SMMT Test Day 2012: Speed dating, part one

Major Waffle New cars

Take 140 new cars. Add a number of closed roads and tracks. Throw in some free fuel and then sprinkle on some fine English weather. What have you got? The SMMT Test Day 2012.

If the fact that the SMMT invited me along last year was a surprise, the fact that they repeated the mistake for a second year was nothing short of a miracle. Arriving at the Millbrook Proving Ground and seeing 140 cars, each one with a set of keys in the ignition, you'll forgive me for feeling a little like a kid in a sweet shop.

I've nicknamed the day 'speed dating with cars' and you can read last year's report here. Here in 2012 I've attempted to sort the Mint Humbugs from the Lemon Bon Bons and the Werther's Originals from the Sherbet Dib Dabs.

Best rev counter of the day - VW up!

[caption id="attachment_7872" align="alignleft" width="300"]Rev counter - Volkswagen VW up! VW up!: small car, tiny rev counter[/caption]

This could have gone to the Citroën C1 with its pod-like approach, but for simply reminding me of my Citroën AX GT, the award has to go to the Volkswagen up!

It just sits there, to the left of the oversized speedo and yet it doesn't appear overawed by its larger stablemate. Instead it remains comfortable in its surroundings and at ease with its purpose in life. It's a cheeky little fella, much like the car it belongs to.

But more on that in a future blog.

Surprise of the day - Chrysler Delta 1.4 MultiAir

Preconceptions are a dangerous thing, especially when it comes to reviewing cars. It's easy to let other people's opinions cloud your judgement, with social media helping to ensure these opinions are difficult to ignore.

It would be fair to say that the Chrysler Delta has received a somewhat mixed reception in the UK. Much of the negativity surrounds the fact that it's simply a rebadged Lancia. In the UK and Ireland you buy the Chrysler, whereas the rest of Europe gets the Lancia. Fiat believes the Lancia brand is tarnished to such an extent that it would be more successful badged as a Chrysler. Make of this what you will, but the majority of petrolheads would much rather have the Lancia brand back in the UK. Heck, I even wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to Lancia in 2010.

I'll readily admit that the mere suggestion of Lancias being rebadged as Chryslers is enough to send me running back to the 1980s to reminisce about Beta Hi-Fis. But hey, must keep an open mind and all that. So curiosity got the better of me and I jumped behind the wheel of a gleaming white and black Delta SR 1.4 MultiAir.

[caption id="attachment_7874" align="alignright" width="300"]Chrysler Delta 1.4 MultiAir SR Italian style with a Chrysler badge[/caption]

First impressions are good. There's no denying that the Delta is an interesting looking car. Its styling will no doubt divide opinions, but it looks more Italian than American (sorry Chrysler) and it's certainly more adventurous than some of its closest rivals. When you're up against the likes of the Focus, Astra and Golf, you have to do something to grab people's attention. It's more striking than beautiful and it looks plain awkward from some angles, but it's going to stand out on the roads of Britain. And that's a good thing.

This particular model also comes with a great engine. The 1.4 MultiAir unit, which can be found in the likes of the Fiat Punto and Alfa Romeo MiTo and Giulietta, offers a decent mix of power and economy. It's a characterful little supercharged turbo unit that seems to suit the Delta rather well. A figure of 140hp may not seem like a lot, but the Delta comes alive above 2k revs and will return a theoretical combined MPG figure just shy of 50. Not bad at all for a Focus-sized family hatchback.

[caption id="attachment_7877" align="aligncenter" width="616"]Chrysler Delta 1.4 MultiAir SR from the rear All angles and curves - Chrysler Delta[/caption]

On Millbrook's hill route it wasn't the sharpest instrument I drove on the day, but the steering is direct, if a little over-assisted and it managed to soak up the poor road surface with ease. Overall I'd call it a satisfying rather than exciting drive. Once on the high speed bowl, the Delta felt composed and assured at 100mph. In fact, my only complaints were a significant amount of wind noise coming from the base of the windscreen and the fact that there's nowhere to rest your left foot.

[caption id="attachment_7873" align="alignleft" width="300"]Interior of Chrysler Delta 1.4 MultiAir SR A mixed bag - interior of Chrysler Delta[/caption]

The interior is a mixed bag. On the one hand it feels huge, with lots of headroom and class-leading rear legroom. I also like the waffle-effect headlining, the seats and the overall look of the interior.

Less successful are the fiddly and confusing array of buttons, the awkwardly shaped gearknob and the raised section on the steering wheel that houses the stereo buttons. There are also some cheap feeling plastics in the cabin.

But overall, my brief drive in the Chrysler Delta was a pleasant surprise. In a hugely competitive sector, Chrysler will need to work hard to take sales away from Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen, but as an interesting alternative, the Delta deserves attention. At £20,945 plus options for the 1.4 MultiAir SR model, it's reasonable value, but you'll need to factor in the constant shadow of deprecation.

All being well I'll be reviewing the Delta properly over the coming months. Full report to follow.

Missed opportunity - Subaru BRZ and Renault Twizy

There were two cars on my original list of 20 cars that I really didn't want to miss, namely the Subaru BRZ and the Renault Twizy. And which two cars am I kicking myself for missing out on? Yep, the Subaru BRZ and the Renault Twizy.

[caption id="attachment_7879" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Subaru BRZ The one that got away - Subaru BRZ[/caption]

Such was the demand for the BRZ that a booking system was put in place and people were told to report back at preselected times. If your name's not down, you're not driving the BRZ. Well my name wasn't down, so I missed out. A shame, although I'd much rather that than have to report back after spinning the BRZ and trashing all four alloy wheels. Not that anyone did that of course.

[caption id="attachment_7871" align="aligncenter" width="640"]A pair of Renault Twizys at SMMT Test Day 2012 A pair of Twizys. Or Twizies? Er...[/caption]

I also missed out on the Renault Twizy. Each time I visited the Renault stand I was told to come back later and it wouldn't be possible to pre-book. Therefore the closest I came to Renault's electric urban two-seater was on the hill route, normally trying to avoid ploughing into the back of one of them. Still, the sun was shining and, judging by the grins on the faces of those who drove one, everyone seemed to have a jolly good time. Either that or they were faces of fear.

Scone or scone - Tom on Subaru stand and Tara from Honda

[caption id="attachment_7896" align="alignright" width="300"]So how do you pronounce scone? Scone or scone? Potato or potato?[/caption]

It's one of the oldest debates in the book. How to pronounce scone. As the day drew to a close, Tara from Honda was on the Subaru stand passing around her fine scones. The end of play treat almost made up for the fact I missed a drive in the BRZ. Almost.

The consensus of opinion from Tara and myself is that you pronounce scone in the same way you'd say stone. Subaru's Tom on the other hand insisted it is pronounced in the way you'd say shone.

Swords were drawn, rules of engagement were established and battle commenced. As a Cornishman living in Devon I can say quite confidently that Tom is wrong. Or maybe I am. Who knows?

Whilst on the subject of scones, is it jam or cream first? Jam or cream? Cream or jam? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Worst ever in-car clock - Lexus IS-F

I had a brief drive in the Lexus IS-F. It's a 5.0 litre V8 rival to the BMW M3 and will hit 62mph in 4.8 seconds, before going on to a top speed limited to 168mph. It makes a wonderful noise and is particularly rapid once the two-stage intake system works its magic at 4,500rpm. Naturally it's well screwed together and is loaded with an array of gizmos and gadgets.

[caption id="attachment_7878" align="alignleft" width="300"]The clock in the Lexus IS-F Back to the '80s - the Lexus clock[/caption]

And yet, despite commanding a price tag of £58,416, it has what I believe to be the worst in-car clock since the 1980s. It looks exactly the same as the digital clock I had in my Daihatsu Charade XTE, with the big difference being my Charade cost me £30. I'm not sure which part of the £58,416 went in to sourcing the clock, but I'd humbly suggest that Lexus were ripped off.

Somebody give Lexus a call and tell them that the 1980s wants its clock back.

Talking of which, has anyone seen my Casio F-91W?

Part two to follow very soon.

Tea and scones image courtesy of Monica Arellano-Ongpin.