Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale

I was once asked by a German friend what a street where traffic is only allowed in one direction is called. "One way street" was my answer. My friend looked puzzled and then said, "That sounds stupid."

It was only after I asked him what it was in German that it clicked - "Einbahnstrasse" - that it's not really that stupid a phrase, just that English and German both have a harshness and vulgarity to them that you don't get in other languages. Well, at least not in Italian.

For example, have a look at Maserati's current line up, and imagine, if you will, Rolls-Royce applying the same names in English to their cars. The Rolls-Royce Four Door. The Rolls-Royce Grand Tourer. And now, the Rolls-Royce Grand Tourer Traffic.

No. The Quattroporte, the GranTurismo and the GranTurismo Stradale sound much cooler. In Italian it just fits with cool cars, and the new Traffic looks fantastic. For the handsome price of £110k you get a jumped up, slightly lighter version of the GranTurismo. Very few people will know, but think about this: YOU know. Think about how smug you'll feel on the rare occasions when you pull up along side another GranTurismo, but yours is slightly cooler than the one next to you. The other driver will be scratching their head as to why yours is cooler, but it is.

And they'll also be scratching their head as to why you pulled away slightly more quickly than they did.

You know it makes sense.

Monday, 14 February 2011

US Special : AMC Gremlin

Sometimes you get a glimpse into the future without realising it. For instance, how many people would have thought when they first saw the godawful internet pages of the mid 90s that they were glimpsing into what would revolutionise the world? For those that don'tremember, there were lots of pages detailing bell button lint, cats and other such pointless things.

And of course, there were personal computers themselves, famously forecast to sell no more than six worldwide, but now they are so ubiquitous that very few people in the developed world don't have access to a computer.

Sometimes we get it totally wrong, and we all now know that the Sinclair C5 hasn't changed the world, mainly due to its ludicrous design which puts the rider at extreme risk of being squashed to death by a haphazard lorry driver.

But when I was in America, I did see one car that everybody thought was terrible at the time, but has evidently shaped modern designs - the AMC Gremlin. Surprisingly it was still on the road, which is amazing given that American cars are lucky to last 6 months.

Ridiculed at the time, and still ridiculed, it's design is quirky, but Gremlin is a suitable name. Not nice, a bit nasty, but exactly summed up by the title Gremlin.

The car itself is two completely different cars welded together in the middle, a 1970s American saloon car (or should I say sedan?) and a 2010 Volvo C30 in the rear. Now I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. There is no way that Volvo designers would be so idiotic as to copy the rear end from the Gremlin, so it had to be the other way round.

How on earth did they manage to pilfer the rear end of a car from 40 years into the future?

Answers on a postcard please.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Vauxhall Antara

It's still a bit of a grim time for new car launches, in all honesty. Winter's a bit depressing, and there's not much activity in the car market, so the dark months tend to not be the best time for new car launches. There is however, one exception to this - it does offer a chance for facelifted models to slip through without anyone really noticing. If you do want to do that, as a car maker, it suggests that i) noone will care if you facelift the car and ii) you don't want people to notice that you've facelifted the car.

If you start doing that with a price cut, it suggests that you have major problems with a product line.

You see, Vauxhall have facelifted the poorly-designed Antara, and replaced it with a slightly less poorly deisgned Antara with a £3,000 reduction in price. The only reason they would give you an updated model for less is if they wanted rid of them.

The Antara started life as a joint venture with, what was at that time, Daewoo, with very few changes between the brands other than a raised price for the Vauxhall. You see, the thing is, when you go on an easyJet flight, there are certain things that they do to make it feel like you're getting good value. So everything is a garish orange, kind of like Dale Winton, and the seats are uncomfortable. It's not because it's any cheaper, it's because it feels cheaper. And Daewoo had the same philosophy.

Except this wasn't an especially cheap car. But it looks cheap. Seriously, the plastic bumper looks terrible, but the price tag isn't that far off what you would be paying for a far better car from other makers, and often it's more than other makers charge for a much better car.

The facelift is so minor I can't even tell you what the differences are from looking at it. You've still got the cheap plastic bumpers, and budget interior that seems to have been specifically designed to make you feel poor, when you're clearly not, having just spent over £20k on a car that isn't particularly good, stylish or desirable when you could have had a much nicer car for less. Throwing money away, that is.

But if I'd bought one of these in the last few months, I'de be tempted to go back to the garage looking for £3,000 back. Not a good strategy from Vauxhall, and particularly nasty at a time when car prices generally are going up.

Monday, 7 February 2011

US Special : Hyundai Sonata

I've previously written about the current batch of Hyundais. Times have changed, and the cheap Korean cars are no longer bargain-basement in quality and style, instead they provide the other car makers with something worth copying.

It used to be that Korean cars were a laughing stock, totally incapable of competing with anything from Europe, and slightly worse than American cars. But times have changed, and now they are firmly ahead of most American cars, and pretty mid-range in Europe now.

On my trip to the USA, there were a fair few of the pretty Sonatas on the road. You see, most car makers have separate lineups for Europe and North America, with the rest of the world getting cars somewhere between the two. Hyundai have rather bravely tried to develop cars to suit both markets simultaneously, and now we're starting to see the results of this policy. The new Sonata isn't out in Europe yet, where it will be badged the i40, but seeing them in America it somehow reminded me of the Vauxhall Insignia - absolutely stunning as a car, beautiful in appearance, but as soon as it's next to another car, it just kind of blends in to the road.

In isolation, the Sonata is a fantastic looking car, but this doesn't carry over when put next to another car.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

BMW 6 series convertible

Apparently, the biggest fear for men is the loss of one's hair. Now that's perfectly understandable, because it's a big part of your overall image, your hair. I mean, could you imagine Donald Trump if he was bald? Now, I'm afflicted by male pattern baldness, and I'm currently in the stage of being slightly bald but not fully bald, a sort of balding that tends to look a lot worse than either bald or fully haired. I'm also quite slim, but if I was to start putting on the beef, it would point to one possible outcome: the purchase of an open top sports car.

Think about it - have you ever seen a slim, fully haired man in an open top sports car? Thought not. The fact is they're all full of overweight middle aged men with combovers. Quite often they are accompanied by attractive young women, but don't be fooled, these are not their mistresses. They are in fact their daughters, who have reached their twenties and flown the nest. That's the only time in a man's life when they actually have any money for such luxuries, when the kids have left home.

But a few years ago, a fashion developed for four-seater convertibles, but unfortunately it's pointless because there is never a time when it is acceptable for anyone to be in the back of a car with the roof down, unless they are a head of state or other such dignitary, making it convenient and easy to wave to the crowds gathering on the street.

And this year, there will be one such event happening. Apparently, a posh public school boy will marry a chav he met whilst attending university in St. Andrews. Or something. Anyway, there are rumours that they may need to wave at people from the back of a car.

BMW have anticipated such an event and produced a car that may fit the bill. The new 6 series convertible, following on from the old, slightly pointless 6 series, looks like it's borrowed bits from arch rivals Mercedes, and then sprinkled some Jaguar on top. The car itself reminds me of the Mercedes CL, but with some of the front elements from the Jaguar XF. Both are very nice cars, and the result is a nice car, but it's not exactly innovative or original. The 6 series is still a bit of a fish out of water in the BMW line up, but this is an improvement over the old one, yet still manages to retain some of the character of the old 6 series.

Still, I don't think it's a bad choice, just an odd choice. I mean, who goes to the most boring brand of cars and buys a car that is obviously meant for people in the throes of a mid-life crisis? It's like going to Clark's shoes and asking for something a bit wild.

I don't think Wills and Kate will be using this as their wagon of choice, somehow.