January 27, 2012

In the first of his test drive reviews for Bankstone News, our new correspondent Marty Butch puts Dickon Tysoe’s Panda to the toughest of tests…

It’s bright and early when I pitch up in affluent Wharfe Valley fleshpot Addingham to try out Dickon Tyson’s automotive pride and joy, a Fiat Panda 1.2 “Dynamic.”

I’ve had my hopes built up a bit. Tysoe’s been regaling me with torrid tales of cutting a tarmac-thrashing dash round the Dales in a tiny tearaway box of tricks. I won’t say first impressions are disappointing. It’s way worse than that.

Where is the sleek white beast that Tysoe’s been banging on about? All I can see is a grubby little shoebox of a car, with all the sex appeal of a grizzled and ungainly middle-aged man in a casual navy jacket and faded jeans.

I slide in behind the wheel and take in a tidily functional array of controls. ‘Don’t be deceived,’ Tysoe chuckles, leaning in a lot too close up through the open driver-side window and patting the roof above my head.

‘Wait til you get her out on the Blubberhouses run. She’ll blow your socks off,’ he assures me with jovial implausibility. I’ll be the judge of that, I decide.

‘Key’s in the ignition, Mate. Just turn it, and off you go,’ Tysoe offers after I’ve sat there nonplussed for a minute or two. ‘Accelerator’s on the right, he puts in helpfully.’ Funny man.

Turns out the sticky thing for changing gear is located at elbow height over to my left. The seat feels benchy and distinctly non-exec. Like some undersized MPV.

I go back to scanning the instrumentation. What’s this do? I ask, prodding at a mysterious red button. Briefly Tysoe’s eyes flash with naked alarm. ‘You don’t need to know about that,’ is all he’ll say. I squint quizically back, but he declines to elaborate.

See ya, then, I tell him, bunnying out all nonchallant into the path of some foreign looking bloke tearing along in a battered Espace. Makes a big horn-blasting fuss of swerving to avoid me.

‘She’s got air conditioning,’ Tysoe shouts after me. I’ll be the judge of that, I decide.

Turning North, I start to open her up on the Bolton Road, moving the seat back a tad and taking advantage of the my accidental discovery of a steering-column-adjust function as I go.

With a 5-speed manual gearbox, a top speed final of 155, a power output of 44kw@5000, an autotraction control of n/a, and a sliding roof of option, Fiat are making some pretty impressive claims for the 500’s ugly sister.

The manufacturer’s blurb claims a no-slouch 0-60 in under ten minutes. I’ve only been going a couple of minutes and I’m already up to 40 or 50. So far so good. The handling’s willing and responsive as I fling her round the sweeping tree-lined curves of the B6160. Nice, I think, as Jason Derulo introduces himself on the radio and/or tape stereo soundsystem.

We’re nudging 55 now. It’s hard tryin’ to make it in the streets, I sing along with Jason.

It’s all going swimmingly, but somewhere in the background I sense the gears are trying to tell me something. I shift up to third. Then comes the fateful moment. I’ve just given up fumbling to get the lid off a tiny metal tin of breath mints, when my eyes come to rest on that mysterious button again. Let’s just see…

As soon as I’ve pressed it I can tell something’s not right. A bleepy honking sound fills the cabin like a security van in reverse and I’m pretty sure it’s not a Derulo remix. Then there’s this metallic-sounding robot bird telling me over and over: Warning – City Mode Engaged. City Mode? What the blinding eff is that?!

OK, I admit, I’m panicking a bit now. The Upper Wharfe Valley may be many things, but a city it is not! Instinct takes over and I wrestle the speeding Panda into roadside undergrowth, still doing 40-45 easy. There’s some scratching and bumping as we plunge down through brambles and bracken towards some kind of tranquil sylvan rivulet.

Abruptly the front end dips and the tail end flips up behind me. Next thing I know I’m lying on the ceiling looking up at the steering wheel, listening to a ticking sound as slowly descending parking tickets and toffee wrappers brush my face. A Copart biro slips from behind the sun visor and catches me in the eye.

Boll*cks, I think.

‘Where’s the car,’ a wibbly and agitated Tysoe wants to know as I limp back up his drive.

Not impressed with the handling, Mate, I tell him simply. Don’t know how you’ve kept it on the road as long as you have. Done you a favour really.

Tell you what, though: I can probably sort out the salvage for you.

In next week’s issue Marty tests out an Audi A5 Cabriolet 3.0 tdi Quattro SE S-Tronic belonging to Rachel Stow of Thorneycrofts Solicitors.


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