MONDAY - Drove my first Kia Sorento for six years in Barcelona today at the launch of the third-generation model, due here in April.
Last time I tried one, the current model was fresh from the oven, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised what a terrific vehicle this new edition is. Kia and Hyundai have been charging towards a goal of market-leading excellence for years, seemingly at twice the speed of everyone else.
What stood out was the relaxed, supple gait of this machine, plus what I’m pretty sure was its class-leading refinement - made all the better by classy cabin design and top-quality manufacture.
My one caveat is that Spanish roads are all like billiard tables (thank you, EU) so I’m now impatient to hear what Prior, Saunders and Co say when the Sorento hits its first UK-spec rut. Kia seems confident: it's pricing the top-spec KX4 to shatter the emotive £40k barrier, which takes it close to the Land Rover Discovery Sport, a tough rival. So while all the omens are all good, Kia still has things to prove.
TUESDAY - Convivial trip to the RAC Club to hear new Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer deliver the annual Walter Hayes lecture on behalf of the AMOC. Palmer was great - reassuring about the company’s future but very much alert to his challenges.
If body language was anything to go by, the 150 attendees (149 of whom, I’d say, were Aston owners) were well impressed. Aston Martin, currently 102 years old, has had a wonderful revival since 2000 under Bob Dover (happily present) and Ulrich Bez. But I get the feeling its greatest days are still to come. In fact, whenever I’m not in the best spirits, I think of the revivals under way at Aston Martin and Lotus and I feel better.
WEDNESDAY - Fascinating phone conversation with classic Aston specialist Nick Mee, one of my table companions last night, about the market prospects of the Cygnet, Gaydon’s 'Astonified' version of the Toyota iQ. I’d made some daft joke about the car’s market prospects, which turned out to be well wide of the mark. Turns out there’s a strong market in Cygnets; low-milers fetch £22k-£24k.
Mee (whose emporium is near busy Shepherd’s Bush) reckons the Cygnet is the only city car that’ll be worth more than pennies in 10 years’ time. It might even hold its money. “You always feel special when you’re in a Cygnet,” he says, “because the interior’s so luxurious. The car is rare [only 400 were made], works perfectly in the city and costs nothing to run, because it’s a Toyota. But at the end of the day, the V5 still says 'Aston Martin'. For lots of people, this is the perfect combination of qualities.”
FRIDAY - Remember Black Friday, before Christmas, which drove the shoppers of Britain into a false frenzy? I’m having similar anxiety pangs over the Land Rover Defender, which has been around since I was born but is due to cease production, at least as a UK model, at the end of this year. The scary finality of this struck me today - and now I’m scared it’ll strike thousands like me.
My family has always had strong Land Rover connections. I drove to my first job in a crash-gearbox Series 2. At about the same time, my missus was doing her driving test, three-point turns and all, in another.
My two sons both learnt to drive in a Series 3 pick-up, and for a foolish few years one of them drove his girlfriends about in an ex-army rag-top. Both sons have since worked for the company, and one still does. So should I be buying a Defender now? I’m pretty sure the answer is 'yes' and the matter is urgent.