2002 SEAT Leon 20VT
Having said I should drive the Leon more in my last update, I have been doing exactly that this month. It is strange to find myself going outside and actually pausing to think about which car I want to drive. Before this, the Leon would only win out if my sole intention was blasting round local B-roads. Now I willingly choose to take it, even for commuting purposes. It really has improved that much following the work I did to it a few months ago.
That said, B-roads remain the place where the Leon is most at home. The car has a real sweet spot between about 30 and 50 miles per hour, and for whatever reason, pulling in third gear above 2500rpm at half throttle makes the car feel like it’s running perfectly.
The 2-3 shift has always generated a particularly satisfying ‘click’, but it recently started doing something similar with the 5-6 shift. This was a bit of a mystery, until I discovered that someone had spilled something sticky into the creases of the shifter gaiter; the ‘click’ was just the sound of the material sticking and unsticking. It is clean now, and all is quiet again.
Speaking of being quiet, the sound dampening material I added a few months ago continues to pay dividends; a motorway cruise may not be the most peaceful and relaxing type of drive in the Leon, but it is much better than before. Really, the only further improvement I find myself considering now is adding a bit more power…
Current mileage: 84,451
Mileage since purchase: 12,168
2004 Subaru Outback 3.0Rn
The road between Withernsea and Hornsea, on the East Yorkshire coast, involves a good few twists and turns, and finding myself there in the Outback the other day, I decided to push the car a bit and see how it really handled corners. Given its ride height, it remains fairly planted throughout, and the steering firms up nicely under load. However, it is a bit more unsettled if you quickly throw the car back in the other direction, particularly in the rear where the suspension is softer. Still, for something of this height and weight, you could do worse. And of course, this is not what the Outback was really designed for.
I’m still not a big fan of the automatic gearbox. There are no mechanical issues with it, but I’ve not yet figured out how to make it behave best. In town, for instance, leaving it in normal mode is fine, except for the fact that right around 30mph, it can’t decide what gear it wants to be in, jumping between fourth and fifth. Sport mode isn’t an option for urban driving, because it won’t shift until nearly 3000rpm, but if you accelerate in normal mode and then drop it into sport mode once you’ve hit 30, it will hold fourth gear. It’s not ideal, but it works. Sport mode is great, however, for overtaking, because downshifts require less throttle input; leave it in normal mode, and you have to bury the accelerator to wake the gearbox up, at which point it jumps down three gears and assumes you want a full-throttle run.
The dreaded check engine light made its first appearance this month. It was a P0420 code, which signals the catalyst system not working as efficiently as it should. Given the car’s mileage, I began to fear the worst, but wanted to rule out other options first. As it happens, the day before, I’d accidentally run through a giant muddy puddle coming round a blind corner, and suspected some unwelcome water might have disrupted one of the sensors. I did some hunting for intake and exhaust leaks, but didn’t notice anything in particular. The PCV valve was rather clogged, however, so I gave that a good cleaning. For good measure, I also filled up with 99-octane, added some Redex injector cleaner, and then drove round a bit in a manner that would assist in clearing out the exhaust pipes. The code has been cleared for now, and after several hundred miles, hasn’t reappeared. Fingers crossed.
After a conversation with fellow Outback owner, Ben Hodges, I’ve been experimenting with tyre pressures a bit too. Up to this point, I have been running them at about 31-32, but Ben suggested higher might be better. Last week, I raised them all the 33, and have found that he might be right – it seems to have firmed up the handling a bit, while maintaining a good composure over uneven surfaces.
Finally, James Ruppert, otherwise known to the car community as Mr Bangernomics, has kindly featured the Outback in this week’s edition of Autocar. James was largely the inspiration behind me setting out on this adventure of buying and running cheap cars, so it’s always nice to receive a nod of approval from the man himself.
Current mileage: 143,639
Mileage since purchase: 4904