Think of me, if you will, as a turkey voting for Christmas.
To save money, speed cameras are being switched off in Oxfordshire (with other counties likely to follow), so those so inclined can go back to belting along at almost any speed with next to no fear of legal retribution. Great fun; no one enjoys speed more than me. Except maybe 19-year-old Wayne in his souped-up Citroën Saxo.
Yet reluctantly, I vote that the cameras stay live. Irrespective of the current flood of wildly conflicting studies and statistics, simple common sense tells us that the switch-off will end in real tears shed for the extra dead and injured – mainly pedestrians. When even motoring organisations such as the Automobile Association suggest that the switch-off might not be such a good idea, we should know we are heading for trouble.
It is easy to hate the deviousness and even stupidity with which so many of Britain’s speed cameras have been deployed: their revenue-raising positions on relatively safe open roads; their deplorable absence outside our schools and in vulnerable residential streets. Yet they have modified our driving and slowed us down and – reluctantly though this lifelong motor racer acknowledges it – that has been mostly for the good. An extra benefit is that the cameras have accelerated the growth of the private circuit “track day” industry, allowing fast cars to be truly enjoyed at no risk to anyone but their drivers.
These thoughts arise as the road is scooting beneath the wheels of my Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion test car at the rate of 15 yards a second, the endless semis of congested west London streets parading past on either side. I am not, however, being a jump-the-gun hooligan. That’s 30mph, the legal limit. The camera-dismantlers would do well to recall Transport and Road Research Laboratory findings that a pedestrian struck by a car at 10 yards per second – 20mph – has an 80 per cent chance of survival. At 40mph, it’s almost invariably curtains.
Or, instead, they could make us all drive Polo BlueMotions.
The Polo is European Car of the Year, and its Gti version is one of the zippiest hottish hatchbacks in the marketplace, but its diesel-sipping, flagship BlueMotion “green” model is to forward motion what a basset hound is to greyhound racing. Speed cameras grow bored awaiting its arrival. Flowers have time to bloom during its stately progress from standstill to a motorway cruise. And this Polo really does have a hole in the middle – a large one in its power delivery at lower engine speeds, so that overtaking is to be viewed more as risky long-term project than brisk manoeuvre.
Yet to most drivers willing to pay the £14,445 on-the-road price for the three-door version before extras – the five-door is £600 more expensive – I suspect the performance deficit will hardly matter at all. They will be too busy having fun watching the average fuel consumption read-out, to see if they can match the BlueMotion’s official EU fuel consumption figure. And here we get to the BlueMotion’s raison d’être. The EU figure for the combined urban/rural test cycle is a remarkable 80.7 miles per gallon – inconceivable for a conventional diesel car even a year or two ago.
Some people say the EU test cycle is unrealistic, although on paper it looks rigorous enough. The urban element comprises a cold start and a mixture of accelerations, decelerations, cruising up to 31mph and ticking over. The rural element comprises steady driving at up to 75mph – average speed 39mph – combined with accelerations, decelerations and idling.
Experience tells me that you would need to drive like Ebenezer Scrooge to achieve those EU figures. Nevertheless, with a modicum of restraint, I managed an average just short of 70mpg, which anyone covering 15,000 miles a year would find rather good for the bank balance.
The same applies to the zero road tax for this emitter of just 91 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Why that doesn’t qualify this Polo for exemption from London’s congestion charge, despite emitting less CO2 than Toyota’s pious Prius, is a question best asked of Mayor “Boris the Bike” Johnson.
Do such savings, however, justify the BlueMotion costing almost £5,000 more than the £9,790, entry level, 1.2-litre petrol-powered Polo? Cheapo Polo has an EU combined test cycle consumption of 51.5mpg. Over 15,000 miles in a year, therefore, the BlueMotion would use 187 gallons of fuel; the cheapest model 291 gallons. At around £5.50 a gallon the saving would be around £575; the road tax saving £90. On that basis, it would take almost a decade to even the financial tally – and few owners are likely to cover as much as 15,000 miles a year.
It isn’t that simple, of course. On the base-level Polo, the wheels aren’t actually an “extra”, but just about everything else is. The BlueMotion, on the other hand, has quite a few extras, although not as many as it might have were it not for the need to keep weight down to 1,150kg. The car must be light for its fuel consumption to be so frugal, and for that reason it has a five-speed manual gearbox, not a heavyweight automatic.
There is automatic stop/start of its 1.2-litre, 74 horsepower turbodiesel, for traffic lights and urban crawling. An aerodynamic body kit helps it slip through the air more easily and economically. Alloy wheels are standard, fitted with low rolling-resistance tyres. And despite the extra weight, the BlueMotion comes with air conditioning – purely manual – on the correct assumption that, for most consumers, its absence would be a step too far on the road to “green” virtue. There is lowered suspension (also helping air-flow), a computer and even cruise control. Four can sit in comfort and there is plenty of space in the boot.
What the weight requirement does not allow for, however, is much in the way of effective soundproofing. The BlueMotion is pleasantly quiet at motorway cruising speeds. But the diesel clatter at idle and its gruffish nature when the engine is worked hard – as it has to be – during acceleration, make it a vocal, as well as leisurely, companion.
No matter; remember the upside. That camera may well have been turned off by the time the eco-Polo reaches it.
A low-carbon car from Volkswagen
£15,045 (five-door) before extras
0-62mph 13.9 secs, top speed 107mph
80.7mpg on EU urban/rural test cycle
Audi A1 from £13,145; Citroen C3 Airdream from £14,950; Fiat 500 Twinair from £12,000; Ford Fiesta Econetic from £15,445; Vauxhall Corsa from £14,040