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Chevrolet Spark Review

Written for and hosted by Imperial Car Supermarkets:

http://www.imperialcarsupermarkets.co.uk/blog/171/Chevrolet-Spark–Guest-Car-Review-by-Joe-from-Good-Shout-Media

Chevrolet Spark – Guest Car Review by Joe from Good Shout Media

Manual/Petrol
Two Wheel Drive
1,206cc Engine Size
56.50mpg (combined)
Tax £30 per year (Band C)

Spark Final

The Chevrolet Spark isn’t a car that would usually be on my radar. I’ve got a penchant for anything classic or convertible and the Spark isn’t either of those things… But landing at the airport in Iceland and being given the keys to a bright red Chevrolet Spark changed everything.

Chevrolet Sparks in Iceland

Iceland is an amazing country. It has volcanoes, and beaches, and mountains, and great long flat roads and do you know what? Our Chevrolet Spark handled it all wonderfully. During our stay we travelled hundreds of miles looking for geysers and waterfalls and hot springs and great views, and I didn’t once get bored of the little Spark.

Two huge Chevrolets and one tiny volcano

The 1.2 engine is plenty nippy enough for popping around town, yet didn’t feel lacking when out on the open road. We had two Chevrolet Sparks between our group of seven people; and being hire cars, both were pushed to the limit!

Plenty of load space out in the wilds

We drove the little cars up mountains, across beaches, on road, off road… You name it and we attempted it in the Chevrolet Spark. In a week of abuse from excited Iceland explorers, not a single thing broke on either of the cars. No one complained about being uncomfortable, and the stereo and bluetooth capability made life easy.

Two huge Chevrolets and one tiny volcano

Now that I’m back in England, would I buy a used Chevrolet Spark?

Absolutely! These tiny little cars are the perfect city transport, they’re fun to drive, cheap to run and great to look at.

Imperial Car Supermarkets always have a range of used Chevrolet Sparks to choose from, starting from as little as £5150…

Although a used Chevrolet Spark from Imperial Car Supermarkets won’t come with volcanic ash and amazing views as standard, you’ll have to add those yourself.

The Chevrolet Spark in a very volcanic landscape

Your dream Porsche is actually a Porsche

Not an Audi, as mentioned previously.

The evening started pleasantly enough, we took the TT over to Stourport, ambled around, ate chips, strolled by the river. Standard stuff. Luckily my passenger enjoyed the heavy use of the loud pedal so the journey back was spritely…

At a set of traffic lights on the journey home, there it was…

The road stretched ahead of us as we sat and watched vehicles join us from the left, waiting our turn to continue onward. Sneaking through the lights at the last moment, we saw it. The lights went green for us and naturally we gave chase. The TT caught up and the four rings of the Audi badge almost kissed the Turbo insignia below the spoiler of the 2007 911. Dark blue, with dark wheels, we both floored it up the hill to the roundabout; he took the right hand lane and us the left, cheekily accelerating around him on the outside as we joined the dual carriageway. We hadn’t intended to overtake, we’d expected him to turn right towards the motorway, but at the last moment he snuck in behind us, following us down the dual carriageway.

With the TT now ahead, the 911’s headlights filled the rear view mirror – he must have been a hairs breadth from our license plate. We politely moved into the left hand lane, as if some imaginary race steward was frantically waving a blue flag in our direction. The Porsche pulled alongside to overtake and at that moment the planets aligned.

The traffic lights ahead turned red.

Both cars rolled to a stop, staring at a full half mile of uphill, empty dual carriageway.

Pulse racing from the TT’s cheeky, unintentional overtaking manouvre at the roundabout; I hit the switch and lowered the electric window. Everything happened in slow motion. I looked over at the Porsche driver with the biggest grin on my face, and he looked back at me, beaming in agreement. There was no malice between us, no aggression, no disrespect – just a love for the vehicles in which we sat and a joyful acknowledgement of the situation that was unfolding.

We both knew what was about to happen.

We both knew it was ON.

The lights went Orange, and then Green…

The 911 paused for a slit second and I let the clutch out as fast as I dare whilst nailing the throttle – the TT launched, all four wheels clamouring for grip as we bounced off the rev limiter through first and second… The noise from both vehicles was incredible.

We hadn’t made it to third gear before the Porsche rocketed past us.

The roar of the boxer engine and the wail of its turbo filled the TT as the Porsche bellowed up the hill. With the TT still going through the gears at pace the Porsche was gone, at unbelievable velocity the taillights disappeared up the hill and across the roundabout. Despite our best efforts to use the cornering abilities of the TT, by the time we’d crossed the roundabout and hit the second straight of the dual carriageway the Porsche was long gone.

The 225bhp of the TT was no match for the 400bhp produced by the Porsche’s mighty 3.6 litre unit. It wasn’t a massacre, we put up a fight, but the TT was shown its place in the pecking order, given a good solid trouncing by its German cousin.

The TT was still accelerating in fifth gear when my thoughts turned to last weeks ‘Your dream Porsche is an Audi blog’. I turned to my passenger, (who hadn’t read the blog) laughed to myself, and explained the irony of the situation.

Everything had changed in less than a minute.

Your dream Porsche is an Audi until a Porsche comes along and reminds you that your dream Porsche is still a Porsche, for reasons that facts, figures and finance can’t explain.

Motoring is about passion, it’s an insatiable desire, its about design, engineering, and that little extra something… you can’t quantify the experience of nights like tonight, there is no star rating system to dictate how much a car will make your pulse race.

I’ve loved the TT, I’m seriously considering selling the Mondeo and jumping into Audi land.

But one day, sometime in future… it HAS to be a 911.

Written by Joe in June 2013

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Mercedes Vito Sport Review

This review was originally written for Wavelength Surf Magazine, December 2012:

Let me lay my cards on the table right at the offset – I don’t like vans. I’ve always thought they’re slow, heavy, thirsty, a pain to drive, a pain to park and ugly.

On the other hand I’m sick of ruining my cars because I surf, having to fold the seats up and down to switch between carrying people/surfboards, and now that modern vans come with leather seats, tinted windows and cruise control maybe it’s time for a change…

Can the latest incarnation of the Mercedes Vito Sport convert me back to van ownership with its car-like charm and surfboard friendly load bay…?

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Er, what is it? 

The Sport is essentially the non-builder version of the popular Mercedes Vito model. It comes fully equipped with plush carpets, electric everything, air conditioning, cruise control, tinted rear windows, Bluetooth hook up, high performance audio unit with auxiliary input and alloy wheels. Check out the website for the full specification list, but this van comes fully loaded with all the right toys.

The body comes in two choices, the Panel Van for privacy or the Dual Liner. The Dual Liner comes with twin sliding doors (featuring heavily tinted privacy glass) with two seats up front and three in the back. The seats can easily be removed for carrying larger loads (or sleeping!).

What’s it like to drive?

There’s a choice of two engines in the Vito Sport, the 116CDI with 163bhp or the more punchy 224bhp. Ours featured the 116CDI 163bhp, and at no point did it feel like we needed more power. The Vito Sport is rear wheel drive, and as surfers and surfboards tend to be featherweight cargo you can have some fun with spinning the rear wheels – which is amusing in gravel car parks but also lead to one interesting incident on a wet hairpin bend during a steep climb in North Cornwall.

The power delivery of the 116CDI is smooth; it doesn’t suffer from being too peaky like some Turbo Diesel engines and there is no lag – you can stamp your foot into the carpet safe in the knowledge that the van will shift. Although we only had surfers and boards inside the Vito Sport for the duration of our trip, the van returned a healthy 36.5mpg. It was driven in the usual ‘surf trip’ way, erattic and excited on the way there and slow and relaxed on the way back!

What’s it like to live with?

It drives in a very ‘car like’ manner, however the lack of rear visibility due to a windowless tailgate is a simple reminder that you’re driving a van. There are other perks such as electric windows and a good stereo; plus the handling is great and it’s easy to park. The interior is well equipped, comfortable for five adults and big enough to hold surfboards up to 6’3 ish diagonally laid flat in the load bay without any trouble. The rear tailgate works better on a surf van than dual opening rear doors despite the extra space required for parallel parking; when open wide it makes an excellent umbrella to change under during a downpour!

Overall we found this van a great compromise between the luxury comforts of a car and the all round practicality of a van.

During our time with the Vito Sport we did find one annoying feature – the handbrake. Anyone who’s driven an automatic Mercedes before will know that the handbrake is replaced by a footbrake mounted on the left side of the clutch, with a pull handle release placed at the lower right of the dashboard above the drivers right knee. The handbrake can’t be released gradually, you simply yank the lever and with a heavy ‘clunk’ the brake disengages. This system works fine in an automatic vehicle, where generally your foot is on the brake as the handbrake comes off… but our Vito Sport had a manual gear box!

We discovered how annoying this can be after we’d parked nose first, on a steep downhill, right in front of another vehicle on a wet North Cornwall road.

To get out of a spot like this, the driver has to place all his faith in his ability to find the bite point of the clutch and release the handbrake at the exact moment the wheels find traction. In the lightweight Vito Sport, only loaded with fiberglass surfboards and wetsuits, hill starts on wet Cornish roads took a bit of practice and a sometimes a lot of tyre smoke!

What’s it like for a surfer?

Overall, brilliant. It drives like a car, is economical, plenty fast enough, full of toys and as vans go; pretty good to look at. We’d like to try the 224bhp version but with light cargo and wet roads the 163bhp engine is more than adequate. There’s plenty of space for surfboards and the heaters are excellent, basically, it’s got everything the modern surfer needs and feels well thought out.

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Are there any alternatives?

There are plenty of vans on the market, so we’re not going to list them all here, and lets be honest – most of them are ugly.

The Vito Sport is specifically aimed at the action sports market, it’s main competitor is the Volkswagen T5, but aren’t you all bored of those by now?!

Mercedes Vito Sport Specification:

Engine: 2143cc Turbo Diesel (163bhp)

Transmission: 6 Speed Manual

Fuel Consumption: 37.7mpg (combined cycle)

CO2 emissions: 198g/km

Top speed: 117mph

Price From: £25,760

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Vauxhall VXR8 Review

This review was originally written for Wavelength Surf Magazine, July 2013:

Er, what is it?

The Vauxhall VXR8 is the British cousin of the Australian HSV Clubsport R8 Tourer. Put simply, it’s a practical estate car with a whopping great V8 engine. To the untrained eye at the beach it may look like just another sporty estate car, but there are aesthetic hints as to its awesome capability. The aggressive snouts on the bonnet, flared arches, 20 inch wheels, and four tailpipes are clues that give the game away – this is one serious piece of kit.

What’s it like to drive?

The comfortable leather bucket seats hold you in place whilst the huge steering wheel and generous pedals make the driver feel connected and in charge. The steering is perfectly balanced – firm and planted yet light enough to make parking a breeze. Around town the car is civilised and easy to drive, although the clunky gearbox can take getting used to.

Out on the open road the pace is blistering. The 429bhp 6.2 litre V8 engine feels like it’s never going to run out of power – it just keeps on pulling. The stated 0-60 time is 4.9 seconds, but it’s the acceleration from there on that’s mind blowing. This car just loves going fast. Keeping that power in check are four huge AP Racing disc brakes, the performance of which is almost as impressive as the engine itself. The combination of an engine that loves to go and a braking system that loves to stop is perfect for those ‘report says six foot but the wind is swinging round so we need to be fifteen miles away half an hour ago’ scenarios that most surfers will be familiar with. The VXR8 can capitalise on the smallest window of opportunity for overtaking slower traffic, just dropping a gear and stamping on the fun pedal unleashes a deep wail from the V8 as it rockets forward. Despite it’s size and weight the power isn’t intimidating, it may sound like seven hells but the advanced traction control system and incredible brakes make this a very enjoyable car to drive quickly.

good-shout-vauxhall-VXR8-Rolling

How does it sound?

Incredible. The 6.2 litre V8 starts with a grumble that would make any car nutter grin; it burbles and pulsates at idle in the most satisfying way. I’d rather listen to any engine than local Cornish radio but the VXR8 comes with a compilation of ear pleasing tones that’d rival Zane Lowe’s best late night set list.

What’s it like to live with?

The VXR8 is a very practical car. Although this Australian thoroughbred feels wide on tight Cornish lanes, physically it’s no harder to live with than any other large estate car. There are plenty of toys to keep you entertained in the cabin such as cruise control, zonal climate control, detailed race analytics, reversing camera – it’s got the lot.

In terms of fuel economy it’s very efficient. A 102bhp VW T5 can return 37.7mpg, so the VXR8 being 4 times more powerful should use 4 times more fuel. Driven sensibly the VXR8 can achieve over 20mpg, which makes it twice as economical as a diesel VW T5 when compared like for like. (Obviously this doesn’t quite make sense, but then nor does buying a VXR8 if fuel economy and the environment are a concern…)

good-shout-vauxhall-VXR8

What’s it like for a surfer?

With the gigantic load space the VXR8 will transport you and your surf buddies in comfort and at pace. The rear seats fold flat and split fold – the most important two features any surfer should look for in an estate car! If you’re determined to take four surfing friends on an epic adventure it can be fitted with solid roof racks. Despite the 20inch wheels and low skirts; ground clearance only becomes a problem in the most rutted of car parks.

good-shout-vauxhall-VXR8-surf

Are there any alternatives?

If you’re looking for a fast, V8 estate car that can transport the whole family and all your surfboards then the VXR8 represents good value:

Mercedes E63 AMG Estate, 549bhp V8, £75,535

Audi RS6 Avant, 560bhp V8, £76,985

What’s the verdict?

If you can stomach the fuel economy and want to stand out from the crowd then this is the wagon for you. That V8 howl will never get old, you’ll never have the problem of parking next to an identical vehicle in Polzeath car park on a Bank Holiday and Joel Parkinson drives one.

good-shout-vauxhall-VXR8-surf-polzeath-sunset

2013 Vauxhall VXR8 Tourer:

Engine: 6162cc V8 Petrol

Transmission: 6 Speed Manual

Fuel Consumption: 20.9mpg (combined cycle)

CO2 emissions: 324g/km

Top speed: 155mph (limited)

Price From: £49,500

Vauxhall Maloo Review

This review was originally written for Wavelength Surf Magazine, July 2012, and was subsequently picked up by Motor Happy:

http://www.motorhappy.co.uk/vauxhall-maloo-the-ultimate-surfers-vehicle/

c Emily Whelan Photography

c Emily Whelan Photography

Er, what is it? 

The Maloo is a sports pick up truck made by Vauxhall’s Australian cousin Holden. (You might have seen the Jack McKoy film ‘Free as a Dog’ in which Joel ‘Parko’ Parkinson is seen hooning around the Gold Coast in a Maloo) In Australia you can choose from a range of different engines, topped off by the one you see here – the HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) Maloo R8. Vauxhall has chosen to import around 30 of these 6.2litre, 425bhp V8 monsters for the UK market and kindly sent one down to us for Boardmasters weekend. I set out to discover if it really is the ultimate surfers vehicle.

The Maloo gets a lot of attention… From all ages!

The Maloo gets a lot of attention… From all ages!

What’s it like to drive?

Starting the engine releases a satisfying V8 burble, the low exhaust note grumbles in a very pleasant way as you wait for the traffic lights to change. Contrary to what you might expect, this car is no brute; it’s civilised and easy to drive. The steering wheel is huge, the gear box clunky but precise, the pedals large and the clutch light. Cruising through jam-packed Newquay town centre over Boardmasters weekend wasn’t as stressful as it used to be in the old ’65 Beetle. With all that power the traction control works overtime to stop the 20 inch wheels from spinning when you’re launching away from traffic lights. Which we definitely never did.

Out on the twisty tarmac it’s planted and confident, the tail feels loose but not as though the back end is going to swing around and smack you in the face at every roundabout. On the open road the power comes on smoothly as you build the revs – this cars acceleration doesn’t wallop you in the back of the head as you might expect, the power just keeps coming. As soon as a straight length of tarmac appears ahead of that long bonnet you can’t help but push your right foot through the floor; changing gear as late as you dare and enjoying that thunderous V8. The top speed is electronically limited to 155mph and manually limited by the roadworks around Bodmin.

goodshoutmedia-vauxhall-maloo-review4

What’s it like to live with?

This car is big. At over 5 metres long parking isn’t much fun, the best thing to do is slot it in at an angle and hope for sympathetic neighbours. It does have reversing sensors and a dash mounted reverse camera, which helps – rear visibility is hampered by the two huge shapely humps of the load cover. Being Boardmasters weekend and having a magazine deadline to work on, the Maloo spent quite a while bumbling around Newquay. Going to the post office, popping to the beach site, fetching things, buying more milk to make the Editor more coffee… At one point the dial was reading 14mpg. Out on the open road it did crawl up towards 21mpg but even with a car this cool it’s hard to justify that kind of fuel spend.

The Vauxhall Maloo causually blending in at Boardmasters Surf Festival

The Vauxhall Maloo causually blending in at Boardmasters Surf Festival

Because our test model was bright yellow, it wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. This car should come with a pair of dark sunglasses as standard – It attracts a lot of attention. People stop and gawp, point, or take photos. You can’t just stroll into your local Vauxhall dealer and leave with a Maloo, this vehicle is special order only. Statistically you’re more likely to spot a McLaren F1 on your street than a Maloo R8.

The ultra exclusive Vauxhall Maloo can't help posing on Porth beach, Newquay

The ultra exclusive Vauxhall Maloo can’t help posing on Porth beach, Newquay

Inside the cabin you’ve got full leather and every toy you could want in a £50,000 car; including a touch-screen display which relays all sorts of technical information. With huge sports seats and plush carpets it’s a comfortable place to sit, with more storage than you’d expect behind the seats in the cab. We would happily take the Maloo on a long distance jaunt down to the South of France, perhaps around the time of the Quiksilver Pro. (If you’re reading this, Vauxhall)

The Maloo is big… It ain't easy to park!

The Maloo is big… It ain’t easy to park!

What’s it like for a surfer?

It’s got two seats, enough space for plenty of surfboards and is fast as hell – It’s brilliant for a surfer. The best way to set this car up is to strap your board bag into the pick up bed and leave the zip open – that way when you arrive at the surf you just slide the board out of its ‘holder’ and hey presto, you’re away. Not only does this protect the board but prevents it from sliding around the pick up bed when you’re driving. (Did anyone else watch the opening shots of Matt Meola’s Innersection and wonder just how dinged his board was getting in the back of that truck?!) The bed is long enough for a 6’0 surfboard, and big enough to sleep in if you want to catch the first waves at a spot. The rear also has a hard locking cover, so there’s no risk of having things pinched from the back of it whilst you’re buying some last minute surf wax.

The Maloo swalows surfboards with ease

The Maloo swalows surfboards with ease

Loadspace in the Maloo is huge. This is a 6ft surfboard.

Loadspace in the Maloo is huge. This is a 6ft surfboard.

Is this the ultimate surfer’s vehicle?

To be brutally honest – No. You don’t need 6.2 litres and a V8 engine in the UK. You don’t need 425bhp. It’s just too big, too powerful, too much. On UK roads you’ll struggle to reach the potential of what the big V8 can do. Sure, it’s a huge amount of fun, and it makes a statement, but that’s all it is. This car is about being the biggest, baddest, most ridiculous vehicle on the road, if that’s what you want, then go for it.

The Vauxhall Maloo enjoys another normal day in the life of a Wavelength Surf Magazine writer

The Vauxhall Maloo enjoys another normal day in the life of a Wavelength Surf Magazine writer

Are there any alternatives?

Well, No. Not really. The Maloo doesn’t have any competitors in the UK. If you want a fast sports pick up truck (and you definitely do) then this is the only one.

For a surfer with a passion for cars it leaves a dilemma. I don’t want a van because I’m not a builder. I don’t want an estate car because I’ve got no kids. I don’t want a 4×4 because I don’t work on a farm. I want something cool and fast that’ll safely carry two surfboards. And this is where we finally get to a serious point… The sports pick up truck has never really made it onto the UK car buyers radar. So here’s a serious idea:

Why can’t a manufacturer launch a great looking, two wheel drive, two seat sports pick up truck, with a 2 litre turbo charged engine; 200bhp and a six foot load bay…? It’d have twice the economy and half the price tag of the Maloo, now THAT would be the ultimate surfers vehicle for European roads.

Until then I’m trying to work out which relative I need to bump off to get a £51,500 inheritance.

The Maloo and it's closest competition in the UK market

The Maloo and it’s closest competition in the UK market

Vauxhall Maloo R8:

Engine: 425bhp, 6.2-litre V8 normally aspirated petrol

Transmission: six-speed manual

Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 19mpg

CO2 emissions: 320g/km

Top speed: 155mph (artificially limited)

Acceleration (0-60 mph): 4.9 seconds

Price: £51,500

13mpg and £51,500 seems like a bargain on days like this

13mpg and £51,500 seems like a bargain on days like this

Audi TT Review

This review was originally written for Wavelength Surf Magazine, January 2013:

Overview:

Being such a huge fan of my everyday Mondeo TDCI Estate, my prediction was that after 10 days I’d hate the TT. I thought the size of it would annoy me, that not being able to get a surfboard in (or on) it would wind me up, and that I’d find the fuel economy tiresome and expensive. It would be too low, too harsh, too flashy.

I was completely wrong. Surfing hasn’t been an issue. In the whole time I’ve had the TT, there has only been one day worth getting wet for – I spent that day strapped to a computer in the office working to a deadline, after which I had to drive straight to Shepton Mallet to work at Relentless NASS festival. No time for an after work surf! I haven’t even thought about putting my board in the car, it’s been onshore and raining for weeks. If this were my long term vehicle, I’d invest in a set of locking roof racks which are available direct from Audi.

Surfing aside, the size of the car hasn’t bothered me. The TT is like a favourite jumper at the end of a long day. You sit low, the seats hug you, it’s a friendly car. The gear changes are incredible, solid, and yet sensual, it’s got a slight roar but nothing raucous. Being Four Wheel Drive, it sticks to the road like you wouldn’t believe (although Koaster suspects the owner of this TT went for cheap tyres…) and is just as happy at the redline as it is cruising at granddad speeds, which makes it a very pleasant car to live with. Although it sits low, if you’re careful it won’t ground out on speed bumps.

On the motorway, it’ll cruise at 44mpg, coming down to around 32mpg on the commute to work in the South West. Sure, if you can’t resist playing with the fun pedal, the figures will drop, but you can’t drive flat out everywhere.

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Negatives:

Not many, but the temperature and air flow controls are ridiculous, style over function. Too many clicks for not enough action! That and it needs cruise control, it’d make motorway driving more economical.

Positives:

What I’ll miss most, (aside from the excellent build quality) is the ‘pinned in your seat quick shift dash’ through 1st, 2nd and 3rd, and the ability to overtake anyone, anywhere. Most of all I’ll miss the sense of occasion. The TT is a great car to see in a car park! Anyone who calls this car a ‘hairdressers car’ clearly hasn’t driven the 225bhp version, it really is well worth considering as a second hand buy.

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Verdict:

The TT is a car I would buy, no question. The build quality, size, acceleration, comfort and style are all spot on. You can’t find much more out there for the same money in the second hand market. Although after two weeks, I have to admit I wanted a little more poke. Not much, but just a little more oomph. If it was my money, it’d have to be the 3.2 V6 – with cruise control!

One final confession – despite the weather, mine would be a roadster. The ability to drop the roof at any given moment is just too much to resist!

Useful Facts and Figures:

Engine Size: 1.8 Petrol (Turbo)
Power: 225bhp
Real World Economy: 34mpg

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