Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Hyundai Santa Fe

When I were a lad, we used to live in a hole in the road. Oh wait, I slipped into autopilot there.

When I were a lad, if you wanted a reliable car that was a little bit stylish, you had to go for a German car. You could have style, in an Italian car, quirkiness in a French car, or reliable in a Japanese car. Or you could get a German car which was reliable, but extremely dull, made stylish only by the excessive price tag, the same way that Range Rovers are stylish.

Then you had the rest of the world offering some cars - you had British Rovers, which, well, put it like this - there's a reason that they went bankrupt. You had Russian Ladas which would get you from A to B in a little over 17 years with all the style of the 1950s. You had Polski Fiats, or Yugos or any other number of communist offerings, all of which had the basic premise that it didn't matter if you wanted a car that looked good, you got one which looked like it was designed by someone armed only with a set square and pen.

Oh, and there were Koreans. Now, you only had a Korean car if you were a blithering idiot. There was no conceivable reason to buy a Korean car when I was a child than as a statement of your peculiarity, like a large purple hat, with red flowers on the side.

But over the last few years, things have changed. The demise of the smaller Korean manufacturers such as Daewoo or Ssangyong have left an open playing field for Hyundai/Kia which is now one.

And in 1998, they decided to overcome early image problems by offering 10 year warranties in America, and concentrate on improving quality. And the results are starting to reap huge rewards.

The new body Santa Fe was really a turning point for Hyundai. Launched in 2006, it replaced a solid, reliable car which unfortunately looked like someone had driven into the side of it, and this was before you drove it home. The new model was based on the Kia Sorento of the time, which was a little primitive, and the designers at Hyundai managed to produce a desirable Korean car.

Since then, the designs have been getting better and the fixtures and fittings have kept pace with the design improvements. Just look at Hyundai's current line up to see what I mean. You've got the i10,i20,i30,ix35 and the Santa Fe all being reasonably good looking. OK, maybe good looking is not the right term. If you drive ANY of these, you won't get people pointing and laughing like you used to do. And tell any of your friends that you drive an i30, they probably won't take the piss too much. Just remember not to say it's a Hyundai i30. There are still badge snobs out there.

So the facelifted Santa Fe is a step up again from 2006's model. It's sleek, stylish, and the prices have been kept similar. 15 years ago, Hyundai was a laughing stock. Now, it's acceptable. But not only that. It's actually desirable.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Postman Pat's top 6 cars

During the late 90s/early 2000s something bizarre happened to the world's car designers.The mini-MPV arrived with the Renault Megane Scenic, then the Zsara Picasso, then the Fiat Multipla. These were all very curvaceous, and the Fiat was possibly the ugliest car of all times (except for Ssangyongs). They were also made by countries which have romance languages, and the carefree attitude of the Mediterranean.

Then, all of a sudden, the Germans decided that they couldn't let this happen, and so Opel gave birth to the angular and functional Zafira, the plans for which were drawn using only rulers and set squares. This spawned a whole range of cars which were copycat designs, but slightly more angular.

Of course, this would all be well and good, but a cheeky British designer beat the crafty Germans to it, by about 15 years. While the Germans were still divided, Ivor Wood had already designed such a vehicle, except instead of being equipped to hold 2 adults, 5 children and a kite buggy, it was designed to hold a small sack of post for delivery around Greendale.

So to celebrate innovative British design of the early 1980s, I have compiled a list of cars which have blatantly ripped off Mr Wood's original design.

6. Vauxhall Agila.

The smaller version of the Zafira, but with a slightly pointier nose than it's larger brother, clearly copied from Ivor Wood's design.

4. Volkswagen Touran

Another German entry. More angular than Opel's Agila, the nose maybe not quite so pointy but the basic squareness is there.

4. Suzuki Ignis

The first entry from Suzuki, whose designers were the poorest equipped in the business until recently. Suzuki appear to be improving though and now they have discovered that metal can be shaped a bit rather than just cut in sheets and welded together.

3. Suzuki Wagon R+

Again, Suzuki designers have excelled themselves with this. You really have to see it to believe how much this is like Postman Pat's van. Oddly enough, you still see some being driven about, particularly early in the morning, just as day is dawning.

2. Daihatsu MOVE

Another Japanese entry. Perfectly flat design. If you crash this, don't bother with a panel beater, just drive it straight into a wall at high speed and it'll look like new.

1. Fiat Panda

OK, not the MOST like Pat's van, but this one gets special points for being newer than the others, and from a country where they know what a curve looks like.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

VW Passat CC

This is quite blatantly a rip off. A good rip off that happen to look a little better than the original, but nevertheless, it lacks imagination.

If you've never seen a Mercedes CLS before, then you might be forgiven for thinking that this is a triumph of VW's current designers. Alas, this is lazier designing than Porsche's repeating frog-eyed monster, the 911.

Ignore that though and you've got a rather nice car. It's smooth, sleek, and stylish, and that's exactly the reason that you shouldn't buy it. Let's face it, you buy a VW because it's the best car for the job, not because it's stylish or particularly desirable. Ergo, all VWs should be functional and practical, but not particularly flash (the only exception being the Golf GTI or R32 or whatever it's called) Look at the Touran. Perfect VW design. These are the cars that the USSR should have had.

Now think to the poor selling Phaeton. Yes, it is conservative, it is plain, but they tried to make it upmarket, ruining the point of VW and resulting in almost no sales.

The Passat CC could be good. It's almost beautiful, if you could just change the badge for something a little different. Possibly something with three points. What VW have done is taken the CLS, and made it better looking. Now, Mercedes can't do anything but make the next CLS a little bit more eccentric, and that means that they'll probably never sell any of them again. VW have ruined the CLS for Mercedes by making it better and in the process ensured that the oddly shaped 4 door coupe thing will die a death. Think of it like this: the CLS is Star Trek and the CC is Star Wars. The sci fi genre was dominated by the Star Trek before Star Wars came along and blew it away. The best CGI and scriptwriters couldn't revive Star Trek, it doesn't matter what happens because now we have Star Wars there is no need for Mr Spock. But Star Trek is still popular with men with no girlfriends who wear anoraks, and that's the way the CLS is heading. Except the CC can never be as popular as Star Wars, because it has a badge on the front that says that you choose your car based on how many boxes it ticks rather than how it makes you feel. And that's fine. Otherwise we'd all live in shoe boxes and drive Lamborghinis.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Porsche Panamera

I'm not a huge fan of Porsches. Particularly not the 911. I've never driven one, but it looks a little bit, well, dull. I mean, when you decide to spend over 50k on a car, and you decide to go for a sports car, do you really want to go for something that looks, well, ordinary? It's like deciding to spice up your night life by buying a gimp mask, then deciding to go for one in beige corduroy.

The Panamera looks like an extended 911. It's still dull, but you're now going for a 4 door, and that's OK. Would you really want a 4 door that looks like a Lamborghini or a Pagani? No, of course you wouldn't.

What makes this car even more bizarre is the configurator on the Porsche website. You can choose between all sorts of ridiculous colour combinations, the majority of which make Jimmy Saville look well coordinated.

You can also get roof rails and a towbar if you wish. WHY? If you spend nearly a hundred grand on a car like this, why would you want to put a couple of bikes on the roof and take the horse out for a dawdle around country lanes at 15 mph?

Do yourself a favour, if you've got this much money to spend and you need something to tow horses around or space for a roof box, buy a second hand 911/Cayenne combo. Much better. Even if it is dull/ugly.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Peugeot 5008

Let's face it, if your concerned about your image, an MPV isn't for you. Peugeot have managed to take sharp line, swept back light clusters and imaginative styling and fitted them to the most boring car in the world. And it's still the most boring car in the world, just now it has a few design features.

It's dull. Even the 4007 was a little bit less dull, but this is supposed to be 1001 better. At least, if my assumptions about numbering and Spinal Tap are correct.

It's not. It's 1001 worse. It should be called the 3006. Or 2005.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


Something funny is going on with BMW just now. A year or so ago, you couldn't buy a BMW without being thought of as an utter tosser. It used to be customary for X5 drivers to sit 7 inches from your jacksy and M3 drivers to cut you up whilst overtaking on a blind corner.

Now, all the idiots have disappeared from the Beemers and taken Audis as their hostages. And what BMW have been left with is refined customer base of people who love driving, but don't drive like knob jockeys.

So, the new Z4 has now been released. It's certainly better than the last one. The old Z4 had a huge bonnet, which was obviously intended as a phallic symbol*, and the seats so far back that you could smell the X5 driver behind you. But now, the bonnet has been smoothed down, the front is a little more aggressive and the seats aren't quite as far back. The main competitor for this would probably be the Mercedes SLK, and I think BMW have really hit the nail on the head with this one, giving men a convertible roadster that the can confidently open the roof of without looking like they are going for a manicure and foot massage. This is a manly car, and it is driven by manly men. You can finally sell the TVR, someone else has finally recognised the niche.

*Oddly enough, the old Z4 seems mostly to be driven by women. It was, in effect, the world's biggest strap-on.

Car style guide

Firstly, let me tell you a little about myself. I am obsessed with cars, even though I am not especially highly paid. Like a lot of people, I just love cars. They are the ultimate expression of engineering and evocative consumerism. I have no particular interest in art, architecture, clothing or any other form of aestheticism, but like a lot of men (and some women), I simply adore cars.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not someone who loves thrashing country roads. I drive reasonably slowly, but not a crawler either. I have no idea what most of the cars are like to drive, but I know that Ferraris are beautiful machines, old-style Subaru Imprezas are vulgar and TVRs are for men with hairy chests. That's not to say that I wouldn't love to drive all of them at some point, alas my competence behind the wheel would probably mean that I would crash at the first corner.

This fascination with the appearance of cars has led to car makers exploiting it to try to wrestle a quick sale, with women draping themselves over the bonnet of every car imaginable in order to help the maker. Even Postman Pat's van isn't immune from this.

If you're still reading this, either I have a stalker or you're as "in to" cars as I am. I had best crack on and get writing.