Let Battle Commence

After several years with only cosmetic changes, both SEAT and Volkswagen are updating their small segment models …

In recent weeks, Ford have revealed their new Fiesta model which is a welcome modification of the outgoing car. There is certainly much to admire about this updated model even if the styling continues to be a little on the quirky side. Road handling is excellent and there have been vast improvements to the interior trim but despite British motoring journalists lauding this car in contrast to much of Europe, it still suffers from the use of cheap plastics inside and will depreciate more than many of its direct competitors. Queue the all-new SEAT Ibiza and the soon to be launched Volkswagen Polo, the latter of which will set the benchmark yet again for the small hatchback.

There is little doubt that a replacement for the Ibiza was long overdue. In line with many manufacturers nowadays, the model is effectively a scaled down version of the bigger Leon but that is no bad thing given the sales success of the latter car. The new Ibiza is a handsome car with a grown-up attitude, and is sufficiently light and agile to engage with the driver. The car is built on the MQB-A0 platform which means that it offers considerably more space than its predecessor being 87mm wider and having a 95mm longer wheelbase. Boot space has increased from 292 to 355 litres.

The car clearly identifies as a member of the SEAT family with its triangular headlamp units and is generally pleasing to the eye, exuding poise and precision. For the first time, the Ibiza will come with the new 1.0 litre TSi turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine in either 94PS or 113PS guise. This is ideal for city driving and general cruising coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox but if regularly fully loaded, then the new 1.5 litre EVO 148PS engine may be a better bet. Compared with the outgoing model, this new Ibiza offers a refined, satisfying driver experience.

In line with competitors, technology abounds, albeit subtly hidden behind a sharp 8 inch touchscreen which is available on most models. This controls most functions including navigation, Apple, Android and Mirror Link, as well as media and vehicle data. There are numerous convenience and safety options available including adaptive cruise control, a seven-speed automatic DSG gearbox with some engines and cameras mounted around the car to assist with parking. Not everything is perfect though … the interior still boasts some cheaper, hard finishes especially on the doors and at the top of the dashboard. However, overall the new SEAT Ibiza is an impressive car with a willing chassis, excellent technology and decent refinement.

The Ibiza will need to impress as waiting in the wings is the all-new Polo from sister company Volkswagen. The Polo, which will officially go on sale in the UK in October 2017, shares the same platform as the SEAT and comes with a considerable growth in size and a more mature design. The car is 81mm longer than the old model, has an increased wheelbase of 94mm, is 69mm wider and boot capacity rises from 280 to 351 litres. This makes the Polo larger than the Mark IV Golf from the late nineties, bar its length!

The design of the Polo certainly mimics that of the very successful VW Golf, following what is now a trend amongst many manufacturers. Where it differs is the increased options of customisation, another development in this model segment. Buyers will be able to choose from 13 different dashboard colour inserts to either match body colour or provide a complete contrast. Additionally, there will be 14 exterior paint finishes, 12 wheel designs, 11 seat fabrics and two styles of interior trim. Other options will include digital dial clusters to replace the conventional instruments, blindspot monitors, adaptive cruise control and rear traffic alert. Touchscreen infotainment will be standard on all models with screen size varying from 6.5 to 8 inches depending upon model specification.

At launch, it is believed the car will come with a choice of five petrol and two diesel units, with diesel losing popularity due to emissions data. The two non-turbo 1.0 litre petrol MPi engines come in 64PS or 74PS guise and are really only best suited for city driving and local journeys. The other three petrol options are the same as those offered in the Ibiza, and the 1.6 litre diesel will come in either 79PS or 94PS form. In addition to these engines, a 197PS turbocharged petrol engine will be exclusively available in the Polo GTi which will launched at the same time as the ordinary model. From information to hand, it certainly looks as though the Polo has again set the benchmark for this model segment as the new model is basically a scaled-down Golf offering all the attributes of that car in a more youthful package.

Prices for a mid specification Ibiza with a 1.0 TSi engine will set you back about €16400 (£14600) at the time of writing. Prices for the new Polo have not yet been published but expect to pay about €1120 (£1000) more for a similarly specified vehicle given its premium quality and image. The forthcoming replacement Audi A1 will share this new MQB-A0 modular platform as will the new Škoda Fabia in due course.

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Škoda Wins Once Again

There can be little doubt that SUV’s are becoming increasingly popular on European roads with a host of new models coming on to the market.

Last year, Škoda launched the first of a new generation of SUV called the Kodiaq. This has been admired by motoring journalists for its space, practicality, value and no-nonsense approach to motoring. It is the second SUV in the Škoda model line-up, as the manufacturer has been producing the Yeti for over eight years. The Yeti has stood out from competitors for its rather quirky, rugged, Tonka-toy looks, but offering more space and perceived value than rivals. However, after a facelift four years ago, the model is being replaced in late 2017 and will no longer bear the Yeti name. Queue the Karoq …

This new model aligns itself with its larger sibling, the Kodiaq, and signals the latest design approach by Škoda. The SUV will be both longer and wider than the vehicle it replaces, and also have a more conventional appearance that may disappoint some diehard Yeti fans. Its length is increased by 160mm to 4382mm and its width by 48mm. To give the vehicle a rugged look, lower bumpers and side panels are clad in black plastic. This will, of course, help protect body panels should one decide to take the vehicle off-road! Mechanically, the vehicle will feature current TSi petrol and TDi diesel engines from the current VW Group stable and some models will offer the option of 4-wheel drive. According to the motoring press, the Karoq appears to suffer from less body roll than the Yeti and is surefooted with responsive steering, and benefits from a 58mm longer wheelbase.

Interior accommodation is first class as has come to be expected from the latest range of Škoda models. There will be the usual ‘Simply Clever’ features including practical door bins and other useful storage places. Rear head and legroom are not compromised despite the sloping roof line, and as an option, buyers can specify a VarioFlex rear seating arrangement whereby all three rear seats are separate. These can be configured individually and the middle seat removed completely to enable the outer seats to slide inwards by 150mm to increase shoulder room. Boot capacity with a standard rear seat configuration is an impressive 521 litres, increasing to 1630 litres with the 60:40 seats folded. With the VarioFlex system, basic space ranges from 479 to 588 litres, with a total 1810 litres with all the rear seats removed.

A 9.2 inch high resolution touchscreen infotainment system dominates the dashboard and comes with gesture control meaning that one can navigate menus with a wave of the hand. A 12.3 inch full digital instrument display will be offered which is similar to those available on some VW and Audi models, but will be customised for the Škoda brand. Of course, this display won’t be a standard offering, but one of many fairly costly options. Besides the current 1.6 and 2.0 TDi diesel engines in different power outputs, the Karoq will be offered with the relatively new 113PS 1.0-litre three-cylinder or a completely new 148PS 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which has just launched in the facelifted VW Golf. This 1.5-litre petrol engine is equipped with Active Cylinder Technology that shuts down two of the four cylinders at low speed and aids overall fuel consumption.

The Karoq will offer excellent passenger and luggage space with a simple, clean interior layout that will appeal to many buyers. Whilst it has to exceed the expectations of the Yeti within a more mainstream package, it has the pedigree to do so given advances in technology, design and practicality. Prices are still to be confirmed but it’s unlikely that Škoda will want to deviate far from the Yeti’s current starting price of £17700 (€20200). This model has every chance of becoming a best-seller at the expense of competitors’ offerings.

Finally, some readers may be asking the question: where have I seen the Karoq before? Technically, you haven’t although it does share the same platform and many body panels with its sister car, the highly-acclaimed SEAT Ateca, as shown above. In a time of rising development costs and the necessity to adopt economies of scale, it was to be expected that certain models would bear close resemblance to each other. However, each model has sufficient design and styling tweaks to differentiate them as well as completely different interiors meaning there is still real choice for the consumer. Just as Škoda is sharing the SEAT Ateca body, the same will apply when SEAT introduces a larger SUV akin to the Kodiaq!

What A Mess

The recent General Election in the UK has created an even bigger political mess …

The unadulterated arrogance and pigheadedness of Prime Minister Theresa May was the sole reason for her calling an election as she wanted to increase her parliamentary majority in order to achieve her ambitions regarding the UK withdrawal from the European Union.

Unfortunately for Mrs May, things did not go according to plan. There was a major upsurge in the younger vote, the vast majority supporting the opposition Labour Party, with the end result being a hung parliament. Rather than increase her majority, Mrs May lost seats and is now clinging on to power by her fingertips. Whilst her party holds the greatest number of parliamentary seats, the number is critically low meaning that key policies could be voted down if members of her own party rebel. In order to try and alleviate this, the Prime Minister is trying to negotiate a pact with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, but even if this debatable unconstitutional alliance goes ahead, her government could still face defeat on key measures.

Many aspects of the Conservative Party election manifesto have been abandoned. Whilst most of these were highly controversial, it illustrates that the government has already made major U-turns on policy and, therefore, cannot be trusted. The main focus of the government will now be on Brexit, the name given to the country’s withdrawal from the EU. Even within her own ranks, Mrs May is facing opposition to her dictatorial policies and rumours abound that there could be another leadership contest before too long. Sadly, most potential candidates would likely be even worse than the current incumbent, but inevitably any change will rock the party and almost certainly lead to yet another general election way prior to the projected end of this government in 2022.

It is extremely ironic that throughout the election campaign, Mrs May promised the electorate a ‘strong and stable’ government. In fact, she quoted the phrase so many times that she appeared more like an automaton than a human being. Needless to say, the government is anything but strong or stable, and more closely resembles a weak and wobbly administration drifting in an ocean without rudders. Whilst Brexit talks have only just begun with the EU Parliament, it’s too early to project what the final outcome will be, although it’s difficult to imagine that Mrs May will get all her own way.

There are interesting, albeit worrying, times ahead, both for people living within the United Kingdom and its citizens living in other EU member staes.

D-Day Approaches

In just one week’s time, the people of the United Kingdom will be voting for a new government for the second time in two years.

Despite Prime Minister Theresa May repeatedly stating that there would be no snap general election prior to 2020, she made one of many dramatic U-turns by announcing such an event in late April 2017. The apparent reasoning behind this decision is that she wants a clear mandate to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. As most people have long realised, the voting decision to leave the EU was based on countless lies and ongoing deceit, and following the disastrous referendum result, many people now realise that they were duped into voting against continued membership.

Sadly, in the year since the referendum, lies have continued to manifest themselves at an alarming rate. Whilst it is almost unanimously regarded that politicians, by definition, are liars, the country has been governed by a dictator in the making who is simply on a power trip. The Prime Minister’s reactions to questions put to her are bouts of inane laughter, grimaces or platitudinous responses and her constant message of a ‘strong and stable’ government has become farcical. Her overall demeanour suggests she lacks any self awareness or in-depth knowledge of what being a PM demands. Just look at her recent political track record.

Despite May’s claim that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ she was a committed supporter of staying in the EU but quickly jumped ships in favour of Brexit in order to curry favour in her fight to become leader of the Conservative party and, therefore, Prime Minister. She determinedly refuses to listen to the advice of experts and on a one-person crusade, has decided that Britain will exit both the single trading market and customs union. Financial experts have continually highlighted the catastrophic consequences of such action and the possible long-term effects on the union of the United Kingdom. She has total inadequates holding ministerial positions in the areas that will basically determine the effects of Brexit and anyone doubting her beliefs is cast aside and relegated to the back benches. 

Civil servants are living in fear of their jobs should they dare to point out the error of her decisions and the democracy of Parliament has been brought into doubt, especially when the House of Lords overturned a key proposal relating to Brexit. Nearly a year after the referendum, the electorate are no nearer understanding the implications of the decision but she doesn’t see this is a problem. Most people have little understanding of the main issues, no clarity on what the UK is aiming to achieve in the negotiations, and no reassurance for beleaguered businesses. The announcement of what is a totally unnecessary election simply demonstrates her complete insecurity and, if recent polls are to be believed, could be her undoing. Her campaign has been all about her and what she wants for the country, with few other party members making even scant appearances. She has vetoed a party leaders’ debate on television, sending the equally obnoxious Amber Rudd in her place, on the grounds that she wants to meet the electorate at grass roots level. This has turned out to be farcical as most media events have been attended by a mere handful of carefully selected people, and on occasions, press have been excluded from attending.

As with all the political parties, the launch of their election manifesto only happens about two weeks prior to voting day. Inevitably, this means that most suggested policies will go unnoticed until it’s far too late to question them. However, May has already announced her desire to reinstate the hunting of foxes by hounds which is generally against the wishes of her supporters and has had to climb down on a so-called dementia tax. The woman is simply on an ego trip, lacking personality, charisma, diplomacy and knowledge, and has reached a nadir whereby she is launching personal attacks on her main opponent based upon hearsay from decades ago.

At the start of the electoral campaign, the extremely arrogant May was riding high with expectations of a greatly increased majority. Her relationship with our European partners and neighbours is at an all-time low with leaders embarrassed and annoyed by her stance, attitude and ignorance. Recent polls are suggesting that her popularity is now on the wane and that projected increased majority may dwindle to a few seats, or even better, become extinct. In just over a week’s time, the UK could be facing political turmoil once again, but in my opinion, anything is better than another 5 years under a dictator. Given her total ineptitude to answer questions without cackling first, and her strength and stability now resembling weakness and wobbly, it’s hardly surprising that May has become one of the most ridiculed PMs in many decades. It will be interesting to see how her constituents vote seeing as they were very much in favour of remaining in Europe, and May has always said that she listens to her electorate!

El Pimpi

During a recent visit to the city of Málaga on the Costa del Sol, I discovered this unusual and very popular bodega …

El Pimpi is a bar situated in the heart of the old town in close proximity to the Roman Amphitheatre. Literally translated as ‘the pimp’, the bodega was established in 1971 but is housed in buildings dating back to the 18th century. The ‘Pimpi’ was a local Málaga character who used to help the crews and passengers from ships that docked in the city’s port. Collectively, the “Pimpi’ soon became the first Málaga tour guides, becoming known for their service and good humour. The bar has one of the longest pedigrees of any wine bar in Málaga and became best known for its range of tapas due to regular poetry recitals by Gloria Fuerte.

The bar occupies several small rooms, each with its own theme. Décor is inspired by images of flamenco dancing and bullfighting, two symbols of Spain. The Barrel Hall is one of the most notable rooms in which famous names from flamenco, film, music, politics and other backgrounds have signed their names on wine barrels. Apparently, the actor and director, Antonio Banderas, whose home is in Málaga, filmed part of Summer Rain in the El Pimpi bar, and Juan Antonio Bardem used the bar as the setting for The Young Picasso. The bar continues to be a popular rendezvous for famous faces, locals and visitors alike where they can enjoy food, local wines, the traditions and culture of southern Spain, all set in a friendly, authentic atmosphere.

The evening I was in Málaga was Noche en Blanco (white night) or Nuit Blanche in French. It is an annual all-night or night time arts festival which will usually have museums, art galleries, monuments and other cultural institutions open free of charge. In addition, there will be open air performances of music, dance and art to captivate the attention of the public. The concept originated in St Petersburg with Paris following soon after, and since then the idea has spread globally across several continents. As one can imagine, the city was crowded with people and in order to get both food and drink in El Pimpi, one had to join a very lengthy queue! Sadly, owing to time constraints, the visit to the bar could only comprise a view of the rooms and soaking up the atmosphere before reluctantly moving to another, much quieter, drinking establishment.

This post celebrates eight years of my WordPress blog!

 

 

A Society In Conflict

It is now over ten months since voters in the United Kingdom elected, by a very small majority, to exit the European Union.

It is said that a week is a long time in politics, so ten months must surely be an eternity. Indeed, for UK citizens residing in other member states of the EU, the last ten months has been a period of great uncertainty regarding their future rights and benefits, and at the time of writing, nothing has changed. After the fiasco over the resignation of former Prime Minister David Cameron, the country has been led by Theresa May, a woman who claims to follow Christian principles yet is showing scant regard for the welfare of the poorer in society and the hundreds of thousands of her citizens living in other European countries.

The PM steadfastly repeated that there would be no snap election and that parliament would run its course under the Fixed Term Act. Furthermore, the government promised that voting rights would be reinstated to UK citizens who have been living abroad for over fifteen years and are currently excluded from a vote, prior to the next election. So what does the PM do? She promptly goes against her word and calls a snap election for 8 June 2017 and those without voting rights will continue to be left in the wilderness. It has become quite apparent over the last eight months of her reign that Prime Minister May cannot be trusted in anything she says or does. She claims that the election is needed to give her a stronger mandate for negotiation of the withdrawal terms from the EU and repeatedly says that Britain needs a strong and stable government. Whilst there are countless members of the ruling Conservative Party who oppose Brexit at any cost, they are frightened to step out of line and support their leader in her misguided decisions. May states that she wants to listen to the electorate and is a committed constituency MP so it’s ironic that she is totally disregarding the wishes of her own constituency where some 94% of voters wanted the UK to remain in the EU. Although she doesn’t broadcast the fact, May was also an advocate of EU membership, but her rise to power has seen her become little more than a dictator and society is becoming ever more divided by wealth and the lack of it. Irrespective of people’s wishes, she has already decided the direction in which she is taking the country.

The UK is anything but strong and stable, with huge economic and social problems, many of which have amassed during the last seven years of Conservative administration. Just as in the EU referendum campaign, statistics have been manipulated to cover the truth, and employment figures are a prime example. Whilst banners and the Tory press may proclaim some of the lowest unemployment figures in decades, the reality is that thousands of people are only in part-time work or engaged on zero hours contracts with low wages. The National Health Service (NHS), once the envy of the world, is constantly being reinvented and employing bureaucrats on obscene salaries, yet the stark reality is one of diminishing nursing staff, a reduction in beds, excessive waiting times which often lead to premature death, and very low morale. Apparently there is no money for nurses who have to endure minimum wage increases, yet unnecessary tiered management can be paid six figure sums simply to asset strip and prepare for privatisation via the back door. The private sector has long been the goal of the Tories … under Margaret Thatcher, the country witnessed the privatisation of all the utility companies, telecommunications and the rail network, and one only has to subscribe to these to witness poor service and very high costs. In fact, many of the utility and rail companies are owned by European giants, either private or government-controlled, who rake in the profits that, otherwise, would be reinvested in the respective businesses.

Following the vote for Brexit, the country has become more socially divided. There have been many reports of racism directed towards fellow Europeans, and citizens of other EU countries living in the UK now also fear for their long-term future. The government has already given directives for some to leave the country, resulting in the breaking up of families and potentially denying children of a parent. More and more people are having to rely upon food banks to make ends meet, violence is on the increase in some of the largest cities, and the poor especially are becoming more vulnerable. Our Christian Prime Minister has made little or no comment about the social fragmentation of her country but dogmatically reiterates the need for a strong and stable government. What about a strong and stable society?

Although achieving a small majority vote from those who voted, Brexit only represents some 34% of the UK electorate. Because of the aforementioned ban on British citizens across Europe being able to vote in EU referendum owing to living overseas for more than 15 years, three million people were denied their democratic right to vote on their own future. This is ironic given that they some of the most likely to be adversely affected by the outcome. Once again, these three million will be silenced in the upcoming General Election. No amount of MPs and a larger House of Commons majority will make the slightest difference to the eventual terms of Brexit as these will be agreed by governments and not individuals. Therefore, it could be construed that her arguments for this election are futile to say the least and no matter what the outcome, May will still have to negotiate with the 27 remaining EU member states.

Sadly, not all British overseas residents voted to remain in the EU. For some inexplicable reason, especially those residing in Spain, they do not regard Spain as Europe and think they have special status and rights to live here. By and large, it is the more uneducated members of society and those with more money than sense who supported the Brexit cause although there were many who were simply influenced by lie upon lie that life would be better outside the Union. People would do well to remember that rarely is the grass greener …

Of course, standing by a referendum that bamboozled, deceived and lied to the electorate is another matter entirely. Regardless of the result, any PM worth his or her salt would have spoken to the nation explaining reasons for its annulment and then laying out the full benefits and disadvantages for all to see. There would be no visible campaigning allowed and people would simply be given time to digest the facts before casting their vote. As things stand, the United Kingdom may well find itself isolated in what is becoming a very violent and turbulent world, and at least a generation have been denied unrestricted movement and career opportunities.

It just remains to be seen what the final outcome of Brexit will be once May assembles her strong and stable government. One thing is certain … she will not be acting in the interests of the majority irrespective of the election result as figures now reveal that more British people are supportive of EU membership than not since the referendum campaign lies emerged.

Top Of The Pops

This isn’t a reference to the latest trends in popular music but a look at the top-selling cars in Europe and UK colour trends in 2016 …

According to Autocar® a leading UK motoring magazine, only fourteen different models of car dominated the number one selling position in twenty-eight European countries. Furthermore, fourteen of those top positions were occupied by VW Group cars which comes as little surprise given their overall reliability and relatively conservative styling that doesn’t date as quickly as some manufacturer offerings.

Top of the popularity list is the Volkswagen Golf. This model was the preferred choice of new car buyers in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Of these countries, only Germany and Sweden boast mainstream car manufacturers but, interestingly, Germans support their home industry whilst the Swedes relegate their native Volvo into second, third and fourth places. Even then, the combined Volvo sales still fell short of Golf purchases by nearly 5000 vehicles.

Unsurprisingly, given its space, practicality and value, the Škoda Octavia triumphed in its home market of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Poland and Switzerland. In the Czech Republic, buyers are very supportive of their own product as the Škoda Fabia took second place in the sales chart and half of all the country’s top-sellers are Škoda models. The Fabia also claimed second place in Poland making that country a lucrative market for the Czech manufacturer.

The Nissan Qashqai sealed first place in the tiny car market of Croatia and narrowly beat the Octavia to second place in the equally small market of Latvia. Renault claimed top spot in their home market of France with the Clio, which also was the favoured purchase in Portugal, a country that has an affinity towards small French cars. Other European markets share a variety of different models, none of which have dominance. Denmark car buyers favoured the Peugeot 208 whilst the uninspiring Toyota Yaris was top of the pops in Greece. Buyers in Hungary opted for the Suzuki Vitara which may be because it’s manufactured there but the Octavia was in a respectable second place. A strange choice of buyers in Ireland was the Hyundai Tucson, pushing the Golf into second place.

Fiat dominated sales in their home market of Italy with the Panda. With their twisty and often congested roads, it’s not surprising that an economical small car was first choice. The Fiat 500 was most popular in Lithuania where the Nissan Qashqai reached second place. The Fiat 500L took first place in the small car market of Serbia with the Octavia again coming second. Another country supporting their home market was Romania with the Dacia Logan and Duster in first and second places respectively. The Dacia is very much a budget product and is the Romanian arm of Renault. Prices are kept low by using discarded platforms and engines from earlier Renault models and benefiting from low manufacturing costs. The downside to these models is driving vehicles which are some ten years behind the times!

The final three best sellers are the Škoda Fabia which triumphed in Slovakia although the Octavia wasn’t far behind. Sales in Spain were dominated by the home-built SEAT Leon with their Ibiza in a close second place. Bringing up the rear is the United Kingdom where the Ford Fiesta was the number one choice. I’m sure there are people who think that the Fiesta is a British product but no Ford model is built in the country. It is most likely that Fiestas sold in the UK are manufactured in Portugal. The car is a strange choice given its odd styling and the fact that it depreciates at a higher rate than some comparable models from competitors.

Staying in the UK, an analysis was taken of the most popular colour choices for new cars. Monochrome colours are the most popular as white, black and grey take the top three spots. Of these colours, white dominates the charts with 20.51% of 2016 registrations. Blue remains the most popular primary colour and stood at fourth place with 15.38% of the market. Brown has fallen out of favour with demand down by 40.1% on 2015 sales. Somewhat strangely, beige has also dropped by 27.6%, possibly because buyers see it as an unexciting colour. Silver, which once dominated new car sales, found itself in sixth place in 2016, a drop of 7.5% on the previous year.

Of the top-selling ten cars in the UK in 2016, six were finished in black, two in white, and one each in grey and blue. Given the percentages shown above, it must be assumed that more of the less popular vehicles sold were finished in white!