James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping Autocar.co.uk topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.
For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.
James graduated from the University of Gloucestershire a long time ago (so long that the institution was called something completely different back then). He also almost completed Coventry University’s Automotive Journalism MA, but was offered his dream job and so didn’t finish (or, if he’s honest, start) his dissertation.
His personal collection of cars is eclectic, running to an old Land Rover Defender 110 TD5, a ropey Saab 9-5 estate, a rather nice Mazda MX-5 NC (okay, that’s Mrs Disdale’s) and a criminally neglected MK2 VW Golf GTI (8-valve, small bumper and with power steering, before you ask). He will also, one day, own another Citroen BX because, well, everyone needs to own a fourth example of this chisel-edged French classic, don’t they?
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James Disdale Q&A
What was your biggest news story?
On a visit to JLR’s Gaydon base I managed to catch a glimpse of a near production-ready five-door Range Rover Evoque sitting uncovered in a design studio. Not that exciting on the face of it, but this was 2008 - around three years before the car was launched. The reason I’d had the chance to spot this sleek looking SUV in the first place was because I was at JLR HQ to ‘drive’ the firm’s LRX show car, which at the time was pitched as pure concept. But, as I’d just discovered, it also bore a striking similarity to the undisguised machine I’d spotted an hour or so earlier. After a few tense ‘no comment’ type phone calls with Land Rover’s flustered PR people on my return to the office, the story was written and splashed across the front cover of that week’s magazine. However, while we got the scoop on the Evoque becoming a production reality, my guess at it being called the Freelander Sport was some way wide of the mark.
What’s the best car you’ve ever driven?
As ever when it comes to running the rule over any car, fitness for purpose is everything. It’s why machines as diverse as the Dacia Jogger and VW up! share space with the Ariel Atom and and Porsche 911 GT3 in my list of current top 10 favourites. Yet narrowing down an absolute GOAT is almost impossible. That said, I ran a 2014 MK7 VW Golf GTI (six-speed manual, Performance Pack and adaptive dampers) as a long term test car for a year and 20,000 miles, and came away smitten with its almost perfect blend of performance, poise, practicality and parsimony. As a car that can do everything, it’s yet to be bettered. I also continue to enjoy bouncing around in our old Land Rover Defender, which is gloriously mechanical to drive and seems weirdly well suited to our increaslngly congested, speed restricted and poorly maintained roads. On the other hand, give me the last gallon of petrol on earth and I’d choose a Caterham Seven. Or a Porsche 911R. Or….
What will the car industry look like in 20 years?
Probably not as different to today as you'd think. The continuing unwillingness of politicians, policy makers and governments to commit to radical changes or invest in public infrastructure will mean that internal combustion will still be a big player, albeit with increased electrification. You can also expect autonomous driving to be as far away as ever - the technology will be up to snuff, but manufacturers will likely shy away from fully realising its potential when faced with having to accept total liability when it goes wrong. What will be different, however, is the make-up of the sales charts, with increasing domination by Chinese, South Korean and Japanese marques. It seems a strange analogy, but the success of supermarket chains such as Aldi and Lidl has shown that mainstream consumers (not the highest net worth individuals) are no longer as brand obsessed as they were, which is bad news for established European players. Value, design and technology are what drives people into purchases these days, with fewer and fewer bothered by a firm’s rich heritage. Either way, I hope that two decades of safety and common sense campaigning will have seen the demise of the touchscreen and the need to give every new car an SUV flavour.