the indicators, the most visible place allowing them to be seen from any angle.

                            SPACE: 9 / 10:

                            The interior, against all expectations, is a regular "tardis". This car is the same length as the Accord, but usefully narrower. Inside it really is noticeably more spacious. A good extra couple of inches of rear legroom make it equally as roomy as the much larger Omega. Sitting three abreast, my in-laws also passed comment that they had more space across the rear seat.

                            All of this is contrary to what one would expect in a four wheel drive car, theoretically all the extra hardware taking drive to the rear wheels should rob the interior of space.

                            OK it will have a tiny boot then won't it?

                            Amazingly, no. It is a less deep cargo space than some, but underneath the false floor, sitting on top of the space saver spare wheel, is a fantastically useful oddments tray. When I came to load it with all of our Christmas luggage I was simply amazed by how commodious it was - thanks entirely to its almost completely regular, square shape. The Honda lost a lot of space to wheel-arch intrusion and awkward angles of structural bracing. The Subaru designers have avoided this by welding in a solid bulkhead behind the seats - the central armrest conceals a load through flap for lengths of timber, golf clubs and the like.

                            STYLE 9 / 10:

                            I am a fan of interior car design, after all this is where I spend the most of my motoring life, not looking at it from the outside. In choosing the ivory leather interior, we have a two tone black and ivory (more a pale beige really) interior which looks very smart, expensive and spacious.

                            The dashboard is designed around the driver, which makes this feel even more of a keen drivers' car. It is styled, like the exterior, in a restrained and yet classic way. In my opinion it is simply an attractive place in which to spend many hours at the wheel.

                            A small detail, but I particularly like the interior door panels with their stylish handles and arm rests, the electric windows and central locking switches are beautifully integrated into the drivers' door too.

                            MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 9 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners?

                            Everything that your hands fall upon shouts "quality" inside the Legacy. Not only is it all obviously very well screwed together, the fit and finish being of an extraordinarily high quality, the materials used are good too.

                            Steering wheel, gear lever and hand brake are all wrapped in black leather; the plastics on the column stalks and minor switchgear all have a superior tactile feel to them too.

                            The leather seats which, whilst not being the finest Connelly hide, are more classy than average as they are perforated. The front ones also have very good four stage heaters too.

                            AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 7 / 10: Strange grouping?

                            Whilst both the audio and climate controls look very good and work with a wonderfully well oiled precision, they are badly let down by the three displays in the central console. Very good that there are three displays, the climate and radio are not all mixed up as in the Honda, the trouble here is that the very glossy plastic finish on the screens reflects dreadfully, making them almost impossible to read in daylight from the drivers' seat.

                            We have no complaints about the quality of the stereo in the Legacy, the radio holds on well to a signal via the rear window aerial, whilst the in-dash six CD changer works well and unobtrusively. Our iPod, fed through the aux input jack socket, sounded absolutely feeble until I fed it through a Belkin car audio kit, which has an in-line amplifier - used thus it matches the volume and (almost!) audio clarity of the CD player.

                            The climate control system is a complex one with variable temperature setting left and right, these are the best that I have experienced, the driver can toast whilst the passenger freezes, should that be their desire! Compared to the Honda "Auto" setting which should take care of everything automatically, we find that the Subaru system requires far more on-journey adjustments, especially in cold weather when the windscreen has a tendency to mist up.

                            ON THE ROAD........

                            ......Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.

                            NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 8 / 10 Silk purse or sow's ear?

                            Starting it from cold there is no hiding the fact that this car consumes diesel fuel. It is not noisy, or rough, just an averagely refined diesel. Drive away and you will, even on a stone cold engine, be amazed at how smooth this engine is.

                            Five miles up the road and the Legacy has transformed into a different car! Once the engine has fully warmed through, which as with other diesels takes a surprisingly long time; this is one of the smoothest, quietest diesels that I have driven. To say that it is the equal of a six cylinder BMW diesel engine is quite some compliment.

                            Complimenting this highly refined engine is a lack of wind noise, the frameless doors being extraordinarily well sealed. My only criticism here is that Subaru, for several reasons, appear to have specified the wrong tyres (Bridgestone Potenza RE05) - which on UK road surfaces create an unreasonable amount of road noise. On much smoother European motorways the Legacy is much quieter in this respect.

                            I have to mention a minor "foible" here in this section. That is that during the initial running in stage, the first 12,000 miles in fact, this engine actually intermittently displays some rather unusual lumpy running characteristics. This is perfectly normal - they really all do behave like this, the 12,000 mile service and a requested ECU (that is the engine's electronic brain) re-set have worked wonders on this car which is now creamy smooth at all engine speeds.

                            Not strictly noise, vibration or harshness, but I should mention one slightly undesirable aspect of Boxer Diesel ownership here. Upon accelerating after any prolonged period of idling or gentle driving, this and all other diesel powered Legacys will emit a huge cloud of white smoke from the twin exhaust pipes. I joke about the James Bond disguise, my wife though cringes every time that it happens.

                            Using BP Ultimate Diesel over the last 1000 miles has banished the smoke.

                            PERFORMANCE 10 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?

                            You do not buy a diesel car with speed as your main priority. However, the Boxer Diesel Legacy is an un-dramatically fast car. I have driven very many petrol and diesel engine cars over the years and usually have a good "feel" for the amount of performance produced from a given power output - in this case that being 150bhp. When I say that the Legacy is faster in real terms than a 170bhp V6 Vectra, then I start to doubt that this engine produces a "mere" 150bhp.

                            Top speed is an academic, but rock steady 129mph, the speedometer on ours actually reads 143mph at this speed, but it is not really the top speed that counts. Where this car and engine major is in effortless get up and go in any gear and at any engine speed above 1800rpm. There are times, on English motorways particularly, when even in top (fifth) gear, this car picks up speed TOO quickly and you find yourself having to brake, as you catch up the car in front more quickly than anticipated, rather than simply easing off the accelerator as in most other cars.

                            Once you become fully acclimatised to driving the Boxer Diesel Legacy you will find that it has all the effortless performance that you could reasonably require in any car.

                            RIDE & HANDLING 9 / 10

                            Initially, after the rather more firmly riding Honda, I was less keen on the Subaru's flowing ride quality. Any passenger, including my wife, who has been in it has been full of praise for how comfortably it rides. After over 12,000 miles I have now become accustomed to it and find other cars harsh by comparison. Unlike many other cars, the ride is totally unaffected by heavy luggage or having three passengers in the rear - an added benefit of the four wheel drive system.

                            Which naturally leads on to the handling aspect. This is a car in which you need time and miles to build confidence at the wheel. At all speeds it has an unshakable stability to it, quite lacking in most other cars. However, if you do not drive it properly, slow in, fast out of a bend, it can develop surprising roll angles. Initially we had thoughts about changing the shock absorbers in order to reduce this, but again having become used to it this no longer bothers us at all.

                            Four wheel drive allows you a considerable extra safety margin, it cannot however work miracles. Effectively a wet road feels like a dry one, on snow and ice you can carry on driving when those around you have slithered to a halt, but ultimately you cannot defy the laws of gravity and when the Legacy slides, it does so suddenly and dramatically. My only experience of this has been on snow bound Polish main roads - driving on summer tyres the tread rapidly fills with snow, completely negating the advantage of four wheel drive. I am for several reasons looking forward to swapping the Bridgestone tyres for a set of all-season Michelin ones.

                            CONCLUSION - Would I buy one myself and would we want to drive it to Poland in a day?

                            The acid test is: 'would I put my own money into one of these cars, rather than merely choosing it as a company car?' The unequivocal answer to that has to be yes, but I would actually look for an ex-demonstrator - there are some to choose from on the Subaru website, this would save around £4000 on the already attractive new price.

                            It is hard to put in words here just how happy I am to have discovered a car that, in daily use, so greatly exceeds both my expectations of it, and indeed, my own capabilities as a driver.

                            We have already driven to Switzerland and to Poland in the Legacy on two separate journeys and found it absolutely superb transport in both cases. Show it some slippery, twisty mountain roads and it comes into its element - just as it does cruising perfectly comfortably flat out on the autobahn.

                            FINAL SCORE: 146 / 170

                            In some senses I have a feeling of guilt here, more than in any other car that I have run, the Subaru Legacy Boxer Diesel really is letting me have my cake and eat it!

                            This is one superb car, and at the end of this review I am still, quite simply, at a loss to understand why so few of them are sold.

                            Putting that score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria:

                            SUBARU LEGACY 2.0D RE SALOON - 85.8%

                            ALFA ROMEO 147 1.9JTD Lusso (5 Dr) - 67.8%
                            FIAT PUNTO GRANDE SPORTING 130 Mjet - 75.9%
                            FORD KUGA 2.0 TDCi TITANIUM - 64.7%
                            HONDA ACCORD i-DECT EX GT (2008 Model) Saloon - 69.4%
                            HONDA ACCORD i-CTDi Saloon - 80.0%
                            HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC SE - 78.2%
                            HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC S i-SHIFT - 68.8%
                            HONDA CIVIC IMA SE - 73.5%
                            HONDA JAZZ 1.4 SE CVT-7 (Automatic) - 74.7%
                            SUBARU OUTBACK 2.0D RE - 85.3%
                            SAAB 9-3 TiD Vector - 68.2%
                            SAAB 9-3 TiD Linear CONVERTIBLE (2007 Mondel) - 74.1%
                            VAUXHALL ASTRA TWINTOP 1.9 CDTi DESIGN - 78.8%
                            VAUXHALL VXR8 - 84.1 %
                            VAUXHALL MONARO VXR - 71.1%
                            VW PASSAT TDi 140 S ESTATE - 71.7%
                            VOLVO S60 D5 SE - 70.6%

                            Richada © March 2009.

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                            • Ford Kuga 2.0TDCi / Car / 70 Readings / 65 Ratings
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                              24.03.2009 21:29
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                              Few cars that I have driven have left me as dissapointed - or pensive.

                              In setting out to write a car review, indeed, ANY consumer review, I attempt to do it in the most independent and dispassionate way that I can. To this end, all of my car reviews follow the format laid out below. Why this unusual preamble you may ask? Well, in the case of this particular car, a slightly unusual situation arose around the time that I drove it.

                              Any of you who read the motoring press, as well as any of my reviews, may be aware that my opinions often vary substantially from those expressed by popular magazines - or indeed "celebrity car personalities" - you know who you are!

                              Having read an absolutely glowing Autocar magazine road test of the Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Titanium, in which this very car wiped the floor with its competitors, I then read a completely contrary readers letter, from a potential Kuga owner, questioning their verdict when other magazines, comparative, road tests rated the Kuga as an also-ran. The letter writer had also test driven the Kuga and its immediate competitors.

                              Bearing in mind that the Autocar test had been carried out in isolation, I found their high and mighty response to the letter i.e. "We are right and they are all wrong", rather thought provoking. Both views could not be correct, for my own interest and satisfaction I needed to try a Kuga in order to discover where the truth lay - and indeed set the record straight. My findings were to prove surprising indeed.

                              The motoring press like to categorise certain marques as "Premium Brands", however hard the likes of Ford and Vauxhall try, their models will never qualify for "Premium" status. Some may know the history of Lexus, a brand born to parent company Toyota with the sole intention of attaining instant "Premium" status.

                              Readers new to my car reviews will not be familiar with my total disregard to badge snobbery. During the 1980's I ran a series of Fords, in the 90's a series of Vauxhalls and currently, a Subaru, in between there was a Honda.

                              I choose a car that I find good to drive, offers good all round value and reasonable running costs. Never have I purchased a car, either personally, or for the Company, based purely on the badge on the bonnet.

                              Here in a Richada review all makes have equal status, whatever the badge, the car is judged on individual merit.

                              That is a statement that really should not need making, but I feel sure that there are some reading this, who would never consider purchasing a Kuga, merely because it IS a Ford branded product.


                              WHAT IS IT?

                              The Kuga, being a compact "lifestyle" 4x4, or "soft roader" and therefore a niche model, is a slightly unusual offering from mass marketeers Ford, and enters a market that they have not so far been present in.

                              Ford themselves incidentally refer to this car as a "crossover vehicle", the terms for ever more niche marketed cars seem to become ever more meaningless as far as I am concerned.

                              There have been 4 x 4 Fords in the past - slightly less than successful joint efforts with Nissan and latterly Mazda, the Kuga however is a Ford through and through.

                              In terms of size, the Kuga at 4440mm long is rather more compact, inside and out, than its most obvious competitors, certainly those at a similar price level, which include the smallest four cylinder diesel Land Rover Feelanders, Honda CR-V and Subaru Outback.

                              More directly comparable are the Volkswagen Tiguan which bears a similar relationship to the Golf, as that of the Kuga to the Focus and the rather less obvious Renault Koleos.

                              In practical terms it is a mid-size, family five door hatchback with a part time four wheel drive system and a command (i.e. high up) driving position. A would be school run status symbol car then, but is it?


                              WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?

                              Here I am reviewing a 2.0 TDCi Titanium model, which was simply groaning with optional equipment.

                              Currently there are only two Kuga models available, both with the 134bhp diesel engine, the standard Zetec retailing at £20,495 and this much plusher version for another £2000. A much more powerful 5 cylinder petrol version just joining the range makes do with drive to the front wheels only.

                              Ford have now also signalled their imminent intention to sell a less polluting two wheel drive version too, purely a re-bodied Focus then in that case.


                              IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR?

                              The reason for actually choosing to test this car has already been discussed, but I am also reviewing this car with my fleet manager's hat on. Thanks to my invitation to the Millbrook Testing Ground from Fleet News Magazine to their Company Car In Action event, I have been able to compare many cars back to back, using two test tracks that simulate driving conditions that you would be hard pressed to encounter during many thousands of miles of ordinary motoring.

                              Millbrook is a venue, that having attended for years, I am thoroughly familiar with. It allows direct comparison between various models. Being "closed circuits", the facilities there also allow you to drive at speeds which would, on public roads, be highly irresponsible. The importance of testing cars in this way is to find out just how a car behaves in extreme conditions i.e. on the limit, for instance in an emergency braking situation on the road, or perhaps a rapid and not anticipated lane changing manoeuvre.


                              COSTS

                              Maybe I am growing old, maybe I am expecting too much for the money these days, but what would once upon a time been seen as ordinary working class peoples cars are now becoming way beyond the pockets of such customers.

                              The Kuga is not going to be a cheap car to run.

                              Insurance at group 10 is hardly going to break the bank, however a CO2 figure of 169g/kg is far from impressive from a 2.0 diesel powered car in this day and age. That figure will put off many company car drivers as benefit in kind tax is based on the CO2 level output.


                              PURCHASE COST 5 / 10

                              We were frankly surprised to discover, after driving it, that the Kuga was £22,500. Nothing whatsoever to do with the Ford badge, it just does not have the feel of a car of that price to me.

                              One also has to bear in mind around £6000 of optional equipment fitted to the car that I drove, if it did not feel £22.5K good, it most certainly did not feel like a £28,500 car!

                              Ford appear to have aimed this car at the relatively well off family looking for a second, distinctive, school run car. The trouble is here that, like it or not, such a family with between £22,000 and £30,000 to spend are far more likely to go for something with a prestige badge on it, although, fair to say, Fords ascendant is currently rising thanks to the economic gloom.

                              Those that have the cash do not want to be seen spending it, so maybe there will be a few less Land Rovers on the road and a few more Kugas......but that will not always remain the case.

                              For my money, a £2000 less expensive Zetec Kuga makes more sense - after all you have the same body, same soft road capability and even the same engine under the bonnet.


                              THE OPTIONS GAME: 5 / 10 or "How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?"

                              The Ford demonstrator that we tried was equipped with almost £6000 worth of options, and on first site, without resorting to their excellent on-line car configurator, they were mighty difficult to spot. Things like leather upholstery and xenon headlights which one tends to expect as standard in a top of the range car like this were part of very expensive option packs fitted to this car.

                              I can only therefore comment here that, top of the range Titanium status or not, this is not a terribly well equipped car - especially bearing in mind its' list price in standard form.


                              DEPRECIATION 7 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost.

                              Lavish thousands on options at your peril - when you come to re-sell your Kuga in two or three years time they will have depreciated totally.

                              Assuming that you have taken my advice and been sensible with the options - maybe just spent around £500 extra on metallic paint, then the Kuga should prove a reasonable motoring investment. I say should, much depends on how many Ford build, if the market is flooded with them, taking into account the new price, then hefty depreciation will be the order of the day.


                              FUEL ECONOMY 7 / 10

                              In judging the Kuga's fuel economy one has to be very careful to compare it to its' almost universally more thirsty competitors, rather than any ordinary 2.0 litre turbo-diesel powered car. The only trouble there, is that its competitors tend to be not only larger and more spacious, but quicker and more relaxed to drive too.

                              The claimed average consumption is a respectable 44.1mpg. Trouble is that in my own experience with any diesel car you can pretty much knock 20% off of the claimed figure in every day driving conditions. Regard 35mpg as a likely average and that is still acceptable though for a four wheel drive 1613kg family car.

                              The 58 litre (12.75 gallon) fuel tank on the other hand is a trifle mean - and will severely hamper the range on the five cylinder petrol model.

                              This translates to an operating range of less than 450 miles between fuel stops. Personally I see no need to buy any car that will not travel at least 500 miles on a single fill of fuel. Many school run mums (who will see very poor consumption figures in stop-start driving) will not appreciate the number of trips that they have to make to the smelly diesel pump in this car.


                              SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 9 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?

                              The Kuga should prove more than class competitive on this score, indeed it should lead the class. Ford dealers are not as plentiful as they used to be, which has hiked the price of servicing a little, but all in all spare parts and service costs will be less for this than any other similar car.


                              Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in.......

                              THE EXTERIOR:

                              STYLING 8 /10: A very subjective category here.

                              Approaching "our" particular Kuga - finished in black, this was actually the first one that I had seen in "the metal" - I was struck by just what a handsome car this is. This was not really a surprise as it had been widely previewed in the press by the time I got to drive this one. However this is a very colour sensitive car, looking good in black, white, light or dark silvers, in the red or blue colours it is far more flashy due to the rather overdone combination of black, grey and silver detailing, which tend to blend in better with black or shades of grey.

                              Like many other people that I know, I am no fan of "butched-up" off roaders and would not buy such a car for this very reason. It appears that Ford's stylists took the likes of me into account when designing this car. It looks neither over bodied, nor (on £350 extra optional 18" wheels) under tyred, both common faults amongst many of the less expensive i.e. non-Land Rover 4x4's.


                              OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 9 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?

                              No modern Ford is, or looks to have been, slung together and the Kuga is a good example of a thoroughly well assembled and finished modern car. It may lack the final 10% of Audi or Skoda build quality, but certainly all the panel gaps were tight and even, the paint finish, on this Ford demonstrator at least, was deep, glossy and perfectly applied.


                              SAFETY 6 / 10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it?

                              This is a modern, well built car, based on a chassis (from the Focus) which has impeccable credentials. Add to that very good starting point a higher than usual driving position, and all the modern safety aids in the business and at least in passive terms you have a very safe car indeed.

                              Dynamically, in isolation, there is nothing inherently "unsafe" feeling about the way that the Kuga drives. However, on the same day that I drove the four wheel drive Ford I also drove many other cars on the same courses and I have to say here that this particular car made me feel the most "nervy" driving it. The Focus, also driven on the same day under identical circumstances, is a car in which you have total dynamic confidence; in layman's terms it behaves exactly the way that you expect it to in any given situation. Put it on stilts, add drive to the rear wheel and you have a car that, to me at least, fails to feel "right".

                              Possibly four wheel drive requires a longer wheelbase, maybe the centre of gravity is too high, but under heavy braking, and in tight turns, I had the genuine feeling that this car was more likely to topple over than any car that I have driven in a very long time. I simply lacked the confidence in the Kuga that I had in maybe three or four dozen cars previously driven at Millbrook. Purely as a school run only car it would be adequately safe, we, and many others, though require an "all purpose" car in this role I feel unable to recommend it, not something that I ever thought I would find myself saying about any Ford.


                              THE INTERIOR:

                              ERGONOMICS 4 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.

                              For several decades Ford have been the masters of ergonomics, you simply get into one, adjust the seat and all the controls, switches and dials just fall into place where you naturally expect to find them. The Kuga is no exception to this and indeed builds to an extent upon it.

                              "Our" car had the expensive (£750) convenience option of keyless entry. If you have not come across this before, it means that you can walk up to the car with the key fob in your pocket or hand bag, it will unlock the doors automatically. You sit behind the wheel, press a button marked "POWER" on the dashboard centre and drive away.

                              Convenient yes, not sure quite how secure though.

                              Whilst the driving position is excellent, the seats in the non-leather (£2000) trimmed Kuga's would I feel be better. The seats are rather flat; the leather surface slippery, which when combined with the high centre of gravity gives you a real sense of being thrown about inside the car. I am just over eleven stone; probably someone far better built than I would be more comfortably located. Regrettably I have not driven a cloth trimmed Kuga, but am pretty sure that I would find it a much more comfortable car to drive as a result.

                              Those who remember Fords sweet gearboxes of old will be in for a shock here too. The gearlever may be handily placed, but it is also stiff and at the same time imprecise to operate.

                              However, for me, that is not what I really disliked about this car. Having driven dozens of Fords over the years - and owned six of them - what really shocked me was how inconsistent a feel there was between the foot pedals. The accelerator was fine, diesel norm, the brake pedal wooden and a little stiff, but this car had quite the worst clutch action that I have ever experienced.

                              Maybe there was something wrong with this particular car - but being a hand picked Ford fleet demonstrator I am unable to give it the benefit of the doubt. The first half of the clutch travel was conventional enough; it then travelled beyond the conventional arc, heading UP towards the steering column, accompanying this unusual travel was a nasty squeak too - that on a car barely run in! Difficult to describe the feeling of that clutch movement here, but it was certainly very unnatural and very uncomfortable to operate.


                              VISIBILITY: 8 / 10

                              Providing the rear parking sensor option is fitted (only available as part of the £750 keyless entry system - it should be standard) then visibility is as good as in any car that I have ever driven. Both interior and door mirrors offer a fine rearward view, whilst the "command driving position" offers you an every day advantage over less tall cars. Children will also appreciate the view from the rear seats.

                              Directly to the rear this is a difficult car to park - unless the parking sensors are fitted. The rear window is shallow and high off the ground, posts, other cars and children below about 4ft tall are all invisible from the drivers seat when reversing.


                              SPACE: 4 / 10:

                              With a car that is in every dimension larger than the spacious Focus on which it is based; it is very disappointing to report a shortage of space, particularly in the rear seats. Both head and leg room are restricted for anyone of average height or more.

                              Whilst space in the front is plentiful for the tallest driver and passenger, the amount of oddments space provided is woefully inadequate for what is after all intended to be a family car.

                              The boot on the other hand is large and square, pity that just a little of its volume could not have been given over to passenger space.


                              STYLE 7 / 10:

                              In truth there is little to like or dislike about the interior design of this car. I actually found the black leather seats unattractive; the standard cloth seats appear both better looking and more comfortable. Apart from that the interior is modern Eurobland, take off the Ford badges and you could be in one of any number of £16,000 hatchbacks......

                              ......just to remind you this one starts at £22,500.


                              MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 7 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners?

                              Adding leather upholstery really does not add to the quality ambiance inside the Kuga at all. However, build quality, fit and finish is very good indeed. For my money I would prefer to see fewer materials used, the interior echoes the exterior where different grades of both metal and plastic materials have been tacked on in order to 'decorate' the car unnecessarily. My wife thought that it simply looked "cheap".

                              In all probability less is more - the cheaper Zetec model providing a better interior.


                              AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 9 / 10: Strange grouping?

                              Here the old Ford magic returns. Big, bold and simple to use controls operate efficient heating and strong audio systems.


                              ON THE ROAD........

                              ......Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.

                              NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 6 / 10 Silk purse or sow's ear?

                              Ford still have a way to go to catch up with the best four cylinder diesel engines on the market. This is not a car that a passenger is going to get into and ask you which fuel it takes, you never loose the sense of travelling in a diesel.

                              Added to that is the weight of the car, requiring higher revs and more noise for any given speed than you may otherwise be used to. Indeed Ford have been forced to lower the gearing, merely to make the performance acceptable. This certainly hurts refinement at all speeds.

                              On the whole though, this is an acceptable car in which to travel on this score, although, especially at the price, I would not recommend it as the ideal long distance cruiser.


                              PERFORMANCE 3 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?

                              One of the main reasons that I found the clutch so very dislikeable was that in this car you have to use it and the gearbox far more than should be necessary. Not to drive fast, but merely to keep up with other traffic.

                              Unless cruising on a motorway in top (6th) gear, in ordinary driving the Kuga simply feels under powered, forcing you to be in a gear, if not two lower than you would expect to be.


                              RIDE & HANDLING 6 / 10

                              If you appreciate a very firm, yet well damped ride, then this car will suit you. It soaks up the big bumps and undulations well, but never really offers true comfort the way a four wheel drive Subaru Legacy Outback can for example.

                              I have already covered the handling aspect in the safety section, there is a lot that Fords very highly skilled chassis engineers could do to improve the Kuga here.


                              CONCLUSION - Would I buy one myself and would we want to drive it to Poland in a day?

                              Sorry Ford, an emphatic no and no again here - not if someone paid me to do it!

                              It is a very long time since I drove any car that I disliked as much as this one. Thanks to my review "formula" the Kuga has scored highly where it deserved to, but has also fallen miserably on some of the most important aspects of car ownership - at least as far as I am concerned.

                              I was left with the rather sad, yet very strong impression that this car had been rushed far too soon to the market. In so many ways, compared to any other car driven over the last ten years, it felt un-developed, not properly "finished".

                              Adding insult to injury, the Kuga is, as far as I am concerned also, inescapably, over-priced.


                              FINAL SCORE: 110 / 170


                              Different people undoubtedly have different priorities in their daily personal transport; regrettably the Kuga fails to make the grade in so many areas that I could never recommend one to anybody.


                              Putting that score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria:

                              ALFA ROMEO 147 1.9JTD Lusso (5 Dr) - 67.8%
                              FIAT PUNTO GRANDE SPORTING 130 Mjet - 75.9%

                              FORD KUGA 2.0 TDCi TITANIUM - 64.7%

                              HONDA ACCORD i-DECT EX GT (2008 Model) Saloon - 69.4%
                              HONDA ACCORD i-CTDi Saloon - 80.0%
                              HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC SE - 78.2%
                              HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC S i-SHIFT - 68.8%
                              HONDA CIVIC IMA SE - 73.5%
                              HONDA JAZZ 1.4 SE CVT-7 (Automatic) - 74.7%
                              SUBARU OUTBACK 2.0D RE - 85.3%
                              SAAB 9-3 TiD Vector - 68.2%
                              SAAB 9-3 TiD Linear CONVERTIBLE (2007 Mondel) - 74.1%
                              VAUXHALL ASTRA TWINTOP 1.9 CDTi DESIGN - 78.8%
                              VAUXHALL VXR8 - 84.1 %
                              VAUXHALL MONARO VXR - 71.1%
                              VW PASSAT TDi 140 S ESTATE - 71.7%
                              VOLVO S60 D5 SE - 70.6%

                              Richada / Dooyoo © March 2009.

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                              • Autoglass / Transport / 69 Readings / 68 Ratings
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                                21.03.2009 18:32
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                                23 Comments

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                                A fault free service, which hopefully you will not be paying for!

                                This, in a sense, is an odd consumer review; usually we choose who to buy products and services from - in this case, on three separate occasions, I actually had little or no say in the matter.

                                Under any circumstances I can only image glass replacement - especially on a car - as falling into the category of a "panic purchase". In that respect, this review may offer certain comfort for those, like I, who are placed into the hands of Autoglass through their insurance company, in our case that being via a fleet policy with Zurich.

                                As far as I understand the situation, you do not HAVE to deal with the glass replacement company that your insurer recommends, however, in not doing so you are considerably delaying the repair as authorisation is sought for payment from the insurers. Using their nominated repairer, in this case Autoglass, makes the whole process as stress free and quick as possible, I can only however hope that my experiences with this company are representative nationwide.


                                WHO ARE AUTOGLASS, WHAT DO THEY DO?

                                Not wishing to patronise at all here, and I suspect probably around 75% of you reading this will at least have heard of Autoglass, Autoglass are what it says on the side of their vans - a car glass repair and replacement outfit. They also carry out associated and glass connected tasks such as fitting sun roofs, this however is a very minor string to their bow.

                                According to their website: "Autoglass® is the UK's leading vehicle glass repair and replacement company, serving more than 1.5 million motorists each year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year".
                                This is a very well established company in the car replacement glass industry; there are 109 branches across the UK and a total number of 1200 mobile fitters. I am not quite sure how big "our area" (Brighton & Hove) actually is, but I was surprised when the fitter who dealt with my windscreen last week informed me that there were 8 fitters working in this area alone.

                                Rather than go into great further detail about this company, their fitters training (they operate the only UK automotive glass fitting National Skills centre), their glass quality (all OEM - original equipment manufacturers), I will refer you to their website at www.autoglass.co.uk.

                                Autoglass' philosophy towards glass replacement as far as I am concerned is spot on - they do not replace windscreens that can be repaired, their policy is always to repair first, which in my case was exactly the course of action taken.


                                WHAT BROUGHT ME INTO CONTACT WITH AUTOGLASS?

                                My experiences with Autoglass really actually only flesh out the paragraphs above, however, there is no substitute for personal experience......

                                ......wind the clock back to September 2008.

                                Two days after collecting our new Subaru Legacy in September, we were driving on a main dual carriageway when there was a loud bang as a stone thrown up from another vehicle struck our windscreen just above the passenger side windscreen wiper.

                                Our brand new pride and joy, with less than 100 miles on the clock, had a nasty chip in its windscreen with two small cracks spreading from it. I called my insurance broker the following morning to ask who Zurich's nominated glass repairer was. He told me to contact Autoglass, providing me with their national contact number - 0844 875 2490. They would, he told me, take care of the whole claim and that I would not have to contact Zurich for authorisation on the claim.

                                Incidentally, Autoglass are authorised to carry out repairs up to the cost of £1000, beyond that insurance company authorisation is required.

                                I called Autoglass and made an appointment for a technician (I refer to them as fitters!) to visit my workplace in order to repair my windscreen. When booking the repair, the operator asks if the chip is bigger than the diameter of a 5p piece and / or if the chip is within 6cm of the edge of the windscreen. If the answer to either is yes then a repair is not possible - you require a full windscreen replacement.

                                The operator informed me that the "technician" would be there between 9.00am and midday. She also took both my work and mobile telephone numbers, in order that the fitter could call to confirm that the car was available, prior to attending. In the event he called me at 8.40 to ask if he could come a little early.


                                THE MAN WITH THE VAN AND SOME IMPRESSIVE TOOLS!

                                Another mobile call to inform me that he was on site and had found my car. I went out to the car park to discuss a mix-up with regards to the paperwork, in this case the VAT payment, I should explain......

                                ......If you have this work done as a private individual, Auoglass will not take a penny from you for a chip repair. Neither will it affect your precious no-claims bonus. However if, like mine, your vehicle is owned by a VAT registered company, then you have to hand over payment for the VAT - the insurance company picking up the bill for the actual work.

                                In September this was more of a problem as the glass fitter himself had to take payment, then seek authorisation for the work - I am pleased to tell you that now all this is pre-authorised by credit card over the phone when you make the appointment - the fitter can turn up and simply get on with the job.

                                Back in September, apart from the phone calls, the chip replacement really was a very painless fifteen minute job.

                                Many years ago I had a similar repair done on a Vauxhall Cavalier. That was less than successful, a small lump was left on the screen and the chip was no less visible than before the repair was carried out. In short, I had wished that the screen had been replaced. The company that actually did that repair was Silver Shield, the Autoglass repair turned out to be altogether more satisfactory.


                                THE CHIP REPAIR

                                Before carrying out the work, the fitter explains that there is no guarantee that the chip will repair rather than actually cracking as resin is injected under pressure. He was confident that with the position of my chip this would not happen, but had to make me aware of the possibility of the screen cracking and requiring a full replacement.

                                This is a very simple process, the fitter cleans then grids out the chip, attaching, with a rubber sucker, a small mirror on the inside of the screen enabling him to see the chip clearly. Once satisfied that the chip is fully cleaned the impressive resin gun comes out. This is compressor driven - power being taken from the back of the van - not your socket - it injects resin under pressure into the chip. The resin also flows into any cracks spreading from the chip, effectively sealing them. The excess resin is then scraped off with a razor leaving the surface totally flush with the glass.

                                Even with the fitter still on site, I was impressed with the quality of the repair. I knew where to look for it, but anyone else getting into the car would never have spotted the chip that had now been repaired. He did tell me that over the coming three or four days the chip would actually become less visible as the resin set hard. That was entirely true and after a week I was even myself unaware of what had previously been a very visible scar on my windscreen.

                                The fitter was polite, good humoured and thoroughly professional. I did however comment that the cost of the chip repair seemed excessive, currently £69.95+VAT, for fifteen minutes work. His opinion was that the actual cost of doing this should be no more than about £20, but that the insurance companies were happy to pay it instead of the cost of a full windscreen replacement......

                                ......read on, dear reader......


                                THE BIG BANG - I'LL SPARE YOU THE THEORY!

                                There we were last Monday, less than six months later, and splat! Driving down the A1M something hit the screen sounding like a large squashy fly rather than a stone. My wife and I were both amazed to see a large chip, with three small cracks radiating from it. This time it was above my head on the drivers' side, just to the right of the rear view mirror.

                                Now knowing the routine - and cursing my luck, only once in the previous twenty eight years and now twice in six months - I called Autoglass.

                                Same routine, different fitter, only this time a totally different outcome!

                                On this occasion I had an appointment for between 1.00 and 3.00pm. I was at home for lunch at 12.30 and the fitter rang to ask if he could do the job now, I had to delay him until my return to work at 1.00pm. When he arrived I told him that I had had a repair done six months ago: "oh well you know the routine then, I'll give you a call when I'm finished" he said.

                                Five minutes later my mobile rang; "I think you had better come out, there's a bit of a problem......"

                                There was now a huge crack from the top of the windscreen going more than half way down towards the passenger side. The fitter said that in all his years of doing these repairs he had never had a 'screen "explode" the way mine just had.


                                "YOU'LL BE NEEDING A NEW SCREEN IN THERE!"

                                "Yes, I will, and the sooner the better!" He did tell me that the car was safe enough to drive like this and that the screen (being laminated) would not "come in on me". Very reassuring, but I had a broken windscreen and my Legacy Saloon is a very rare car indeed.

                                Asking the fitter what would happen next, he told me that the local Autoglass branch (Brighton) would call me to make an appointment to have the replacement screen fitted. You may well imagine my surprise when a young lady called me five minutes later to say that they would be up to fit the new windscreen between 2.00 and 4.00pm the following afternoon.

                                Yes, I was impressed! I did have the presence of mind to enquire if they had the correct windscreen with a heater element in it, she reassured me that it was an original screen for my car.


                                A CRACKING GOOD SHOW! HOW DO THEY DO THAT?

                                Another day another Autoglass fitter. This time I am having 'the full monty', a new windscreen fitted!

                                This time the fitter rang to say that he was in the area and could he come at 11.00am rather than the appointed afternoon time. I was more than happy to get it done before lunch, knowing that the car could not be driven for an hour after the replacement anyway.

                                Before starting, the fitter has to inspect the car very carefully with the owner for any existing chips or damage. He was extremely thorough indeed; spotting two tiny stone chips which I was not aware were there. All paint chips or marks are noted on the order form which the fitter brought with him and I am requested to sign the form stating that I have inspected the vehicle with him and authorise the replacement to be done.

                                The fitter informed me that the job would take about an hour and I asked if he minded my watching him do this as I had never had a windscreen replacement carried out and was curious to see how it is done. It was a bright, sunny day and he actually seemed happy enough to have my company.

                                Unfortunately I did not have a proper camera with me, so progress was documented on my mobile phone camera - just this once it came in handy!

                                What followed was, for me at least, 90 minutes of sheer fascination, I simply had no idea that fitting windscreens was such a skilled, or technical job.


                                OUT WITH THE OLD......

                                .....well maybe not so old, but it certainly had a mighty big crack in it!

                                Before removing the windscreen quite a lot of stripping down has to take place under the bonnet and inside the car. The windscreen wiper arms have to be removed and then all of the plastic and rubber mouldings at the bottom of the screen. Once done, the rubber sealing strip around the screen is removed.

                                The windscreen is taken out by using a large cheese wire cutter in order to split the seal from the glass to the bodywork. This is not a fast process, large rubber suckers are attached to the inside of the screen, a flat knife put through the bottom of it enabling the cheese wire to be connected to winding gear both outside and inside the screen. The wire is then manually wound right the way around the screen until it is no longer bonded into the car. Traditional glazing suckers are then attached to the outside of the windscreen allowing it to be lifted clear of the car.

                                Further careful preparation takes place before the new screen can be offered up prior to fitting. All of the previous black sealing compound is carefully scraped away with a razor leaving a good bonding surface for the new windscreen.

                                ......AND IN WITH THE NEW

                                With the damaged windscreen stowed in the back of the Autoglass van, the new one can now be fitted. Since arriving on site, it has been sitting face down on a trestle stand in front of the car - presumably to equalise the temperature. A coat of bonding material is applied both to the windscreen and frame on the car, this before a large electrically powered gun comes out to apply a good beading of the same material to the windscreen frame on the car. Before removing the screen from the trestle a new rubber trim seal is pressed into place around it, the old one having been discarded with the windscreen.

                                A large suction pad with an arm attached is placed on the passenger side door glass and a similar unit on the new screen. This allows the fitter to single-handedly swing the windscreen into position on the car. Once he has pressed it into place all the way around, ensuring a consistent fit, all the disassembled parts can be replaced onto the car - including, obviously, the rear view mirror from the old windscreen.

                                Once done the fitter asks me for the keys so that he can make sure that the windscreen wipers work properly, which they do. Finally I am asked to inspect the car to make sure that there is no damage at all and that everything works and fits as it should. I then have to sign the bottom of the form to say that the work has been carried out to my satisfaction.


                                AFTER THE SHOW IS OVER

                                A hanger is left over the rear view mirror with some important information. This refers to the setting of the adhesive. It states that:

                                1) the car should not be driven for an hour after the installation is completed, the fitter also writes in a time before which the car should not be driven.
                                2) After installation you should not press upon or push the windscreen.
                                3) You should not take the car through a car wash for at least 24 hours.

                                Before starting work the fitter had also handed me a customer satisfaction form, which I gladly filled in and handed back to him before he left.


                                THE COST

                                The work that I have had carried out by Autoglass, on both occasions, has been covered by our fleet insurance policy. However, a warning here to anyone who does not have glass cover included in their motor insurance policy - GET IT!

                                Windscreens in modern cars are very expensive! The total cost of the replacement screen on my 2009 model Subaru Legacy was £738.45 including VAT.


                                THANKS AUTOGLASS, I CAN SEE IT ALL CLEARLY NOW

                                Panic purchase or not, an expensive insurance claim or not, I can only say that in my three separated dealings with Autoglass over the last six months I have been very impressed with their level of service and professionalism. Compared to so many companies connected to the motor trade, in my experience at least, this appears to be one company who know how to treat their customers. They do what they say they will, when they say that they will do it. If all of our experiences in the motor trade were as painless as this, then running a car would be a more pleasurable experience all round.


                                CONTACT:

                                Telephone: 0844 875 2490

                                www.autoglass.co.uk

                                Richada / Dooyoo - March 2009

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                                • Honda Accord i-DECT EX GT / Car / 54 Readings / 50 Ratings
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                                  20.03.2009 18:26
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                                  Is this Honda's attempt to fix what wasn't broken?

                                  TITLE EXPLANATION

                                  Anyone remotely interested in cars cannot failed to have seen Honda's strap-line for their new Accord; "if it is difficult......it is worth doing", supposedly a quote from Mr Honda himself. I am not quite sure to what this refers; I rather think that the difficulty lay in developing an improved car from the already very good previous one!

                                  I feel it only fair to pre-empt this review by saying that this particular model is the exact replacement for my previous car - the Honda Accord 2.2 i-CTDi Executive, with which I had four years and 96,000 miles of experience with.

                                  WHAT IS IT?

                                  The Accord is a very long standing and well known model in Honda's line-up. Other model names; Carina, Cavalier, Cortina, Xantia, 80, 626 now Vectra even, have come and gone, but Honda have replaced each mid-range model with a new "mark" of Accord, this is, in case you are counting, the mark 8!

                                  As with most other cars, each successive model grows both in overall size and weight, depending on your standpoint this can be either a good or bad thing......

                                  ......personally I am in the "bad thing" camp. Heavier, larger cars use more of everything: raw materials, fuel, and road-space. Reducing size and particularly weight has to be the way to go in future. From the drivers' point of view, bigger cars are also less fun to drive - more comfortable possibly, arguably more spacious too - but what the world really needs is lighter, more economical cars.

                                  I may be interpreted as unfairly singling out Honda here - actually I am doing no such thing - ALL replacement models, with the glaring exception of the Mazda range, become ever more heavy and bloated, one only has to compare the previous and current model Ford Mondeo to understand what I am talking about here.

                                  The Accord history is an unusual one in that it actually started life as a smallish three door hatchback, from which a saloon was spawned. Unlike its Cortina or Cavalier competitors at the time, it did not start life as a saloon. Hatchback models of Accord have come and gone, for many a buyer the lack of a hatchback put them off of purchasing the last model Accord, and similarly will do this one too - the car only being available as a four door saloon or estate, which Honda insist on calling a Tourer.

                                  The history of the Honda diesel engine is a much shorter one, dating from January 2004 when it was launched in the Accord. They liked to think that, in arriving (almost) last on the market that they had learned from all of their competitors' mistakes and experience. In my, now 95,000 miles of experience with their all new 2.2 litre diesel engine this was only partially true.

                                  Honda is a company with a reputation for engineering - especially when it comes to engines. During my four years of ownership they have also appeared to be genuinely interested in customer feedback, read on to see if that has been interpreted into my ideal car!

                                  WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?

                                  As with my own car, when purchased, this, the i-DECT EX GT is the top of the range Accord. I am reviewing the saloon here; an identically specified Tourer (estate) model is also available.

                                  The Accord range starts with the £18,893 2.0 i-VTEC ES model, the only model in the range falling below £20,000.

                                  IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR?

                                  My approach to this particular car, of all those reviewed in this current "series" may be regarded as unique. My experiences with a 2004 Honda Accord i-CTDi, covereing 96,000 miles, gave me a lot of experience as far as running the car was concerned.

                                  In many respects my car fell very short indeed of Honda's reputation for sound build quality and reliability, none of my previous Vauxhall's or Fords spent so much time off the road being repaired.

                                  Obviously, being a brand new replacement, for my car I am not in a position to assess its long term reliability - I can only compare its tangible qualities with the recently obsolete model.

                                  I am also reviewing this car with my fleet manager's hat on. Thanks to my invitation to the Millbrook Testing Ground from Fleet News Magazine to their Company Car In Action event, I have been able to compare many cars back to back, using two test tracks that simulate driving conditions that you would be hard pressed to encounter during many thousands of miles of ordinary motoring.

                                  Millbrook is a venue, that having attended for years, I am thoroughly familiar with. It allows direct comparison between various models. Being "closed circuits", the facilities there also allow you to drive at speeds which would, on public roads, be highly irresponsible. The importance of testing cars in this way is to find out just how a car behaves in extreme conditions i.e. on the limit, for instance in an emergency braking situation on the road, or perhaps a rapid and not anticipated lane changing manoeuvre.

                                  COSTS

                                  My own experience over the last four and a half years and 96,000 miles of motoring would tell me that this is not going to be a cheap car to run. Indeed my car Accord cost considerably more in both servicing and consumable parts than my previous V6 petrol engine Vauxhall Omega.

                                  In bald cost terms the clever statisticians at What Car magazine tell us that a comparable BMW 320d SE will cost you 50.7 pence per mile, a Mondeo 2.0 TDi Titanium X 55.7 p, whilst this new Honda is going to cost you a whopping 65 pence for each mile you travel in it.

                                  The new Accord i-DTEC EX falls into a very reasonable group 11 (of 20) Insurance.

                                  The 148g/kg CO2 figure is a retrograde step on the earlier cars' 143. Relative to other similar cars on sale though, any figure below 150 has to be regarded as good - only BMW's remarkable 2.0 diesel at 128 improves to any substantial degree on this score. A 2.2 litre Mondeo posts a figure of 165, whilst a (four wheel drive) Subaru Legacy Saloon issues an identical 148g/kg.

                                  PURCHASE COST 5 / 10

                                  At £24,422, the car reviewed here is the most expensive Saloon bodied Accord on sale. Theoretically there is a more expensive Accord Saloon - Honda list the ADAS (Advanced Driver Assist System) as a separate model at £26,035. Very soon there will also be an optional automatic available on the diesel for the first time; the potential to pay £28,000 for a Honda Accord becomes a very real prospect.

                                  As far as I am concerned THIS actually proved the critical factor in my own purchasing decision. I paid £20,000 for an Accord with a list price (including optional metallic paint and a "City Pack") of £21,000 in March 2004. A replacement would now set my company back a colossal £25,910.

                                  Now having closely inspected the new Honda Accord in the showroom and had the chance to drive one, personally I could not justify a near 25% increase in price from the last model to this.

                                  Honda has very lofty ambitions with their new Accord to elevate it into the "premium" sector (Audi, BMW & Mercedes). It has a premium sector price now, but I, as a current owner, and most drivers of competitors' cars, simply do not view Honda in the same light......

                                  ...in my case I actually chose the Accord partly for the very reason that it was NOT a premium badged product in the first place!

                                  In two words, the new Accord range is simply OVER PRICED.

                                  THE OPTIONS GAME: 8 / 10 or "How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?"

                                  Fortunately we are not talking about ridiculous "essential" options and prices here as we would be on a comparative £25,000 BMW. The EX GT is a well enough equipped car as standard.

                                  On the other hand, the car that I replaced my Honda with, a Subaru Legacy RE Saloon has as standard; four wheel drive, full leather interior (the Honda's is only part-leather) metallic paint, electric sun roof, "city pack" (side rubbing strips) all included in its £22,030 list price - that in addition to all of the other standard specification items on this Honda.

                                  DEPRECIATION 6 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost.

                                  Sorry Honda, but in over-pricing your new Accord in the first place, you have already set the classic depreciation trap. In order to sell this car dealers will be forced into discounting, which will inevitably hurt second hand values.

                                  This model is too new for experts to predict accurately its resale value in three years time, but I am prepared to lay money here and now that it will be worth around 20% less than those very premium cars that it has been priced against new.

                                  FUEL ECONOMY 8 / 10

                                  The new model is bigger and heavier than the old one, even with a substantially re-developed engine if fails to match the claimed fuel consumption figures of the last model.

                                  Having said that, a claimed government average figure of 50.4mpg is still pretty impressive, as a direct comparison a BMW 320d will take you 57.6 miles on a gallon of diesel, whilst the 2.2 Mondeo only manages to travel 45.6 miles on the same amount of fuel.

                                  From my own experience - Honda claimed that my car would travel 52.3 miles on a gallon of diesel, over 96,000 recorded miles it averaged exactly 41.11mpg, to save you doing the maths that is 21.5% short of their consumption claim.

                                  In reality I suspect that any owner will be lucky to see 40mpg on average from this new model, even though it has a six speed gearbox which my 2004 car did not. Whilst for a car of this size, comfort and performance, 40mpg may be regarded as good, the fact that, in practice, I know it would fall so far short of its manufacturers claims loses it two points here.

                                  My fuel consumption in the four wheel drive Subaru Legacy, that posts almost identical fuel manufacturers consumption figures, to date has been 39mpg. Exactly what I would expect from the heavier, front wheel drive Accord reviewed here.

                                  SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 5 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?

                                  Yes, over the last several years I have rather felt that I was lining the dealers pockets and I have no reason to expect a reduction in costs on this score with the new model.

                                  Major expenses not incurred with any of my previous cars included brake pad replacement every 25,000 miles - a considerable amount of oil and then a £2000 clutch and flywheel replacement at 89,000 miles.

                                  If you are used to running an Alfa, BMW, Ford or Vauxhall then expect to pay around 50% more per service on this Honda - although all those brake pad replacements have certainly bumped up the labour charges.

                                  Part of what you are paying for - at 9 out of 10 Honda dealers at least - is absolutely top notch service. Having discovered that our local (Brighton) Honda dealer were simply incapable of problem sorting, we resorted to visiting Honda's flagship dealer - Chiswick Honda for all our needs. This is a superb dealership by any standards.

                                  Indeed dealers of that quality fully support Honda's "Premium Brand" aspirations.

                                  Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in.......

                                  THE EXTERIOR:

                                  STYLING 5 /10: A very subjective category here.

                                  Woops! Honda used to sell a very attractive car in the Accord, pity that they did not leave it well alone! This, even above the list price issue is what really put me off of the purchase of a replacement Accord. I have to confess that my wife is less averse to the look of this car than I am, but agrees that the last Accord is a much better looking car.

                                  When I saw the original photographs of this car I could hardly believe that Honda had so badly botched what amounts to little more than a facelift. In silhouette it looks very similar indeed, the window line at the sides is identical to the original car, the overall proportions, although scaled up, are the same too.

                                  However the devil is in the detail, and the detail styling on this car is very heavy handed indeed - bulging yet flattened wheel arches, attempting to ape those on an S-Class Mercedes, look totally incongruous on this car.

                                  Worst of all is the rear three quarter view, those wheel arches combined with the very deep and heavy looking rear bumper panel with its multiple and conflicting angles is one of the worst external design features that I have seen on a car in many years.

                                  In the metal, rather than on the printed page, the Accord from the front, as Doyoo show above, still looks a handsome car, but from any other angle the previous model is vastly preferable - to my eyes at least.

                                  OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 10 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?

                                  No, it does not, but neither did the last model on the whole either. General standards of fit and finish are extremely high, the gorgeous "Cobalt Blue Metallic" one that we drove had a superbly lustrous paint finish too.

                                  This is indeed the one area where the Accord is more than well enough qualified to compete with the premium brand cars, which, Audi apart, have rather rested on their laurels in terms of build quality and finish over the last decade.

                                  SAFETY 9 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it.

                                  My one concern with my last model Accord was its four star NCAP safety rating, in a class of cars over flowing with five star ratings. This test actually takes no account of the dynamic safety aspects of a car, merely its' "crashability" and how well you as a driver or passenger are protected by safety features; airbags, seat belts active - anti-whiplash - head rests etc.

                                  I would expect this new model to gain a full five star score - as yet I have not seen the test results published.

                                  However, as far as I, usually the driver, am concerned, how the car actually drives - i.e. its dynamic safety is all important, after all you want to avoid crashing in the first place if humanly possible!

                                  The new Accord feels like an extremely safe place to be to me, there are no unpredictable reactions to sudden lane-change manoeuvres, or hard braking. As with any other recent Honda driven, the brakes are simply superb, but then you are paying for them by the need for pad material replacement - especially the rear ones - every 25,000 miles!

                                  THE INTERIOR:

                                  ERGONOMICS 6 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.

                                  Sorry again Honda, but the new Accord has taken a giant step in the wrong direction here.

                                  Having said that, the primary controls - steering wheel, handbrake, pedals and gear lever are simple enough to operate and fall to hand exactly where you would expect them to.

                                  The driving position is an improvement over the last Accord, certainly I found it a less fiddly job to achieve my perfect driving position in the new one than in my own car after, for instance, it returns from servicing.

                                  The rest of the interior though is a complete and utter mess!

                                  Honda have gone in for, and undoubtedly won, the "count the buttons" contest in a big way here. Consequently in order to carry out many functions in this car you are going to need a lot of night classes with the instruction book and then STILL have to remove your eyes from the road for far too long in order to find the right button. So bad is the minor control layout that really it should have impacted the safety score above as well as the ergonomic one here. The steering wheel alone is over-burdened with SIXTEEN buttons on the ADAS equipped Accord.

                                  Worse still is the totally unfathomable central console. This is not a car that you can drive intuitively, OK, as an owner after several thousand miles you probably would eventually become familiar with all those buttons, but the truth is that you should not need to.

                                  Honda may counter my criticisms here by saying that in providing a voice recognition system, they give you the means to by-pass all of the fiddly buttons, point taken, but unfortunately, having experienced the same system in the Civic, I do not possess the necessary degree in computer science required to set it all up!

                                  VISIBILITY: 7 / 10

                                  Whilst the door mirrors are larger and squarer in shape, they only really compensate for the heavier roof pillars, which obscure more of the view. I actually rated my own car as a 9 on this score, which having driven others lately - particularly the Subaru Legacy - I now think was rather generous.

                                  This is not the easiest of cars to reverse, a high rear window and fall-away boot lid are acknowledged by Honda on this model by the fitment of not only reverse park radar, but a reverse camera, which actually works very well - although it is a strange sensation reversing and looking forwards at a screen mounted on the dashboard in front of you. I guess that it would take time to learn to trust the screen and to get to know its field of vision.

                                  The latest EX GT model is fitted with xenon head lights, the only Accord so equipped as standard. These offer a notable advantage if, like me, you drive many thousands of miles per year after dark.

                                  SPACE: 7 / 10:

                                  There is no denying that the Accord is a spacious car, a family sized five seater inside.

                                  Two stars are dropped because the last model had more leg room in the back. Yes the new, larger, Accord is less spacious inside than the old model, mostly thanks to the biggest, thickest most space stealing front seats this side of a Bentley Continental!

                                  The third star is lost to the awkwardly shaped boot. Do the "golf balls test" and it is more accommodating than the old car - theoretically then, Honda can claim a larger boot area. How many people load their boot with golf balls though? And, come to think of it - how do you stop them falling out before you have closed the lid?!

                                  In practice, due to the many different angles, and a sloping floor, the new Accord's boot is far less practical than that in the last model.

                                  STYLE 7 / 10:

                                  If you like the appearance of masses of knobs and buttons in a car, then the interior styling will be very much to your taste. To my eyes at least the new Accord has gone a step too far, in line with the ergonomics; the overall appearance is one of forced style over substance. The dashboard with its central square multi-purpose display and half circular instrument housing is incredibly similar in form to a top-line BMW model, although there it almost suits the Teutonic efficiency of the cars themselves, in the Honda, combined with all those buttons it just looks a mess.

                                  MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 5 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners?

                                  Some of each!

                                  The problem with Hondas, past and now present, is that the interior materials, fit and finish all appear in the showroom to be much better than they prove to be in use. The Motor Show cars gave some true indication of how one of these cars will stand up to day in, day out use - the flimsy plastic panels on the zero mileage cars on display were already scuffed and scratched. From experience, marks that you would expect to clean off simply do not.

                                  We also both remarked on the really shabby state of the part leather drivers' seat on the EX GT show car - having been on display for a few days the drivers seat leather appeared puckered and mis-shapen.

                                  One other, slightly trivial comment here, why on earth have Honda, put a pale beige flock rear shelf (from the previous model) on these cars, which matches neither the pale grey, nor black interiors now available? It looks completely odd and out of place - especially with the grey leather interior.

                                  I was expecting a lift in quality commensurate with Honda's new pricing and "Premium" aspirations - it simply is not here in terms of interior quality.

                                  AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 5 / 10: Strange grouping?

                                  Both the climate control and sound systems are superb in the new Accord.

                                  The trouble is that those dozens of confusing buttons that control them are far too complicated to master and many appear to duplicate the same function. Get to grips with the voice command system and you will have less problems operating the two systems - and integrated Bluetooth.

                                  ON THE ROAD......

                                  ......Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.

                                  NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 9 / 10 Silk purse or sow's ear?

                                  This is a very good diesel engine indeed. The original 2.2 litre Honda diesel engine was widely praised both by the press and owners for its smoothness and lack of noise. The re-engineered four cylinder 2.2 is even more petrol like in its driving characteristics, indeed, even on a cold start you could be fooled into thinking that this was a petrol unit.

                                  However, smoother it may be, but once under way we found it comparatively noisy - especially compared to Subaru's ultra-quiet Boxer Diesel engine. Indeed, driving home in our own four year old, hard worked, diesel Accord we remarked that it was actually no more noisy than the new model.

                                  There are fewer engine vibrations at all speeds and in all gears than in my original car. The interior is also quieter due to the absence of rattling doors and windows which Honda never managed to cure on my car. Wind noise is also well suppressed, although in the last model that varied greatly from individual car to car.

                                  PERFORMANCE 8 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?

                                  Neither really.

                                  Just like the previous model, the new Accord is just fast enough to suit any given situation. Being bigger and heavier than the last model, Honda have had to match its extra girth with extra horsepower. The trouble is that it feels like a much bigger car to drive, and in so doing has lost some of the original's athleticism.

                                  One indicator of a really "good" car is that you are never actually aware; at least the passengers are not, of how fast it is travelling. This is very much the case with this car, deceptively strong, but relaxed performance being the order of the day here.

                                  The six speed gearbox is an undoubted aid to long distance relaxed cruising, although it is so highly geared in sixth that it can only be regarded as a true overdrive. I am not, by nature, an "automatic" driver, but I can imagine the forthcoming automatic gearbox suiting both this car and its diesel engine superbly.

                                  RIDE & HANDLING 8 / 10

                                  Many potential owners, downgrading from a larger car will be more than impressed with the extraordinarily high standards that the Accord sets here.

                                  And so would I be, had I not been driving its predecessor for over four years - and additionally having test driven two versions of the Legacy Diesel. The Accord has an extremely good ride, at all speeds and on all surfaces. Those huge front seats are also extremely well tuned to the cars' ride quality. There are other cars for the same, or rather less money though - 3-Series BMW and the new Citroen C5 which actually offer a better all round ride quality.

                                  Where I found the new Accord less convincing was in terms of handling, you can never fully avoid that feeling of driving a rather large and stodgy car, a feeling that I have never had behind the wheel of my 2004 model.

                                  CONCLUSION - Would I buy one myself and would we want to drive it to Poland in a day?

                                  No I would not buy one, not new or second hand. Yet, paradoxically, it would make an ideal car to travel, in some comfort and at high speed, to Poland in.

                                  Sorry, but no, in this case Mr Honda, difficult was most certainly not worth doing, nor was it worth paying a sizeable premium for.

                                  FINAL SCORE: 118 / 170 - 69.4%


                                  I would love to have been able to conclude this review by saying that Honda have taken one step forwards and two steps back with the new Accord. That simply is not the case as I failed to find any aspect of this car which actually DOES take a measurable or subjective step forward.

                                  Add to that the huge increase in price and to be honest I find it puzzling just who Honda think that this car is going to appeal to.

                                  To rub salt into the wounds here, note also that the original Accord i-CTDi EX is currently in third place on my scoring table with an 80% score - that is no disgrace for a car that has been on the market (and now replaced!) for over four years!

                                  The new Honda Accord fails here not through mediocrity - it is a good car, if not an advance in so many ways over the previous model - but due to the sheer fact that, when compared to its competitors, it is simply over-priced, and by a margin that I and other current owners simply cannot justify.

                                  Putting that score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria:

                                  ALFA ROMEO 147 1.9JTD Lusso (5 Dr) - 67.8%
                                  BMW 320d SE Convertible - 78.8%
                                  FIAT PUNTO GRANDE SPORTING 130 Mjet - 75.9%

                                  HONDA ACCORD i-DECT EX GT (2008 Model) Saloon - 69.4%

                                  HONDA ACCORD i-CTDi (2004 model) Saloon - 80.0%
                                  HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC SE - 78.2%
                                  HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC S i-SHIFT - 68.8%
                                  HONDA CIVIC IMA SE - 73.5%
                                  HONDA JAZZ 1.4 SE CVT-7 (Automatic) - 74.7%
                                  SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STi - 72.35%
                                  SUBARU OUTBACK 2.0D RE - 85.3%
                                  SAAB 9-3 TiD Vector - 68.2%
                                  SAAB 9-3 TiD Linear CONVERTIBLE (2007 Mondel) - 74.1%
                                  VAUXHALL ASTRA TWINTOP 1.9 CDTi DESIGN - 78.8%
                                  VAUXHALL VXR8 - 84.1 %
                                  VAUXHALL MONARO VXR - 71.1%
                                  VW PASSAT TDi 140 S ESTATE - 71.7%
                                  VOLVO S60 D5 SE - 70.6%

                                  © Richada / Dooyoo - March 2009.

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