Thursday, May 24, 2012

SMMT Test Day 2012 at Millbrook Proving Ground - a flavour of what's on the way


THE slightly guttural cough that accompanies the bellow of Jaguar’s supercharged V8, fitted to the frantic XKR-S someone had foolishly lent me, was worth the trip alone.

The sun has been shining on the nation’s road testers today – literally, as temperatures soared into the high twenties – at this year’s SMMT Test Day. Even though it meant setting the alarm clock for a depressingly early 4am it’s always worth the journey to the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, partly because it’s an incredible automotive playground in any car, but also because it’s a chance to find out more about some of 2012’s most important new arrivals.

I’ve put no less than 20 different cars through their paces and there’ll be more on here and in The Champion over the next couple of weeks, but to whet your appetite I can offer you a few snippets of automotive enlightenment I’ve picked up:

  • The Jaguar XKR-S doesn’t need to have a supercharged 5.3 litre V8 pumping out 542bhp, but boy am I glad it does... 

  • The electric entrants are getting better each year – in 2010 I was, er, shocked by what I drove, in 2011 I found a car that I would’ve liked if it hadn’t been cripplingly expensive, but this year I’ve found two that I’d actually buy. With money and everything! 

  • I just couldn’t warm to one of this year’s most eagerly-awaited motors, no matter how hard I tried. Clue: it’s got three doors (or is it four?).

  • It was a choice of testing 20 cars or queuing, Alton Towers style, to try just one; Subaru’s BRZ, which attracted queues of salivating journalists throughout the day. I’ve no doubt it could be the driver’s hit of the decade but the Life On Cars treatment will have to wait until another day... 

  • will a review of Vauxhall’s loopy Maloo pick-up (pictured above, next to the rather fetching vintage Vauxhall) which broke down and got withdrawn from the event just minutes before I was due to have a go. What a rotten bit of luck! Chances are, though, it'll be an awful lot like the VXR8 saloon I tested at Millbrook last year.

  • The rebadged batch of Lancias that Chrysler’s taken into its showrooms are a bit of mixed bunch – but the good news is there’s an absolute gem among ‘em.
  • Nobody I spoke to agreed on their winner of the great city car battle of 2012: Fiat Panda vs Up/Citigo/Mii. I’ll let you know my verdict in the next few weeks.

  • It’s still possible to make a bad car, even in this day and age. I know, because I drove at least one today. 

  • Chevrolet really ought to make the Camaro in right-hand-drive – it’s a great car for cruising around Wild West Lancashire! 

With variety being the spice of life I was keen to make sure that I didn't just stick to the shiny supercars (tempting though it was), and try and test a broad variety of cars that are significant in one way or other this year. That's why the 19 cars I drove included a Fiat, two VWs, two Chryslers, two Jaguars, a Land Rover, a Suzuki, a SEAT, a Ssangyong, two Vauxhalls, a Renault, a MINI, a BMW, two Hyundais and a Chevrolet. 

I’ll keep you posted...

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