MONDAY - Exciting visit to Bedford Autodrome for the first of our two annual handling days, the one for cars you can just about afford.
Star attraction was the new Mazda MX-5, whose ancestors have sometimes walked this competition, but you’ll have to wait a short while to discover how it fared this time. I’m not risking strife with the bloke in charge of it all, Matt Saunders, by blowing the gaff.
My own favourite was the new Honda Civic Type R, a car I tried on the Goodwood hill this year and could definitely own for its speed, class, neat handling, crisp gearchange and mighty engine.
Hondas usually appeal to me, perhaps because I love those stories of the company’s battling founder, Soichiro Honda, and because my first two-wheeler was a mid-1960s Honda Dream, one of those oil-tight, customer-focused Japanese bikes that came along and wrecked the British motorcycle industry overnight.
TUESDAY - Had the pleasure of meeting and riding with Jolyon Palmer at Bedford. He’s the reigning GP2 champ, currently Lotus’s reserve Formula 1 driver, and a decent bet for a regular grand prix seat next year.
He joined our test team for the afternoon and had some pretty interesting opinions, given that his usual smoker is a Toyota GT86, part of our field. Jolyon liked the Civic, too, and stroked it around the circuit with the delicious ease of someone whose ‘other car’ has three times the power-to-weight ratio. Full story soon.
WEDNESDAY - Day off wandering favourite roads of the Cotswolds in a BMW i3, one of my current (geddit?) favourites for the way it combines BMW’s traditional driving strengths with the innate dynamic advantages of good battery cars (creamy acceleration, perfect accelerator response, gliding progress where others chunter) to make it Europe’s best-driving electric car.
My secret agenda is to interest the Steering Committee in the car so we can get one onto the home fleet, but this still seems to be a work in progress.
THURSDAY - Up early for an easterly sprint, Cotswolds to Bedfordshire, in an old-tech Smart, of all things. My mother-in-law has run a leased Fortwo for the past few years and it was time to change old for new.
I knew the latest model would feel different, but since we were changing like for like – 63-plate White Passion with auto and power steering for 15-plater answering the same description – I wasn’t prepared for the huge progress the latest model has made. Simply, it has grown up.
Its new three-pot Twingo engine, with new dual-clutch auto gearbox, sweeps away the much ballyhooed powertrain woes. A wider track (to go with a wider body) eliminates the other big fault: topply handling and a wild, lurching gait if you try travelling with the traffic. For the first time, a Smart has a proper primary ride. I delivered the car to its new owner with a rising sense that promise has been fulfilled, at last.