Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Steve Cropley: A week rediscovering estate cars is well spent

This week, Steve gets reacquainted with the underrated world of long-backed estates, gets fascinated by the move towards solid-state EV batteries gathering momentum and rages against the ongoing acts of bastardry by Highways England.


It’s hardly breaking new ground, but I’ve just spent a whole week rediscovering estate cars. I’ve done 1400 miles in a Mondeo Hybrid, the best and last of a family Ford line that will disappear in a year’s time. This car’s practical excellence was a real surprise: it’s long, it’s comfortable and it has every bit as much load floor area as one of the bigger SUVs, yet the much smaller frontal area means it slips through the air noticeably more easily and delivers 3-5mpg more in equivalent mechanical specification.

The hybrid side of things worked for me, too. I didn’t even jib at the fact that it uses a ‘rubber band’ CVT, because this allows it to be both long-legged and quick off the mark. On my return to Ford’s fleet garage, the trip computer read 50.3mpg. What’s not to like?


I’m fascinated to see the move towards solid-state EV batteries gathering momentum so fast. Just this week (so far) we’ve heard how BMW, Ford, Toyota and the Volkswagen Group are increasing their investment in this technology – which credible pundits, such as Globaldata chief Dave Leggett, reckon should last longer, slash charging times, increase energy density, reduce fire risk and “very much” increase driving ranges, perhaps even doubling what we expect from today’s lithium ion batteries.

This begs a billion-dollar question: who will be first to the market with a solid-state EV? It strikes me that whoever pulls that off can look forward to a huge and instant order bank, even if the vehicle itself is styled like a Wartburg.

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The latest act of bastardry from the brains at Highways England seems to entail completing their controversial ‘smart’ motorways while denying us their use. The M4 on London’s western side is a prime example: they’ve finished large expanses of eight-lane road, but the inside lane each side is coned off to provide us with a de facto hard shoulder – the very thing we’re supposed to not need. Thus we’ve spent the money to have what we had before, except it’s now restricted to 60mph. Bonkers is too small a word.

Apparently, these experts have now decided that the new roads can’t be used as designed until fitted with radar systems that can instantly spot stationary vehicles and then close lanes as appropriate (as if that will prevent gigantic pile-ups). They’re busily inventing and sourcing suitable systems while the cones continue to keep us safe. Only a few more months and millions.


I’ve spent all year speculating about making the ultimate connection with a Jaguar E-Type, which I’ve always classed as one of the greatest cars.


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