Max’s Monthly Column: Goodwood Festival of Speed and testing out an old Vitara

Max Berry

Welcome to Max’s monthly Column. It’s hot isn’t it – at last. Muggy; that’s a thing people say. I’m not complaining. Far from it (I hate people who are just always angry with an uncontrolled variable like the weather). But it’s on hot days, more than any other, when my respect for the internal combustion engine is most conspicuous.

This very morning I was driving up a dusty, country lane, nestled deep within the Devonshire countryside, with the heat of the sun frying downwards thanks to little cloud cover or breeze. My SEAT Ibiza FR is black, which thanks to science-related laws I don’t really understand; absorbs a greater amount of heat energy than say, a white car.

Without the delight of air con, I’d have been sweaty just pushing the brake pedal and pulling for third gear, as opposed to the abuse the 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine would have been going through.

Watch the video version of Max’s June Spidersnet Column

The 25o intake air is refreshing the car’s radiator like a warm glass of water after a 100m sprint. But it’s instantly noticeable isn’t it, when the heat begins to test the car’s internals? The size of the noise coming from the engine cooling fan as it spins desperately, shows the effort needed to chuck away some of that heat. It’s a ‘wurring’ sound that may not exist forever, thanks to the rise of electric powered cars.

Goodwood Festival of Speed

Talking of which, it was the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2019 this month. Held each summer since 1993, Goodwood is one of the world’s most famous car-splattered garden parties to ever occur. Basically, there’s many-an-acre of grassland where automotive brands from across the globe display their latest and greatest creations. And within the grounds; is just over a mile of tarmac that stages the prestigious hill climb event. 

All sorts of wonderful cars have a blasted up the hill, including the odd antique (and very noisy) Formula 1 car – replenishing many fan’s love for engine sounds that are otherwise extinct. But more than that, it’s a genuine opportunity for car makers to show the competition just how fast their new brain child really is.

Watch the ID.R’s record breaking hill climb.

German manufacturer Volkswagen rocked up with, what can only be described as a weapon of speed and agility. A vehicle designed purely to get from one place to another in as little time as possible – using nothing but electricity (and a fair amount of carbon fibre). It’s called the ID.R and it is unlike anything VW have ever made. It’s a clever manoeuvre though, as it brings Volkswagen’s new electric ID range right into the limelight on their new road-going range of electric cars. 

As they say on that incredibly popular, yet hugely frustrating show on ITV 2; ‘on paper’, the ID.R doesn’t sound any more capable than a hypercar from the likes of Rimac – which can even drive legally on the road. The ID.R has just 670bhp; a puny quantity as electric motors go. And the poor thing tops out before 170mph, I mean Lamborghini’s attempt at an SUV will go faster than that. It can get from 0-60mph in 2.25 seconds which is, don’t get me wrong, gut wrenchingly fast – but again, slower than the road legal Rimac C Two which can be there in less than two seconds. 

So with this in mind, how did driver Roman Dumas drive the ID.R fast enough to break the 20-year strong Goodwood hill climb record set by Nick Heidfeld in a McLaren MP4/13 F1 car, by the best part of two seconds? How also has the ID.R broken the electric vehicle record at both the Pikes Peak hill climb in Colorado and the Nürburgring in the last 26 months? Well, that may be slightly more obvious aesthetically. 

Goodwood Festival of Speed

The ID.R looks like a steroid pumped Le Mans car, with its offensively vulgar rear wing and general aerodynamic form – with winglets and ducts sticking out at every opportunity. Each wheel has its own electric motor, delivering the power incredibly efficiently and making the most of whatever road surface it’s applying the power to.

Fundamentally however, Volkswagen made it light (1,100kg to be exact) and teaming this with their ability to add or remove batteries etc to suit the specific circuit they need to blitz, is, frankly a masterful idea. The ID.R averaged over 100mph on the tight, hay bale and tree trunk lined Goodwood hill climb, which was quite a spectacle to watch. It really is madness – very scientific and rather clinical madness. It may be a weapon of speed and agility, but in being so; is also a fabulous marketing strategy.

Taking an old Suzuki Vitara for a spin!

Now let’s talk about Suzuki. They make a fair few different things to aid the process of moving about – cars, motorcycles, the odd van and even outboard boat engines. In terms of their cars, I’ve always struggled to see exactly where the Japanese manufacturer stands out and offers something that others don’t. Just flicking through their extensive range of models, which do, pretty much cover most genre of car out there; you just get the sense that perhaps your money might have been better spent elsewhere.

Even some of their model names just aren’t interesting enough to cause a stir. The “Celerio” for example, which is far too close to the word ‘celery’ for my taste – and that’s not even a very exciting vegetable. Then there’s the Baleno, which is marketed as a “surprisingly spacious hatchback”, which as a sentence, is about as mouth-watering as the name Baleno. This may be the case with Suzuki’s attempts at tiny, little hatchbacks, but one thing the Japanese car maker do know how to brand, are their mini 4x4s.

Vitara. That’s more like it. It sounds like a maximum strength, electrolyte-loaded energy drink with a commercial on TV where an abnormally armed, genetically enhanced gentleman runs up a mountain having taken a sip. As a name, it’s a bit more exuberant and worth your time – and I’ve been driving about in one. It wasn’t a road test, because we weren’t on the road; but it did give me an opportunity to see what was what. The Vitara was launched in 1988, and since then Suzuki have updated the model in four generations. The one I drove however was where it all began – a first generation model, in bright yellow, from 1998 (so it’s a year older than me). 

The car belongs to my 16-year-old brother, and I can’t say it’s had the easiest of lives so far. It lives on a farm in Devon, and is used almost entirely for pointless yet fundamentally entertaining endeavours – usually involving mud. Finally at the wheel, the little yellow car trundled into the field. Within minutes, I found a basic underlying feeling of satisfaction come over me, as the car bumbled along with the freedom to go just about anywhere. The only limiting factor in sight was a hedge, other than those; I was driving my own destiny. It’s a simple pleasure, but I was really starting to understand why people bother doing this kind of thing. 

My route took me down a steep grassy hill, through a gateway and onwards in a similar fashion. Everything was going fantastically well – I hadn’t even bothered changing to low range, the car was so able in the conditions. I was loving it. But, after just a couple of easy-going miles, I hit trouble. I was taking the Vitara up a track past a large pond, lined with long, jungle-like grass. This was no issue for the little yellow, tape-deck carrying off roader, oh no – the issues began as the grass became dewy. 

The little slope ahead looked to me to be no problem, which turned out to be incorrect. The car made a noble effort elevating itself, before I ran out of revs and felt the car begin to slide backwards, into a small bush.

Not only was the car wedged in this bush, but I was trapped inside like a scared mouse inside a sealed shoebox. It was time to move to DEFCON 3, so I engaged low range to assist the 4-wheel drive system. Switching to low range is a mechanical piece of witchcraft that allows you to use engine power more efficiently when traction is low. Almost all cars use high range gears all the time in day-to-day driving on tarmac, but when the going gets a bit slippery, low range can be the answer. I was staggered at the plucky, little £300 Vitara’s ability, as it lifted itself from the bush and continued on its way. What a voyage it was, admittedly one lasting only a few miles, but nevertheless; the Vitara had made it – and with apparent capability and pluckiness. A Range Rover would have made extremely light work of the route I had taken; but at a fraction of the price, so did the 20-year-old Vitara.

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