So it’s that time of year again and with Santa Clause gearing up for his annual sleigh drop I thought it fitting that I write some sort of festive blog post. Of course the obvious thing to do would be a wish-list of all the things I’m hoping are winging their way to my house next week, but instead I thought I’d do a twist on Santa’s ‘Naughty and Nice’ list and of course relate it back to my favourite topic…prospective cars!
I know this sort of thing is beginning to get competitive but it helps to clear my head a little of all the thoughts that clog up my spare time, so without further ado here is a little list of the naughty and nice features of a few cars that I’ve experienced first hand…
The BMW 2002 was probably the first car I ever travelled in; my dad’s piece of 70’s nostalgia was his main wheels back in 1990 when I was born and was probably the best choice for transporting all the clobber that came with a new baby (at least compared to a classic VW Beetle!). We owned the BMW until my dad’s death in 2006 but for much of it’s life it sat on the hard-standing at the back of our garden rusting away with a musty interior. Despite this though it remained a massive influence on my life and was one of the main reasons I loved cars as a child, and BMW’s in particular
Nice: +classic styling +badge kudos +decently roomy inside +nostalgia value
Naughty: -very susceptible to rust -no rear seat belts -flaking alloys -confusing name
The second BMW in my family is my own and is a very different vehicle to the first; over 2 tonnes of Bavarian four-wheel drive aggression complete with ample room for 5 and relatively athletic performance, the X5 is definitely a machine of the 21st century…just about anyway. I’m only 7 months into BMW ownership and although on the whole my experiences have been pretty much great, I have a few niggles about reliability that I’m still halfway through sorting out – I’m hoping that once I have things will go back to being faultless, but I won’t be holding my breath!
Nice: +chunky styling +lovely interior +relaxing driving experience +raised driving experience
Naughty: -niggling reliability issues -poor fuel economy -expensive parts -difficult to park
Ford Fiesta Mk 3:
My very first car was also a world away from my X5 but was only 10 years younger, pretty shocking to think of how fast things have progressed in such a short space of time. I was initially not a fan of my little 1995 Fiesta 1.1 as it was underpowered, noisy and cold (there was no seal around the drivers door), but in the 11 months I owned it I gathered some very fond memories ranging from nights out clubbing to running errands around town. A new car was always on the horizon but the final nail in the coffin of the Fiesta was me going to uni – it really wasn’t built for prolonged motorway trips and my carelessness cost me any further memories.
Nice: +affordable (aka free) +practical for its size +good for cutting my teeth on +charming character
Naughty: -noisy engine -fading paint -lack of door seal -thirst for oil (its cause of death)
As the X5 was my first car after 5 years of driving, the Jazz was the first car my mum bought by herself without being steered by my dad and as such fits her needs perfectly. Utterly reliable, massively practical and with all the luxuries anybody really needs, the Jazz has won me over despite my reservations about it being a pensioner’s car…in fact I enjoy driving it more than my old Astra now and usually every couple of weeks I get to take it for a spin.
Nice: +reliable +massive inside +comfortable driving position +revvy engine
Naughty: -questionable image -slow acceleration -Honda servicing could be cheaper -harsh ride
For as long as I could remember there was always a Lotus in our garage…the same red one covered in grime and bicycles with one door which didn’t fit properly. It was one of my dad’s projects that he never got round to finishing and the general poor condition/the fact that it had hadn’t seen the light of day for 20 years meant that I had little emotional attachment when we saw it dragged away on a tow truck for it’s new life with a collector somewhere in the North West of England.
Nice: +classic 60’s styling +surprisingly modern features (electric windows) +lightweight +strong residuals
Naughty: -poor fit and finish -fiddly hood design -didn’t run -brittle fibreglass body liable to shatter
Mercedes R Class:
The big Mercedes is a car I will always have a soft spot for; ugly as sin but absolutely massive inside and actually a lot more thrilling to drive than it’s dimensions would suggest, the R is a bit of a misunderstood hero as many people saw it as a bloated attempt by Mercedes to create a new niche. If only the styling was a little more conventional then people may have been a little more willing to part with their money, but they were put off by the looks/size and also the fact that it was little cheaper to run than a conventional SUV. Still anybody who has had experience of an R Class knows they are hidden stars.
Nice: +massively practical +comfortable ride +luxury features +powerful engines
Naughty: -bloated design -thirsty -difficult to park due to sheer size -expensive repairs
Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake:
The R Class’ spiritual successor in the Mercedes line-up in many ways, the CLS SB succeeds where the R Class failed in that it is eye catching and sleek in a good way, can be relatively affordable to run (with the right engine) and does this whilst retaining a modicum of practicality with a relaxing driving experience. Whilst a lot of people may choose a more conventional option like a Mercedes ML/GLE that’s missing the point of what the CLS SB offers, even above the saloon version – and it’s this uniqueness that adds to it’s appeal.
Nice: +sleek looks +low running costs +smooth ride +strong performance
Naughty: -difficult to park (although standard rear camera) -expensive to buy -restricted headroom -people asking ‘what is it’
I’ve experienced 2 (or 3 in fact) versions of the second generation Micra – a car I always detested when growing up thanks to it’s cutesy looks and tendency to be driven by pensioners or learners…arguably the Fiat 500 has filled this niche now with a little more style, but let’s get back on point. My best friend at university owned a 2001 version which I actually drove several times in addition to being a terrified passenger, but also there has been one parked in front of our garage at home for the past 4 years…2 seperate cars in fact as the first wouldn’t start, and the current one has been left to rot effectively despite my occasional attempts to clean it inside and out. I have little emotional attachment to it which is strange for me, but really I would rather it was taken away!
Nice: +affordable running costs +generally good reliability +compact +airy cabin
Naughty: -ugly styling -lots of body roll -poor acceleration -next to no image
Although we also owned a couple of Ford Fiestas in the 1990’s, the supermini which sticks in my mind most was the 1987 Renault 5 that graced our driveway for 4 years. Totally unconventional in terms of styling when compared to anything else on the road, what I recall most about the 5 was a sense of luxury that I had not experienced previously; I suspect this was based in the fact it had cushy seats, a comfortable ride and importantly both remote central locking and electric windows. Young James was very impressed with the latter and when it was replaced with a car that didn’t have them I was outraged. On the whole I liked the Renault and my Mum still recalls it as her favourite car (excluding the Jazz), but in the end a few electric niggles meant we swapped it before anything else went wrong.
Nice: +creature comforts +easy to drive (apparently) +smooth ride +classic image
Naughty: -reliability niggles -dated styling -limited practicality -refinement (4 speed geabox!)
For over 10 years there has been an Astra in our family, the same 2003 1.8i Elegance Dual Fuel that is currently parked across the road from the house (having been pushed off the driveway by the BMW I am ashamed to admit). By no means perfect it has served 4 members of our family well and continues to do so even as it enters it’s final years; bought as an ex-demo in 2004 it was (believe it or not) our first 5 door car, and as such was a revelation to a family used to cramming into 3 door superminis. Performance must have also been markedly better, even remaining comparable to the classic Golf GTI my dad also owned, and the fact it was an LPG car meant that running costs were satisfyingly low at a time when petrol prices jumped above £1/L for the first time (something that seems pretty funny now even if they are coming down dramatically again). When the car passed over to me in 2009 was when problems started to arise for the Vauxhall; the LPG system ceased to work and despite regular servicing a host of things needed to be replaced within 18months or so. I had always intended to buy a new car once I had a job and income after university, but my failure to get a decent one meant that I ended up keeping the car until May this year. Maybe we should have let the Astra go then, but my brother’s desire for a cheap car meant it made sense to let it remain in the family, but parking it on the road has been perilous and resulted in a minor smash which turned into a whole series of repairs (thankfully paid for by the other party’s insurance). Now we are left with a car which can be a pain to start, has a constant engine light on and a suspension that sounds like it’s about to fall out over all but the smoothest roads…I would love to see it fixed but I’m not sure it ever will be.
Nice: +good handling +strong performance +practical +affordable running costs (especially with LPG system working!)
Naughty: -reliability issues -dull styling -relatively thirsty (circa 30mpg) -tendency to eat suspension bushes
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk 1:
The Golf GTI is a car I have very fond memories of, but is one of two Volkswagens that I feel is to blame with my Mum not driving around in a Range Rover Sport (a total exaggeration perhaps). Bought for my Mum as a replacement for the venerable Beetle she had driven in one form or another for several years, the Golf was really an excuse for my Dad to buy a car he wanted and offer my Mum first refusal. The heavy steering and hard seats ensured that she wasn’t won over, but nevertheless the increased practicality and performance over the Beetle (or indeed subsequent small cars my Mum drove) meant that it became the holiday car of choice for our family – the retrofitted rear seatbelts ensured it was favoured over the BMW 2002 by the way! It’s a shame that when my Dad passed away we had to get rid of the GTI in a bit of a rush – the car was in near perfect condition and we sold it for just £2k to the first person who came to view it. I guess that even if I had been a little older I still wouldn’t have been able to afford the insurance, but it would have still been a nice inheritance.
Nice: +classic car status +reasonable practicality +excellent handling and performance +timeless styling
Naughty: -hard ride -heavy steering -expensive to run -dated interior
Of all the car’s I’ve been exposed to for a considerable amount of time, the one I remember the least by far is the classic Volkswagen Beetle that my Mum drove for my formulative years. The white, rust speckled bug was not the first in our family – it had replaced a blue one several years before, but since passing her test in 1980 the only type of car my Mum had ever driven was the VW…something which meant she couldn’t get on with any other kind of vehicle for a while. The thing was that Beetles drive very differently to most other vehicles, not just because they are rear engined and rear wheel drive, but the pedal arrangement is very old school and so using one is not as easy as you’d imagine. Add to that the fact that rear visibility is awful, practicality is dire and ours had a habit of not starting means that I am very surprised that my Mum put up with the bug as long as she did. When you think of today’s mothers who view something like an Audi Q7 as the minimum requirement to carry baby paraphanalia, it does make me wonder how 2 kids, car seats, double pram and the rest all squeezed into a car without a proper boot!
Nice: + Classic styling +nostalgia value +DIY maintenance +cheap to run
Naughty: -appalling practicality -even worse reliability -unusual driving experience -rust
So there you have it, a trip down memory lane visiting all the car’s I’ve ever known relatively intimately. I must admit I love my BMW just as much as I thought, I was prepared for a few things to go wrong and I guess only time will tell if things will get better or worse, but with good maintenance I am hoping that costs won’t be too extreme!