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I have quite a large music collection built up over the years & have quite a varied taste in music, I will listen to all genres from all periods, new or old.
One thing I do dislike are manufactured artists & groups where the looks of an individual & their ability to dance takes president over their singing or ability to write songs & play musical instruments.
It really doesn't matter who manufactures them, X-factor judges or money obsessed music lables, it's just not right that truly talented bands & individuals lose out to the expense of less talented people. Despite all that, the best of luck to anyone who makes it into this demanding industry.
When I first heard Duffy on the radio I thought she was another manufactured artist who used her pretty looks to make it, how wrong I was.
At first I heard her music on the radio, usually in the background, I remember hearing 'Mercy' & liking it but little else. Then I heard more & being impressed with her voice but it wasn't until I heard her new single release 'Stepping stone' which nearly knocked my socks off that I decided to actual go out & buy her CD.
INFO ON DUFFY
Born Aimee Anne Duffy in Bangor Wales in June 1984, she didn't come from a musical family. Her debut single 'Rockferry' was released in December 2007 followed by 'Mercy' in February 2008 & her debut album 'Rockferry' a month later. It has since sold 2.25 million copies.
The running order of the CD is:
2 Warwick Avenue
4 Stepping stone
5 Syrup & honey
6 Hanging on too long
8 Delayed devotion
9 I'm scared
10 Distant dreamer
All tracks are written by Duffy with other individuals. Tracks 1, 3, 5, 10 with Bernard Butler. Tracks 2, 6, & 8 with Jimmy Hogarth & Eg White (with a name like that I bet he got teased at school!!). Tracks 9 with Jimmy Hogarth & Tracks 4 & 7 with Steve booker.
So here we have a young talented girl who can write her own material & who has an outstanding voice, nothing manufactured there.
The CD starts with the debut single Rockferry a piano based ballad that speeds up with some clever guitar work. The song sounds like a modern interpretation of Dusty Springfield's material, an impressive benchmark to say the least.
I feel Duffy's voice is just as good as Amy Winehouse & these songs on her debut album highlight the range she can sing to.
There is no better example of that than the next track Warwick Avenue, which I heard being played on the radio so many times, it is a really beautiful track.
My favourite & the one that made me go out & buy this CD is 'Stepping stone' with its wonderful haunting sound, a real future classic.
Her second single the more up-tempo 'Mercy' is also featured & although I quite liked it when I first heard it on the radio, when I really make the effort to hear it I enjoy it all the more. It sounds like something from the 1960s but still sounds fresh & modern all the same.
The final track 'Distant dreamer' is a great track to finish the album with as it slowly builds up & then slows down to the end & is beautifully sung. This particular track reminds me of something that Phil Spector has worked on.
I expected this album to have a couple of great tracks & the rest be 'B' side rejects. What I got was only 10 tracks but no fillers at all, just 10 genuine impressive songs which are very well produced.
The only downside is the packaging, its pretty poor, possibly the record company didn't want to spend a fortune on a debut CD from what was an unknown artist but they could have done better than this effort. Nine pages on the CD booklet of absolute drivel.
If Duffy can keep on the 'straight & narrow' & not be pressurised by her record company to producing another CD within a tight time frame & be left to create fabulous music of this calibre. Then I reckon she has a sparkling career ahead of her. I would fully recommend this CD to any music lover.
THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE 2009 RENAULT GRAND SCENIC (THE ORIGINAL 1990s MODEL IS PICTURED)
We take multi purpose vehicles (MPVs) for granted these days as there are so many to choose from & a popular sight on the roads. The British press often gives Renault the credit for 'inventing' this type of vehicle, it didn't.
In 1957, Fiat introduced the original small but spacious Multipla which despite its funny looks was the first true multi purpose vehicle. Strangely enough it was an idea that never really caught on, in the old days if your four door saloon wasn't big enough for your needs, you just bought an estate car or a bigger car.
Back in Italy in 1978, Lancia displayed the Megagamma at a motor show, a futuristic people carrier that featured a high roof & generous interior space. The designer was Giorgetto Giugiaro; his thinking was that passengers needed to sit high to save on interior space. The vehicle was boxy looking but it started a trend, four years later Nissan in Japan released the Nissan Prairie (which came to the UK), it looked quite similar & featured no door pillar between the two side doors & a sliding rear door, the result was a very roomy, albeit boxy vehicle.
A year later Chrysler in the USA released the Voyager which although bigger took the whole concept just that little bit further. Then a year later Renault released the Espace with seven versatile seats which included swivelling front seats & middle seats that folded to become tables.
Other manufacturers eventually followed but Renault was the most successful at one point offering a whole range of MPVs, the Modus, Scenic & Espace. People often call them space wagons or people carriers but at the end of the day they are very versatile vehicles & ideal for the modern day family.
THE RENAULT GRAND SCENIC
The Renault Espace has now been discontinued; two basic Scenic models are now available from Renault, the 5 seater Scenic & the 7 seater Grand Scenic which is the subject of this review.
The difference between these vehicles is mainly their length; the Grand Scenic is longer to accommodate two extra seats.
This is now the third generation Scenic model which shares many of its components with the successful Meganne. Outwardly you can see the likeness, the Grand Scenic is a smart looking vehicle & Renault has avoided it looking too boxy.
The car I had for an afternoon was very nicely finished off with a lovely paint finish albeit in a dullish dark maroon. You don't get a key with this vehicle; you get a plastic card not much bigger than a credit card but a little thicker. On the card are the buttons for locking & unlocking the doors on one side along with a button for activating the exterior lights, this makes it easier to find the car in the dark. One other button unlocks the tailgate & on the other side of the card is the little compartment for the battery. If the system fails there is an emergency key built inside the card.
Step inside & first impressions are rather good, this is a very spacious vehicle and surprisingly for a Renault is very well finished inside with decent plastics.
The seating arrangement is 2-3-2; the middle three seats can be folded individually which helps access to the rear most seats. The front & middle row seats will give passengers ample leg, shoulder & head room, but the last row of seats are best for a small adults, children or dogs.
With all seven seats in place, luggage room is very small indeed; this arrangement is ideal for moving seven people on a short trip but useless if seven people need to take luggage with them. With five seats erected there is ample space for five people's luggage. The rear seats can be removed altogether a job that is best carried out with two people.
Up front the driver & passenger's seats are very comfortable, some models feature electric adjustment but the ones in car I drove only had manual adjustment. The headrests are very clever with a hinged padded section that tucks right into your neck for added protection.
Space for odds & ends is tremendous with ample bottle & cup holders, a generous glove box, four under floor compartments (one in each footwell) & a clever sliding centre console with independent sliding armrest. There is no spare wheel fitted to this vehicle, only a 'get you home' repair kit.
The instrument panel is central mounted & instead of using a general colour such as white, orange or green, the display is in colour & looks like something you'd read on your computer screen.
The display is small & rectangular but it still gives you all the information you need such as speedo reading, fuel readout, temperature gauge, rev counter & a separate info display which can be chosen from a separate switch.
The Grand Scenic was well equipped & included automatic lights & wipers, alloy wheels, climate control, electric windows & mirrors & a decent radio CD. For some strange reason Renault decide to install three 'jack plus sockets' similar to ones fitted to the back of a stereo unit, you would need an adaptor to allow them to connect to a MP3 player or ipod.
On the steering column out of sight is a small stalk that controls the radio CD, it is so well designed that you don't need to see it to work out how it works but its much more effective than steering wheel based controls found on other makes of cars.
A nice touch is a fold-a-way mirror on the roof close to the interior mirror. When pulled out from the roof lining it reflects on the back seat so the driver can keep an eye on children or dogs in the back seat.
DRIVING THE GRAND SCENIC
To start the car you need your plastic card that you used to enter the vehicle, it has a slot next to the gear lever & you need to insert the card into the slot to start the car. Place the card in the slot, press your foot down on the clutch pedal & press the starter button situated in the centre of the dash.
Once it starts, select a gear, press the footbrake to allow you to release the parking brake via a switch on the centre console. The Scenic doesn't have a normal parking brake lever.
The 2.0 litre diesel engine is very smooth & refined at tick over & remained quiet at higher speeds. It is fitted with a six speed manual gearbox which unlike previous Renault models which had an awful gear change; this one is very slick in operation.
The main pedals are awkwardly placed but it doesn't take very long to get used to the position, albeit not ideal. The clutch is smooth & light, ideal for town use. Performance is very brisk but the vehicle only had me inside, I have no doubt it would cope with five passengers without much problems but I'm not so sure about seven.
For such a tall vehicle it felt very stable on the road, it was only driven on a major dual carriageway on a very windy day but side winds didn't appear to upset the stability of the vehicle. Brakes felt good & inspired confidence, handling was safe although I have no idea how it would perform on a tight 'B' road. The ride was very smooth indeed but the road conditions were also quite good.
The information readout on the instrument panel recorded 47mpg, if I had driven it less enthusiastically I have no doubt it would have passed 50mpg, great for such a large vehicle with a large engine.
Despite Renault's awful reputation for quality & reliability, they do admit their earlier failings & are making a conscious effort to improve. I don't doubt them, the latest model does inspire confidence but only time will tell.
On the basis of this two hour journey I was left very impressed with the Grand Scenic, it is a very practical family vehicle with loads of room & sensible features. It is refined & doesn't look like a van with windows like many other MPVs, just make sure you get a decent warranty with it & I have no doubt it will give many miles of pleasurable motoring.
As a spotty faced teenager I wanted a car, saved up £100 & bought an old & battered Ford Zodiac with a 3000cc V6 engine. As I was an apprentice mechanic running costs & maintenance were the least of my problems but insurance was.
At 18 years old to an insurance company I was a risk & the premiums they quoted were far higher than the value of my pride & joy. I had to use my father's insurance company to help out stating that I was the second driver, a ploy that is no longer tolerated in insurance circles. It helped me out until I was able to cover motor insurance myself & once I turned 25 years old it became less of a problem.
Today however, car insurance for young people is a real nightmare running well into four figures even for a basic set of wheels. The trick is to get a Group 1 insurance rated car although they are sometimes difficult to find. Young people want 'cool' looking cars & this is where the Ford Ka comes in.
Released in 1996 it was a brave step by Ford to produce a car like this & make money out of it, the Ka took the motoring world by storm & it has been a big seller ever since.
It looks cool despite its basic construction & instantly appealed to young people; it's smaller than a Fiesta & can only hold four people. To keep the costs down Ford raided its parts bin & utilised many Fiesta parts at the time such as the engine, gearbox, steering & brakes.
The interior was quite funky looking a bit like the exterior but best of all the Ford Ka proved to be cheap to run, simple to fix & best of all some models were rated group one from the insurance companies. It gave young people the chance to run a decent looking car for a modest outlay.
The Ka features a lot of plastic, the huge front & rear bumpers are either plain plastic bumpers or body coloured examples depending on which model you go for. The general finish outside is quite good although it lacks the solid feel of many German cars. Step inside & despite it small size the interior is quite generous. Admittedly with the front seats right back leg room in the back is poor unless you carry small children. There are only four seat belts, so carrying three passengers in the rear is not legally possible.
Up front space is generous & although the front seats only recline & slide forward & back getting a decent driving position is quite easy. The dash has an unusual shape but features all the basic needs, the instruments include only a speedo & a fuel gauge, warning lamps cover all other functions.
On the model I drove, it featured a decent radio CD, electrical release for the tailgate, remote entry, alloy wheels & air conditioning. Some Ka models have no alloys, air con, power steering or remote control release.
To cut costs Ford hasn't fitted a centre console but has quite cleverly used the carpet for storing odds & ends. The carpet is moulded front & back to hold cups, pens & a trinket box up front.
The boot is small but at least the rear seats fold down 50/50 to increase space when required. Ford has taken its cost cutting to the extremes by only fitting one cord on the tiny rear parcel shelf.
The plastics used inside look & feel cheap but at this price & with the aim of keeping costs down Ford can be excused.
DRIVING THE FORD KA
Early models featured the Fiesta pushrod engine which was noisy & unrefined. Later models featured a more sophisticated engine which is more refined, it's still not that quiet when you start it up but I would imagine to keep noise levels down sound deadening is sparse.
The gear change is pleasant enough but the gear knob & stick cover is one piece of moulded plastic & looks & feels awful. As you drive off you can't help but notice how brisk performance is, this is a car that quite easily keeps up with the flow of traffic in all conditions. This Ka had no power steering but it felt that it didn't need it in the first place as the steering feels good, light & very direct.
The brakes which are solid discs up front with drums at the rear feel good at all speeds. Where the Ka really shines is it's handling, it always feels safe & predictable on country roads & becomes a real blast to drive after a while. Despite its short wheelbase the ride is quite comfortable.
There are no fancy electrical gadgets on the Ka like so instant fuel consumption figures & outside temperature readings are not available.
Would I recommend one? Yes I would for town driving it takes a lot of beating, its easy to park, easy to drive & gentle on the wallet or purse. Its low insurance costs & cool looks make it a favourite with young people & it holds it value quite well. Just don't expect too much for your money.
We are living through challenging times, especially when it comes to the environment. Governments are putting pressure on so many companies to reduce their carbon footprint & none more so than car manufacturers.
You can't invent solutions overnight but all the car makers are trying their best to produce more environmentally friendly vehicles, it is costing billions of pounds for research at a time when we are enduring the worst financial crisis in our history.
However, one car maker did 'steal a march' on the competition & introduced a hybrid in 1997 which can still be purchased today.
WHAT IS A HYBRID?
In this particular case it is a car that has a conventional petrol engine as well as a separate battery that can power it electronically. You start the car on battery power & drive at slow speeds emitting no emissions, once the battery power becomes low or you need more power; the engine kicks in to allow you to finish your journey.
You don't have to plug this car into the mains to recharge the battery, it does it itself through a series of clever systems.
The results is a very low emissions vehicle, at present it is one of the lowest with an engine fitted & thus saves the owner a fortune on fuel bills & road excise duty as owning one of these vehicles exempts you from paying road tax. Oh, & you get to travel around the City of London without paying the congestion charge too.
HISTORY OF THE TOYOTA PRIUS
Work started in 1994 & the original Prius was introduced in 1997 & two years later in the UK. It was years ahead of its time & due to the enormous cost of producing the special battery that powers the car, Toyota subsidised the cost to allow the public to buy the car at an affordable price.
It never sold in great numbers, however when the second version was introduced (and the subject of this review) with many improvements, the time must have been right as the Prius started to sell in serious numbers.
We all became more aware of the environmental concerns & the car answered a lot of the critic's questions. The 'Hollywood set' bought them & all of a sudden sales rocketed.
A newer version has just been introduced & makes even more significant improvements on the previous version. Of course when a good idea is introduced it can take a while before other manufacturers follow as they want to assess the market carefully. Honda introduced their hybrid a couple of years after Toyota but never had the same success, now many other car makers are developing their versions so hybrids will become more popular.
Are they the answer to our problems? Are these cars any good in the real world?
THE TOYOTA PRIUS
I was fortunate enough to drive two separate models in different circumstances over the period of three days a couple of months ago. One was driven around a city for two days & one on a longer journey for an afternoon & this gave me a good idea how these cars perform in the real world. At present the Prius is one of the most technically advanced cars in the world & a lot of its features are different from other cars.
The Prius (the Mk 2 version) is not a big car; it's slightly smaller than an old style Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Vectra. It's a five door hatchback that seats five people & it looks a bit odd.
Its shape is deliberate to minimise wind deflection & thus make it more efficient, it is also a very lightweight car & shows when you start to look at it in detail.
It's made in Japan, so build quality is top notch & first impressions are good, nice paintwork, good finish, even gaps around the panels all inspire confidence.
Because the rear window lies quite flat & may make reversing difficult, Toyota designed a small window below the rear window to aid reversing. Between the two windows is a small spoiler which I have to say looks & feels a bit flimsy.
Toyota do not supply a conventional key with the Prius, you get a small fob with an emergency key built inside it, there are two buttons for locking & unlocking the doors. Open the doors which are quite light in construction & sit inside & you are amazed on how roomy it is inside.
This is a genuine five seater car with ample space for five adults; there is no gear lever or handbrake between the seats, just a big comfy arm rest.
The dash has a very minimalistic look about it, no heater controls, a radio CD but very few controls to operate it & just a little gear knob sticking out of the dash.
What dominates the dash is a large blank screen which is the energy monitor when the vehicle is started & doubles up as the heating controls, radio display & info screen.
Where is the speedo I hear you asking? Well, ahead of the driver's line of vision below the windscreen is a small display featuring a digital speedo reading, fuel gauge, gear selector gauge & some warning lamps. You don't get a rev counter or temperature gauge.
The car has numerous cubby holes, the large central armrest opens up to reveal a large lined box with a lined sliding tray for coins, pens etc. It also has two cup holders that open up & a drawer at the front to hold larger objects. There is a generous glove box & door bins so space is not at a premium.
Boot space is excellent & ample for a family's needs; there is no parcel shelf at the back only a roller cover which is satisfactory. The rear seats fold down to enlarge luggage space in the boot.
Equipment levels are quite good, the Prius comes with climate control, a decent radio/CD, air bags, electric mirrors, windows & central locking. It also comes with 60.000 mile / 3 year warranty but the hybrid system is covered for 100.000 miles & 8 years, such is the confidence Toyota have in the system.
Although the Prius has a conventional battery under the bonnet to start the car, operate the lights & wipers as normal, there is another special battery under the rear seat that drives the car. It is so important that the cooling vents on the side of the rear seat are not blocked which would cause the special battery to overheat. Not good!
DRIVING THE PRIUS
This is not easy the first time you enter the car, first you take the key fob & place it in the slot provided on the dash. At night the slot is lit up to make life easy. Once inserted, you press the starter button next to it & keep your foot on the brake, the energy monitor & instrument display lights up.
One thing at this stage is missing, there is no engine noise, no hum, no hiss, nothing, just silence as you are on battery power.
Just so that you know everything is OK, the word 'ready' pops up on the instrument display in red.
You then take the little spring loaded gear lever & engage 'D', you only have few options here anyway, 'R' reverse, 'N' neutral, 'B' (more about that later) & 'P' Park on the switch above the lever. As you engage drive the park switch automatically disengages & the car lurches forward slightly as the parking brake is still on.
If you're lucky you'll find the parking brake & release it, it took me five minutes to find it. Although the Prius is an automatic it has what looks like a clutch pedal, but it actual fact it's the parking brake!
You put on the parking brake by pressing the pedal to the floor & it stays there, little wonder I couldn't find it in the dark! You press it again to release it.
Once released we are moving & everything is eerily silent, all you hear is the tyres going over the road surface. No noises like the old battery powered milk floats, no creaks, squeaks or rattles, nothing.
Once the speed reached 10-15mph, depending on how much power is in the battery the engine kicks in, you can just hear it. There is no conventional starter motor; it just starts when it's ready.
As you don't have the same problems as a normal electric car, such as lack of power & the worry of running out of power, you just drive the Prius as normal.
Performance is brisk considering you only have a small 1500cc engine but remember the car is as lightweight as possible which does help.
Stop at traffic lights for any longer than usual & the engine switches off, at first you panic as you think its cut out but in fact the engine may have shut down but your back on battery power. When you are ready to move off you remain on battery power until the engine is required & it kicks in again.
The automatic gearbox (there is no manual option) is not a conventional auto box but a CVT gearbox, that stands for constant variable transmission. You won't feel it changing gears so driving it is very smooth indeed & ideal for this particular vehicle.
Instead of using the 'D' for drive selection on the gearbox, Toyota recommend you use the 'B' selection. In 'B' it will drive as per normal but every time you take your foot off the throttle the battery will get a charge, this is called regenerative braking. In reality it's like slowing down with the handbrake slightly on, but it is charging your main battery each time you slow down.
The main battery will also charge as you drive the car, with constant braking & slowing down it didn't take long for my Prius to get its battery charged up in town, but with less braking on the motorway it did take considerably longer to charge. Progress can be viewed on the central energy monitor display.
Brakes are excellent, the power steering is electronically controlled & although a little too light for my tastes, it doesn't take long to get used to.
The car handles like any other modern car & it rides quite smoothly too. In fact the whole driving experience is just a normal car except for the low speed battery powered parts.
You do get a habit of watching the energy monitor all the time just to make sure the battery is getting a full charge. Press a couple of buttons & the energy monitors changes to a bar graph & displays your average & current fuel consumption.
Now the disappointing part, driving the car was fun despite the stigma attached to these types of vehicles. It is well designed & according to the Prius technician I spoke to, they never have reliability issues with them.
However, town driving recorded 44mpg which I thought was quite good, a 60 mile blast down a motorway in a hurry only recorded 42mpg. If I had driven it with a little less enthusiasm, I dare say it would have touched 50 mpg, but still no where near Toyota's overall figure of over 65mpg.
Considering these cars cost £18k just before the model was replaced last August can anyone justify paying this rather high price for a car that only recorded the same figures as my trusty little Toyota Yaris 1.3 which cost a mere fraction of that?
If you're concerned about the environment, then I would say it's a fair price to pay, but there are many cars that are much cheaper that will achieve better fuel consumption without being so complex.
This leads to the next problem, the general public are wary of the technical complexities of the Prius & reluctant to buy one second-hand. Only in time when more manufacturers start producing them will this reluctance to buy older ones change. As it stands today, I'm not convinced the future is hybrids, I think it is a short term fix for a long term problem. However, the Prius it still remains one hell of technical achievement.
In the 1970s Ford were producing the best selling cars in the UK, that was despite having only four models to offer, the Escort, Cortina, Capri & Consul/Granada.
Their models were pretty conservative, rear wheel drive with a choice of two & four door saloons & estate cars except for the sporty Capri. They were modern looking, reasonable reliable, cheap to run & they held their value quite well.
Ford could no wrong in the 1970s with a successful rally programme & a sporty image most car makers would die for, but there were problems ahead & they came from foreign countries.
Companies such as Fiat in Italy, VW in Germany, Renault in France & Datsun (Nissan) in Japan were importing small front wheel drive cars, some with hatchbacks that were proving very popular with British buyers. Although smaller on the outside than an Escort they were just as roomy, easier to park & very adaptable. Clearly if Ford wanted to remain the UK best seller of cars they had to produce a similar vehicle. However with a conservative management based in the USA it would be a tough job convincing them.
In 1972 they took the brave step to authorise the design of project 'Bobcat' a small front wheel drive car (Fords first) for the European market which would be built in Spain.
Big companies with large fleets shied away from front wheel drive cars as they were more costly to maintain & repair, so Ford who traditional sold their cars to big fleets would have a mammoth job on their hands convincing them that their new car would be cheap & simple to maintain & repair.
In 1976 the new small Ford called Fiesta was released for an anticipated audience, it lost out to the Rover 3500 as car of the year but in February 1977 it went on sale in the UK & was instantly liked.
It was modern, light weight, easy to drive, easy to repair, roomy & a right blast to drive, best of all it was cheap to run & insure & became a big seller. More models followed & during the 1980s it was one of the most popular cars on the road. I owned two early models & found them to be very reliable & great for town use.
In the 1990s the Fiesta became bigger & lost its way to stiffer competition such as the brilliant Nissan Micra but it always remained a big seller.
THE NEW FOR FIESTA
This latest Fiesta which was released in 2008 has catapulted the Fiesta back to the top in its segment of the market. No longer is it just a box on wheels but a very streamlined small car, thanks in part to some very eye catching colours. Ford has successfully managed to keep the Fiesta ahead of the competition in the 'looks' department.
Ford call it 'kinetic' engineering that makes the car look like its moving when it's standing still...................quite! I beg to differ but there is no doubt that the new Fiesta is eye catching.
It has grown quite considerably from the size of the original Fiesta & is more like the original Escort size. From the outside the general finish is excellent with loads of neat chrome effect which gives the Fiesta a classy look. The front doors on the two door model are large & heavy with nice chunky door handles. Paintwork finish is good & all the gaps around the panels are even & tight.
Step inside & you quickly realise that the interior is just a stylish as the outside. As soon as you open the door the instruments light up & there are handy foot well lights.
The centre of the dash looks like a giant mobile phone with similar functions which with all the best intentions doesn't work so well in a car. There is loads of well finished fake aluminium on the dash which looks good. At the top of the centre of the dash is a readout for information regarding radio channels, outside temperature, fuel consumption etc. The languages can be changed but my only criticism is the red display which maybe easy on the eye when it's dark but fails to impress me otherwise.
Front seats are very comfortable & come with height adjuster; with an adjustable steering column it is very easy to get a comfortable driving position. Room in the back is acceptable but the rear seats not so comfy. Oddment space could be better but at least there is a decent sized glove box & a cubby hole to store an ipod with a socket nearby. General finish inside in very good, the dash top is fitted with a decent plastic cover although lower dash plastics are not so good they are of a better quality than many of the Fiestas competitors.
The boot is a good size for a small car & the rear seats can folded down to increase space. Although some models come with a spare tyre, the diesel model I tested didn't, Ford provide a 'get you home' repair kit & electric tyre pump, this won't be to everyone's satisfaction.
Equipment levels are decent on the model I drove with air condition, alloy wheel, driving lamps, ipod connection & a decent radio CD.
DRIVING THE FIESTA
Although I have driven quieter diesel cars the Fiesta only becomes noisy when you accelerate hard, otherwise engine noise levels are reasonably subdued. The engine gives great acceleration for a diesel model & would leave many similar sized petrol engines standing. Needless to say it keeps up with the flow of traffic without any problems.
Gear change is very slick thanks to the cable operated gear change & the clutch is very smooth, however after I drove a number of models they all suffered form an annoying creak when the clutch pedal was depressed.
Steering feels good, not to light or heavy at parking speeds which contributed to the Fiesta's excellent handling on country roads. This is a car that could be driven quite enthusiastly without many problems. The general ride is very smooth & only gets caught out on severe pot holed roads.
With its stunning looks & general decent build quality the Fiesta is once again leader of the pack. Running costs are likely to be very low, emission levels are very good indeed & if reliability can be sustained then Ford has a real 'cracker' of a car on offer.
Earlier in 2009 I was made redundant from my job & started the process of looking for another. This was the first time in my working life I was without work.
Things have changed considerably in the job market since the last time I looked for work & the stark realities of recruitment agencies have now been brought to my attention.
Since leaving school I have worked in the Motor industry, starting off as a humble apprentice mechanic (they call them technicians now) & over the years working my way up to an Aftersales manager at a number of busy dealerships. I looked for another challenge around the mid 1990s & got a job as a regional manager for two car companies, one foreign & one British, jobs that I really enjoyed.
All those previous job vacancies were filled during 'boom times' when unemployment was low & competition for work wasn't too bad. How things have changed, each job now has a large number of people applying making it even tougher.
HOW IT ONCE WAS
Previous jobs I had applied for rarely needed a CV, I remember going for an interview straight from the garage where I worked in tatty clothes, no CV, no smart suit & tie, no assessments or biometric tests, just me explaining about myself & what I was capable of doing. Right there & then I was offered the job. Fantastic, if only it was that simple now.
You are not going to get far these days without an up to date CV, you may get asked what is a CV for? Many would say it's to help you get a job. Its not, a CV will help a prospective employer get a first impression of you & may lead to he or she making further enquires & the possibility of an interview.
Your CV is like a market stall, you way you 'set it out' is so important. Imagine having a market stall with goods of little interest to attract buyers, they would all walk past & spend nothing. You want something that generates interest & has everybody browsing at your stall first before they look elsewhere. Your CV is in a similar situation. The average employer will only look at the first two pages of a CV for around 20-30 seconds that is all you get to capture their interest so the CV has to be good.
It's now 2009 & employers can pick & choose the best people they want. I now had to construct an up to date CV, there are no shortages of websites advising you on how to do this, my local job centre offers classes on the subject on a regular basis.
Keep it brief (two pages), keep it factual, give contact details, just go back ten years etc, there is loads of advice out there. However, my last CV from the mid 1990s was made up by a friend of the family who could work a computer in those days; she had much experience of building CVs at the time so I basically copied the format of her original one.
The problem was it was six pages long & my last job details would have been on page three; no employer would get that far so this CV went to the recycle bin. Start again & this time I made it two pages long with my personal details at the start, below that my key skills & then my last position giving brief but important details. This was followed by my previous job & a brief education list followed by brief hobbies & interests.
This style of CV came from a template I was given after I volunteered to attend a job search seminar locally. The seminar was set up for young people leaving school with out any qualifications & no job experience. The day I attended nine other delegates failed to turn up so I was given a 'one to one' session from a very experienced gentleman with many years experience in recruitment & HR.
I made up the CV which he approved of & he asked me to keep a copy of my six page one after I attended an interview as it gave the prospective employer more detailed information on me.
I have one copy of the CV on my lap top as many will be requested via websites, but you have to be prepared to send hard copies to companies & I was advised to print them off on good quality paper. Some agencies advise using coloured paper. Apparently when the prospective employer gets deluged with CVs & files them away, a coloured version will always be reselected first. However I was told at the seminar to stick to plain white & nothing else!
The first recruitment company I spoke to advised me to make up an achievement list, they said take three or four items you have achieved over the years & list them down with some details.
I immediately thought of the green flag I won in the 100 yards sack race at school & my Tufty badge & certificate I earned when I was six for crossing the road safely. Surprisingly that wasn't what they were thinking!!
After I sat down for a while I did think of four major achievements I carried out as part of my job. I listed them as problem, solution & result. The finished document can be tagged onto a CV if sent in the post or listed on as a request in the main CV.
THE JOB ADVERTS
Oh those job adverts!! I applied for two jobs within two days with two different descriptions & salaries only to find out it was the same job! I applied for another job from an agency only to find the same job advertised with three other agencies & all with different salaries!
If you do get one that makes sense look for the abbreviations that agencies having the knack of inserting in their ads, the sort of thing I mean is like OTE, FMCG, DOE, CRM, OEM, KPI, CPD, SAP, ABDP, FM, IFM & DAS, confused? Well at the end of this review I have listed an S.W.A.M.L. (That is a Scottish Westie abbreviation master list) just to help you.
Quite cunning some of these job ads, they will state that the salary 'exceeds minimum wage', yeah but by how much? If it exceeds by 5p an hour their description is correct but it's still a poor wage.
Where are the best places for the best jobs? I found the local press disappointing, obviously it's the best for local jobs but vacancies left a lot to be desired. There was a greater choice via the Internet but it does mean finding as many job agencies as you can & save their home page on your Internet browser.
Many will email you daily with vacancies dependant on your requirements but many are duplicates of the same jobs.
This surprisingly was seldom asked for during my job searching period but it is important to fill these in carefully if presented with one. One of them was computer based & could be filled in on the computer, don't rely too much on your 'spall chacker' as quite often mistakes made are not picked up & you don't want to fire off an application form with badly spelt words.
One form had to be filled in by hand although it came off the computer; many companies still look at hand writing as an important aspect in the process of looking at candidates. My last company absolutely insisted on a hand written letter when applying for the job.
Fill in your applications forms carefully & don't put false details in as you will get caught out, make no mistake. I know one chap who inserted information about his last job in the Middle East in a high ranking position which never existed, three months after getting the job he was sacked when they found out it was all false.
PERMANENT, TEMPORARY OR CONTRACT?
You don't always get the benefits of permanent work when you choose temporary jobs but at least if you get lumbered with a bad employer it's only on a temporary basis. My partner used to do temp work & found it hard going, if your not a car owner, being sent to all corners of a busy city can be time consuming & expensive if your wage is quite low. You were also under a lot of pressure to learn new systems & peoples names & roles for what could be a job lasting a week.
Contract work has now got the benefits of permanent work as regards holidays but little else. Don't expect pension contributions, private health care & other benefits. Once the contract is finished that's it, many companies are now hiring contract workers as in many cases it is more cost effective for them in the long term. Apparently contract workers usually find replacement jobs quite quickly & can be often the ones who are hired first before permanent staff.
But according to a market analysis by Ochre House, full-time interim managers who have dominated the contract and temporary market in recent years are in danger of being ousted by a growing wave of redundant professionals.
They found that over 70% of organisations recruiting senior personnel on a fixed or short-term basis would prefer someone coming from a permanent role.
For me there are a large number of recruitment agencies that specialise in motor industry jobs. In the motor industry alone there are at least 120 different job descriptions such as:
Car designers, engineers, production line installers, assembly workers, test drivers, technicians, technical trainers, assessors, painters, panel beaters, delivery drivers, inspectors, warranty administrators, parts warehouse staff, finance managers, automotive accountants, logistic managers, sales managers, sales staff, marketing managers, consultants, valeters, workshop foreman, parts staff, auditors & so much more.
This was my first port of call & in particular the most well known agencies who have been in business for decades & specialise in motor industry recruitment. As I was about to find out, just like any other industry there is good & bad. Within a period of two weeks I contacted 28 separate agencies not all dedicated to the motor industry, some had a rich & diverse portfolio.
The good agencies would accept your basic details & CV on line & immediately confirm they had your details & make the effort to contact you on a daily basis with updates. Some would even call me to get additional information. These companies were very helpful when you first become unemployed as they give you some hope during a depressive time & also give sound advice.
However, many didn't even acknowledge receipt of your details & then I had the laborious task of phoning & emailing them to ensure they had my details. It was then you begin to realise you have little hope of employment if I was to put my faith in them.
They didn't reply to emails, you would phone & they would say they will get someone to call back, they never did. One company I registered with sent me an email to confirm receipt of my details but insisted that I phoned them back to complete the registration.
When I phoned them about an hour later they said they had no details yet (!?!) but would call back later in the afternoon, they never did. Two days later I phoned them & the person I spoke to made it pretty obvious he had better things to do than speak to me but carried through the process all the same.
Some recruitment companies send you an email every day with the latest jobs but there lies the next problem. They would send you a message stating "Good news, we have 12 new jobs for you", so you click on to their site, log in & discover that the 12 jobs are all exactly the same job but it has been listed by 12 separate recruitment agents using the main one as a 'Trojan horse' site.
Often I would log in to a recruitment site & filter down the vacancies to my needs, they would list over 1000 jobs but when you worked your way through them, they were duplicated so many times spread over so many pages. It was so frustrating!
One of the better agencies 'called me in' for an interview locally & tried to establish my key skills (not basic skills) to see if that would increase my chances of a decent job. They were basically doing what I had to do when looking for work & establish the various roles my previous job had & look for individual jobs linked to some of the roles.
The problem was they promised a lot & I left the meeting all charged up, that was the last I heard of the agency! I was informed by an ex agency worker that agencies have their priorities...............the employer. They want to get as many names on their books as possible; it's as simple as that.
It must be hard for them at present being deluged with unemployed people looking for work but I will name & shame the ones that messed me about.
Parsley Black: Still waiting for confirmation of my CV being registered despite repeated emails & calls since April!
Perfect Placement: Communicated a number of times with job offers but I had to chase them for follow ups, they would leave you hanging on for days before getting back to you.
Reed recruitment: Promised a lot but failed to deliver, poor communications.
PG Automotive: I would apply for jobs & the criteria asked for by the employer would be exactly what they required, but this agency refused to submit my application & despite asking why, they would never reply to me. I was later informed that many agencies are asked to submit a certain number of candidates; if they get deluged with too many they simply ignore the extra ones.
Michael Page Associates, they would email me asking for an updated CV as they had two jobs that would interest me, within minutes I sent them my CV & never heard from them again despite numerous email requests.
Steele Dixon: The best of them all, good communications with advice but lacked choice of jobs.
ASSESSMENT, PSYCHOMETRIC, APTITUDE TESTS OR GRAPHOLOGY?
Within a couple of weeks my first job offer came up through an agency in London offering me a workshop controller's job at a dealership close to home. This was a job I did 20 years ago & the wages weren't great but 'beggars can't be choosers' & I needed the work. The agency admired my CV but then stated it would also work against me. The more qualifications you have the more it puts off some prospective employers as they think you will use them as 'stop gap 'measure until something better comes along. How frustrating you spend a lifetime trying to better yourself & gain as many qualifications & experience as you can only to find you are over qualified for a job you once did!
However my name was put forward & looked forward to the phone call asking for an interview...............it never came.
Second job came up the next day with an unknown car maker, I emailed my CV & details & a week later got a phone call from the recruitment agency handling the application.
Would I be prepared to go the next stage & have an assessment carried out I was asked. I agreed to it & was booked for the week ahead 600 miles from home. They wouldn't be contributing to my travelling expenses but a swift call to the job centre confirmed they would.
It was only then I found out who my potential employer would be, along with the details & benefits of the job. There weren't many benefits as the job was on short term contract but it was all I needed during these harsh times, once the contract expired hopefully the UK would be out of this recession.
Knowing that I had to sit assessments I spent a couple of hours on the Internet getting as much information as possible. These assessments can be tests to determine the kind of character you are & how you work in an environment as a team or on your own. Given what I was reading this assessment would tell a future employer more about who I really am that I would know myself. All of sudden a dark cloud was hovering above me.
The day came when I arrived at the companies HQ outside London along with 9 other candidates. I then found out that over 60 people are being assessed for the two jobs available!!
We were all ushered into a training room complete with security tags & name badges & got right to work. Assessment number one would last two minutes & you had to complete it on your own.
You had to pretend you on a sinking ship in the Southern Pacific Ocean & that you have a life boat big enough for four people, however there are five of you.
They list 15 items you can take with you & you need to list them in priority. Some are pretty obvious such as food, water, shark repellent & some are pretty useless such as a mosquito net (there are no mosquitoes in the South Pacific Ocean), transistor radio, shaving mirror etc.
Once you have listed them, you then join up & form a team of five people & spend the next few minutes making up the list again between yourselves. Here is where opinions differ & you end up with a completely different priority list.
Whilst you discuss the list, you are being carefully monitored; do you defend your list & try to get the others to reason with you? Do you listen to them & agree? You don't know what they are looking for as regards your personality.
What they are actually looking for is each individual's persuasiveness, enthusiasm, active listening, participation, quality of expression, analytical thoughts, determination, originality of ideas & sensitivity.
However after the tests were completed & they marked them, they come to the conclusion that if we all had to survive a sinking ship on the basis of our lists................we would have all drowned!!
Assessment test two was another group effort, you had to construct a basic business plan together selling T-Shirts at Brighton beach, price the goods, work out how much you would sell over the summer, how much profit you would make & how you would market it. This would be done form basic information they supplied.
Once completed the presentation via a flip chart was then conveyed to the five strong management & recruitment team. Once they found a weak spot in your plans they would carefully 'tear it apart' & discredit your efforts, despite the fact they only gave you the minimum information & 15 minutes to complete the task. Blimey, I doubt if Richard Branson or Alan Sugar would have achieved this!!
Once finished you felt that you had just gone two rounds with Mike Tyson, after this, the Apprentice with Alan Sugar felt like a picnic!! We were informed that the lucky ones would get an interview in two weeks along with a psychometric test. Whoopee, the joy in everyone's face with the thought of a gruelling psychometric test was a sight to behold.
In a way I was hoping this would be the last I would hear of this job & it was, I didn't get the chance to go any further. At one point I questioned the assessment as regards the role of the job, was this assessment set up to impress the employer for the benefit of the recruitment agency & to justify the fees they charge?
Some other likely assessment tests can include the 'in tray exercise' where you are given a set time to sort out a selection of emails & prioritise them into groups such as immediate action, deferring action, delegation, etc.
This assessment would determine your analytical abilities, sensitivity, lucidity, common sense & your ability to work under pressure.
Another example of an assessment is a situation where a MD has been intentionally removed from the guest list of an important event & he is deeply offended. You have a set time to draft a letter of reply which tests your judgement, conciseness, tact, honesty, imagination & powers of expression.
There is a website set up for candidates to upload their assessments to allow others to see & compare & to also prepare them for what they might experience.
These are used when a prospective employer is looking to see if you will 'fit in' with a particular organisation. The questions asked are used to identify you reactions to situations where there are no right or wrong answers. In this situation you are tempted to fake your answers but you are always advised to be honest, remember you don't what they are looking for.
These are designed to assess a wide range of abilities & usually include numeracy, literacy & diagrammatical reasoning or critical thinking. They can show up if you are either good or excellent, or for that matter bad or truly awful!!
You normally get a set number of questions & a ridiculous short time to complete them, in these cases you are advised to complete as many as possible rather than skim through the lot & make more mistakes. Tests like these don't have negative marking such as points deducted for wrong answers.
What are they? These tests identify particular skills, typically words & figures but also diagrammatic reasoning that measures spatial awareness, logic & basic aptitude. It's the sheer unfamiliarity that leads many candidates to under perform so it's really advised to carry out on-line dummy runs before hand. Experts advise doing regular puzzles such as Sudoku help in these situations! Oh yeah?
Here is some small samples of a psychometric test taken form a book called Ultimate psychometric tests by Mike Bryon, it looks quite easy but just imagine you have about 50 of these & a limited time to complete them.
1: Find four letter words using the end & beginning of two of these three words. Windfall mask incapable
Island miscellaneous thwart
2: Swop two words to make this sentence read sensibly.
Book publishing is big business, the industry is worth £4 billion and more than 12000 books are published in the UK a year and each third of which are exported.
3: Suggest an answer that is the opposite of the example.
Example Unfaltering. Choose either, Courageous, Irresolute, Inflexible or Adamant.
4: What word is the past particle?
The broken marriage was a great disappointment to all.
5: Without a calculator, pen & paper
List the factors of 60
6: Again without a calculator, pen & paper
Find 12.5% of 3 hours & 40 minutes
7: No calculator or pen & paper
What is the percentage decrease between 220 & 215.6
8: Which barometric reading would you expect on a rainy day?
970mbar, 1010mbar or Cannot tell
9: Which is the least dense?
Ice, Water or Oil
10: How many colours in a rainbow
5, 6, 7 or 8
This is popular in Europe but thankfully not properly recognised in the UK. Graphology is the study & analysis of hand writing in relation to human psychology. It has been controversial for more than a century & although supporters point to evidence of thousands of positive testimonials as a reason to use it for personality evaluation, most studies have failed to show the validity claimed by its supporters.
NUMBER OF APPLICANTS
Make no mistake here, when you apply for a job you make think you are the right person for the job as you have all the right skills. It can come as a shock when you find out how many other people are also applying for the same job with ether the same skills or higher.
Most jobs in 2009 have at least 10 applications, many including one recently advertised van driver's job in North London attracted over 200 applications. I saw a trainee sales administrator in London posted one day on a recruitment website & within 24 hours it had 542 enquires!!!!!
It really is 'dog eat dog' out there, no matter how good you think you are there is someone else applying for the same job who may just be better skilled. It all adds to the pressure, that better skilled person may not put him or herself across so well as you or just maybe better presenting themselves to a would be employer.
If you survive an assessment / aptitude test, personality test or psychometric assessment you may just get a second chance of an interview.
Some companies will conduct a brief phone interview first to try & build up a picture of you & them ask you along to a proper interview.
One job I applied for required two phone interviews & one normal interview, there comes a time when you are starting to run out of things to speak about!
The problem with interviews is that you don't know what to expect. For my last job I endured a two hour interview with two people, one HR manager & my future department manager.
They would 'fire off' questions to you very quickly & see how you react quite often not giving you the chance to think about the answer in between. I was asked to give a detailed explanation on how a vehicle's automatic transmission works without diagrams or notes, whilst I am struggling to put a coherent description in place I am being interrupted by the HR manager asking where I last went on my holidays & then questioning why I went there. After the two hour interview I was physically & mentally drained & convinced I blew my chances of a job, however I got it in the end.
Interviews can be 'one to one' or front of two or more people; in one case I was interviewed by five people. Here are do's & don'ts about interviews from advice given by many employment agencies.
Do turn up smartly dressed even if the company has a 'casual dress' policy. Clean, well pressed suit, skirt (unless you're a man), smart shirt / blouse, tie etc. Don't overdo the jewellery, dressing up with like a rap star on a shopping expedition or wearing ear rings like bar maid Bet Lynch won't impress the interviewer. Gents, hide the medallions!
I turned up at a group interview with another candidate who was dressed very smartly in a two piece dark suit, however his sandy coloured desert boots, his sunglasses with 'bling' written all over them & a bright tie that needed a dimmer switch may have proved too much for some!
Do some research on the company you hope to work for, find out about their products, their goals, their market share etc. In fact find out a much as you can which thanks to the internet is much easier these days.
Do try & remain calm, I often get very nervous before hand but when you actually arrive at a reception area for the interview I usually find the nerves steady up.
Do try & look confident, not easy considering the job means so much to you that you are a bag of nerves in the first place. Try not to look too confident though.
Do shake hands but only if they offer first & look the person in the eye, eye contact is so important as is a firm handshake but don't crush their hands.
Do take notes & have some questions pre written, no one would mind if short notes are taken through at interview but try & avoid what looks like you are writing the entire volume of 'War & Peace'!
Do take spare copies of your CV with you just in case they haven't got any. Also ensure you know your CV back to front & all the dates & information is correct.
Don't arrive late, be early & twiddle your thumbs rather arrive late; it doesn't set a good example.
Don't ask question on subjects that have just been covered as it appears you haven't been listening.
Don't 'um' & 'er', Nothing is more off putting to an interviewer than answering a question with an 'um' or an 'er' in each sentence no matter how nervous you are. Practise answering questions in front of a mirror beforehand & cut out all the 'ums' & 'ers'.
Don't prattle on, they want significant information about your career history not your entire life story.
Don't ask about salary until the very end of the interview if at all, some companies will inform you however many won't until they assess your credentials.
Don't give them the impression you are desperate to work for them even if you are, if you have been made redundant they know you want work, don't keep reminding them.
QUESTIONS QUESTIONS QUESTIONS
You may get asked some awkward questions which if you are not prepared can be difficult to answer effectively. Listed below are a number of difficult questions I have taken from various agency websites. It is easy answering some of them when you have time to think about them, but just imagine being asked a number of these & having to give a meaningful answer right away. The secret is to be prepared.
Tell me/us about a time you delegated a project effectively.
Tell me/us about a time you prioritised the elements of a complicated project.
Tell me/us about a time when you made a bad decision.
Tell me/us about a time when you turned down a good job.
What are people's greatest misperceptions about you?
If I was to call your manager, what would he/she is the one thing you're relied on for the most?
If you had to do it all again what would be your career choice & why?
If I/we were to talk with people who know you best how would they describe you?
Are you the best person for the job?
Professionally what is your strongest point?
Professionally what is your weakest point?
Why do you want to work for us?
What can you do for us that someone else can't?
How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to our company?
Your CV suggests you are over qualified for this position, what is your opinion?
What three important trends do you see in our industry?
Why aren't you earning more at your age?
DISAPPOINTMENTS & REJECTIONS
It's very rarely that you get the first job you try for; you need to be prepared for rejection. I tired for a job with a closing date of a Friday in May, by then over 15 people had applied for the job. On the Monday morning I received an email stating that the vacancy had been filled & thank you for my enquiry! I later found out it was filled internally, but for two weeks you are hanging on with the hope of a possible job.
Next job I applied for I sent my covering letter & CV to the agency only to have it sent back two days later when I was informed that six ex employees of the company had applied for the job & they would get priority. Arghhhhh!!
It's bad enough losing out to a job after an interview but when you don't even get the chance of the interview it becomes demoralising.
It's easy to say but don't give up hope, you have to keep trying, if you can't find a job in your own field of work why not try something else. Training courses are available & if you are on job seekers allowance you'll get these courses free of charge.
A LONG PROCESS
Each time I applied for a job the whole process could take weeks, the job is advertised & after about 2-3 weeks you may then be asked to attend an interview, another week to ten days has passed until your interview & then after your interview you are left waiting for a result. It's now six weeks on & they inform you that your application isn't successful.
However, by then I had applied for another job & the whole process started again. As 'one door was closing', another was opening. The problem here is that three months on you have nothing to show for your efforts.
A different strategy was required, I starting applying for jobs with much smaller salaries & positions I wasn't 100% comfortable with. Some weeks I would apply for five to six separate jobs & still only get the minimum response from agencies.
We would like to think that when we attend an interview the company handling the interview would be as professional as possible....not so!
One job interview I attended the interviewer was 15 minutes late & he was more nervous than me! On another interview the interviewer was very laid back, so laid back that he was almost unconscious.
He didn't know the salary, he issued me with the wrong working hours, he forgot to ask me a number of important questions & he filled in the application incorrectly. It doesn't inspire confidence.
On another occasion I applied for a temporary job lasting two months, the advert stated that I had to apply for an application form either by email or post. I choose email & fired it off; you would think the person at the other end would just send you back a brief reply such as 'application form in the post'.
Not so, after eight days & three emails asking for a form & receiving nothing in return, I posted them a letter asking for an application form. When it eventually arrived they forgot to send the application form, they only sent a covering letter.
However, this time I had a phone number, so after repeated attempts I eventually spoke to someone at the company who agreed to send on the form without as much as an apology.
When the form eventually arrived 10 days prior to the job starting date it stated that I wouldn't be considered for the job until I could prove I wasn't trying to obtain work illegally. To do that they requested I posted them my passport (copies not accepted), utility bills & two passport sized photos with different images of my face. They also wanted my bank details before I even got an interview! I binned the letter; I didn't have the confidence in the company to look after my passport let alone complete the application process.
One employer clearly said to me that he would personally contact me within seven days to let me know either way if I had the job or not. He went on to inform me that his company is very professional & we wouldn't mess people about. Four months on I'm still waiting for that phone call!!
Another company gave me a 35 minute phone interview & expressed an interest in me stating that they would like to offer me a proper interview even giving me the choice of location. When I never heard anymore I contacted the agency who stated that I wasn't a strong enough candidate to be offered an interview!! A real confidence boosting experience that one!
In the end I got two jobs, one temporary & one starting early next year, the latter I got as a 'tip off' from an old colleague. It came as a relief in the end after months enduring appalling levels of service from job agencies.
ABBREVIATIONS OFTEN FOUND ON JOB ADS
AAD Automotive Aftermarket Division
ABAP Advance Business Application Programming
APQP Advanced Product Quality Planning
ARM Adjustable Rate Mortgage
ATA Advanced Technology Attachment
ATL Above The Line
B2B Business to Business
B2C Business to Customer
BIT Business Improvements Techniques
BMS Battery Management Systems
BMS Building Management Systems
BMS Broadcast Message Server
BTL Below The Line
CAD Computer Aided Design
CAE Certified Automotive Engineer
CAE Computer Aided Engineering
CAE Common Appliances Environment
CATIA Computer Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application
CBT Compulsory Basic Training
CFD Contract For Difference
CFO Chief Financial Officer
CIM Continuous Improvement Manager
CMA Certified Management Accountant
CMA Corporate Market Analysis
CMOS Complimentary Metal Oxide Semi-Conductor
CNC Computer Numerically Controlled
CPC Cost per Click
CPD Continuing Professional Development
CRM Customer Relationship Management
CSCS Construction Skills Certification Scheme
DAT Direct Access Training
DBA Database Administrator
DOE Depending on Experience
ECS Electronic Clearing Service
ECS Electronic Controlled Suspension
EDI Electronic Data Interchange
EDI Education Development Initiative
EEO/AA Equal Employment Opportunity / Affirmative Action
EHS Environmental Health & Safety
EIB European Investment Bank
EMC Electro Magnetic Compatibility
EMC Executive Management Committee
ERP Enterprise Resource Planning
ETS Educational Testing Services
ETS Engineering Technical Services
ETS Emissions Trading Scheme
F&DT Fatigue & Damage Tolerance
FAE Fuel Air Explosives
FD Finance Director
FM Facility Management
FMCG Fast Moving Consumer Goods
FMEA Failure Modes & Effects Analysis
FTSE Financial Times Stock Exchange
GDP Gross Domestic Product
GHG Greenhouse Gases
GMP Good Manufacturing Practices
GP Gross Profit
HEVS Hybrid Electric Vehicle Systems
HVAC Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning
IC Intelligence Community
IFA Institute of Financial Accounts
IFM International Facility Management
IMT Information Management Tool
IMT Industrial Market Trends
ITIL Information Technology Infrastructure Library
KPI Key Performance Indicators
LEP Local Employment Partnership
M&E Monitoring & Evaluation
MET Mean Effective Temperature
MI Management Information
MIS Management Information Systems
MMS Multimedia Messaging Service
NPD New Product Development
NPI National Provider Identifier
NPI Numbering Plan Indicator
NPI New Product Introduction
NPI Negative Polarity Item
NVQ National Vocational Qualification
OEE Overall Equipment Efficiency
OEM Original Equipment Manufacturer
OSS Operations Support System
OSS Open Source Software
OTE On Target Earnings
P&L Profit & Loss
P2P Peer to Peer (Software)
PBE Personal Banking Executive
PBE Peak Business Equipment
PBE Programming by Example
PBE Paint Body Equipment
PBE Production Budgetary Estimate
PBE Place Based Education
PCM Pre Calendar Month
PDE Process Development Engineer
PHP Hypertext Pre-Processor
PL Procedural Language
PLC Public Limited Company
PLC Programmable Logic Controller
PM Plant Maintenance
PP Production Planning
PPAP Production Part Approval Process
PPC Pay Per Click
PSCM Purchasing & Supply Chain Management
PTA Power Tools Accessories
PTFE Polymer Textile Fibre Engineering
QAI Quality Assurance International
QHI Quality Health Indicators
QHSE Quality Health Safety Environment
QHSEE Quality Healthy Safety Environmental Engineer
RF Radio Frequency
RNC Radio Network Interchange
ROI Return on Investment
RSS Really Simple Syndication
S&D Systems & Development
SAP Systems Applications Products
SAS Statistical Analysis System
SCADA Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition
SCM Supply Chain Management
SD Sales & Distribution
SD/MM Successful Direct Marketing Methods
SD/MM Service Delivery Maturity Model
SEO Search Engine Optimisation
SFM Search Feed Management
SHEQ Safety Health Environment & Quality
SHESQ Safety Health Environment Security & Quality
SLA Service Level Agreement
SME Small Medium Enterprise
SMM Social Media Marketing
SMS Short Message Service
SQL Structured Query Language
SRM Supplier Relationship Management
TAC Technical Allocations Centre
TDD Telecommunications Device for the Deaf
TDD Test Drive Development
VBA Visual Basic for Applications
VHC Very Highly Commended
VHC Vehicle Health Checks
VSEO / VSO Video Search (Engine) Optimisation
The Vauxhall Corsa has been with us since the early 1990s when it replaced the old Vauxhall Nova. In that time the Corsa has always been a big seller in the UK probably down to the fact that its good looking, appeals to all generations, it's cheap to run & insure & holds its value quite well.
I have just been running a number of Corsa models over the past three months (company owned) all with low mileage & all 1200cc models & it gave me a good opportunity to review this big seller. However the experience wasn't what I expected in a modern car!
There are two basic models, a three door hatchback & a five door hatchback, from the windscreen pillars forward they are identical but they differ at the rear.
The three door model looks sportier & has a more sloping roofline where as the five door is more boxy but has the advantage of more headroom.
From outside they are good looking cars from all angles, this is the models that have recently been advertised on TV with those horrible looking soft toys shouting out 'come on' to the young girls passing by.
From outside the general finish of the paintwork is good & all the gaps between the panels are consistent & quite tight. Some of the models have a conventional key with two remote control buttons. Some of the keys have the button you press to release the key blade & two buttons to lock & unlock the doors.
When you press the unlock button once on the five door model, only the drivers door unlocks, you need to press it again to unlock the reminder of the doors.
Step inside & close the door, there is no solid feel in the doors unlike the Corsa's competitors. Once inside the interior is quite pleasant to sit in, some of the dashboards are finished in what looks like a titanium effect which looks OK, but the other models are finished off in a piano black finish which looks classier.
The instrument panel lights up when you open the door, I don't why as there is nothing to read prior to switching on the ignition. The dash is dominated by four large round face vents which look effective & feel well made. Under the centre ones there is a radio/CD & below that the heating controls.
The radio volume control, heating controls, light switch & electric window switch are made from transparent material & light up for easy identification. However they light up in a rather weak looking colour which frankly looks cheap & awful.
Some of the dash switches for the air conditioning, heated rear window & central locking are small & fiddly with poor warning lamps on them.
Instruments are limited to a rev counter, speedo & fuel gauge, the speedo looks like a rev counter & has a number of the important digits missing. There are a number of controls on the steering wheel for the radio CD & for Bluetooth phone connections which light up in the dark which is very convenient.
Cubby space is limited; there is a decent sized glove box & a drawer under the passenger's seat, door bins in all doors & cup holders in the centre console but little else. Vauxhall do supply a 'jack' connection for ipods & MP3 players ahead of the gear lever.
Space in the boot is quite good with a sturdy removable floor section if you need more space. The only bad point was the rear parcel shelf which is very flimsy & the cord connections that attach to the hatchback where forever breaking.
The Corsa is larger than a Toyota Yaris but has less interior space, having said that there is still adequate space for four adults or five with a squeeze. The seats appear comfortable to start with but many of us complained about aching backs after sitting in them for any length of time.
DRIVING THE CORSA
It's quite easy to get a good driving position in the Corsa thanks to generous adjustment of the driver's seat & 'reach & rake' adjustment in the steering column. Tune the ignition key & when the engine fires up & you soon realise how refined the little Vauxhall engine is.
The gear change is very pleasant with a small button that needs to be pushed in to engage reverse, clutch pedal action is light & smooth. As you drive away the engine noise remains smooth & refined, in city traffic performance is quite good but the 1200cc engine struggles when you want to accelerate out of a junction quickly. When it comes to performance the Corsa's performance isn't going to get the adrenalin pumping but it will return decent fuel consumption figures, I suppose you can't have both!
The steering is light & remains so at speed, a little light for my tastes but you soon get used to it. Handling is safe & secure on 'B' roads & the ride was quite smooth considering the car has a short wheelbase.
Overall the Corsa is very relaxing to drive & the engine remains smooth & refined at higher speeds. If there is any criticism to levelled at the car it must be for two things, the rather slow to respond heating system. On cold days they takes ages to heat up, a phenomenon we noticed on all the Corsas we had.
The indicator & wiper switches are very annoying, when you switch on the flasher switch & if it doesn't cancel, in most cars you just flick the entire switch back. In the Corsa it always sits in the same position & if you flick it back just a little too much it indicates on the opposite side which confuses drivers around you. It takes time to get used to it & everyone criticised it.
THE STING IN THE TAIL
In general the Corsa is a decent car & I can see why it's so popular, however if the batch of cars my employer had are anything to go by the Corsa's reliability is very questionable.
In the last three months these models all of which have less than 15.000 miles on them suffered from clonking suspension noises, clunking steering, noisy air bag springs in the steering wheels, jammed CDs in the radio CD unit, broken parcel shelf cord fixings, faulty door mirrors, engine check lights coming on, broken seat catches & numerous interior trim parts falling off.
The service from the dealer network left a lot to be desired to say the least & didn't inspire confidence.
A great little car with decent fuel consumption, nice enough to drive, refined engine & reasonable amount of space inside. However the switchgear inside was poorly designed & from evidence, reliability is not going to be the Corsas strong point.
You have just won a few million pounds in the lottery, you have bought a new house, had your luxury holiday, opened up a savings account for the grandchildren & now you have decided to spend around £60.000 on a new luxury car. Would you consider a Mercedes S Class saloon? It would take a brave person to spend that sum of their own money on a luxury car, would they get value for money, would it live up to expectations & would you get satisfaction from it?
My experience of the new Mercedes S class came quite recently, a 60 mile drive in one & a 60 mile return trip as a passenger, if you want to find out how the 'other half' live & drive, read on.
THE MERCEDES S CLASS
Arguably the most respected luxury car in the world the S class Mercedes is the company's flag ship model that costs between £55.595 for the 'basic' model & £148.290 for the top of the range one. For that sum of money you get a choice of petrol or diesel models with various levels of luxuries although I do find it hard to believe there is a £92.695 price difference between the basic & top of the range models. However, lets get too over excited here, even as lottery winners you want value for money so we'll slum it & go for the basic diesel model which I drove at a mere £55.595!!
At this price range there is fair amount of competition, the main contenders being BMW, Audi, Jaguar & Lexus, I have omitted Bentley, Rolls Royce & Maybach as they all cost considerably more.
The car I tested was a S320 V-6 diesel which came with a seven speed automatic gearbox. From outside the S class is a big car, it is 5076mm in length (16.65ft in old money!), 1871mm wide & weighs 2000kg (2 tonnes). For all its size it will hold five people in relative luxury & comes with a decent sized boot.
It's not the most elegant big car on the road, its rear bulging arches look out of place & from the front it doesn't look much different from the smaller Mercedes models. This particular example had only the Mercedes badges, nothing else, so no one would know which model you are driving. None the less it still quite a distinctive car with the traditional Mercedes grille & three pointed star badge on the top of the grille.
From outside there is no denying that it is beautifully finished with perfect slim gaps between the body panels, I hear you saying 'well it should be at that price!
The key is usually shaped with a chrome effect look about it, it has three buttons, one for unlocking the doors, one for locking them & one for releasing the boot lid.
Open up the big heavy doors to step inside & they close like a bank vault door with a reassuring clunk. Once inside you can't help but notice how spacious & luxurious it is in here.
The first thing you notice about the S class is the absence of a gear lever & handbrake form the traditional central position. No radio or CD player to be seen & no heater controls, what is going on here then?
In fact for such a well appointed car the interior has a very minimalistic look about it, however everything listed above (plus some more) are all here just cunningly disguised.
The gear lever protrudes from the steering column on the right hand side where you would normally have the wiper switch in a modern car. The handbrake is a simple electronic switch on the right hand side of the dash, this leaves the central area freed up for the main control function knob (named Comand) which sits where the gear lever would normally be placed.
It controls many functions including the radio settings, heating & air conditioning (although there are some basic switches for that on the dash), sat nav & the lumber function of the front seats (more about that later). It's quite smart having a mouse style control that performs so many functions leaving the dash free from fiddly switches & other controls. I dare say if it was to fail you would be stuck, but hey don't think like that, this is an S class Mercedes!
As you play about with it the functions are clearly displayed on a central screen in the upper dash. Your left wrist rests on a padded area above the control which makes performing any changes very user friendly. It's a bit like a wrist pad on a mouse pad when you are working your computer at home.
Lift the pad up & below is a phone control which can be linked to your own phone which can be located in a special holder in the centre console. All commands can be controlled from this phone pad & sent through the speakers. Just a pity the wrist pad is hinged towards the driver, suits left hand drive rather than right hand drive.
In the centre of the dash is a small panel which opens up too reveal the CD player & controls. Close the panel when you park up & most people wouldn't realise its there. There are many rubber lined cubby holes that have lids linked to small dampers that open & close with such precision.
The main centre console is in two halves, top half can be hinged to either side to house small objects or lifted towards the rear to house larger items. All these panels are fitted with tasteful wood veneer which is also fitted along the entire width of the dash.
With wood on the doors, centre console & dash plus the gorgeous leather seats the S Class Mercedes reeks luxury. There are even four vanity mirrors with lights so you have no excuse for your mascara being smudged.
The main instrument housing is blank until you switch on the ignition, once on the display is white on black & looks like a piece of quality engineering. Between the central air vents is a handsome square white faced clock with hands, so much classier than a digital readout.
From the front seats the electronic adjustment can be made via smart looking controls on the doors. The backrest, cushion & even the headrests are all electronically adjusted by the touch of a button. For the driver, via the central command unit, you can activate the front seat lumber support & for a mere £1243.00 extra you can have a seat massager (yes really!). Imagine driving a long distance & your back starts to ache, instead of stopping in a lay by to stretch your legs you just switch on the massager & the seat starts to massage your back, you can control how much or how little the effect has on your back via the central control which displays the function on the information screen.
Some other useful extras, a fridge (£822.00), heated steering wheel £202.00), comfort ventilated front seat (£646), 20" AMG alloy wheels (£2623.00) & a digital TV (£803.00). There are many other options & before you know it your S Class will cost around £75.000!
This is lottery cash............why worry! For such a big car Mercedes don't fit parking sensors as standard.
This S class had other tricks up its sleeve though, an accident avoidance systems can be fitted, through a series of clever sensors on board it can sense if an accident is about to happen & take control of the situation.
Such as a night-vision camera, and the Distronic Plus active cruise control will brake the car to a standstill from 125mph without your foot touching the pedal. (Scary or what!!)
Brake Assist Plus looks up the road and will not only warn you if you're too close to the car in front, it will also prime the brake hydraulics for an emergency stop even if you don't use maximum pedal pressure.
You pay extra for these features but Mercedes reckons that these entire systems combine will create such a sense of well-being and security in the car that, on average, you will actually have a lower heartbeat, anything up to five beats a minute compared to a normal car fitted without these safety features.
DRIVING THE MERCEDES S CLASS
Well it's easy to get a comfortable driving position & once comfortable you can help but notice how big the S Class is. The key slots into a small square hole on the dash & you turn the key as normal to start the car. Modern diesels like this don't need a five second wait until the glow plug lights extinguish, they just start as per normal. Once started the instrument display lights up you engage gear via the right hand gear lever stalk. The choice is limited, neutral, park, reverse & drive, that is it. Move the lever to the top for reverse, down one to neutral, press the button in the neutral position to engage park or push down for drive.
You can change gear manually via two paddle switches mounted on the steering wheel, one up changes & one down changes but after the novelty wears off I preferred to do it automatically.
It engages gear so smoothly, you release the handbrake via a small switch on the right hand side of the dash & you move off. Gear changes are so smooth you lose track of which of the seven gears you are in, the steering feels light but tightens up at speed.
This is a car to enjoy driving, you don't want to drive it like a hooligan, the three pointed star badge on the bonnet gives you a nice guide up front, a bit of a regal presences on the road perhaps. The is large car is surprisingly easy to manoeuvre around & progress through the gears is incredibly smooth.
There is ample performance, even on the motorway any drastic kick down changes are so smooth & effective. Brakes are outstanding & very assuring considering you are driving a 2 ton vehicle.
I only drove it on dual carriage ways but even with four people on board at speed the S Class feels completely stable & I would think handling on tighter country roads would be excellent despite the car's bulk.
Engine noise despite it being a V-6 diesel is surprisingly smooth & quiet & the smooth ride from the suspension gives the S Class a real comfortable drive for the driver & passengers. It was all the more surprising how it crashed over nasty pot holes & you were well aware of it, I would have thought it would have handled them much better than it did.
MERCEDES & THE ENVIRONMENT
If you care for the environment then chances are you wouldn't consider a car like this which must be gutsy & bad for pollution. Well here is a surprise, the S Class Mercedes is no worse than many smaller engine cars costing considerably less.
The official fuel consumption figures run into the mid 40's mpg although I only managed 29 mpg at best & 20 mpg at worst. The emissions figures are 201kg/km, a similar sized engine in a Range Rover will surpass 300kg/km & many 'run of the mill' cars with much smaller engines have higher figures than this.
Praise indeed for the Mercedes Benz engineers who managed to get the S Class this efficient.
ADVANTAGES & DISADVANTAGES OF S CLASS OWNERSHIP
The advantages are numerous; the badge would send a message to others that you are successful person. Your friends & neighbours may be impressed & you can wallow in the luxury every time you drive it.
However, there are a number of disadvantages, the cost of ownership wouldn't come cheap, depreciation would be horrendous, a tank of fuel would set you back nearly £100.00 & be prepared to pay around £100.00 an hour for dealership charges when the warranty runs out.
Would I buy one? No, it's simply too big & impractical for me, lottery cash to spend or not. I couldn't park it outside my house without worrying about some jealous anti social low life dragging a key along the paintwork.
This is a car best for directors where a company pays the bills, rock stars, football stars & lottery winners where you wouldn't worry how much its going cost to run.
For a few hours I enjoyed my drive in this impressive luxury car & as a passenger grateful that someone else was paying the fuel bills.
Firstly, this review is of the latest Nissan Micra 1.4
It's an anniversary probably no one knew much about, 25 years is a long time & a milestone worth celebrating. However, this anniversary in the middle of a recession was only probably celebrated by a handful of marketing people & the odd factory worker. What am I on about?
Well the 25th anniversary of the humble Nissan Micra recently happened; did it have much effect on you? No I thought not, much the same with me.
The Mini will celebrate 50 years of motoring with a big national party but I doubt if there will be street parties for the Micra, life is like that I suppose!
When it first came to the UK it hardly became a household name, Datsun as they were called then released it as a three door hatchback with a 1000cc engine. It was a bit tinny & non descript to look at it but as time would prove it would make a big impact on the UK buying public.
It was cheap to run, easy to drive & thus became popular with motoring schools & best of all it was extremely reliable & built in Japan.
Ten years later a new Micra emerged, this time built in the UK & this time it was so far ahead of the competition that it won the Car of the Year award in 1993. It's cutey looks did wonders for sales & best of all it remained cheap to run, reliable & kept British workers in a job.
Ten years later the third version came along & the subject of this review. Even cuteier looking this time & still ahead of some of the competition the British built Micra still sells in big numbers & is still cheap to run & reliable.
If there is one single thing that may put you off buying the new Micra it will probably be its looks. Although a subjective matter looks are important & the new Micra is certainly different against normal small cars.
It's the 'bug eyed' headlamps that do it for most, those lamps are not fitted like most cars at the very front of the car but they are placed back into the bonnet line close to the windscreen. It does give the Micra a cuddly look, fine if you're a woman but us men like our cars to be.................well, butch & manly!!
The roof line is rounded as is the rear making the Micra tall, wide & a little short, its profile looks quite good despite those 'bug eyed' lamps. It does mean that room inside despite its short dimensions is actually quite good with decent leg room, loads of headroom & shoulder room.
Life is made easy thanks to the engineers placing the rear seats on runners giving the owner a choice between a decent sized boot with little leg room, or decent rear leg room & a smaller boot.
The front seats are raised to allow rear passengers to place their feet under the front seats where there is ample room.
Stepping into the Micra for the first time I was quite impressed with the amount of space up front & how it is utilised. Despite having a conventional dash arrangement Nissan have made good use of the space available.
The passenger's front seat base (where your bum goes) hinges forward & underneath is a nice sized plastic box that would hold dirty trainers or a pair of 'killer' heels if necessary. The box can easily be removed & cleaned if required & it's a nice attention to detail. The glove box is of a generous size & there are loads of cubby holes all over the car so you can hide away odd & ends that we all carry around these days.
This 1.4 Micra I drove had a decent level of equipment including, alloy wheels, front spot lamps, climate control, a decent radio CD with ipod connector & lead & electric mirrors, electric tinted windows & parking sensors.
Five people will fit into a Micra at a squeeze & the boot is of a decent size for such a small car which incidentally is much shorter than a Fiesta, Corsa or Clio.
DRIVING THE MICRA
It's easy to get a comfy driving position, the seat has a decent level of adjustment & steering column also adjusts. The chunky steering wheel feels good in your hands; the pedals are perfectly placed as is the gear lever, so far so good.
The view from the front is a bit strange at first, like most modern cars you cannot see the end of the bonnet, however what you do see form the drivers seat are those 'two bug eyed' headlamps.
They make positioning the car on the road just that little easier & doesn't look as bad as it sounds.
The engine is smooth at idle but as drive the car the engine noise increases more than you would expect at higher speeds. Performance is brisk as you would imagine for such a small lightweight car with a 1.4 engine under the bonnet.
The cable gear change is very smooth & a pleasure to use as is the light & smooth clutch pedal. It is easy to drive the Micra in a spirited way as it's so much fun driving it even in congested city streets. It is a doddle to park thanks in part to its short body, parking sensors & those 'bug eyed' headlamps that guide your every move.
The Micra is not just a city car, it's a real blast to drive on the open road & keeps up with motorway traffic without much effort. Handling is safe & secure & steering effort at all speeds is just perfect thanks in part to the chunky looking steering wheel which is just the right size. Despite its short wheelbase the Micra can soak up rough road surfaces in its stride. Brakes are safe & secure with a progressive pedal feel no matter how many people are in the car.
Driven over rough services didn't create any squeaks or rattles from inside the Micra, it gives you the impression that this little car is well & truly bolted down properly & not likely to cause you any concerns.
The information screen in the instrument panel recorded 44mpg during a spirited drive through a busy city centre & some country driving. Ease off the throttle & I would confidentially say the Micra would record nearly 50mpg. Added to that the Micra has low emissions so road fund licence costs will be low & reliability is among the best on the market so running a Micra would cost very little.
MICRA VERSUS YARIS
The Toyota Yaris is the Micra's main competitor, as a Yaris owner it gave me a good chance to compare them. On looks alone there isn't much between them. The Yaris is more boxed shaped & thus gets the space advantage inside. Both make good use of space, both have sliding rear seats, the Yaris has more air bags & both have equipment levels that are very similar.
The Yaris engine is more refined & the gear change just that little more slick but the Micra is quicker & slightly more economical. Both are ultra reliable, both hold their value well & it would be a real headache trying to figure which one is best for you, they are both very good but I'll stick to my Yaris as it looks less cutey.
The Micra has always been a winner in the small car market, cheap to run, easy to drive, easy to park & ultra reliable. If you can live with its odd looks I would highly recommend one.
When you think of all the great car producing countries around the world you automatically think of the USA, Japan, Germany & that once great car producing country, the UK.
Spain is not one you think much of but in actual fact both Nissan & Ford produce cars in Spain & the country has been producing its own cars since 1953, namely Seat (pronounce it See-at).
Early Seat models were made under license from Fiat in Italy but it helped to kick start their motor industry, Seat vehicles were only sold in Spain. It wasn't until the mid 1980s that Seat took the brave step to produce a model of its own, the Ibiza.
This 'supermini' was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro & boasted as having "Italian styling & German engines" as Porsche were responsible for the engine design. It was known for having a rather quirky interior instrument layout, marked by a lack of control stalks. The indicators were operated by a rocker switch & the headlights by a sliding switch. It was the first official Seat car imported into the UK & although build quality left a lot to be desired it established Seat in the UK.
It wasn't long after that when Seat were taken over by Volkswagen & today all the Seat models are based on VW models but with a less conservative look both inside & outside. Seat cars appeal to a younger market & tend to be more stylish than the VW models they are based on.
THE SEAT ALTEA
It is difficult to 'pigeon hole' the Altea, its like a tall five door hatch back or a mini MPV, either way it looks very stylish although looks are a subjective matter. For this particular test I drove the 1.9 turbo diesel model which came with a reasonable high level of equipment.
As you can imagine with links with VW the Altea is finished off to a very high standard, the doors have a solid feel to them & close with a reassuring 'clunk' each time. The standard of paintwork & panel gaps is excellent, this looks & feels like a premium product.
The key has a 'switch blade' type function for the ignition & three remote buttons on the fob, press it once just to unlock the drivers door, you need to press it again to open the remaining doors & tailgate. The tailgate also has a separate button for remote access.
Open the door & step inside & rather than lower yourself in to the car you merely step inside, great if you are elderly & find it difficult climbing into cars. The seating is very comfortable & there is loads of space for five adults with decent amounts of head, leg & shoulder room. The boot is vast & would carry five peoples worth of baggage without much problems, a pull out tonneau cover helps to cover the luggage area rather than a shelf.
The dash layout is more stylish than the conservative layout of VW models, it wraps itself around the driver but it's a shame that Seat hasn't made it truly suitable for right hand drive. The centre console is sculptured away to allow easy access to the handbrake lever for left hand drive models, less so for right hand drive. The dials are also set out to suit left hand drive rather than right hand drive, but having said that you soon get used to it.
The instrument panel has the speedo on the right, a small rev counter in the middle & the fuel, temperature & warning lamp readout on the left. The heating & ventilation controls look overly complicated with separate temp setting for both passenger & driver, is this really necessary when you are sitting so close together?
There is a good quality radio CD below the heating controls but the black on green display looks very 1980ish, there is a separate socket for an ipod on the centre console with an awkward flap to protect it. The rest of the switchgear is scattered around on the right hand side of the dash, door & centre console including a switch to switch on or off the traction control.
The materials used inside are of high quality & give me the impression they will take a fair amount of abuse. The throttle pedal is fixed to the floor instead of hanging down but it works really well, there is also a generous foot rest next to the clutch pedal.
Front seats are very comfortable with generous range of adjustments including seat height & lumbar support. The rear seats fold down to increase luggage space & are easy to operate. There is ample cubby space on the doors & dash including two hinged areas under the front seats to hold a first aid kit or similar.
A nice touch is sun shades for the rear door windows that roll into the door when not in use & clip onto hooks on the door frame when required; they cover the entire window area & are really effective in hot weather.
Equipment levels are good with electric windows, central locking, radio CD, climate control, traction control & alloy wheels.
DRIVING THE ALTEA
It is easy to get a comfortable driving position & a good view of the road ahead. As you start the car up it leaves you in no doubt that it's a diesel. As far as diesel engines go this are not the quietest diesel engines on the market despite generous sound deadening material fitted.
As you move off performance is very brisk indeed & as you gather speed the engine noise becomes less intrusive. The gear change is pleasant enough & the clutch pedal light & smooth, the brakes have a reassuring feel to them & have no problem stopping the Altea at various speeds.
For such a tall car the handling is safe & predictable & encourages spirited driving around corners, the ride is smooth & the car absorbs bad surfaces really well.
All in all, a very impressive car indeed using tried & tested VW mechanicals with a more stylish interior & body. On the day I took it for a 60 mile run I met a service manager at a local Seat dealer who explained that these cars have their fair share of problems. A generous warranty will cover anything that will go wrong but this has to be kept in mind when buying one.
Would I buy one, it's not for me, but based on a 60 mile run I must say I was quite impressed with the Altea, It was well finished & very roomy, if Seat could get the reliability issues sorted out this would be real cracker of a car.
Mention the name Chevrolet to any car enthusiast & it will conjure up an image of the huge American V8 saloons & SUVs that dominate the America car scene. Along with Ford, Chevrolet is among the best selling cars in America & famous for producing a number of classics such as the legendary Corvette sports car, the muscle cars of the 1960s & many more.
It's a true American brand, up there with Coca Cola & McDonalds, yet Louis Chevrolet who founded the company came from Switzerland.
His family left Switzerland to live in France in the late 19th century & it was there where Louis developed his mechanical skills & interest in motor racing. At the turn of the century he emigrated to Canada to work as a chauffeur & mechanic, later he moved again to New York City where he worked briefly for a fellow Swiss immigrant's engineering company. He had many other jobs in America & even pursued a racing career, however it was when he was working for Buick that he learned the skills of producing his own vehicles.
The Chevrolet Motor Company was founded & very quickly taken over by what became the huge General Motors Corporation (GM) & Louis died a near penniless man. During the entire 20th century Chevrolet & Ford dominated the domestic car scene in America.
So where does all this leave this review on a little Korean built car with a famous name? Daewoo in Korea was partly owned by GM in America & produced a series of vehicles made under license from GM until they were big enough to produce their own designs; many made it to the UK in the 1990s.
However, a few years back when Daewoo when bankrupt, GM took full control of the company & rebranded it models Chevrolet for the America & European market.
THE CHEVROLET MATIZ
Based on the old Daewoo Matiz which has been on sale since the late 1990s, the new Matiz has more modern features including a new interior. The original Matiz was actually designed in Italy & sold to the Korean company saving them a lot of time & money on major development work.
The latest Matiz is priced between £6625.00 & £7465.00 (without the scrappage scheme) & features a three cylinder engine of 796cc; it is available as an automatic or manual. Road tax, thanks to its low Co2 figures is only £35.00 a year & fuel consumption is over 50mpg. The problem with the Matiz is mainly the direct competition from Kia, Hyundai & Citroen. They all produce cars in the same price bracket which are slightly bigger in size with slightly larger engines making the Matiz looking less of a bargain & with similar running costs you would have to be a Matiz enthusiast or desperate for the Chevrolet badge to want one.
DRIVING THE MATIZ
On first acquaintance the Matiz looks small & narrow, its skinny wheels & tires give it a slightly top heavy look. From the outside they are certainly well finished for a cheap 'value for money' car & all the panel gaps are even & consistent. Its only when you come to open the doors & see how thin they are that you would question how safe this vehicle would be in an accident of any description as you appear to have little body protection in front, at the rear or from the side despite side protection bars & air bags.
Once inside the general finish is quite acceptable for the money, yes it is plasticky but what isn't at this price. Equipment levels are very good, the model I tested came with electric front windows, a decent if not dated radio CD with removable front, central locking & air conditioning.
The dash design & general look inside reminds me of a typical Japanese car from the early 1990s, it's not going to offend anyone but it is hardly 21st century stuff.
The dash features a central mounted dial display with large speedo flanked by a smaller rev counter & fuel gauge; they are not digital displays but conventional looking meters.
In front of the steering wheel is a small display containing all the warning lamps. In the middle of the dash are two circular face vents, a 1990s style radio CD with a handy mute button that doubles up as the on / off switch & the heating controls.
For the life of me I cannot understand why Chevrolet fit the rear fog lamp switch in with the wiper switch, it took me a while to find it & it looks like an afterthought.
Cubby holes are small & in short supply, the interior isn't as practical as it could be. Space from such a small car is limited, although leg room in the rear is tight, two adults could get comfortable on a short journey but long journeys wouldn't be advised. There is only room in the back for two people as only two seat belts are fitted, it is worth remembering this in case you plan to buy a Matiz for the school runs.
Leg room up front is better if your less than six feet in height, headroom is decent & shoulder room acceptable. As you would imagine the boot isn't huge but the rear seats can be folded down to increase space.
Start the car up & the first thing you notice is the throaty roar of a typical three cylinder engine, even the best designed three cylinder engines are like this & the Matiz is no worse than others I have driven.
Getting a decent driving position is easy & all the pedals have a smooth & light feel to them. The gear change is quite good with a positive change, as you move off the Matiz can easily keep up with city traffic despite its small engine.
It's only when you are out of the city that you begin to notice the lack of power. If you push it to keep up with more powerful traffic the fuel consumption suffers so if you intend to carry out a lot of motorway or country runs bear this in mind. Sometimes a bigger engine car can make more economical sense.
Steering is light making the Matiz so easy to park with its compact dimensions, its narrow size means you get the parking spaces bigger cars can't get into.
Brakes felt excellent & stopped the car with just the driver in it without any problems, however with four adults inside maybe things wouldn't be so good. If you intend to carry more people, road test the car first with more people in it to confirm.
The Matiz is not a performance machine to get your adrenalin pumping so the handling won't be tested to the limit. Handling on country roads at acceptable speeds felt safe enough but it's not a car I would like to drive round corners in a hurry as its narrow size doesn't give me enough confidence. Despite all that the suspension ride wasn't too bad for such a small car but any pot holes in the road (there are plenty in my area) leave the little Matiz crashing over them upsetting the passengers.
Small it maybe & lacking any character, but the Matiz shines in the busy towns or cities which it's probably designed for. I wouldn't like to use it for any other type of driving. Having said that running costs would be low & if that is all that is important to you then consider buying one.
I am not anti- small car, I run a small car myself (Toyota Yaris 1.3), although slightly bigger than a Matiz it utilises it's interior space much more effectively than the Matiz, its more practical, feels so much safer inside & overall running costs are only slightly higher. Faced with a choice of a brand new Matiz or a secondhand Yaris for the same money, the Yaris would be my choice.
This review is for the 1.9 turbo diesel Astra & not the 1.6 model listed.
The Vauxhall Astra has been with us since 1979 in various guises & is constantly in the top selling list of cars in the UK ever since. The reason that the Astra has proved popular is due to its modern designs, the fact that it is usually well equipped, cheap to run & insure & despite its reliability concerns its quite simple & cheap to repair.
A recent 270 mile blast to central Scotland in the new Astra Diesel gave me an opportunity to assess the latest model. It was a 1.9 turbo diesel hatchback with a six speed gearbox, from the outside the paintwork finish was excellent & all the gaps around the doors & body panels were consistent & narrow.
One you jump inside the quality theme continues, the upper dash & upper door trims were finished off in a quality rubbery plastic finish often seen in many up market makes. The lower dash was in fake aluminium plastic which was a bit 'in your face' but nicely done all the same.
All the switches had a quality feel to them although the markings for the heating controls were a bit confusing. Getting a comfortable driving position was easy thanks to a multi adjustable drivers seat which could be lowered or raised, however the lumber support in the drivers seat was broken.
Overall the interior is a comfortable place to be but leg room in the back of the car was less than I would have expected for a car of its size. I own a smaller car with loads more leg room in the rear. My other criticism of the interior is the lack of space for odds & ends, yes the Astra does have four decent sized door pockets & a glove box but there is little else. A small rubber lined trinket tray in front of the gear lever is all you get & that is too small for iPods, mobile phones or even coins. Vauxhall supply one cup holder between the front seats but at least it's designed to hold a travel mug with a handle & there is a sunglasses holder on the roof. The boot looked vast with the option of folding down the rear seats to gain more space.
It came well equipped with a decent radio CD with iPod socket, air conditioning, electric front windows, central locking, electric mirrors & alloy wheels. The top mounted central display that provided fuel consumption figures, a stop watch, radio display & outside temperature looked out of place & cheap. The main reason was its orange display; it looked like a throw back form the 1980s & totally out of place on a modern car.
DRIVING THE ASTRA
Once started it is obvious that it's a diesel but it's a lot quieter than most, as you drive away you can't help notice how powerful the car is. Once you are on the open road, the acceleration, particularly when the turbo kicks in is astonishing. This is a car that will easily keep up with more powerful petrol driven cars even on steep hills.
The six speed gearbox is great for economy, in town it recorded 38.9 mpg but on the open road I managed to get it up to 48.4 mpg. At 70mph in sixth gear the rev counter recorded 2000rpm which contributes to those decent economy figures.
It's just a pity the gear change didn't match up to the engine, first to fourth is fine but from fifth to sixth you often end up engaging fourth. From sixth to fifth you end up in third, it is very vague & spoils the driving experience.
Power assisted steering felt perfect & not too light at speed, the brakes were powerful & progressive & the cars overall handling was safe & reassuring. At speed tyre noise dominated & drowned out most of the noise from the engine, the ride was a little choppy on rough surfaces but fine on the smoother motorways.
I was quite impressed with the diesel Astra & in particular the engine performance & economy. The car was well made & finished with criticism limited to the gear change & rear seat room. Would I recommend one? Yes, I probably would. Would I consider buying one? No, Vauxhall's reliability record is still behind the direct competition & that alone would still put me off, but the Astra is a decent car all the same.
If you live in the Scottish Western Isles your main link with the mainland is usually the car ferry. Very few islands have an airport or airstrip & no trains run to the islands, even the ones with bridges.
The main ferry operator is Caledonian MacBrayne (Cal Mac for short) who run a regular daily service to most places all year round & is the main lifeline for most island people.
Cal Mac operate to the following places: Outer Hebrides (Includes Harris & Lewis), Inner Hebrides (Includes Mull), Southern Hebrides (Includes Islay), Firth of Clyde (Includes Arran) & Skye, Rasay & Rum. They don't operate to the Orkney & Shetlands Islands in the far North of Scotland.
Some of the routes are subsidised by the Scottish Government, without the subsidies many islanders would find it impossible to travel due to the high costs.
I have used Cal Mac on three occasions in the past year to travel to Mull & on two occasions to Arran & I must say they have provided a decent service.
TIMETABLES & INFORMATION
There is no lack of information from Cal Mac; they provide comprehensive timetables for all routes or pocket sized timetables for singular routes for regular travellers. They can be obtained by post (Tel 01475 650350) for timetables & brochures, or pick them up at any ferry port operated by Cal Mac.
Alternatively look on their excellent web site www.calmac.co.uk or email them on firstname.lastname@example.org or even call them on 0800 066 5000 for information. Individual route information is also available by text.
Tickets can be booked over the phone (0800 066 5000) between 8am - 8pm weekdays & Saturday or on Sundays 9am - 7pm. You can purchase tickets at the ticket office at the ferry port or best of all on line at www.calmac.co.uk/reserve
The only concern with buying tickets at the ferry port is available space, if you leave it until the last minute you may not get the ferry time you actually want, so booking in advance is advised.
Island Hopper tickets are available for those who intend to visit more than one island over a short period of time such a two week holiday, they work out much cheaper.
The booking procedures are simple but it helps if you know the registration of the car you are using (unless a foot passenger) & if it's less than 5m in length & if you intend to tow a caravan or trailer.
The bigger the vehicle the more you will end up paying, my trip to Arran involved one car, two adult passengers & a dog.
For the 45 minute journey from Ardrossan to Brodick in the Isle of Arran I paid £32.00 each way for the car & £5.00 per passenger each way, the dog went free. Total charge was £84.00.
If you carry live stock such as sheep, goats or cows, you pay considerably less; even an individual animal is enough to qualify. Substitute your loved one for one sheep & enjoy a cheap trip to the islands!! Who said the conversation would be more interesting?!?!
If you book by phone or internet they will send the tickets to you, all they ask is that you turn up in time.
AT THE FERRY PORT
Ardrossan is where we headed on the south west coast of Scotland just north of Ayr. The port is quite small but facilities are quite good. A train service direct from Glasgow Central Station is available to the ferry port which is handy for foot passengers.
The ferry port also has a long term car park, if you wish to leave your car there & just cross as a foot passenger.
A ticket office with refreshments, seating & toilets is also available at Ardrossan.
If you're driving you enter an unmanned waiting area & choose your lane which is listed when you enter the car park. You are free to wander around whilst waiting or exercise the dog before boarding the ferry.
Ticket collectors will come round & check your Tickets & credentials before they allow you on board.
Although Cal Mac recommend you leave your dog in the car deck when sailing, they also allow dogs on board in designated areas. These are quite comfortable padded seating areas with wooden flooring close to the toilets & shop. You can if you want go on the deck area & sit with your dog but it gets a little cold & windy there even in the summer.
All they ask is if your dog leaves a mess, you must clean it up afterwards. I have to say that judging by some of the individuals on that ferry that day, the dogs are the least of the problems, they were at least better behaved than the passengers!
BOARDING THE FERRY
By foot you are allowed a maximum of 40kg of luggage free, you are not allowed to carry luggage on board by more than one trip up the gangway for counting regulations.
Obviously in the car it's different as the luggage remains in the vehicle. Unlike some other ferry carriers they don't ask you to drive through a security area before entering the ship.
Foot passengers get on board first, followed by vehicle passengers. Driving on board was easy thanks to pretty efficient & helpful staff, if you have a bicycle it needs to be taken on board with the cars.
Once parked, space is rather tight & it pays you to take a few minutes to work out where you are parked as you may come back to the car deck at a different point & be unable to find your car.
ON BOARD FACILITIES
Most journeys are quite short so you get the usual bar/restaurant area for relaxing. You can get snacks on board to eat where you want, a small shop selling souvenirs, snacks, papers & Arran cheese.
Toilets are clean; there is ample comfy seats, some with views & a TV which got very poor reception during our journey.
ARRIVING AT THE OTHER END
A message come over the loud speakers just before the ferry berths asking you to return to the car deck. Dog owners may need to ensure their dogs don't agitated when everyone makes a rush for the exits as dogs can easily get stood on in the rush. The ferry was evacuated very quickly & efficiently.
Coming back was just as simple as getting there; the ferry port at Brodick in the Isle of Arran is some what smaller but has all the basic facilities.
All the crossings were smooth, staff were very helpful & everything was done on time. Overall Cal Mac does a great job & I would not hesitate to recommend them or use them again.
My old Mitsubishi TV was on its last legs, bought during the last recession in the early 1990s the colour display got so dull it was like watching colour TV through sunglasses. It was time for a replacement & I rather fancied one of those slim large screen TVs, I thought at first there were all plasma TVs until I dug a little deeper.
PLASMA OR LCD?
There is a difference & without getting too technical here are the differences:
Plasma Basic facts.
Plasma TVs offer superior pictures; they give the viewer more detail in dark picture areas. Response time is the amount of time which is measured in milliseconds; that it takes for a pixel to go from inactive to active and back again. Plasma TVs are considerably better than LCD TVs in this department, so its picture quality generally suffers less.
Size matters, it's still cheaper for manufacturers to use Plasma for really big screen sizes such as 42" and above. LCDs are not so good with bigger screens, however plasma TVs aren't really viable at sizes smaller than 32".
Viewing Angles on a Plasma TV is more superior to a LCD screen, they can retain their quality up to around 160 degrees, despite optimistic figures for LCD, Plasma wins here.
Colour Saturation is where Plasma traditionally scores high here where as with LCD there's always some stray light which adds a greying influence to colours.
LCD basic facts.
LCD technology has been around longer than plasma; screen life for LCD TVs can be as much as twice as long as plasma, around 40 years at 4hrs a day versus 20 years at 4hrs of use a day (That's an awful lot of Eastenders & Emmerdale Farms!).
Plasma screens are susceptible to something called screen burn, which can leave a permanent shadow of a bright image behind the screen. LCD TVs don't suffer this problem.
LCD TVs are usually slimmer and lighter than plasma TVs, also LCD technology can generally deliver brighter pictures than plasma.
LCD TVs generally use less power than plasma TVs because they don't need to power hundreds of electrodes to stimulate phosphors & they won't get hounded by EU politicians who are considering banning 'power hungry' Plasma TVs.
The final decision for me was LCD & I rather took a fancy to Sony's Bravia 32" LCD TV a while ago when it first went on sale. However the thought of paying the best part of £700.00 wasn't so appealing.
With a TV war between big retailers before last Christmas the price of this TV had plummeted. I have a number of Sony products at home which have never given one single problem in all the time I have owned them. But Sony is very stingy when it comes to their warranties with a miserable one year cover on their products.
John Lewis (before Christmas) offered the TV for £469.00 with a free 5 year warranty; Amazon was £379.00 with a free 3 year warranty. Whilst Argos, Curry's, Sainsbury's & Makro priced it between £340.00 -£349.00 with the standard one year warranty, I decided on Amazon. It was ordered on the Thursday night with free delivery & arrived on the following Monday afternoon.
It took me longer to open the box than it did to set it up, once you get the TV out of the box you need to secure the central mounted swivel base to the TV. It's best done with two people, one to hold the TV whilst the other secures the base with the three supplied Phillips headed screws.
The rear of the TV has holes to allow the fitment of a wall mounted bracket if you wish to hang it on the wall, the bracket is extra. I don't fancy taking my Van Gough classic masterpiece off the wall & substitute it with a TV so I purchased a small glass table to hold the TV instead.
I plugged the aerial lead into the TV, plugged the Scart socket from my Sony DVD recorder & switched on.
First option is to select your language, I couldn't find Scottish so I had to choose the next best option...........English!! Then they ask which country you live in, I chose UK, & then the automatic tuning starts.
As the TV has a built in 'freeview' box it only took a couple of minutes to tune into around 88 channels. Once this was complete it then tunes into the 5 analogue channels, once this is complete your 'all set'.
Although there are some main controls on the top of the TV, they also supply a rather simple to use remote control unit. It has about 35 buttons on it but Sony has made it as simple as possible to operate.
You can select channels with three options, press the desired channel number, press up or down on the channel selector switch or use the index system which is very comprehensive.
Once you have chosen a channel you can make changes to colour contrast, brightness, screen width etc. One useful feature is being able to freeze the screen to get information while watching a smaller screen of the programme. It comes in handy if a telephone number or recipe comes on the screen, if you freeze it you can jot down the details but a smaller screen on the bottom left hand side continues the programme.
You can press another button to get info on the programme you are watching & there is a 'smart link' between the TV & my Sony DVD recorder which allows quick recording from the TV.
Most functions are controlled by the usual four arrows & a central OK button & as you would expect with Sony, the remote control unit has a quality feel about it.
The picture quality is excellent & the colours intense but if you view the TV from the side the colour fades slightly leaving you thinking everybody on the screen is badly needing a sun tan. In this situation you have no option but to swivel the TV slightly to correct it.
Sound quality is excellent & there is a theatre option if you want to upgrade.
Any of the adjustment functions such as adjusting colour, the order of the channel menu etc can mean scrolling through the index to find, you often have to refer to the instruction book to speed things up as it can be a bit tiresome.
My other major gripe is the programs on the TV!! I have spent all this money & have 88 channels but all I get is a load of repeats, reality TV or Eastenders!!
I would highly recommend this Sony 32" LCD TV but it does pay to shop around for the best deals.
There are many portable DVD players on the market but this compact little device from Toshiba takes a lot of beating. Compared to the competition it's not the cheapest on the market but it is one of the best. Its 9" screen may look small but it is of great quality & handles all movies I have watched on it without any compromises.
The top mounted DVD lid is hinged from the rear making loading & unloading discs very easy. A simple on/off switch is situated on the left hand side with the volume control on the opposite side along with two headphone sockets, AV in/out & the main power lead socket. All other controls are to the right of the lid, these include the usual ones for skipping scenes/tracks, menu, mode, set-up etc.
The controls take more pressure to operate than I would have expected & I feel that the control buttons for fast forward / rewind are too sensitive. It has played every format of disc I have inserted into it, including home recordings on -R, +R, -RW & +RW.
Without the headphones connected, sound from the standard speakers is poor but once the headphones are connected the sound quality is rather good. As most of these machines are used with headphones, it is unlikely to be a problem. The battery that is supplied with the player looks like an after thought & sticks out from the rear of the machine, but battery life is good & most feature films can be watched without the battery letting you down.
On a recent train journey I had three hours of viewing before the battery went flat. You do get an on screen warning about low battery charge & have only about two minutes left before viewing expires.
The DVD player comes with a remote control unit which is seldom used but nice to have all the same & an instruction manual almost as big as the player!
Over a period of time the player does generate considerable heat & if it rests on your lap like a computer lap top it will feel uncomfortable after less than an hour. The electrical lead supplied is of ample length, construction of the player is good, although light weight, it does have a quality feel about it, just as you would expect from Toshiba.
It was purchased in late 2006 & two years later the part of the lead was replaced as part of a safety recall at no cost to me.
I bought my player on line as none of the high street stores stocked it; this DVD player has proved faultless & comes highly recommended