In The Headlights – New Car Special! {{favouriteCount}} Quantity of Likes

31 Jan 2018

In the latter months of the year, the new car release program is like a barren wasteland, much like the rest of us PR companies and car manufacturers like to wind down to the holidays. But as soon as January hits it’s full steam ahead, which is why this week our In the Headlights theme is simply New Cars! We’re using ITH to shed some light on the newest cars that have come out and if they’re popular we’ll stick them in the competition. To choose the four cars this week we needed someone with their finger on the pulse of the automotive grapevine, none other than motoring journalist Phil Huff, Editor of FrontSeatDriver.co.uk Here are some of Phil’s thoughts along with my own on this week’s cars:

Volkswagen Polo GTI Plus

Phil Huff: The new Polo is a cracking little car, and could happily take more power. This has got it, and then some, and is exciting all us media types with the promise of classic Mk2 Golf GTi entertainment in a modern package. A two-litre turbocharged engine and 197bhp suggests VW think the same, but it’s a shame the Plus only has some extra kit over the GTI, and no more technical ability.

Tim Oldland: I totally agree, this could well be the pick of the GTi range that now includes the up! GTi as well. I’d have liked to have seen the Plus have a smidge more power and maybe a limited slip diff, but who knows, there might be a Polo GTi Clubsport on the horizon – now that would be an incredible thing to drive!

BMW X3 M40i

PH: Driving the new BMW X3 does leave you wondering if everybody else should just give up now. It’s simply superb at everything it does, with more than enough power, space, equipment, handling prowess and refinement to keep everyone happy. Arguably the 30d diesel-powered model might be more sensible, but that ‘M’ means sensible can do one.

TO: Yep, you don’t buy a big SUV with 355bhp from a turbocharged petrol engine if you want to be sensible – well you’re still being semi-sensible, the engine isn’t in an M2 for instance, but you’re getting a fantastic blend of performance, practicality and looks in the M40i. Previously this was only available on the crazy powerful and crazy expensive X5M but now that lovely mix is far more accessible.

Mercedes CLS 53 AMG

PH: This one will upset purists. The days of the V8-powered AMG seems to be over, as the CLS 53 is a hybrid car. It’s no eco-warrior though, as the brand new 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine (fitted with two turbochargers and an electric compressor) will provide as much power and, if AMG is to keep its reputation intact, as much entertainment as anything they’ve done before. This is one car I’m really looking forward to driving.

TO: You and me both, Phil. You and me both! These ‘mild hybrid’ systems would seem to be the way that most performance cars are going to go in the future, with a 48V system to support the mechanical drivetrain and offer some electric boost when needed. But for me the killer with this new CLS53 is simply the way it looks – I really didn’t like the previous generation CLS (but loved the first) so I’m really happy that it’s now back to being a sleek, stylish 4-door coupe which in AMG guise looks super mean too.

Land Rover Defender Works V8

PH: By contrast, this isn’t one I’m looking forward to. The Defender struggles with being a modern motor car at the best of times, but with 399bhp under the bonnet it’ll be the quickest way to cross a field this side of a tank. I’m just not sure I’d want to try it on public roads. It’s also £150,000 for a wobbly old Defender that’s been built around a second-hand (sorry, “specially selected”) chassis, the basics of which were designed 70 years ago. What could possibly go wrong?

TO: Okay, will this be an accomplished on-road vehicle, with impeccable driving manners and a comfy driving position? No, not even close, but sometimes in life you have to look at the smiles per gallon that a car gives you and I can guarantee that firing up that massive V8, hearing the rumble and burble, then flooring this old tin can to 62mph in 5.6 seconds will give you a massive grin. It’s also going to be huge fun off road as Defenders always are. The only sad thing for me is that a large portion of these Works V8s will probably never turn a wheel and sit in private collections somewhere, which is a huge waste.


It’s incredible how often the petrolheads we speak to have motoring memories etched into their brains from an early age.

Phil is no different, not only recounting a string of cars owned by his parents back in the early 80s but the unveiling of a now-classic Jaguar.

“It’s technically not the first memory, but the passage of time has mixed them up and moved them around a little,” he explains. “The most striking one of my early years was seeing the Jaguar XJ220 revealed at the motor show in Birmingham in 1988. Even now I think it’s one of the most beautiful cars ever designed and, whilst I’ve yet to drive one, I have now been inside that original prototype that graced the stage.

I can remember a worrying number of my parents cars, going back to around 1982-ish, when I would have been six. There was a Ford Fiesta, followed by a Vauxhall Astra. Three Vauxhall Cavaliers followed (two 1.6 L models, then a 1.6 GL - the old man had made it!) and then there was a jump to a gold Ford Granada. A Carlton and a SAAB 9000 took him to retirement. I always had a soft spot for the final Cavalier, one of the last Mk2s that were made, although I was always secretly upset that it wasn’t an SRi130!”

Rather than sit with a copy of the Beano in his formative years, Phil’s love of cars won out.

“I got into cars very early, and was that child that didn’t get comics but instead had What Car? or Motor magazines. Later than I should, I did a bit of karting and it turned out I was quite handy, so I tried unsuccessfully to build a racing career. I won one secondary championship, but lack of funds and age counted against me. Mostly the lack of funds, though.

“I turned to ‘proper’ jobs in telecoms, but always had that itch. After a bit of a health scare in 2012 it was time to give up climbing the career ladder and enjoy life, so I gave up my role at Nokia and decided to become a motoring journalist. A bit of help from a couple of people I knew in the industry was enough to kickstart it, and then it’s been a case of building up clients, coming up with new ideas, and going on endless driving adventures.

“Freelancing means I’m not necessarily seen in the same light as staff writers at the likes of Autocar and What Car?, but I get to choose when I work, how much work I do, and where I work from. The lack of a direct boss is liberating, even if the unpredictable nature of the role is a tad worrying at times.”

So while he clearly enjoys his current role, does he have a dream motoring gig?

“I’m loving what I do and, apart from more work, there’s not a lot I’d like to change. However, there are some great opportunities in China where car culture is really just taking off, and shaping opinion there would be fascinating. I also can’t get enough of American motors (I’m a glutton for punishment) so doing the same as I do now but over in the States would appeal.”

While two cars is a lot for many, Phil has reduced his personal fleet to “just three”

“I've always run a fleet of varying sizes, but it's at a low point of just three cars right now. The main one is an early 90s Corvette, a proper American sports car. That's accompanied by a Mk1 Ford Focus and a near-perfect Mk1 Toyota Yaris. The best I had was a Nissan Primera eGT back in the 90s - a car I'd like to revisit now. I’ve got no desire to revisit the Austin Allegro I owned, although there was nothing inherently wrong with it - I simply didn’t fit properly and driving it caused me pain within a few minutes.”

Not one of his motoring highlights then….

“Definitely not, but thankfully the job gives me opportunities that are, sometimes, unbelievable. I’ve driven a Range Rover Sport through a Boeing 747, driven a Mercedes GLA down the bottom of a salt mine, and nearly taken a Kia Sorento to the North Korea border by accident.

“It’s the epic drives that always stick in the memory though. I’ve driven to the most northerly point in mainland Europe with snowstorms, sheet-ice roads, really sub-zero temperatures and suicidal reindeer, all in a family hatchback. I’ve tackled the greatest driving roads in the world (including the Sustenpass in Switzerland, the very best stretch of road I know) in everything from a beaten-up old Renault Safrane to the finest sports cars.

“However, covering every mile of Route 66 in a Lexus LS luxury car tops them all. Four weeks in America, visiting places nobody has ever heard of, exploring ever-changing landscapes and tackling weather from tornado-laden thunderstorms to 50-degree desert roads is an experience I can’t forget.”

So if he were to play BOTB, what car would he hope to win?

The Americana desire would kick in again, and I’d want you turning up in some kind of pick-up truck. I’d like to say a Ford Raptor, but that might be a little too extreme for UK roads, so I’d settle on something like a Ford F-250.”





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