The first week of September is always an interesting one for UK car enthusiasts – the 1st marks not just the first day of a new month but is also the day when the number plates for new cars switch to a new ‘number’. This of course tends to mean big(ish) queues at car dealerships as owners turn up to collect their new vehicles, but it is always quite a novelty to see a new number formation…this week is the turn of the ‘65’ plate, following on from the understandable ‘15’ plate.
I have already seen my first ‘65’ car, an Audi A5 Sportback Black Edition which is owned by a colleague of mine and took the place of a 14 plate version of the same car, the difference being this model has black paintwork and flashier wheels. But having my head turned by expensive metal is not something that just happens for two weeks a year, no I am always on the lookout for cars I like and over the weekend I had quite the opportunity to gauge the sort of newish cars which grace various parts of the South East via a trip encompassing an entire lap of the M25 motorway.
Now don’t go thinking me too crazy – I didn’t drive it all in one go, but rather used it to drive to and from Brighton on the South Coast of the UK. Living in North London means that there is little to no time difference either direction I go round the M25 to get to the M23, which is essentially on the polar opposite side of the ring road which encircles London. The Essex/Kent way is a slightly shorter distance but has the problem of the Dartford Crossing and associated tolls, whereas the Bucks/Surrey route tends to get severely clogged up around Heathrow at peak times. Thankfully the roads were reasonably quiet both parts of the journey on Sunday, so I was able to have a good look at other vehicles on the road.
The only way is Essex, or so ITV’s premier reality show for lovers of fake tan and vajazzles would have us think. In all honesty living only a stone’s throw from the TOWIE towns of Loughton and Chigwell means that I am actually quite fond of the county which taste forgot, and I guess this apparent lack of taste also translates to the cars too as the Essex section of the M25 is littered in all things Ford and white. Admittedly that is a comment which could apply to most UK road networks but I did actually notice a higher-than-normal number of Fiesta’s in ST hot hatch guise, plus the usual brigade of Transits and other white vans which patrol the roads even at weekends. Being an SUV fan I also paid a lot of attention to the fact that new shape Range Rover Sports seem to be growing on trees in Essex…clearly I need to move across the border because it seemed that everywhere I looked I could see the trademark LED markings of the shiny new Sport, usually in white or black with full-on 22” alloy wheels.
An honourable mention has to go to the first new shape Audi Q7 I saw on the opposite side of the carriageway near the junction for Thurrock, strangely heading away from its spiritual Lakeside shopping centre home.
The Kent section of the M25 is probably the most confusing for drivers not used to the road; first of all you have to contend with the now barrier-less Dartford Crossing, followed by a 60mph speed limit and various exits, with the road seemingly splitting into 2 at Sevenoaks as the M25 turns into a 2 lane slip road that merges with part of the M20. However the rolling hills and sweeping fields of Kent are actually very pretty and it’s easy to get distracted by some of the unusual names of nearby towns and villages. What also managed to distract me were all the LED running lights which seemed to be in constant flow in the opposite direction – a sign that Kent has a few more newer vehicles than it’s Essex cousin across the water, or at least had newer vehicles driving through at the time! As cliché as it is to say that I saw a lot of Audi’s (because of their addiction to LED lighting) I really did, in particular their ‘Q’ models. I didn’t see any more of the latest Q7’s but there were a fair few late-model versions of the previous generation, complete with S-Line trim and most likely argumentative children in the back on the way to Bluewater. Facelifted Q3’s also seem to be the order of the day, wearing their new silver mouthpiece like some sort of gaudy lipstick, though having said that I am still quite keen on my Mum buying one instead of a Honda.
Probably my stand out observation from driving through Kent was the unusually high number of Aston Martins I saw…OK so maybe 4 Astons doesn’t make Tunbridge Wells the new Beverly Hills, but for a reasonably short stretch of road it did stand out (and no I didn’t see the same one 4 times!).
Brighton lays at the end of the M23 (which becomes the A23 after Gatwick), and as a popular weekend destination for holidaymakers and daytrippers alike, it means the road can end up being very congested the closer you get to the city…especially once you cross the (bloody awful) junction with the A27 where the traffic tends to end in standstill. My way down actually featured a lot of BMW X5’s just like mine, usually in black with 19” wheels too…awkward! Actually this is no unfamiliar sight because every street corner in North London tends to feature a black BMW X5, I guess it’s popular for good reason though with a total average of 35.3mpg over the course of the 180 mile trip being pretty good going for a large 4×4 loaded with 5 adults and luggage (and being driven at reasonably high speed too). Other cars? Well the Sunday drivers were out in force in their beloved Skodas and VW Polo’s, plus an incredibly idiotic Suzuki Wagon R pulled out onto the M23 and proceeded to do 30mph in the slow lane, causing a big tail back behind as people had to overtake.
My favourite sighting across both Sussex and Surrey sections of the M23 were all the current shape Porsche Cayennes and Macans which were being driven surprisingly sedately on my way home, so slowly in fact that I was able to get a decent look at the various drivers, who tended to be middle aged women (even in the spritely S model I overtook). The older Cayenne was present too, including a Turbo S which was racing a Range Rover Sport past Gatwick grr.
I’ll be honest it had been a long day and so my eyes were pretty tired on the drive home through Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire (possibly Berkshire too but I’m not bothered enough to check). These are reasonably flat and disinteresting counties, so the only thing to really pay attention to are the various speed cameras, low flying planes over Heathrow and of course the unavoidable traffic jams which seem to spring up for no reason between the M3 and M40 almost constantly. Another annoyance is the road surface for the south west corner of the M25, which soon after junction 10 is made from concrete as opposed to tarmac and so translates a lot more road noise to the cabin, to the extent that I was worried I’d had a tyre blow out or at least a serious flat! These being leafy commuter belt counties meant that there was lots of nice metal though, including a high number of ‘full fat’ Range Rovers, especially the current model which continues to grow on me. I also saw quite a few more BMW’s than other parts of my trip, certainly more than any other premium manufacturers although again that might just be because I was in the fast lane a lot! This section also compounded my hate for younger Vauxhall Corsa drivers, who seem to have embraced the latest (heavily facelifted) generation car most likely thanks to the LED running lights which now feature as standard instead of a must have buy from Halfords.
A special mention must go to the BMW 430d who tailgated me throughout the traffic jam around Heathrow before speeding off weaving through lanes to gain around 2 places once the queue had freed up a bit. Again it was driven by a lady in her early 50’s and this time with a full complement of passengers and a large (and expensive) dent in the rear bumper…I do like Estoril Blue Beemers though.
Of course the above lists are pretty much wholly inaccurate and based on one person’s brief observations on a bank holiday weekend, but there was definitely a discernible difference between different sections of the London Orbital, and although I have travelled around it in one day in this manner before, I did see enough cars I liked to warrant the idea of this blog post popping into my head! The M25 has a reputation of being one of the world’s worst roads, filled with traffic jams and road works galore…at the right time of day and given decent conditions it can be a pretty painless experience for drivers with a bit of confidence, but although the most recent wave of improvements has given 4 lanes in most sections, it has also added a large number of speed cameras – ones I noticed going off several times across the route, worth noting!