Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Smart Roadster-Coupe

Remember those little pedal cars that you may or may not have had as a small child? I certainly do, seeing as I spent about 1/3rd of my childhood on one. The pedal car in question wasn't actually mine. It used to belong to my cousin, and it didn't belong at my house either. My Grandmother kept it at her house in Napier, NZ, and whenever we went up there for a family holiday, I would literally spend hours on this little yellow car, screaming around the perimeter of my Nan's house, at what I believed to be huge speeds (but were probably closer to slow walking speeds) The car was very basic: It had a simple yellow steel frame, a pair of square hoops to put your feet into (the pedals), two tiny front wheels and two chunky back wheels (only one of which actually turned when you pedaled) This car was so basic, it actually had two little handles rather than a steering wheel.

Sadly, two things ended my joy of driving this car around the place. Firstly, as time went by, I became too tall to fit in the small seat. Secondly, because I loved to crash into pot-plants, pillars and sometimes my dad's car, the wheels eventually decided to fall off. And no bolts or screws could hold them on this time. The car now sits in my Nan's shed, (full of all the other bikes and scooters I've broken over the years) and one day I'll bring it out again, to remind myself of the fun I had with it.

There is one car, that also reminds me of the fun I had with my pedal car. The Smart Roadster. It may be seven years old now, but it still remains the ultimate car to have fun in. It has a tiny 700cc three cylinder engine, two seats and a great looking plastic body. Because the Smart is so light, 700cc is plenty to power this car along. The roof arrangement was brilliant too. You had a canvas electric roof which folded away in seconds, and two small roof rails which were stowed in the boot.

But this is where the only problem of the Roadster shows up. The boot may be the width and length of the car, but it was only 15cm deep. It could hold...air. But this is where the word 'Coupe' comes to the rescue. The Smart Roadster-Coupe has glass side windows and a sort of hatchback bootlid thing where the boot is, meaning you can carry actual objects. This makes the Roadster very practical. 

I would give anything to be able to shrink down in size, so that I can fit back into my old pedal car. I would also give anything to be able to fix the wheels back on. While I can't shrink or fix the wheels, I can do something very similar. I can buy a Smart Roadster Coupe. Although I will take care not to crash into pot plants or pillars.   

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mercedes E-Class Convertible

Yes, it's July, and Wellington just recorded a temperature of 2 degrees C last night, and even then it only got up to 8 degrees C by lunchtime the same day. This begs the question, what on Earth are we doing discussing cars that are strictly summer-only? Surely I should be reviewing the VW Phaeton, a car with central heating, rather than a car that would turn your face into an ice sculpture if you so much as opened the window fully.

Contrary to what you (Wellingtonians especially) may believe, July and August are the best months to start thinking about buying an open top car. The Winter solstice has packed it's bags and headed north, so the days are getting longer. Spring is on it's way (hopefully) and eventually Summer will be upon us. Convertible buying is like booking a plane ticket. You have to be in early to get the best options, otherwise they'll all be gone by summer. 

Luckily, there are many cars that the manufacturers have decided to take a hacksaw to. There are plenty of great BMWs, Peugeots, Audis and even Bugatti has decided to make a convertible version of their Veyron. But just where the money to purchase the latter is going to come from, is another dilemma entirely. Mercedes has launched an open top version of their very stylish E-class coupe. Almost identical to the hard top car, except without a roof of course.

But I myself would urge caution to those who have seen the photo at the bottom of the page and have already decided to place an order. You see, I went to the Mercedes website a few weeks ago, to check up on their latest offerings, and slap-bang on the first page of the international website, is a picture of an E-class convertible parked outside a nightclub, with the heading "Sex and the City 2" I'm so sorry (especially to fans of the film) but this just turns the E-class cabriolet into a car with such a tiny amount of class, that you would have to be a colossal idiot to buy one.

On the other end of the scale, however, if you enjoy posing in your current convertible, and you need a replacement, then go and buy one tomorrow. And that is another reason why the E-class has no style, elegance or taste. You could say that it's just a disco ball on wheels (especially with the number of chromed surfaces on the bodywork) Interestingly, the old Mercedes C63 AMG suffered from the same discoballitis, but it made up for that, with it's hugely exciting 6.2 litre V8 engine. But here, there's nothing to give the E-class convertible any style, elegance or excitement. It's just a car for posers.

The new BMW 3 series convertible is on it's way soon, but do you really want to look like you're off to the golf course all the time? I recommend the new Audi S5 cabriolet. This has a huge V8 engine, a beautifully crafted canvas roof, and because it's an Audi it has acres of style and elegance. The chances of this car being used to ferry drunks from one nightclub to the next, are nil. 

And that's why I would have the Audi. You can't really pose in this car because it's so quietly styled. People on Oriental Bay in Wellington won't look at you as you drive along with the top down. They won't see the S5 parked up on Lambton Quay and immediately think-'drug dealers car' The Audi is just so composed, and it handles well too, thanks to the Quattro four-wheel-drive system that the Mercedes doesn't have. 
So when you come around to deciding what open top car to buy, think of the classy Four Ringed logo, rather than the posing three-point star.  

  The car for Summer
The car for posers

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ariel Atom

Before we get to the car, let's look at what the car is named after, the atom. An atom is a very, very small thing. So small, that over 20 billion of the little things can fit across the width of a human hair. So the Atom car, is small then. Well, there's another trait to atoms which is the real reason behind the Atom's name. An atom contains electrons (or in the case of a Hydrogen atom, just one electron), which orbit the nucleus (centre) of the atom. The electron has virtually no mass, which makes it fast. So the Ariel Atom is small, like an atom, and contains a very high revving Honda engine, like an electron.

The Atom is practically a road legal go-kart, but with a hell of a lot more power. This go-kart certainly isn't powered by a Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine, like the ones I drove at my friend's birthday parties. The Atom has no doors and no roof. The headlights provide less light than an extinguished candle, and a toilet seat would be more kind to someone's backside than the bucket seats in the Atom.

We'll come to why the Atom is so under-furnished in a minute, but for now, let's look at the engine. It certainly isn't big, (it's only 2 litres) but it's also supercharged, to give up to 300 horsepower! So why are there no doors or no roof? The men in Somerset, England who build the Atom seem to be on a diet. This clearly rubs off on their cars. The Atom weighs in at 612 kgs. This gives it a power to weight ratio of 650 horsepower per ton. The Bugatti Veyron (fastest production car in the world, remember) has a power to weight ratio of 446 horsepower per ton.

If the car's engine has less to tug around, then it goes faster. This is why jockeys have to skip Christmas lunch. If they start to pile on the kilos, their horse has to pull more, and this could cost a win at the Grand National. I also forgot to mention that the Atom has no windscreen. So when driven, even at low speed, people will think that you have turned into a prune. So if you own an Ariel Atom, and want to drive fast, then watch out. Unless you want to become a product of 'Sunsweet' drive slow. (or wear goggles)