Clarkson on: the Germans
I know that there are enough scare stories coming out of North Korea and southern Afghanistan right now to frighten us all to death. And I don’t want to pour petrol on the flames, but has anyone had a look at what’s going on in Germany?
Yes, I know. In a world of easy global travel, Internet access, the United Nations and rolling 24-hour news programmes, it’s inconceivable that a western power could get uppity without any of its neighbours noticing.
But then it was inconceivable in 1918 that just 20 years later, Germany would be ready to take on the world again. And let’s not forget, the Fatherland has been as good as gold now for 61 years. That’s the longest period of peace in their history. Statistically, they are well overdue for a bit of fisticuffs.
And with the world looking under rocks for Korean nukes and Saudi terrorists, now would be as good a time as any for Germany to re-arm and try for Moscow once more.
Of course, you may say that they are reducing the number of Eurofighters they initially ordered, and that’s true. You may also note that they have no nuclear weapons, a smaller navy than us and a constitution which actively prevents them from going abroad in a tank.
What’s more, if you go to Germany, you find them in bars, singing along to peculiar oompah music, and slapping one another on the back. All appears to be fine. But is it? I only ask because DaimlerChrysler appears to be behaving very strangely at the moment.
Not that long ago, the only four-wheel-drive car they made was the G-Wagen, a rough and tumble sort of Bosch Land Rover for the German army. And they’re still making it, even though they now also do the ML-Class, the R-Class and the GL-Class as well. And I haven’t even counted in this lot all the Jeeps and wotnot made under the Chrysler banner.
Why do they need to make all these different types of off-road car? Especially now as the global warming debate, er, heats up. Where can they be going with them? I’ll tell you what. If I were Polish, I’d be giving up my plumbing job in Wakefield, going home, and putting some cans of baked beans in the cellar.
Of course, you might argue that this is nonsense, and that DaimlerChrysler needs all these different models because the world is very demanding. We’re no longer happy with a cup of instant. We want a skinny latte with extra water and a dash of espresso.
"I damn nearly got out and shot myself the other day as I tried to reverse the GL into a parking space"
The thing is, I can sort of see why you might want a G-Wagen. It is because you have to drive round London selling drugs and guns. And I can see why you might want an R-Class. It’s because you are stupid and can’t see that the Volvo XC90 is much cheaper, much more practical and much better.
That brings us to the ML-Class. It’s a good car. I’d have one like a shot if I woke one morning to discover I’d suddenly become allergic to the Range Rover. But I’m afraid, when it comes to the GL, I’m stumped. I can see no reason why anyone, mental or otherwise, would choose to spend upwards of £50k on a car that seems at face value to be just like its brothers, only less wieldy, more expensive and uglier.
Plainly, I had to find out, so I rang Merc and asked for a test drive. One day later, it was nosing through my gates, and a week after that, the rear end arrived as well. My word, it’s big. 5.3m big. And wide with it.
Later, I was on the Earls Court Road in London and thought, for no particular reason, that I should get into the left lane. So, I did all the right things. I checked my mirror, I indicated, and after I’d established all was well, I moved over – BANG – straight into the kerb.
It turned out I was already in the left lane. And the centre lane. And the right lane, all at the same time. What’s more, the nose of the car was outside the restaurant where I was having lunch, while the rear was coming out of the BBC’s car park. In Birmingham.
It felt like I was navigating the Shropshire Union Canal in the USS Dwight D Eisenhower.
I think this is a car designed for use mostly in America. It certainly looks that way with all sorts of unnecessary styling details and chromed bits and bobs – the sort of stuff simple people and children like.
Inside, you’d expect more seats than you’d find in a bendy bus. But no. There are in fact, just seven.
I’m not a hysterical man. There are many things that annoy me – church bells, for example – but there are only a handful of things I’d actually want to ban. Church bells are one. The Mercedes GL is another.
It seems to me that while the aviation industry is attracting much of the socialists’ ire at the moment, the car is still teetering on something of a brink. Any perceived arrogance from the motor industry and it could have a dramatic effect on government policy.
Already we’re seeing celebrities queuing up to appear green. Nearly every Hollywood actor claims to have a Prius and here, things are equally bleak. Davina Whatsername from Big Brother says while she wants a Range Rover, she feels guilty about the damage she might do to the sky. And the gorgeous Fiona Bruce is thinking of selling her XC90.
People are starting to fall for the spin. That’s why Land Rover is planning on making the next Range Rover weigh half what the current model does. It’s why Toyota is making hybrids. It’s why BP won’t shut up about trees. So why is Merc introducing the GL, which is so wasteful and stupid it annoys even me?
I don’t mind if you want to buy a 4x4, I really don’t. I think you’re a bit of a loony if you have one in central London, but would I stop you? No. Because it’s no skin off my nose, and even if it is true that you’re making the world hotter, good frankly. I like it when it’s warm. This summer was lovely and if the world’s petrolheads and school run mums helped create that, I think we should pat ourselves on the back.
That said, however, I damn nearly got out and shot myself the other day as I tried to reverse the GL into a parking space. And as I inched forwards and back in a blizzard of beeps from the infernal parking sensors, I was holding up half of the world.
And when I finally decided it really wouldn’t fit, I had to try and get it out again. By the time I’d done that, I was holding up the other half of the world too.
Sure, that night, the GL rode through a flood that its big V8 engine had apparently caused, and it was a smooth and quiet companion on the rush-hour drive to Oxfordshire. But I’m sorry, it serves no purpose and I give fair warning now: if ever I find myself sitting next to someone at a dinner party who has one, I shall stab him in the eye with my fork.
In the meantime, I would urge MI6 to have just a quick look under the Bundestag. It might be nothing but when it comes to Jerry, you can’t be too careful...