SMMT Test Day 2012: Speed dating, part two

Major Waffle Ford

It's been nearly a week since an update on PetrolBlog, so how about something new?

Part two of my SMMT Test Day report. This update features my car of the day, the most underused car, the best retro car on display and a case of Skoda having the shakes. There's even a video, though I should probably avoid such antics in the future.

Most underused car of the day - Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nürgburgring

[caption id="attachment_7941" align="alignleft" width="300"]Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nürburgring at SMMT Test Day No chance of burning rubber here.[/caption]

My first drive of the day was a Citroën C1. I've was keen to see what changes have been done for the 2012 refresh. Somebody else however was keen to test the Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nürburgring. Strange as it may seem, it wasn't a car that featured on my 'to do' list, but I was surprised to see it limping round the Millbrook hill route, hazard lights flashing. I overtook it once and then overtook it again after it had taken the short route off the track.

Turned out the little rocket had picked up a puncture on one of the first bends.

Game over, insert coin.

For the best part of the morning it sat rather forlornly on the Vauxhall stand awaiting repair. By lunchtime it was up and running again and all seemed well in the life of the Corsa. That was until I spotted it off the road again, this time tucked up behind the Vauxhall stand.

Game most definitely over, no coins left.

If anyone did manage a drive in it, please let me know your thoughts!

Car of the day - Ford Focus Zetec S 1.0 EcoBoost

[caption id="attachment_7977" align="alignright" width="300"]Ford Focus Zetec S 1.0 EcoBoost at SMMT Test Day Brilliant white - the Focus 1.0 EcoBoost[/caption]

As the SMMT Test Day drew to a close, everyone started congregating by the bus stop waiting for a lift back to the car park. A small crowd gathered and very soon the subject of conversation turned to the car of the day. As you'd expect, the likes of Bentley, Jaguar, Porsche and even Audi got a mention and there were knowing nods of approval at the mention of certain models. Then it was my turn.

You know how people react when you say something stupid? There's a noticeable pause in the conversation before they slowly step backwards, trying to avoid eye contact. That's the reaction I received when I nominated the Ford Focus as my car of the day.

Now before you make your excuses and leave PetrolBlog forever, hear me out on this. The fact is, the new Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost is the epitome of PetrolBloggyness. Yes, it's a 5-door family hatchback. Yes, they'll sell hundreds of thousands and yes, it only has a one litre engine. But don't let the fact that this has an engine of supermini proportions fool you, this Focus has superhero qualities.

Let's start with the engine which is a 3-cylinder turbocharged unit delivering either 100ps or 125ps and 170Nm peak torque. This exceeds a standard 1.6 litre normally aspirated Focus and gives it the highest power density of any Ford production to date. It was also developed in the UK at Dunton and Dagenham. But enough of the sales talk, how does it perform?

In a word, brilliantly. In common with other 3-cylinder engines, it's a characterful little unit that provides a wonderful aural accompaniment to a drive. The maximum torque can be found between 1,400 and 4,5000 rpm, meaning that pull aways are quick and it gets up to cruising speed quickly. I took it on the hill route and found that the key to enjoyment was to maintain momentum and to keep the Focus within the peak power band. Leave the gear change too long and it runs out of steam and you lose pace. But keep it on song and it's a rewarding little engine.

This is helped by a ride and handling package that's as good as I've recently experienced and this includes some so called hot hatches. The steering is wonderfully precise, the turn-in is sharp and the level of grip is astonishing. With virtually no body roll and a supremely comfortable ride, the Focus Zetec S can stake a claim for being one of the best simmering hatchbacks on the market.

[caption id="attachment_7976" align="alignleft" width="300"]Ford Focus Zetec S 1.0 EcoBoost from the rear All white at the back?[/caption]

The only fly in the ointment would appear to be a rather disappointing Durashift 6-speed gearbox that can't quite keep up with the engine and chassis. On a spirited hill route drive, the gate felt loose and the changes imprecise. It's a shame as it means the Focus 1.0 EcoBoost stops just shy of being a terrific drivers' car.

But it doesn't alter the fact that I fell in love with the one litre Focus and stand by my ‘car of the day’ claim. The Zetec S 1.0 EcoBoost is a £19,195 5-door hatchback that can deliver 56.5mpg on a combined cycle. What's more, it produces just 114g/km of CO2 meaning you'll pay no road tax in the first year and then £30 every year after.

It's the challenge to get the best from modern petrol engines that excites me the most. Squeezing the maximum power from a small engine whilst maintaining economy and low emissions is producing some fantastic cars. With hybrids and electric cars still out of the question for the majority of buyers, it's great to see manufacturers delivering petrol-engined cars like the Focus Zetec S. I enjoyed the drive so much, I took a second drive on the hill route and tried to capture the event on my iPhone. As you can see from the video, I was rather taken with the car. By golly I was*.

Shake of the day - Skoda

[caption id="attachment_7978" align="alignright" width="224"]Skoda has the shakes Skoda has the shakes[/caption]

Not content with being one of PetrolBlog's favourite new car manufacturers, Skoda now seems intent on becoming the choice of refreshing drinks. At last year's event, they run away with the prize for best Slush Puppie of the day, well this year they receive the prize for best shake of the day.

Unlike last year where raincoats and umbrellas were the order of the day, this year's event was graced with baking hot sun. So anyone offering cold drinks for free was bound to be popular. It was therefore no surprise that Skoda's stand was one of the busiest at the event.

Guests could choose between a L&K, Citigo, GreenLine or vRS shake, each one with a different flavour and colour. I went for the Greenline Shake, which was as refreshing as they claimed. How long before we see Skoda Shakes appearing on a high street near you? Rumours of Audi doing something similar and charging 50% extra for a change of name are, as yet, unfounded.

Retro delight of the day - Honda Civic

When was the last time you visited the Honda website? If I trawled through my internet history, (never a good thing to do), I'm pretty sure it was sometime in late 2010, about the time the Civic Type-R was killed off. There's simply nothing in the Honda range that interests me right now, which is a shame given the fact that I used to see Honda as a shining beacon of far eastern petrolhead hope.

I discovered two things at the SMMT Test Day. Firstly, Honda still manufacturers the CR-V. It's a car that barely registers on my radar these days, so I surprised to see a '12 plate' car tackling the hill route. Am I alone in simply not noticing the CR-V? Apparently there's a new one on the way soon. Which is nice.

[caption id="attachment_7975" align="alignleft" width="300"]Original Honda Civic at SMMT Test Day They don't make 'em like they used to[/caption]

The other thing I discovered was the little yellow Civic you see on the right. Just how lovely does it look? Small, perfectly formed, gloriously retro and fabulously yellow. I can't remember the last time I saw one. But unlike the CR-V which simply doesn't register due to its blandness, the Civic is becoming quite a rarity.

Of course, the best thing about the first generation Civic is that Honda chose not to produce a Shatchback version, so it maintains a blemish free record.

I tip my hat to Honda UK for preserving this little gem as part of its heritage fleet.

To read the first update from the SMMT Test Day, click here. Part three may be along soon...

*By golly I'm unlikely to do many more videos!