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My working week: Neil Briscoe

Monday Sep 30

Off down to the palatial surrounds of Luttrelstown Castle to have a gander at the new BMW 4 Series. Now, I'm naturally suspicious when a car maker tells us something is brand new, yet it is in fact utterly familiar and the 4 Series at first seems to fall into this category. In spite of every exterior panel being all new, it just looks like a cut-and-shut 3 Series, is all but identical inside and feels more or less the same to drive. In fact, it even seems to understeer a tad more than expected. Disappointing?

Well, maybe not. Later that evening, I find myself constantly harking back to a quick spin I took in the petrol-fuelled 2.0-litre turbo 428i. Not the most powerful car on Earth but beautifully refined and with a lovely crisp engine note at the top end. It's a car I just can't shake out of my head, so maybe the 4 Series isn't disappointing, but just a slow-burner instead.

Tuesday & Wednesday Oct 1 & 2

Off to Nice in the company of's Shane O' Donoghue and Volvo Car Ireland's Barry Walsh to check out the last-Swedish-car-maker-standing's new range of petrol and diesel engines. You can read Shane's full appraisal elsewhere on the site but for my money the new D4 2.0-litre diesel engine (181hp, as low as 99g/km!) is just excellent, and easily eclipses BMW's too-noisy 20d engine. The V60 estate we test it in is unfairly unsung in this country too. It's better looking inside and out than most, if not all, rivals, smooth and sure footed to drive (steering could be crisper, it's true) and staggeringly comfy.

This type of event, where the emphasis is on the technology, can kinda go either way. Too much time with over-earnest engineers talking about the finer points of piezo-electric crystals can really do your head in, but thankfully the Volvo guys kept things light and dinner with Chief Program Engineer Magnus Lindbald and his bone-dry sense of humour was thoroughly enjoyable. Hopefully these new engines can put Volvo back on the front foot in Irish sales terms. It's a company whose products genuinely deserve much more recognition here.

Thursday Oct 3

Looking back over my notes from the Volvo event, and remember a chat I had with Eric Coelingh, one of Volvo's senior safety bods. I was asking him about the Volvo 2020 promise, whereby the firm wants to ensure that no-one driving one of its cars will ever again be killed or seriously injured in a car crash. It's a bold claim, and I assumed he would tell me that the key factor is to take the driver out of the loop and let the computers take over. Not so though; "Taking away the human brain is not the right approach. You can do that, but it is probably very far away. But you want to make sure that the human brain is alert and capable of dealing with upcoming situations. One way of illustrating it is like this; in our safety centre, maybe twenty years ago, there were a lot of people working on bio-mechanics, trying to understand how the body reacts in case of an accident. Right now we have a lot of people who are human behaviour experts. They try to understand how humans behave in these situations. So, we're not trying to take the driver out of the loop. I mean, driving a car is fun, and people want to drive cars and, obviously, we think that's a good thing. But we try to make sure that the driver has the right information, that they are fit to drive, feel comfortable in the car and so on, because all of these aspects have a role to play. An alert and fit driver is capable of dealing with any upcoming situation, so it's not about taking out the driver; it's about making sure the driver is well informed and fit to drive."

Interesting stuff, and refreshing to hear in a motoring world that seems intent on letting HAL 9000 (or Futurama's Bender - take your pick) assume all driving duties, that some car makers still regard the nut that holds the wheel as a vital component.

Friday Oct 4

Crikey, it's been wet out there this week. I've been driving for long enough that nasty weather conditions don't usually trouble me much, but even I've gotten a bit spooked yesterday. The spray from other cars just seems to be hanging in the air, like driving in a permanent low fog. Terrifying, and I had visions of Alain Prost and Didier Pironi's leg-shattering crash at the 1983 German Grand Prix running through my head. Conditions at Hockenheim were unpleasantly similar to those on the M1 past the airport today. Pironi, pushing hard and unsighted by the spray, hit the back of Prost's Renault with a sickening crash that destroyed his Ferrari and shattered his legs - ending his Grand Prix career in an instant. All of which was making me break the world record for backing off, when I was passed by a Mitsubishi Grandis who didn't even have their lights on. Come on, people. Let's at least try and be safe, can we? Either that or please stay at home and give the rest of us a fighting chance...

Death of the humble cigarette lighter

Hyundai has announced that it is to replace the in-car cigarette lighter with a USB port after a survey of Hyundai buyers in Korea revealed that 84 per cent of respondents said they didn't use the lighter in their car and 92 per cent expressed a preference for a USB port over the lighter hole.

For the moment the move will only apply to Korean domestic market cars, but could in time be rolled out to other markets. Hyundai claims it is the "first auto company in the world" to make the move and…

Premium brands target Brazilian market

With the European car market still on the decline, and preparations in place to take advantage of an expected two-fold growth in China, many car manufacturers are looking around the world to identify the next growth region. For premium manufacturers at least it would appear to be Brazil, the largest economy in Latin America with annual car sales of 4.3 million units.

The vast majority of these sales are what we would term mainstream models so options for the likes of a Citroen or Fiat to enter the market is limited, but with less than 100,000 'luxury' cars sold last…

And the award for best PR of the day goes to...

Hyundai! In what is a very clever move, Hyundai Motors in North America has announced that it will defer any payments due on its cars owned by US federal employees financed though Hyundai Finance America. More than 700,000 workers have been forced into taking unpaid leave by the current government shutdown.

John Krafcik, chief executive of Hyundai Motor America said; "We recognize the impact on family budgets that the furlough will drive". He went on to say that the offer to help the federal employees was an addition to the Hyundai Assurance programme that is aimed at "helping…