Range?

Filled my diesel car up. This is the range remaining. An electric car can’t do this, but…. then I drove 2km round trip to local shops and back home. Any electric car CAN do that no problem at all! In fact- I should’ve walked (an extra km was used to drive to the cheapest petrol station).  

A good electric car like a Tesla is an iPhone compared to a Nokia (in 2007) It’s faster, more powerful, better in every way- but doesn’t last all week. Look what happened to Nokia. Same fate awaits fossil fuel powered cars.

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Crossover evolution

Way back in 2007 Nissan decided to abandon the battle that they were losing against the VW Golf and Ford Focus (C-segment). The Almera was a good car, but a sales/profit disaster. To replace this model, they looked to their brand new London “think-tank” design studio. That team came up with a radical and fashion led urban concept they called a “crossover” vehicle. In essence it was the standard FWD Almera hatchback underpinnings, with an SUV style (but much less macho, and more sporty) body on top. Other Japanese manufacturers had tried the crossover idea before, as a commenter has mentioned, the Subaru Forrester was released in 1997 and the Honda HR-V in 1999. Both were more traditionally (non-sporty) styled SUVs which also had energy wasting AWD. The market niche was empty for Nissan to test the water by ditching that AWD hardware and avoiding the rugged styling… and now, 5 years later the Qashqai is a phenomenon. Over 2 million of them have been sold across the world, and every manufacturer has been inspired by the design, the engineering (2WD) and have targeted Qashqai customers. Nearly all manufacturers got greedy though, and didn’t stick with Nissan’s winning formula of SUV looks with totally comparable C-segment prices. This year, Nissan had the scary prospect of following up their smash hit vehicle with an all new Qashqai. Again designed by the London studio, by the same designer I believe? Matt Weaver (another Coventry University graduate) is now the official Godfather of Qashqai. I’ve created a montage for this article, of various production and concept Crossover designs…. see if you can name them all. Some are Nissan’s own concepts leading up to the final new Qashqai design. Two or three concept cars were used to test ideas on the public, before choosing the final design for Qashqai 2014.

edit: to add to this post, I of course managed to overlook the original Crossover design. Which was not produced in Japan. Just like most market niches, it originated in the creative pool of France. The Matra Simca Rancho was a small, urban SUV styled vehicle with FWD only!

2WD and based on a b-segment car- here’s the original urban crossover from 1977! The Matra Simca Rancho
crossover evolution
Various Crossover models

sensible and not so sensible volvo

I’ve had a busy car ownership summer. It all started with a decision to invest some money into my home by renovating the kitchen and one toilet. This meant selling our 1yr old Qashqai- which we both loved to free up some capital. A truly great value and stylish family car, but occasionally it felt a little small for my family (my son was born last June). I developed a strange desire for total practicality and above all SPACE in my car choice. I looked for a Volvo estate, and quickly found a 2000 model V70. This was the first year of the curvaceous era of Volvo design- under the guidance of Peter Horbury, another legendary Coventry graduate. His reinvention of the Swedish brand was sublime and brilliant in surface execution. Curves and shapes inspired by steam treated curved wooden furniture (a Swedish speciality) can be seen for example in the b-pillar and catwalk (or shoulder) profile.

Volvo V70 curves inspired by Ikea- fact!

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My V70 was a 2.4 light pressure turbo, automatic. It was huge- just enormous inside and out and it quite literally drove like a bus. It was very smooth, fast and quiet, but you may be wondering why I’m using past tense? Well the V70 has gone. It lasted 3 months for one simple reason- fuel economy. 10.8l/100km average (26mpg UK, 21mpg US!) was totally unacceptable for a family car, so after looking into a few options I went to my Volvo dealer and swapped to my first ever diesel car- a smaller (much smaller inside) V50. Immediately I’m happy to see incredible range and mileage explained by the trip computer. So far my first fill up claims 1090km range on one tank of fuel, and 5.6l/100km (50mpg UK and 42mpg US) average! Diesel fuel is also cheaper than petrol here in Finland so the savings are hopefully going to be massive! The design is rather less wonderful let’s say- it’s slick, and has that non-sporty but quality feel of a good Volvo, but I miss the extra smooth radiuses and more elaborate shaping of the lower surfaces on the V70… anyway, here’s a pic.

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aero crossover

Photo of my Qashqai after a long and slightly mucky drive through melted snow roads. The dirt was shaped fairly clearly by the air- giving a little clue to the aerodynamics of the front end. At least the boundary layer behaviour anyway.

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white urban style

January 2010– I turned 33, and my wife is now expecting a baby- so naturally we drove straight to our nearest lifestyle/crossover/soft-roader dealer and purchased a brand new Nissan Qashqai. Now this may sound like a total cliche- partly because it is- but it is also in my opinion the perfect car choice for our lives. I was personally quite surprised at some friends reactions (a Qashqai is NOT a gas guzzling behemoth!), but mostly reactions were positive. If activity at the dealers is any indication, a Qashqai is the ONLY car to be seen buying right now. Our dealer carries Seat, Audi, Volkswagen, Peugeot, and Nissan- the showroom housing everything except VW/Audi who seem to need their own space (to lord it up).  I can assure you there were only 2 cars that any customers were looking at in the showroom- Qashqai, and the occasional glance at the new Peugeot MASSIVE LONG UGLY BUS/PEOPLE CARRIER thingy. I live in Finland, and Finns love a spacious car- they love a CHEAP spacious car even more, hence the Peugeot being looked at. The Qashqai however is something of a sales legend across Europe. When compared directly with my father-in-laws Honda CR-V it makes so much sense. The CR-V is about the same size, is very similar to drive, but costs €10,000 more than my Qashqai!! Northern Finland is also covered in deep snow for a good 6months of the year, so anything with higher ground clearance or 4WD hardware is snapped up here. Even more appealing to me, was the fact I could save money and improve fuel economy by ordering my Qashqai as 2WD. It is law here in Finland to run winter tyres, and where I live we all use metal studded tyres- which means that 2WD is adequate (but obviously not as ideal as 4WD) in even the worst conditions. The equipment spec on our car is amazing- with touch-screen sat-nav, full length glass sunroof, dual zone climate control (how on earth can air a few cms from other air- be a different temperature?!), cruise control, bluetooth and ipod connectivity, rear view camera and for the summer- 18″ alloy wheels! The boot is huge, and the rear seats have great legroom.

sunset across the frozen sea in Finland (-20C)

If we had to specify a perfect car for us and future baby +gear, it needs to have lots of space, do 38mpg, have sat-nav and ipod connections, good ground clearance, isofix seat stuff (not sure what all that is yet, but I’ll let you know later on this year), 5star NCAP ratings, be nice to drive (nice enough, nothing fancy!) and cost as little as possible while also looking awesome. We considered a shortlist of Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Yeti, Citroen C3 Picasso and maybe a second hand Mercedes B-Class. After seeing the Qashqai we never made it to test drive any of the other options! But we ruled them out for a few reasons- Merc would have to be 2nd hand, and also didn’t have the ground clearance, the Yeti had fake wood on the dash in the brochure- so that’s also a non-starter, and the best alternative would be the lovely C3 Picasso and it’s actually a shame we didn’t try one out. It did seem a little small on paper, but then it is a lot cheaper than a Qashqai. So we went to look at a Qashqai together, and frankly fell in love after one test drive! We didn’t hesitate, and on the spot bought a Qashqai 1.6 Acenta-RC 2WD in white, with 18″ wheels, and we’re really pleased with it. It’s  38mpg or 7.3L/100km on long journeys is a long way from the planet harming image of other SUVs!

Spring change to 18" wheels

Right, lets talk design- and first of all we come to the fact that nearly all the cars I considered purchasing were designed by friends of mine! Mile Nurnberger’s C3 is a delightful urban transport product- fit for the 21st century, but as I said perhaps not quite rugged or large enough for the outback of Finland. We were impressed with the perfect reliability of our C3 over the last 2 years however. Next the Merc B-Class has been a real grower, from when I first saw the design back in 2004 I believe, it actually seems to have improved- perhaps fitting in more as other cars ape it’s style. Mark Fetherstone created an impressive amount of visual drama and speed of lines in a very compact package that must have been difficult to stick to. The car is very spacious inside, and very square in plan shape, but thanks to some serious sculpting of the bonnet and nose it maintains the Mercedes DNA. A very slick job indeed, and clearly the reason Mark’s next assignment was to design the flagship SLS supercar.

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2004 Nissan Qashqai Geneva Concept

Moving on to the Nissan Qashqai- this car also has a very close link to my studies at Coventry University, being design by one of my peers a few years ahead of me- Matthew Weaver. Matt actually designed the original concept car, for the 2004 Geneva Motor Show, while working at the brand new Nissan Europe Design studio at the Rotunda, London. The Qashqai concept was an amazing success for that studio first public design, and proved absolutely it’s worth. The crossover vehicle was radical, combining 4×4 ruggedness, with sporty hints on the upper surfaces while aiming for normal passenger car levels of space and refinement. The design was aimed squarely at urban dwellers, succesful young city workers that also would like to travel out of town for adventure. This brilliant mix of urban and lifestlye reminds of the original Range Rover, but the Qashqai proposed this in a much less tough utlitarian way. Bulging wheel arches, and even Mercedes SLK inspired bonnet bulges were shameless hints to sportscars and seemingly at odds with what was underneath. The public got it though, they had no cares at all about what was underneath the exterior. The bonnet bulges are a great example of this- inspired as they are by the SLK, and before that pre-war Mercedes F1 cars, where those bulges cover longitudinally mounted straight engines. The Qashqai of course has a transverse engine layout, but those kind of style over substance details are what the urban hipster is all about! The concept shows the key elements that made it right throught to production- the bonnet bulges, the curved and muscular wheel arches, the side DLO graphic and also the general sweep of the very low and sporty glasshouse. This was radical in 2004 remember, and compare with its competitors such as the Honda CR-V, a very boxy design which has since taken inspiration from the Qashqai.  The concept did exhibit some of the early 2000’s obsession with clean but ultimately a little lifeless Audi inspired surfaces, which happily were actually improved on for the production car. Matt’s original superb sketches had a lot more sportiness and dynamic life about them- which again can be seen more in the final production car thankfully.

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Matt Weaver's concept sketch
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Another of Matt Weaver's concept sketches

So moving on to the actual production car- one of which I now own, we can see that the design has changed in detail, but the overall character of the idea is brilliantly maintained and in fact improved upon. The really brave, but very clever step Nissan took, was to make this car cheap and to make it replace an entirely normal Golf segment vehicle- the Almera. The Almera, and Sunny/Pulsar before it failed to beat the Golf or Focus, or even Astra in terms of sale so Nissan decided to so something smart. They built the Qashqai on basic mechanicals from the Almera, charged only a little more money than the Almera- but then at this price point there were no other off-road style vehicles at all. They correctly predicted that urban consumers couldn’t care less about the smelly oily bits underneath, they didn’t even need the extra complexity of 4WD (almost pointless on-road anyway). The production version kept the initial idea talked about by Matt Weaver- of dual personalities, with the lower body showing black plastic, off-roader inspired functional design leading to curves, bulges, and even that most sportscar like feature of all- the sweeping, tensioned boneline from front wheelarch right along to rear lights. The bonnet and headlights were criticised for being very similar design to the Mercedes SLK- which is an amazing fact when we consider how utterly different those two cars are in genre. An SUV with a sportcars body? Yes, Nissan did a crazy thing, and 6 years later we’re all finally getting what the hell they were on about.

2006 production qashqai

Incidentally, this Nissan was intended to sell huge numbers globally- obviously the only way we could actually be offered the prices we are! In the US the Qashqai is sold as the Nissan Rogue, and in Japan as the Nissan Dualis. The Dualis is identical to the Qashqai, but the Rogue is styled differently and is also larger (well, it is aimed at America- what did you expect?). The design of the rogue shows us interesting aspects to American tastes, as it essentially loses all of the utilitarian and rugged features- such as black plastic lower panels. The inability for any American to buy any car with black plastic on it is perhaps due to the “cheapness” factor associated with it. They sure love shiny things, and the Rogue shows us just how shiny! An advantage of re-engineering the US version to be much larger, and also to offer 4WD versions is that Nissan has now used the larger base platform to launch own very own European larger Qashqai- called the Qashqai +2. The 4WD underpinnigs have also made themselves available over here on any Qashqai, for people who just feel they can’t fake it with the 2WD version. Frankly the Rogue is horrible to my euro tastes, all plasticky and shiny and tacky- but considering it is larger, with much larger V6 engines it is of course ironically much cheaper than our tiny Qashqai! $20,000 is really not much cash for such a good car. The Qashqai is and was a gamechanger (to paraphrase Steve Jobs?) for the car industry. It solved a difficult problem Nissan was having in the volume market, by coming at that problem from a new angle. It continued the drive of 4×4 inspired vehicles downwards in size and price to levels that everyone could afford, but it also did this without using heavy, expensive and inefficient 4WD hardware. It created the eco-concious SUV buyer, it also took on the very succesful Honda CR-V in America and pushed that market to a sportier look which even the next CR-V bowed down to.

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2008 Nissan Rogue (US market)
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2006 Nissan Rogue (US market)

I’ll end with a gallery of things I’ve talked about, and also lots of pictures of my own white Qashqai- with black tinted windows for that painted clay look, again another standard feature which shows Nissan really know their market! Oh, and my car is on it”s winter wheels- which are 16″ steelies, but we have some gorgeous 18″ alloys for summer!

what’s wrong with a C3?

This week our new car was finally delivered! A Citroen C3 1.4 16v, which is actually my wife’s car, not mine at all. Now, frankly this is not a car I would have chosen myself- I guess there is just something really girly about it. I also criticised the design somewhat- it is slightly flawed let us say. After thinking it over, the design can best be described as different rather than wrong. It actually begins along a similar theme to Twingo, and was designed by some of the same designers. It is not a traditional “automotive” style car, in that it is targeted towards women rather than men- and it is not designed to look fast, aggressive or sporty in any way at all. There is a distinct lack of fast, or accelerating lines on the C3. I can explain what I mean by comparing the design with a car showing much more typical automotive styling- the Mercedes A-Class. Car designers will often talk about fast or slow lines, accelerating or decelerating lines, and most of the time they aim to draw or create dynamic accelerating lines on every vehicle. This is partly tradition, and partly just because cars move. They are dynamic moving objects, so it makes sense to express this in their form. Form follows function after all, and when a car is fast it often needs to have lines that assist in that movement (aerodynamically). Look at the side view of the A-Class.

accelerating lines
accelerating lines

I’ve extended the main feature lines to show where they might continue- imagine hand drawing the lines, and you hopefully will see what I mean about them accelerating away from the car. Accelerating curves are ones that reduce in radius along their direction of travel. Put simply, drawing a tight curve is slower than drawing a very shallow one. The lines also travel through the red vertical lines that represent the wheelbase, and full length of the car. Even the window line that shoots upwards will eventually cross the red line. It’s important to note that the lines do this, when we look at the C3.

decelerating lines
decelerating lines

The first thing to note is the main roof and window lines that slow down- decelerating (gaining a tighter radius) as they finally drop towards the ground. They end within the length of the car, which is unusual but not completely unique. The fact that the form is self-contained, finishing within the cars length- gives quite a static looking design. C3 is designed more as a non-moving, non-dynamic product- like a toaster! Now, if you think about your car the same way as your toaster, or ipod, or laptop (my wife’s laptop and her C3 are the same colour) this type of styling is not a bad thing- but if you really are stuck with that very male idea that cars have to be fast and sporty, then C3 just doesn’t work. The truth is that both of these cars are not fast, they are not racing cars. The A-class is using fast car design language though- whereas the C3 uses a more honest philosophy of just trying to be functional, friendly, and pleasant looking. There are however a couple of areas that the Citroen has room for improvement, mainly the top of the windscreen and the rear lights. The windscreen has too much curvature in side view (towards the top)- which is very unusual to see on any car due to legal requirements. We are simply so unaccustomed to seeing this, it looks very wrong. It also makes it look like something has sat on the roof! The rear lights are a bit cheap looking, they seem to just fill gaps in the panels- rather than being designed to be that shape.

OK, so enough about our new car, my wife loves it so clearly it works for the intended consumer. This is always the definition of a good design. Finally I’ll include a proper fast car, designed with all those rules of accelerating lines and curves. This is what the A-class above is trying to emulate- even using some of the same lines in fact. Is that good design? Or is it just a boyish cliche of automotive design? I’ll let you think about it yourselves.

fast car with fast lines
fast car with fast lines

1994 twingo

face
face

My wife’s new Citroen will be arriving at the end of this month, so my Twingo’s days are numbered… sadly it may get crushed. I had to try buying a Twingo once I found a cheap one, well- relatively cheap as cars are really expensive here. They were never officially sold in the UK of course, as Renault failed to bother making a RHD version for us Brits. Apparently it would’ve cost them £4million to convert it, and their sales predictions wouldn’t have re-couped that money. The Twingo launched in 1993- and was the first sub-b sector car, a city car, below the existing Fiesta/Corsa class (b-sector). Ford of course took advantage of Twingo not being sold in the UK, and launched their own sub-b car, the Ka. Now look at how successful the Ka was, maybe Renault really missed a trick there! Twingo was conceived to be a cute lovable entity- more than just a car. It was also very thoroughly thought through, as a piece of product design. The one box shape created a kind of mini MPV, and this theme continued in the modular style interior, with features such as the sliding rear seat bench, with separately adjusting backrests. It had a number of “1sts” such as the central digital speedo (just like a Yaris), moveable rear seats, that cute radio ariel on the mirror, those asymmetrical vents on the bonnet (before the Peugeot 206!). To complete its image as more a product than a car, it was only available in one specification. I always remember the Twingo, as part of my interview to be accepted at Coventry University. I had to name who designed it (Patrick Le Quement), and what it was- from pictures with the badges and names taped over. This was “the test” of true car design knowledge (in the UK at least), and of course I knew all these answers thanks to Car Magazine! After owning a Twingo I’ve been very impressed with the design detailing- such as the levers for tipping forward the front seats, that are duplicated as large levers for the rear passengers to use themselves. A tiny detail, that is nearly always absent on other 2-door cars. Why? It is so easy to include! The rear seat sliding back provides near limo room in the rear, and I’ve found myself even moving it while driving! We have the rear seat forward, to give our dog Lily maximum space, but when I pick up passengers I just reach behind me and push the seat bench back. I have also noticed that the wing mirrors are different sizes. The passenger side is smaller- presumably to save a tiny amount of width (it is a city car!) with maybe a small aerodynamic gain also. The car was also only ever made in LHD, so the mirrors could be asymmetrical. Anyway, I guess overall I’ve really fallen for the Twingo. I originally bought it as it was a very cheap run-around, and I was curious, but now I struggle to think of any small car that is better designed- even now. It has turned out to be possibly the best designed car I’ve ever owned- only my MR2 Mk1 comes close, and that was nowhere near as cute. There is also a funny connection to our next car- the Citroen C3 was designed under Jean-Pierre Ploue, who was also part of the Twingo design team when working for Renault. Patrick Le Quement himself explained to then Renault design boss Raymond Levy, that Twingo should be a car “you would not leave in a winter street, but take upstairs to bed with you” and this he achieved. Despite there being a new Twingo, the old model is actually still in production, in Columbia. Regarding the new Twingo, I’ll let Le Quement explain the design of that one:

“The first car was looked upon as a bit of an iconic design, but in all the years it was built, it never made any money. As the head of design, I am not sure I can count that as a success. We failed to attract the young buyers we were targeting. This is why the new Twingo is different. The average age of buyer is already going in the right direction.”