In the lap of luxury with Bentley

Continental remains an icon of British motoring

By Bill McCarthy

There is no doubt that the Continental convertible is breathtaking. Breathtaking in looks, breathtaking in performance and, breathtaking in price.

Paying well north of £180k for a car takes it beyond the means of the majority, but if you can afford it, it is a hugely desirable grand tourer that remains a British icon

If a car can be described as beautiful, then this Bentley both with the roof up or open car, fits that description – a compelling combination of elegance and power.

It never failed to get admiring looks, and comments on the stunning green colour of this particular model.

Bentley is German owned, VW in fact, but the hand-built features are a tribute to the master craftsmanship of British expertise at their factory in Crewe.

On the road, the car is a superb drive and brutally powerful

Now in its third generation the GT features a tailored roof that can be deployed or stowed in just 19 seconds, with the car travelling at speeds of up to 30 mph (50 km/h).

We love our convertibles in the UK but the weather doesn’t always play ball. But the Continental makes the wind in the hair experience throughly enjoyable. A discreet neckwarmer is integrated into the front seats, together with a heated steering wheel and heated armrests.

It looks sensational, with a low slung predatory look, featuring muscular haunches, swooping bonnet and the latest LED cut-crystal effect matrix headlamps. Sitting on 21 and 22-inch wheels it looks a powerhouse – and it is, with a four litre twin-turbo V8 engine on this model propelling the car to 60mph in four seconds. 

The interior is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and opulence, almost decadence. Just like its sibling the Flying Spur, it is a riot of handcrafted wood and leather of choice and chrome, together with jewellery-inspired diamond knurled finish switchgear and classy analogue style clock.

This model added the optional Mulliner Driving Specification which includes three-dimensional diamond quilted leather to seats, door casing and rear quarter panels, sports pedals and jewelled fuel and oil filler cap and embroidered Bentley emblems.

On the road, the car is a superb drive and brutally powerful. The 542bhp V8, mated with a seamless eight-speed transmission, delivers incredible acceleration, with the throaty roar of the V8 through the quadruple exhausts adding to the enjoyment, especially with the roof down.

It goes on to a theoretical 198mph, nearly three times above the legal speed limit in the UK. All the power is all well and good, but it needs to be kept in a straight line and that is where the intelligent four wheel drive kicks in, delivering traction where required.

There are four driving modes that adjust engine, suspension and gearbox settings, which, given the enormous power in ‘normal’ mode, seems fairly superfluous.

Listing all the features would fill a book, but tin addition to a host of bells and whistles, the centrepiece is a 12.3-inch central touchscreen system including HDD-navigation, two SD card slots, Bluetooth and WiFi streaming, a CD/DVD slot and digital radio. 

Also included is Apple CarPlay, Sirius satellite radio, 60GB solid-state hard drive and 4G telephone system. 

Hugely aspirational

Like other German car makers, Bentley provides plenty of options with the rotating display, a particularly clever piece of kit. It switches between touchscreen, three analogue gauges (compass, chronometer and outside temperature) and unbroken veneer.

But boot space is also surprisingly good, even with the roof stowed in the rear, with 235 litres, enough for a couple of small cases.

Safety is vital with such a powerful car and the  kit, some optional, features huge brake callipers, stability and traction control, a full complement of airbags and features including Active Lane Assist, Traffic Jam Assist and Park Assist with 360 degree all round cameras, infra-red camera, and head-up display.

Hugely aspirational, but practical and British built. What’s not to like?

FAST FACTS

Bentley Continental GT Convertible

Price: £182,800

Mechanical: 546bhp, 3,996cc, V8 petrol engine driving all wheels via 8-speed auto gearbox

Max speed: 198mph

0-60mph: 4 seconds

Combined mpg: 22.6

CO2 emissions: 284g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/unlimited miles

Claire takes the plunge for charity

Fundraisers in abseil challenge for St Giles Hospice

Adventurers with a head for heights can enjoy a bird’s eye view of Birmingham as they raise money for St Giles Hospice on an abseil challenge next month.

Fundraisers will be descending more than 100ft down the seven-story Green Man Wall on the Custard Factory building in Digbeth on Saturday, 9th October.

Next month’s event will be the second St Giles Hospice abseil at the Custard Factory, following the successful launch of the charity challenge in November 2019. 

After a year when the hospice’s fundraising events had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s abseil will go ahead in accordance with current Government guidelines.

Claire Barton, 47, from Lichfield, took part in the 2019 St Giles abseil fundraiser while her father David ‘Chas’ Chandler was receiving end of life care at the hospice.

Musician Chas had been supported at home for six months by the St Giles community nurse team after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, before being admitted to the hospice in his final days.

Claire said: “I’m absolutely terrified of heights but when I was standing there at the top I thought: ‘I’m so scared, but I’m doing this for my Dad.’

“My husband took a photo and we sent it to my Dad, and my Mum sent a photo back of my Dad doing a thumbs-up when she told him I’d done it. Even now, I feel so happy that I did it and could tell my Dad about it, rather than waiting until later when he had passed away. We were able to raise nearly £1,500 for St Giles.

“I never dreamed that our family would need St Giles, but we would never have made it through Dad’s illness without them and I want it to stay there for the people who are going to need it in the future.”

Chloe Herbert, Head of Fundraising at St Giles Hospice, said: “We’re thrilled to be running our abseil challenge again and we’d like to invite intrepid supporters to join us to turn the Green Man Wall orange as we descend one of the tallest buildings in Birmingham. You don’t need any training or special skills – just bring your bravery!

“You’ll enjoy unique views of Selfridges, the Bullring and the Birmingham skyline and your fundraising will make a big difference to local people, and their families, living with a terminal illness.

“Invite your friends and family along to take part or to cheer you on and you can all join in the celebrations afterwards. Not only will this adrenaline-fueled charity challenge take you to new heights for St Giles, but local businesses will be offering a range of different discounts to our brave participants to make your day extra special.”

Entry to the event is £25, with a minimum sponsorship target of £75. The Green Man Wall is a short 13-minute walk from Birmingham New Street train station and 11 minutes from Birmingham Moor Street and there are two car parks nearby.

For further information visit www.stgileshospice.com/abseil contact the fundraising team on 01543 432538, or email fundraising@stgileshospice.com.

New Sutton micropub a real family affair

The McDiarmid family outside one of their other pubs. The Ale Hub is expected to open before Christmas

A new micropub opening in Sutton Coldfield is a real family affair with the owners saying they want it to have a community feel and employ local people.

The McDiarmid family will open their fourth Ale Hub in Mere Green, at the former premises of Garner Canning Solicitors on Hill Village Road.

The former solicitor’s office on Hill Village Road

The new mini boozer will offer traditional ales for drinkers, together with a selection of gins, other drinks and bar snacks and provide a relaxed environment for customers.

It will be open from midday to 11pm seven days a week.

The family will spend around £50,000 converting the offices into a new real ale mini boozer, with a capacity of around 12 tables. There will be background music, but no electronic machines, with the emphasis on conversation and socialising with few distractions.

It is anticipated that work will start sometime in October and the conversion should be complete towards the end of the year and almost certainly by Christmas.

It should be good timing as the long-awaited transformation of Mere Green and Mulberry Walk in particular, and will add more variation to the already vibrant food and drink scene.

It will be their fourth pub to open during the pandemic, a tribute to their business acumen and determination in difficult circumstances.

The family, who are based in the Solihull area, also run a web-based logistics company.

They said they have a love of real ale and became disillusioned over the quality of real ales being offered at larger chains, where the main emphasis is on food, rather than the quality of the drinks.

Parents Neil and Sue McDiarmid, together with sons Campbell, Connor and daughter Brodie decided to have a go themselves and opened micropubs in Dickens Heath and Shirley with another due to open in Worcester. The say they pride themselves on the Ale Hub being a family-run business.

Their aim is to help to revitalise the local pub scene and provide the community with a choice of refreshing and well-kept drinks in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Campbell explained how the family became involved: “My mum and dad are real ale lovers and they struggled to find somewhere to go to cater for their needs. They saw that ales were generally poorly kept and saw a gap in the market for a local community feel pubs that offer cask ale, craft beers but doesn’t concentrate on the food side.

“We chose Mere Green when we were told it would be suitable for the clientele we were aiming for. We looked for about three months and then this venue came up and we went for it.”

“We will employ a local manager with around four part-time staff, who will also be local.”

Campbell added that the quality of the ales was paramount. “We have strict procedures in place,” he said. “There are protocols in every one of our bars to ensure quality.”

The tiny new pub, sandwiched between a general store and a barbers shop, will offer another option for tipplers in the area, offering a range of traditional real ales together with various gins and other drinks.

The plan approved by Birmingham City Council shows the ground floor will have a bar area, cellar and around a dozen tables, with toilet facilities on the first floor.

In a statement to Birmingham City Council planning department, The Ale Hub said: “We are looking to operate a micropub out of the premises which will have a focus on being a pleasant friendly space for the local community.”

Highlander makes its mark in UK

Toyota Highlander

By Bill McCarthy


The Highlander has certainly taken its time to land in this country. The big seven-seater SUV has been on sale in other parts of the world for 21 years, but it has now joined  the RAV4, C-HR and the new Yaris Cross to complete the Toyota European SUV line-up. Not forgetting, of course, the full-fat off-road Land Cruiser.

 The all wheel drive model now on sale in the UK is the  fourth generation and its full hybrid self-charging system provides up to 80 per cent emissions-free driving. 

There are just two versions Excel and Excel Premium and both provide triple-zone air conditioning, Skyview panoramic roof, LED headlights, wireless phone charging, heated front seats and 11-speaker JBL sound system. Premium adds  hands-free tailgate operation, head-up display and digital rear-view mirror, plus a host of other driver aids, bells and whistles.

The powertrain is mated with CVT transmission and high levels of torque gives a two-tonne towing capacity. The 245bhp/182kW hybrid combination delivers fuel economy of around 40mpg, which is pretty impressive for such a big vehicle.

It is  more than capable off-road, but it offers so much more and is more likely to be seen at the school gates than the Amazon rainforest.  It offers the longest load space in its class and up to 1,909 litres of boot capacity.

The rear seats slide backwards and forwards and with the rearmost two seats folded into the floor a huge amount of space can be opened up.

With the rearmost pair of seats in situ, it can accommodate adults but is probably more suitable for children. When all seven seats are in place, this provides 332 litres of storage, including 27 litres beneath the floor.

It certainly has striking looks, sitting high off the ground and with wide grille, slim light clusters and flared wheel arches encasing the alloy wheels.

The interior itself has an executive feel with leather seating, satin and woodgrain finish and soft touch materials to the door and dashboard, while instrumentation is logical and sensibly laid out.

The central point is the eight-inch multimedia touchscreen which controls major functions like navigation and infotainment and can mirror your smartphone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while the seven inch TFT screen provides instant driver information.

On the road, the powertrain delivers smooth and swift acceleration. It can hit 60mph in just over eight seconds and can cruise on electric power only at speeds approaching 80mph.

There are four drive modes, Eco, Normal, Sport and Trail. The final mode acts like a limited-slip differential but uses braking to help send power from the slipping wheel to the wheel with traction, between the left and right sides of the vehicle. 

All four modes can still be used when the vehicle is operating in its separately selectable EV all-electric mode. In addition the intelligent all wheel drive system delivers extra stability in slippery or rough conditions. 

The Toyota Safety Sense active safety and driver assistance include a Pre-Collision System that can detect pedestrians by day and night and cyclists during daytime driving, with Emergency Steering Assist and Intersection Turn Assistance.

On-the-road prices are £50,595 for the Highlander Excel and £52,575 for the Excel Premium. Both are protected by Toyota’s five-year/100,000-mile new vehicle warranty.

Factfile

Toyota Highlander Excel

Price: £50,595

Mechanical: 245bhp, 2487cc, 4-cylinder, petrol engine and two electric motors driving all wheels via CVT transmission

Max Speed: 112mph

0-62mph: 8.5 seconds

Combined MPG: 282

Insurance Group: 40

C02 emissions: 162g/km

Warranty: 5yrs/100,000 miles

Sutton micropub cheer for real ale drinkers

Real ale lovers will soon be in for a treat when a new micropub opens in Sutton Coldfield.

The Ale Hub will open in Mere Green, based at the former premises of Garner Canning Solicitors on Hill Village Road. It will be open from midday to 11pm seven days a week.

The tiny new pub, sandwiched between a general store and an barbers shop, will offer another option for tipplers in the area, offering a range of traditional real ales together with various gins and other drinks.

It will add more variation to the already vibrant food and drink scene in Mere Green.

The firm already runs micropub in Dickens Heath, Shirley and Worcester and says it prides itself on being a family-run business.

It says its goal is to revitalise the local pub scene and provide the community with a choice of refreshing and well-kept beverages in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Birmingham City Council has approved the planning application submitted by the company with various conditions attached.

A plan submitted to the council shows the ground floor will have a bar area, cellar and around a dozen tables, with toilet facilities on the first floor.

There will be no TVs, electronic games or food, apart from bar snacks like crisps and nuts and the firm says it will concentrate on making the premises customer friendly. There will be one full-time manager with three other part time staff.

In a statement to Birmingham City Council planning department, The Ale Hub said: “We are looking to operate a micropub out of the premises which will have a focus on being a pleasant friendly space for the local community.

“There will be no TVs or loud music as it is a traditional micropub that is focused on listening to its customers, mainly serving cask and craft ales, promoting conversation and shunning all forms of electronic entertainment. We will also offer a range of gins as well as other drinks.

We will not serve meals, only pub snacks such as crisps and nuts

“We will look to recruit locally which will remove the need for our staff to require parking spaces as the majority of our staff at our other micropubs live within walking distance.”

Triple helping of laughter at town hall

Comedy fans in Sutton Coldfield are in for a triple treat when a trio of comedians take the stage at the town hall. Rosie jones, Justin Moorehouse and Mrs Barbara Nice will present a night of comedy at the town venue on Thursday, November 18.

Rosie, currently appearing on the Last Leg Paralympics show, has quickly become a must-see act on the UK comedy circuit.
The ex-television researcher was awarded second place in the Leicester Mercury’s New Comedian Of The Year Award 2018 and has gone on to star on Live At The Apollo, The Jonathan Ross Show, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown.

She is also a regular on The Last Leg.

Justin has appeared on Live At The Apollo, Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights.
Justin brought back tiger-faced Young Kenny for the record-breaking run of Phoenix Nights Live at The Manchester Arena, which raised over £5 million for comic relief; told fantastic tales about Australia and Manchester on Live At The Apollo.

He won The Champion of Champions on BBC 5Live’s Fighting Talk; and appeared as Dean the rival cricketing landlord on Coronation Street. All this as well as helming his own critically acclaimed podcast About 30 Minutes, No More Than 45.

Mrs Barbara Nice was created by award-winning comedian and theatre director Janice Connolly, Barbara Nice is the overenthusiastic housewife alter-ego of Birmingham-based performer Janice, who previously appeared in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights, and is well known on the circuit for her lively, upbeat presence.

Barbara performs playful, life-affirming shows for all the family. With the affectionate attitude of a playgroup leader at a wild Iggy Pop concert, she is guaranteed to warm the heart of any audience, say the organisers.

The show is hosted by Wayne Beese and is for over-16s only.
Tickets are still available and cost from £15-£18. The doors and bar open at 7pm, with the show starting at approximately 8pm

* Line-up may be subject to change, top quality comedy show always guaranteed