Revved Up

Hi, how are you? Ken here. I love cars. Petrolhead, film & TV addict, hungry, and randomly awesome. I occasionally write about cars too. Actually I write about them a lot...

The winners of the Japan Car of the Year Awards for 2014 have been announced and Mazda has taken home to the top prize. The all-new Mazda Demio (or Mazda2 as it’s known everywhere else) has been crowned the supreme winner this year.

Mazda’s new Demio was launched only a month ago in Japan and has been well received by critics over there. Judges of the awards noted the Demio’s option of a Diesel engine and a price tag of under ¥2million ($23,785).

Judges also praised the Demio’s design, quality, and technology which “shatters” traditional perceptions of affordable domestic-made compact cars. The ability to re-introducing driving enjoyment with a manual transmission was also noted. They described the Demio as a Japanese compact car with ability to appeal around the world.

Other big winners included Mercedes-Benz’s new C-Class as the Import Car of the Year. Taking home the Innovative Car of the Year award was the BMW i3. Honda’s N-WGN won kei-car of the year while Toyota got a special mention for its efforts in developing fuel cell vehicles.

The Demio is the second win for Mazda at the Japan Car of the Year Awards, the first being the CX-5 in 2012. What do you think of the winners? My Japanese car of the year would definitely have to be the Copen. Fantastic little thing.

From the moment I saw it from afar, I knew it was a special car. It was midday on Saturday and I was waiting for my aunt and uncle outside a restaurant for lunch. They were running a bit late so I went for a wander. That’s when I saw a Lightning Silver Aston Martin Vanquish. I knew where it was from. It was from the Giltrap Roadshow I attended only yesterday. Moments after the black 12C Spider followed in a wave of noise. It was at this point I started power walking back to the Gazley showroom.

As I got close to the Roadshow I saw a black wing mirror sticking out behind a hatchback. Usually I’d be able to remember the hatchback, a VW or something, but in this instance I was more interested in the car behind. My first thought was something Italian; a Lamborghini perhaps? But as I got closer I saw the distinctive side vents and its headlights. It was none other than a MP4-12C Coupe. I’ve only seen one before. It was a white one in Christchurch. This one was all black with extra carbon fibre bits. I went back to the Roadshow with one goal: to get a ride in one of the cars. But before I had the chance to ask one of the dealers I was opening the beetle-wing doors of the Mclaren. I have to thank Sam from Auto Clique NZ and Ian from Cruise Control for introucing me to Steve, the driver of the Mclaren. And my eternal gratitude to Steve too for making this boy very, very happy.

Climbing into the Mclaren was an event on its own. The beautiful upwards opening door and high sills look like it’d be awkward but it felt like second nature. As if my body was designed to get in and out of supercars with ease. Must be destiny. Sitting inside the low-slung sports seats was surprisingly comfortable. This was possibly the lowest I’ve ever sat in a car. The first thing you notice are the lack of buttons. It’s all very minimalist. There’s a sense of lightness about the car. It only weighs around 1200kg, which is frankly amazing for a car of this type. Because it’s built to be as light as possible some of the components aren’t as study as they are in other cars. The plastic door release on the passenger door for example had snapped right off. Not sure if it’s shoddy build quality or just really thin plastic.

A large central touchscreen dominates the slim carbon-fibre centre console. It’s a good looking screen. Below that are only a few buttons that do important things. One is traction, the other is launch. Below those was the starter button. Steve pressed this and the Mclaren’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 came to life. It didn’t roar or scream like a Ferrari or even an Audi R8. It was actually pretty quiet. Not what I expected from a company known for making screaming F1 racing cars.

Before setting off Steve asked me if I’ve been in one before, “no” I replied. He then asked what the fasted car I’ve been in was, “Audi R8 V10” I said rather nervously. That car developed 550bhp from its 5.2-litre V10. The Mclaren was pumping out 616bhp. I have never been in a car as quick or expensive in my life. Well, at least not on the road. Unfortunately it was on public city roads which was bad for two reasons: 1) there was traffic and buses. The Mclaren is a wide car and even though I was sat on the passenger side, when a bus went past I couldn’t help but jump to the other side. Steve said the Mclaren wasn’t too bad around town and was a lot easier than a Ferrari.

Secondly, because we were restricted to city limits I couldn’t experience the Mclaren’s full potential. I would have loved to have felt it accelerate at 100% as the small waves of acceleration Steve did in off stop lights was absolutely and utterly intoxicating. The way this thing pinned your head back was incredible. The way this thing picks up speed is beyond belief. You know that feeling you get when a plane is about to take off, well it was like that only more brutal.

Then there were the brakes. If the acceleration was impressive the way this thing loses speed was even more incredible. It had ma-hoosive carbon ceramic brakes fitted and they brought the MP4-12C to a halt quicker than train hitting a wall. They were astonishing and literally took my breath away. Actually seeing a black Mclaren on the road damn nearly took everyone else’s breath away. These are very rare cars, especially in New Zealand. Not many people know about Mclarens either as they’re a relatively young (and small) company. But it still drew attention like a monk on fire. Everyone from businesswomen to children, pensioners to bearded bikers pointed and stared at this black beauty.

I’ll be honest and admit I’ve never been a huge fan of this car. I respected it immensely. The engineering behind this car is simply impressive and would love to have a carbon-fibre tub in my car. Black supercars aren’t my thing either, I think a supercar should standout so it should have a bright colour. But even I’d stop and quickly rush to get my phone out to take a photo of this car. It just has that presence about it. It has that supercar magic. It has the looks to draw a crowd, it has Mclaren’s extensive Formula 1 knowhow, and it has the speed to match the price. But what I did find somewhat odd was the noise. I assumed the lack of screaming and noise at startup was intentional. I thought it’d get better as it picked up speed but throughout the admittedly short ride it didn’t make loud supercar noises.

We went on the same route as when I got a ride in a Ferrari 550 Maranello and even that made all the right loud supercar noises. It howled, it screamed, it bellowed, and it roared. The Mclaren was nowhere near as operatic as the Ferrari. Oh sure it had a nice deep sound but it didn’t have the volume. Nevertheless the whole experience of riding in a Mclaren and feeling a fraction of its capabilities for but a few minutes was enough to keep me smiling and giggling for the rest of the day, if not the week. It did ride incredibly well. In fact it rode a lot nicer than most cars I’ve been in. It’s an absolutely incredible car and an amazing piece of engineering. While I may not lust after one, I do have more respect and admiration for it.

But most of all I am completely convinced that this is every bit as magical as a supercar can be. It does have something about it that only the best supercars have. It’s an intangible thing but whatever it is, I adore it when cars have it. Simply put it’s made my childhood dreams come true and made me feel like a child all at the same time. From recent memory only the R8 and 550 have managed to do this. In other words despite not dreaming about the Mclaren when I was a small boy, this car still managed to have the same effect on me as the stuff of my childhood dreams. If there’s a point in a supercar then it’s that. It should make you feel like a child again and you can’t put a price on that. Well, actually you can. It’s around $400,000.

I knew today was going to be great, I never expected it to be as spectacular as it was. I had high expectations, which were met and more, and I fell in love all over again. In many ways it was more enlightening than anything else. So before I get on about all the great and wonderful cars I saw today, we must first talk about the actual day itself. It was the last day of the last week of university this year so the roadshow went well with my schedule. I had looked forward to it for weeks and thought of it as a celebration to end the year. The anticipation certainly built up in the days prior to the show. Even more so in the morning.

Ah, the morning. The weather in Wellington, and all around New Zealand actually, is about as predictable as an agitated shark. It can literally change from cold, blizzard-like conditions one day and be scorching the next. The past week or so has been quite nice spring weather. I even got to wear shorts - quite a big deal this time of the year. But then, but then of all the days for the weather to turn nasty it just had to be today. Driving down did pop into my head but then I had to worry about parking and in all truth and fairness the Alfa wasn’t in its best form at the moment. So on foot it was. The walk down wasn’t too bad, the weather wasn’t at its worst. There were showers and the wind was a bit gusty but nothing the excitement and adrenaline I had for these wonderful cars.

The Giltrap Roadshow, hosted by Gazley Wellington, is the first of its kind and I hope there are more in the future. It’s a great idea taking the latest and greatest supercars around the country for everyone to see. You could see the diversity in the crowds that showed up today. From children to painters, businessmen and retirees, with the odd petrolhead blogger in the mix too. The people, the conversations, and the atmosphere all radiated off the incredible cars on display.

As soon as I saw the white Lamborghini sign, I knew it had all been worth it. The first car I saw, well the first car that drew my attention, was the red Huracan sitting there in the showroom like a prized jewel. It was stunning. My first impressions of it reminded me more of a Countach than a Gallardo. It had that presence about it. Dear god it was compact though. I’ve seen Gallardos up close before but they didn’t look as small as the Huracan. It must because of the simpler lines. It did have some exquisite details though. Such as the headlights which despite not being turned on looked more like something you’d find in a Tiffany box. However, the taillights are still my favourite bit about it. They look superb. I wasn’t so keen on the plastic engine cover though. Not only because plastic on a $420k car is blasphemy but also because you can’t admire the 610bhp 5.2L V10. A glass engine cover is an optional extra, among many other I presume. Still, at least the plastic engine cover didn’t take away from the Huracan’s wonderful shape. The Huracan is definitely a more elegant and beautiful car. But is that what you want from a Lamborghini? I’m not so sure. I’ll say this though; I’d much rather have this than an Aventador. I know, a Lambo should be outrageous and flamboyant but the Huracan’s looks just do it for me. I’ll a purple one with lime great seats please.

Next to the Huracan were two Mclarens; a black 12C Spider and a white 650S Spider. I had never seen a Mclaren up close and personal before. I remember driving pat a white MP4-12C a few months ago but I couldn’t take a snap of it because I was driving. Obviously. So what did I think of my first close encounter with a Mclaren? Hmm, well I’ll admit the 650S definitely catches the eye. Maybe it’s the P1-style nose or the fact that it costs an eye-watering $552,000 but it does have appeal. I’ll be honest and I’ve never really been a huge fan of Mclaren cars. Oh sure I have huge respect for them. The engineering that goes behind their cars is probably more comprehensive than every other brand combined but they never seem to stir my emotions. The 650S, as the name suggests, produces 650bhp from the same 3.8L twin-turbo V8 found the 12C. In that, it was only pumping out 620bhp. But weirdly I preferred the old 12C’s face more. The 650S looks like it’s trying too hard. That said I did get the opportunity to open those swan-wing doors and they are just fantastic. I would never get bored of them. Sitting inside the 650S felt just right. The driving position was spot on. I mean this was absolutely perfect. Everything felt like it was designed just for you. No one else. The dash was minimalist so there’s as little to distract the driver as possible. The sills were quite high. I’ll admit I was a tiny bit disappointed I didn’t get to see the carbon tub which was hidden under some alcantara. Oh well.

From the Mclarens I went to go see a pair of Bentleys. There was a black GT V8S and a Flying Spur with the most beautiful blue paint I have ever seen. The GT V8S didn’t really catch my eye as I’ve seen, sat, and photographed a few before. So with that I made a ‘B’ line for the Flying Spur. You don’t see many of these around, even the first generation models. Which is a shame because they were my favourite Continental body style. Oh, I should point out this new one ditches the Continental in its name and is just known as the Flying Spur - to differentiate it from the Conti range. It still sits on the same platform, has the same engines (a 510bhp 4.0L twin-turbo V8 in this one), and pretty much the same interior too. But whatever Bentley. I still like the styling more than the Conti too. It’s like a cross between the Continental and the Mulsanne. Which fits in nicely with where the Flying Spur fits in the range. Inside it looks, feels, and smells expensive. Which is what you want a Bentley to do. Because it was a four-door Bentley, I went straight for the back seats. That’s where you want to spend time in a Bentley anyway. These are cars to be driven in. In the back there’s literally acres of space. You’d have no problem travelling up and down the country in the back of one of these. You get everything from sunshades to tables complete with a vanity mirror. Yes, just what every plutocrat needs. Some people I spoke found the legroom in the back of the Flying Spur a tad small. I didn’t find that at all. But then I guess Bentley still do want to sell the Mulsanne. The Flying Spur will no doubt be a hit in China as most people there, like me, won’t be bothered by the smaller dimensions.

Ah, now we get to the Aston Martins. I got bored with Astons. I used to love them with all my heart. I used to want one more than I wanted cheesecake. My dreams and fantasies used to involve Eva Longoria and an Aston Martin DB9. Everything that could have a wallpaper; phone, computer, wall… was covered with photos of Aston Martins. I went and saw all three Daniel Craig Bond movies at the cinema just to see and hear the Astons in full surround sound. I was obsessed with them. But then they started to age. New rivals came out; the SLS AMG, Ferrari F12, Jaguar F-Type. I lost interest in Aston and got bored of them introducing more variants of the same cars. And they eventually all started to look the same. I mean sure, they were beautiful cars but a bit of diversity couldn’t hurt. Heck, even Porsche’s cars have some diversity in their designs. Aston Martin’s repetitive design language is especially clear when you see them all lined up. Like today for example. God they’re pretty little things. You very easily forget just how beautiful Astons are. No really, I can’t think of any other car on sale at the moment that are so perfectly styled like Astons. F-Type? No, front is too fiddly. Alfa 4C? Hmm maybe but the insect-style headlights aren’t for everybody. Maserati Ghibli? Taillights are bit Citroen-y. No, Astons are the only stylistically perfect cars on sale at the moment and I long needed reminding of that. Luckily there were four of them to do just that today.

I didn’t know where to go first so I had to go for the one I hadn’t seen before - the V12 Vantage S. This little white beauty changed my life. It moved me in ways not many cars have done before. I fell in love with it. I don’t know if it was love at first sight or if it was me rekindling an old love but something special happened as soon as I went near it. The Vantage model may be 7-years old now but my god it’s still completely and utterly beautiful. As it was the V12 version this one had the four carbon-fibre vents on the grille. Some don’t like them. Some say they’re vulgar and over the top. I like them. I think they’re very cool. And excessive. But they do have a purpose as they help keep that massive 6.0L V12 cool. I love that. A massive V12 with 565bhp in a tiny car such as this, how can you not love that?

The rest of the car was usual Vantage. Small dimensions, perfect proportions, and a sort of restrained angry look to them. I just how it combines aggressive sporty edginess with sensual and quite feminine curves. Then there were the doors. The angel wing doors that go up by 45 degrees to prevent hitting the kerb are wonderful. They open with all the grace of a princess and weight of a solid piece of furniture. They do feel very quality. Inside the fit and finish are just as impressive as the design of the exterior. You sit nice and low too. The driving position wasn’t Mclaren perfect but it was pretty damn close. It feels very much like a $350k car inside. The combination of leather, magnesium, and carbon-fibre was just right and the white leather inserts and white stitching were the cherry on the cake. Unfortunately the design of the interior was starting to show its age. It does look like an interior from 2007. Ergonomically it’s nowhere near as good as its rivals with their fancy touchscreens and rotary dial controls. There are buttons everywhere. And nothing is where you’d expect it to be. The handbrake is to your right, the controls for the seats are on transmission tunnel, and the dials appear to be trying to run away from each other. Regardless of all this the Vantage still had enough charm to seduce me back to it.

Like with the Flying Spur, I went straight to the back seats of the Rapide S. This is Aston’s four-door car but unlike the Flying Spur makes no claims about being a limo. This is a ‘four-door’ supercar. The size of the rear doors are definitive proof of this. They’re absolutely tiny. I do like the shape of them though. Squeezing my 5’10” body in there was quite awkward. When I finally got it I found there was enough headroom but not enough legroom. I did fit, but at a pinch. As a car to be chauffeured in I’d pick the Bentley every time. Up front is where you want to be though. Astons should be driven. The Rapide S shares the same 6.0L V12 as other Astons and develops 55 0bhp. The interior of the Rapide is pretty much identical to every other Aston. A good way of thinking about the Rapide is just think of it as a DB9 with easy access rear seats. There was a DB9 next to the Rapide and I forgot how comical the rear seat were on those. They’re tiny. No human alive could fit in there. Unless you got someone off the cast of American Horror Story Freakshow or something. This particular DB9 was actually the Carbon Edition. Literally no idea what that means other than it was painted in Carbon Black and had bits of carbon-fibre here and there. To be honest most of the changes are unnecessary as the 510bhp 6.0L V12 engine remains unchanged. Only noticeable changes were the red highlights inside. Ooh I love it when a car has red piping or red inserts. This had it all; piping, inserts, and stitching. It even had bits of red leather on the paddles. Yes, I like that very much. As with other Astons it smelt very nice too.

The final car was the Lightning Silver Vanquish S. This one has 570bhp from Aston’s tried and tested 6.0L V12. Stunning car, stunning engine. I’ve seen a few in my time already but it still manages to take my breath away every single time. It’s a gorgeous car. The One-77-inspired dash is also the most beautiful Aston interior ever; One-77 excluded of course. The diamond-patterned seats were just as amazing too. Not only did they look nice but they were nice to touch and sit on too. Outside the design is quite similar to other Astons, if not a bit more dramatic. I like dramatic. The rear has to be my favourite part of the Vanquish’s design. The thinner taillights and the integrated spoiler make me go all funny inside. They just do it for. Yup, they do. But strangely the Vanquish wasn’t my silver lining in the rain, it wasn’t even my favourite Aston there nor would it be the car I’d pick.

I went to this car show to see the Huracan and Mclaren 650S. I hadn’t seen either before so was keen and curious to see what all the fuss was about. When I did see them they were just what I expected, and more. But there some parts which underwhelmed me. The plastic cover on the Huracan didn’t seem right to me. Especially on a car costing that much money. It also didn’t look as stunning as it does in photos. No doubting its beauty but it doesn’t have the same shock-and-awe some people want from a Lambo. A Countach or Diablo it is not.

As for the Mclaren, well it did impress me with its stats and angry face but the rest of the car didn’t stir my emotions in the same way a Maserati, Ferrari, or even SLS AMG did. The Bentleys were nice and I’d probably prefer them if I were 30 years older but at the moment they’re a bit old-gentleman for my liking. Well, maybe that’d change if I heard the V8S come to life. But I think what I got out of this show the most was reminding me of why I loved Aston Martins so much before.

They’re simply beautiful. They’re so elegant and effortless in the way they stand out. They don’t scream and they’re not in your face. There’s no doubting their flash cars but they’re not bling either. They’re exquisite, full of taste. Which is why the one I’d pick is the one with the black wheels, black boot trim, and four carbon-fibre grilles on the bonnet. The V12 Vantage S is my kind of car. Big 560bhp V12 engine in the front, a high-quality and luxurious interior in the middle, rear-wheel drive at the back, and wrapped in a knee-achingly pretty body. Funny that, I came to see two high-tech and modern supercars. I braved a Kiwi storm (or should I saw a Huracan) and went home in love with an old-fashioned British brute.

Review coming soon…

I love the Shooting Brake.

Never thought I’d see one of these in New Zealand.

This dirty old Quattro makes me all kinds of happy.
Catch up on my review of the 2014 Skoda Octavia vRS here:
Here’s my review of the 2014 MINI Cooper S:
Read my review of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz C200 here: