Blog : Thank you for being brilliant

Keith Adams

Millau Viaduct was - and is - a UK designed breath-taker. And there was still over quarter of a tank of diesel left when I arrived here
Millau Viaduct was – and is – a UK-designed breathtaker. And there was still over quarter of a tank of diesel left when I arrived here

For the past ten days, I’ve been (largely) offline enjoying what I think has been a well-deserved break from it all. I managed to stay at a friend’s apartment in the South of France and, thanks to there being no wi-fi and very little meaningful 3G coverage, I’ve not really been able to check on the progress of AROnline. Thankfully, Mike Humble, Brian Gunn and Alexander Boucke have been keeping things ticking over…

However, I pre-loaded a stack of content, and thanks to the joys of the WordPress-based system AROnline now sits on, this was published on a daily basis while I was sunning and de-stressing myself in the 35-degree heat down there. What’s truly impressive about this new website is just how you’re all getting so involved with it; I think it’s absolutely brilliant. The amount of commenting and feedback (positive and negative, but always constructive) has truly inspired me… as well as reminding me what a truly enthusiastic lot you are – AROnline has certainly proved itself as a great port in a storm for car enthusiasts who like to think for themselves.

I ended up driving to the place near the Spanish border. For me, there’s no better way of travelling than by car, as the changing scenery unfolds in front of you and you get to enjoy the altering landscape first-hand. And not sealed up in an air-conditioned tube 12,000 metres above it all… And as for avoiding airports – if I see another one of those this year, I really will lose the will to live.

I chose a P&O crossing rather than the tunnel, as there’s simply no better way of starting a holiday than seeing the white cliffs of Dover receding into the distance… and the French coast growing in front. As for the car, I’d loved to have taken my Rover SD1 or Alfa Romeo 156, but as petrol is now pushing €1.50 a litre on the continent, and as both would struggle to beat 25mpg, then the decision would have hastened my bankruptcy. Instead, I took a Volkswagen Passat 1.6 TDI Bluemotion, and have to say that I am very glad I did.

People who know me will also know that I like nothing more than a long Continental drive, and have done some epics single-handedly in my time. Don’t believe me? How about my house in deepest Middle England to Barcelona in 20-hours non-stop? Or all four corners of the UK in 24-hours? Or even my drive from Naples to Aachen in Germany (1100-miles) in 16 hours? Hell, I even drove to Poland and back over a long weekend in a Skoda Superb, so I could deliver some parts for my SD1 restoration. So this pootle would be a walk in the park. And so it proved – and I completely understand why so many sales reps and middle managers choose Passats as their weapon of choice – it’s near silent on the motorway, well stacked with equipment and, and has absolutely no ergonomic failings at all.

In short, it’s perfectly evolved to undertake such a journey. But more than that, it’s possible to get from one end of France to the other on a single tank of diesel – without trying, without hypermiling – and that makes it a compelling proposition in these tough times.

And that does leave me wondering why on earth a new car buyer would want anything more than one of these? And I don’t just mean a Volkswagen Passat. But a diesel saloon or hatchback coming in at under 2.0-litres. Or even a hybrid petrol. As long as it does 50mpg-plus on the motorway, can ease you along at 70-80mph in silence and has good, supportive seats, why would you need more? Or course that’s me talking in terms of being the right tool for the right job, as I did the Nissan Leaf (for different reasons) a few weeks back.

In that case, if your commute is short-ish, and you’re able to charge it at home, then why not? And in the case of the Passat, if you need to cover countries on the motorway, and don’t have a company fuel card to fall back on, I’m struggling to think of a better way of doing things. But, then, I am also lucky enough to have a classic to play with at the weekend, which gives me that old-fashioned pleasure that a Passat could never manage… but which proves the perfect foil for. Again, it’s all about lifestyle.

And choice.

Anyway, it’s good to be back. It looks like I have a lot of reading (of your comments) to catch up on today… and there’s work at Octane tomorrow. But for now, Au revoir!


Keith Adams


  1. You and I seem to come from opposite ends – I find myself doing 6-900 mile daytrips (often to the UK and back via Eurotunnel)both for work and I fear I would have impaled myself in a bridge pier at 2 am along some pi55 boring Belgian motorway if I were driving a big diesel rep special. Modern cars are simply too big, too distant and too cossetting to keep concentration levels halfway decent at the sort of ‘speed’ (I use the term loosely) that the Eurocrats require us to crawl nowadays. I find it hard enough to keep being involved with the act of driving in my company MINI Cooper while keeping out of license-losing territory already…

  2. Interesting point, that. I must admit that I have done a few continental trips in MINIs and found them to be excellent. So we’re in agreement there. But I like these big diesel repmobiles for their sheer long-leggedness – I’ve never had concentration issues, but know people who do, and it is a real problem…

    And don’t get me started on speed limits and their enforcement. They’re too low! Far too low. And the French as a driving nation are far worse now than they were when they’d like to do nothing better than thrash along a Route Nationale at 160-170km/h 🙂

    I miss those days.


  3. Keith… good comments in this column. I see the petrol v diesel debate continues. I agree for long distance/regular high mileage users, diesel is a compelling proposition.

    I’ve just bought another Focus 1.6 (petrol). This time I was drawn to the many TDCi Focus’s available but as they still cost quite a bit more to buy and I don’t drive as many miles these days, I stuck with what I’m used to… Perhaps next car?

  4. I disagree with a comfortable, cosseting car being bad for concentration. Simple fact is if you’re tired your tired.
    I did Bordeaux and back in my classic mini a few years ago, even though she’s a late MPi with all the options, i would hardly say i was cosseted, i was absolutely shattered. All i wanted to do after 9 hours at the wheel was go to bed. I’d have much rather taken the C5, i would have arrived much more alert than i did. Although that wouldn’t have been as much of an adventure.
    Actually this reminds me of the old Rover 400 Advert.
    And seeing the Viaduc du Milau reminds me of Mr Bean’s Holiday….
    I’m an HGV driver, so a 9 hour day at the wheel is nothing normally!

  5. Issigonis had a thing about uncomforable drivers being more alert – therefore the mini didn’t need comfortable seats. Sounds like he wasn’t always right, Dennis?

  6. I think it’s common knowledge issy wasn’t always right, he was good at getting his own way though. He also believed the floors on the first minis were watertight. 😉

    Stopping every so often for a walk about and a drink, even a short nap are far more effective than an uncomfortable car at keeping one alert. Although that’s partly it i guess, if you have a very comfortable car you’re more likely to go longer between breaks.

    I used to do night shifts, i found the best thing was a nap before the return trip, even if just 1/2 hour or so. Coffee is ok, up to a point, but you end up with a chemically induced feeling. ie. you’re awake and not sleepy, but don’t feel alert either. Having the heater on too hot did make you feel drowsy, but opening the window just made you cold as well as tired. If it gets to the point where you have to open the window though, it’s time to pull over and stop for a bit!

  7. My 75 CDTi nibbles 55 mpg on my daily commut of 43 miles each way in leather lined, climated, sat nav guided, cD soothed comfort

    It is actually cheaper to use my diesel car than my 1000cc motorbike which is worse on fuel and eats tyres!

    Glad you had a good break

  8. Not releated to anything but one picture, by jove fresh fruit and veg is a fortune in the french markets now! I’m glad its not just me that tries to re-inact those photo’s out of my old school langauge text books!

  9. Being alert has nowt to do with being uncomfortable in a car, but it usually correlates not completely isolated from the act of driving and the road conditions. The human system is at its most alert at a certain level of stimulation – high enough not to be bored, but not as high as to overload your sensory perception. Try driving past non-existing roadworks with an imposed 40 mph limit on a deserted three-lane motorway at night for miles on end. You’ll either be speeding or er, not very alert by the end of the 40 zone.

    Most of today’s cars need communications lessons rather badly, and mask any sense of speed. If the ‘natural’ motorway speed is about a ton in my MINI, how fast do you need to go in a flippin’ Mondeo or Range Rover to get ones senses halfway involved?

    Aside from that, big soft squishy cars with big soft squishy seats then to wear me out physically rather quicker than something with well-defined reactions to undulations in the road – with the latter you what you register through your backside checks with the event (and settles down immediately after), while in say, an old-school French car you’re unconsciously compensating for seemingly random, undefined car body movements.

  10. Keith – I am down in Ibiza right now having driven through France and Spain – across Millau – ourselves in our Audi A5 3.0TDi Quattro- it has not skipped a beat and returned an amazing fuel economy – only filled up once half way down. Looking forward to the return trip. I have the same Millau phot waiting on my camera!

  11. I drive on holiday about twice a year from Bristol to Munich, which is perhaps 900 miles each way, and what really saps concentration are roads with junctions hugely spaced apart, darkness, and lack of rest. Belgian motorways are pretty bad if for no other reason that there are no countdown markers — you have a small sign with 800m to go and then just an exit sign. German motorways are largely excellent, except for the (quite large number) that are two-lane — they get rammed with lorries heading to and from Poland and the Czech Republic in the slow lane and idiot Porsche drivers in the fast lane. I find British motorways to be in fact beautifully wide laned, well lit in urban areas and having that technological trimpuh of cats’ eyes. For some reason, the Germans and others don’t seem to do them.

  12. Perhaps the main problem with British motorways is the amount of time you spend sitting in traffic jams. Oh and the largely overpriced and piss poor motorway services.

  13. I dislike driving in the UK these days, far too much traffic, way too many scameras and talivans around, and the standard of driving is getting worse. After 4 weeks of driving in South Africa I’ve been spoilt with empty roads, a lack of cameras and the joy of not having to cancel the cruise control every 5 minutes when the traffic backs up. Managed less than 30 minutes back on UK roads before being cut up by a (surprise surprise) a bmw deciding to turn left across my bows from the lane to my right at a set of lights!
    The S-Max is a diesel and it’s a joy on the motorway, sat at 70 with the cruise set it ticks over at around 2200 rpm in 6th and is quiet and civilised, thankfully for an MPV it’s involving when it comes to the twisty bits too. A car I’d happily have taken to do your trip Keith.

  14. I was tempted to write a ‘isn’t driving in Britain sh*t’ kind of blog, but thought that might be a little negative right after my return. However… it’s true.

    But then, driving standards in France are no better really. They just have a lot more space to play with, so their incompetence is less likely to effect others than it would here, where we’re all cheek-by-jowel.

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