Road Impressions

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Ford 2.8EFi Granada Scorpio 4×4

Having got accustomed to a Ford Sierra 4×4 for 9,000 troublefree miles and liking it very much, the top-of-the-range Granada Scorpio 4×4 arrived for assessment. With this 4WD ABS-braked model Ford have made a determined effort to capture a share of the executive car market, and with this sophisticated, lavishly-equipped five-door hatchback have surely succeeded?

Apart from the high performance and comfort there is no denying that anti-lock brakes make for safer fast motoring and on the four-wheel-drive front, quite apart from the sure-grip fast cornering that can be indulged in, with the Ford-Ferguson permanently-engaged, split-torque system, there is the obvious ability to get up snow and ice-coated hills but also the happy thought that you will be able to get away after parking in a muddy field. Four-wheel-drive is clearly the coming innovation and you may well think that ills sensible to buy such a car now instead of having to revise your purchasing in order to keep up with this rapidly-growing facility. The Ford Scorpio 4 x 4 provides both 4WD and anti-lock braking in such a foolproof form that you may be unaware of these safety-factors until, maybe, an emergency brings them to your notice. . .

So that puts these Sierra and Scorpio 4 x 4s In a special category, for a start! Coupled with this, the largest Granada Scorpio has very complete equipment and many available extras. I will not bore you with a detailed description of how all the controls and switches are located but will instead cover the more unusual items of equipment. The rear view mirrors are power-operated and can be heated and this Scorpio claims to be the first production car to have a heated windscreen, extra to normal de-misting and de-icing, although on the test car the de-misting was abysmal — see later. Electrically-adjustable seats, back as well as front, are another Scorpio luxury, but the test car had only partial powered seat movements, and leather upholstery is a costly (£1,300) extra. The steering-wheel with the two control stalks, adjusts in two directions, to give an ideal driving position, and even the seat-belts, those compulsory nuisances, can be set to five different positions by pressing a button, and their low-friction material presses lightly on one’s clothes. The conventional instrumentation is easily read, and the the controls differ from those of the Sierra, the rear wipe/ wash control being incorporated in the right-hand stalk instead of a fascia button, and a rotary lamps-switch replacing Sierra’s third stalk lever.

The doors shut with that “expensive” clunk and there is a split-back rear seat. The tail-gate and fuel-filier flap have internal releases, as on Japanese cars, but this was not operative on the test car. Lumbar seat-support is achieved by squeezing what look like bulb-horns beside the seat cushions, and seat-heating is available. The electric sun-roof and electric windows operate with the ignition off and If the wipers are in use, engaging reverse gear brings in the rear-window wiper. Interior lighting is well contrived, with courtesy action, kerb illumination, and two roof and map reading lamps, and footwell lights. The headlamps are washed by high-pressure jets, obviating easily-damaged wiper blades.

Even now the list of desirable items is not exhausted — a built-in thief deterrent and cruise control etc are available, chimes are used for various warnings including low petrol-level, but not, curiously for unfastened seat-belts, and the ignition key, with spotlight, is of the deadlock type, almost impossible to pick, if sometimes a trifle awkward to insert. It is also possible to opt for automatic pneumatic self-levelling of the independent rear suspension, a boon, they say, for those who tow caravans or trailers. The Scorpio has a sophisticated Ford stereo-radio and cassette-player with electronic tuning, digital frequency-display, and 16 pre-set station positions, the rear passengers having their own control panel, with two sockets for lightweight headphones. The rear-seat passengers also have their own control of heat direction, and a cigarette lighter. The rear window heater forms a durable vandalproof radio antenna. There is a net to prevent loose objects sliding about on the carpeted luggage space, although this, again, was not apparent on the test car. The stowage space is increased by 90% after folding down the back seat.

The instrumentation, switch-gear and controls are well contrived and convenient, but there was no instruction-book. so that the failure of the air-conditioner and heater to de-mist the left-hand side of the windscreen or the side windows, and its tendency to vary the heat of its own accord may have arisen from lack of understanding of how properly to “drive” this equipment. The body of the Granada is of low-drag formation, giving a drag factor of about 0.33, varying by 3% dependent on the model, helped by the flush-fitting bonded glass and wipers that park below the bonnet-line.

I was impressed with the commanding driving position of the Scorpio, reminding me of the BMWs I used to drive. The gear change was somewhat less baulky than that of the Sierra 4 x 4, but Ford gearboxes are not what they used to be. Reverse required a strong push to overcome the guard spring. The fifth gear is very useable and the power steering and brakes light. Ford claim a top speed of 127 mph and acceleration from red traffic lights to a 60 mph cruise, in eleven seconds. The fuel gauge is steady reading and calibrated in litres but as the speedometer/mileometer was out of action for some of the test, accurate petrol-consumption figures were not obtainable. The computer read 24.9 mpg on local running, butt am not sure I trusted it. On a long run the fuel thirst was approx 21.6 mpg.

This 2.8 fuel-injection V6 Scorpio proved a very sure-footed car over icy roads, its 4WD and ABS brakes matched by Pirelli P6 tyres on the alloy wheels. It was also very restful on long hauls, so much so that about the time a colleague was hustling a modern Bentley from London to John O’Groats to see whether, in this speed-limit age, he could better the time I accomplished in 1938 in a 4l/4-litre Bentley on this run, we were using this comfortable Ford for an ordinary journey that exceeded 530 miles in the day; the safe Scorpio is that sort of car…. The basic price of this new 4 x 4 Scorpio is £18,108.65 and Ford have now got a grip on the executive-car market along with Audi, Renault, BMW and others, with, you may think, a price advantage. They have commissioned a high-class book about the Granada Scorpio showing their top model in the grounds of Baron de Rothschild’s estates, in quite the R-R publicity tradition. Those who have previously bought foreign may well think again and invest in Scorpio — all right. I know it is built in Cologne, but the profit is British. — W.B.

lsuzu Piazza Turbo

Pursuing the RAC in Japan’s latest

Every year in late November, a number of rally enthusiasts, approximately one million of them, set off into the countryside to try to see something of Britain’s biggest spectator sporting event — the RAC Rally. Television coverage of the event has been growing year by year, general and specialist press coverage has never been higher, entry charges to stages have introduced a direct cost for the first time, and still the crowds increase. Perhaps it is the challenge.

Following a major stage rally must be a harder task than any other sort of spectating, if such a verb exists. Only the competitors are likely to see every stage, so the would-be watcher has to make a careful plan of intended venues, with a strict schedule, all plotted on the indispensable Ordnance Survey maps. In addition, the car must be loaded with waterproof clothing, boots, food, hot drinks, torches, towels to mop up the rain, blankets or sleeping bags for the odd snatched doze, spare fuel can to offset the paucity of all night filling stations in forests, and whatever other requisites the crew think necessary for one, two or three nights in the saddle.

Since time is such an important element in the pursuit of a rally, I was pleased that MOTOR SPORT’s brief loan of one of the four lsuzu Piazza Turbos in this country coincided with the RAC. A turbocharged coupe of high specification would certainly have a chance to show its paces under these demanding circumstances, and any shortcoming would be brought home in a day or more’s continuous driving.

It has taken a long time for this attractive car to appear here; first shown at the Geneva Motor Show of 1979 by Giugiaro as a freelance project, its advanced lines were much admired, and the package was taken up by Isuzu, Japan’s oldest car-maker, on whose Gemini floorpan it was based. The Piazza became available in 1981 and has sold until now in the Far East and America with competent but unexciting engines. The version which is leading the establishment in Britain of a hitherto unknown marque, is, however, the fastest yet, possessed of a new blown motive unit producing 150 bhp. and more important a healthy 166 lb ft of torque at 3.000 rpm. lsuzu’s own injection system fuels the 1,994 cc four-cylinder sohc engine, and the compressed air passes through a large intercooler in front of the radiator. And it is rear wheel drive, something which I have to admit I still prefer, 205 GTi and Toyota’s excellent new Celica notwithstanding. So it was with anticipation that I climbed inside.

I believe that in the USA the material in question is known as “plush”. Whatever, there is a great deal of this pale blue hairy velour neatly applied on seats and walls, and the carpet looks more like a luxury bath towel. But it is well-fitted, and the fascia is a restrained grey, which continues onto the central tunnel and door details. A glovebox is augmented by neat cubbies in each door, and there are two cigar lighters.

The level of equipment is luxurious: electric windows and locks, air conditioning, cruise control, power assisted steering, tinted glass, rear wash/wipe, electronic radio/cassette, rear belts — in fact, all options are standard. The driver’s seat includes a lumbar adjustment and a tilt mechanism, while the wheel adjusts and the satellite control pods swivel in or out to suit the driver’s reach. On these pods, however, the controls are rather arbitrarily placed and not easy to distinguish, and the indicator switch is hard to cancel without pushing it over centre to the opposite position.

Driving off into the traffic I was impressed by the solid feel of the car, by the nicely-weighted steering, and most of all by the low-speed urge of the engine. But it was not long before I began to have reservations about the rear suspension. The layout goes back, via Isuzu’s GM links, to the Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Chevette, though the live axle is now located by four trailing links as well as a Panhard rod, and it does not really balance the well-behaved front with its Macpherson struts and lower wishbones. The tail feels nervous and skips over bumps, and it is absurdly easy to spin the 195,’60VR 14 Dunlops in second gear in the merest trace of damp.

With all this going through my mind I started to load up for my solo trip, a mere day and a half dash rather than the full five days. The boot is very shallow — two suitcases would probably fill it — but the rear seats do fold down individually, and have adjustable back-rests. Passenger room in the back is surprising, too, though I filled the seats with maps, camera, provisions, and clothing. I had decided to head straight for the Welsh stages, ignoring the tarmac sections in the grounds of stately homes which occupy the daylight hours on the opening Sunday, this giving me plenty of time to get to my first planned stage by 11 pm, including stopping for dinner with friends in Bristol.

Negotiating Hammersmith roundabout is a good test of all-round visibility, and the lsuzu scored highly here as it threaded its way onto the M4 and I slotted into fifth for the first time. The change is fast, but rather gritty; top can be a little hard to find, but makes a fine cruising overdrive in which to appreciate the low wind and tyre noise. Variable weight assistance gives good feel to the chunky wheel, through which the exemplary instruments are easily seen, and the engine seems to be full of urge at 70-80 mph, the boost needle ready to jump at a touch of throttle. Possibly as a consequence, the fuel gauge was near empty by Bristol, which worried me a little.

However, after a fine dinner, it was back into the Piazza and another spurt along the M4 before turning north towards Treorchy. They are rebuilding the A4119, but they have not got around to the signposts yet, so I had to follow my nose until I hit the Rhondda valley. It was only here, just a few miles from the stage, that the first rally traffic materialised, all driving fast over this climbing open road, yet the lsuzu had power in hand to surge past on the brief straights and on up to the conglomeration of cars that marked the entrance to the stage. I parked in a lay-by outside to avoid the outgoing traffic later and walked in some two miles. Almost the whole of that distance was lined with parked cars, and near our goal, a fast 90-left, there were three hot-dog stands doing a fine trade with the hundreds of people gathered in the light rain to watch their heroes. It never fails to amaze me to see this sight in the middle of the night — men, women and children cold, wet and excited, in the middle of nowhere, chattering and cheering as the rally cars tear up the rough roads at impossible speeds. Alen first, the little Lancia neat and shrill, Toivonen too, then a roar from the onlookers as Pond’s Metro blasts into view. He is visibly faster and more spectacular than the Lancias on this bend: then the awful racket of the Quattros, blurting and blaring, challenging the fusillade of flash-guns with their fearsome back-flash. A dutiful cheer for Brookes and McRae, raised eyebrows at the speed of Kankkunen’s Toyota, then it is time to run back to the Piazza. There is no question of my making another stage before the service and rest halt at Swansea (1.30-5 am), but I do not want to be caught in the traffic so early on,

Here, on these open hill roads, the car begins to please me. It turns effortlessly, and though the Dunlop tyres are gripping less than one would expect on this damp road, the limited slip differential brings the tail around smoothly where it is easily caught with a flick of the wheel. But again the sharper bumps leave the rear wheels in the air. Are the springs too hard? or perhaps the dampers? Either way, I arrive at Swansea exhilarated and keen to continue. The town is packed and noisy, although it is 2 am and the competitors are hoping for a little sleep. So am I, but the lsuzu’s seats do not recline the whole way, so I bypass the dense crowd around the Metro service area and make for the Leisure Centre where people are still swimming!

After some refreshment, it is back to the car to plan the next move. With plenty of time in hand, I have a wide choice, and I have a complete list of map references of stages, including the supposedly secret non-spectator ones. (I obtained mine in my official capacity from the RAC, but all the keen followers have them too!) Rule One of this game is to get to the stage early, park the car, and then have some sleep, and so I set off at 4 am for Trawscoed, where the first car is due at 07.03. Before long, main road gives way to B-road and with one last look at the map I give the car its head. Fourth is direct, so a lot of this is taken in second and third, and the engine really sounds quite harsh at high revs. But it is gulping up corners, the four vented discs converting speed to heat without complaint; flick, into second, feed in left lock and right foot smoothly, then hard as the road straightens. Flick, into third, still hard on the throttle up to the next bend. Wide entry to maximise the safe view, firm braking, into second, road empty, switch to throttle and away again . . . Plenty of feedback through the leather wheel gives warning of slippery patches, and the car’s accurate balance keeps it tight into its own side. This is the first car I have driven where “heel and toe” means exactly that: normally it is the side of the foot, but here using the heel seems just as natural and accurate, though this is only to smooth out the braking, not because the gearbox needs assistance.

I have been enjoying this so much that I suddenly realise that I have missed a junction, but my OS map comes to the rescue via some very narrow back roads. At the stage, with two hours to go, there are already some 100 cars. many containing muffled sleeping figures, so that those warming their hands around hot coffee talk in whispers.

After a surprisingly comfortable nap. I wake to hear much pulling on of wellingtons and extra jerseys, and join the trek into the stage. The crowd has swelled, and I walk deep into the forest, eventually finding a vantage point well above the cars from where I can watch them flick sideways, drift through a tight corner, and sprint up to top gear before vanishing again.

From this stage it is time to head north, via a breakfast halt at Llandrindod Wells, to Llanidloes and on toward Dyfnant Forest. The Dyfi sections are famous for their congestion, so I use some back roads and emerge going in the opposite direction to a huge crawling queue of spectators, interspersed with the competing cars desperate to get to the next stage in time. As I top a small rise, one of the Lancias comes thundering towards me on my side of the road, lights ablaze; we both drop to a crawl and the queue shuffles over to make room.

From here my plans are thwarted by the volume of traffic, and I decide to head back, in a roundabout way, for London. Another fine sprint over BwIch y Groes is followed by a pleasant run around Lake Vrynwy, and on to Llarifyllin and Shrewsbury, from where boring old motorway takes over

Despite my few hours sleep, I felt in good shape, so the Piazza rates good marks for comfort and ease of control, save only the rotten ventilation. I fiddled with the air-conditioning for the whole journey, but could not obtain warm feet and a cool face at the same time, despite an optimistic symbol on one of the dainty push-buttons offering this. Variable intermittent speed wipers proved useful, and the single blade with built-in wash nozzle was very effective.

There is no doubt that the lsuzu Piazza Turbo is going to make an impact. At its price of £11,950, there are coupes with better ride, and more grip, but none with as much luxury equipment. Nissan’s Sylvia Turbo is a hefty £2,400 cheaper, but somehow lacks the same dash, both in looks and on the road, while Alfa’s ageing GTV6 (£11,320) is an effort to drive fast, despite its superb engine. The Piazza’s well-developed if thrashy power unit has gone a long way towards invoking the enthusiasm for turbocharged engines I have always lacked, but it is thirsty. I did one short full-to-full test which yielded a depressing 171/2 mpg — but it is rare to be able to indulge in much of this second and third gear sprinting. The low twenties should be a realistic target.

The car’s good looks and semi-pop-up lights attract attention, and its sleek profile conceals a surprisingly roomy interior, which together with its hatchback makes it very practical. At 8.3 sec 0-60 mph and 125 mph maximum it is certainly quick, and if the traction is poor, the handling is at least entertainingly predictable. I believe lsuzu (GB) Ltd have made the correct choice in using this model to launch their name. — G.C.

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