I promised last year that I'd go see my (younger) sister sometime at uni, and finally I had the spare time to sort it out. Durham is only a little south of Newcastle so it's not a short trip. About 5:15hrs drive from Surrey with clear traffic actually, if you take out any stops (which you need at least one of for safe alert driving). That's if you know where you're going. Of course on the way up I wasn't as sure of anything past the A1(M), and well... if you know my navigation skills you'll understand (*). It's pretty straight and simple otherwise - just get on the A1 and follow it up to around junction 61. By the way, the signs point you the dual-carriageway route as far in as they can; the quicker route if it's not busy with local traffic is to come off earlier, on the A177 (#61 I just mentioned) and make sure you take the right road from the A1 junction.
I looked into several options as my Scooby's declared off road at the moment (SORN'd) until it has a new clutch, insurance, and general servicing/work, probably including some new tyres (yes, £ouch... ).
- By Train - £70 cheapest if booked in advance (although I got an online railtrack quote earlier that came up with £45, I couldn't reproduce it)
- Fly - pre-tax and other charges it looked feasible but by the time you've added it all in, £82 was cheapest and I still needed to get to/from the airports. Fast, & relatively hassle-free though
- Coach (eg. National Express) - main selling point is, it's cheap. Seriously cheap. Especially with their special offer they're running til end February (I think?) - £18 return between any of the major towns/cities they list. It also has major disadvantages though. Not a lot of in-cabin (er.. cabin's not the right word but you know what I mean) luggage space, slow, particularly if you need to go through their London Victoria hub, a bit cramped, and (I find) almost impossible to get any real rest/sleep on. But if price is prime consideration it's the only real option. Better for shorter journeys
- Hire Car - 2 local companies, Avis (used before, large name, not much difference in cost from the other local co.) - £70 for 2 days hire (in multiples of 24hrs) of a basic Fiest/Corsa sized car.
After researching the other options pretty thoroughly, I saw something somewhere that made me think about the rental car option and realised that might be a possible choice, what with the cost of the others. Certainly a lot more freedom and if I was going to be using it a fair proportion of the trip (short trip overall, long travel time), it made sense. Plus options of stopping off en route if I wanted/had time.
So renting a car for two days is as cheap as the 1-day-in-advance fixed-booking train fare. Ok, on a train you can sleep and move around but you're limited by times and station locations. Oh and the waiting at stations during changes. And possible other unsavoury characters to annoy you on the way (although you might meet someone nice). But in a car there's just the fuel to pay for and that's it if you don't mind the brain-drainingly long drive (for the UK). So I booked a Corsa.
When I got there to pick it up, they had a green (almost turquoise) brand spanking new (well, 04 reg and only 3650 miles on the clock) 3-door Corsa with the thicker pillar round the rear window.
Overall, I have to say I like it more than the old one. The engines are nicer - although the advent of Vauxhall bringing in 16v several years ago much improved the torque at lower revs anyway. I've always kinda liked Vauxhall engines. It was only a 1.2l but it went well, seemed pretty much as fast as my old 1.4i 12v I used to own (the original Corsa model) and a fair bit better handling. I'd heard that anyway from reviews of the new one.
I didn't like the plasticy control-column switches for indicators/lights (this coming from an older-style Scooby owner, not reknowned for hi quality interiors) and there wasn't much storage in the central instrument panel - just one poncy tray almost hidden underneath the dash. They do however make a decent effort elsewhere, even storage to the sides of the rear seats. The diminished rear vision doesn't affect you as much as you think as the side mirrors do a pretty good job, and you always look round to cover blind spots anyway, don't you??... But I don't think it was worth the loss of visibility just to get the more fashionable high level LED brake/other lights (and I suppose differentiate it from the old model). Oh, while I'm on the car's shell, I think the headroom has increased. Good one, Vauxhall. The Corsa was a good one for interior headroom and space when it was released anyway so good to see they haven't lost it in that respect. Most other super-minis nowadays have improved in that area but there are still a few that the 6-footers among us won't want to be in for any length of time.
Of course, being used to a Scooby I stalled it a couple of times pulling away while getting used to the "normal" car dynamics (ie it doesn't have oodles of power). But treat it properly and it'll keep you happy.
Stereo - I brought some CDs to play on the trip, hoping the car would have a player for them; also brought some tapes too in case. Luckily it did have a CD player. The problem with CD units is you can't plug anything else in like tape adapters if you have your own player (like I used to with my portable MiniDisc and my old '93 Corsa). (note: there are solutions, e.g. an iTrip for an iPod so you tune in to your device on the FM radio instead). Proper speakers, a lovely volume and on/off knob at the top-center (knurled, rubberised); but you don't get any indication of what level it's at. Anywhere... Some people might say it's a bit fisher-price kids control-like, but it fits ok with the rest of the interior (yawn yawn black/dark plastic) and it works just great. The old car's styling was a bit like that too. You don't need to look at it to find it or use it, real handy when you're on the road. Stylists avoid this car 'cos it won't do anything for you on the inside.
The outside's not enough of a departure from the old Corsa's original and rather cute shape (playing it safe were we Vauxhall?) - that I was a fan of - to make me love it, but I wouldn't be ashamed to be driving one. Mainly 'cos it does kinda look like the old one. There you go...