Clarkson on: boring cars
The new Maserati Quattroporte is, in many ways, a breath of fresh air. Here, at last, is a car that's truly, madly bad. Armed with a ridiculous price tag, it wades into battle with a slightly bent peashooter and adaptive suspension that doesn't work.
It is ugly. It has an engine that sounds like it's trying to mix cement. The leatherwork is shoddy. It is badly equipped and it has a clock shaped like women's bits. You wouldn't want to buy it, but at least you can discuss it, with much finger pointing and shouting, over a beer. That automatically makes it better than some of the dross I drove last week. My God, there are some boring cars out there.
Bring the Hyundai Lantra Estate up in a pub and it would have the same effect as putting a Mogadon in everyone's drinks. We all know someone like this car - someone who tries to disguise his innate and inbred ability to redefine tedium by wearing a stripy orange and brown tank top.
The car is quiet, it will rarely break down and I'm sure it would buy its girlfriend - a librarian - chocolates on her birthday. At work, it would have a sign on its desk saying: ‘You don't have to be mad to work here - but it helps'. What a wag. What a git.
Then there's the Rover 400 Saloon, a Honda Civic with delusions of grandeur. It's someone who's made a few bob and thinks that by shopping at Hacketts and wearing brogues he'll be accepted by the country set.
Volkswagen has cocked up, too, with its new Polo saloon. What a heap of steaming manure this is. The hatchback is a charming and funky little device with cool graphics, a wild range of colours and lots of street cred. But by putting a boot on, the designers have put the boot in.
Could this car really be worse than the old Derby? I think so. Could it be worse than the old Vauxhall Nova saloon, with the elephantine proportions and the unicycle wheels? No, that's ridiculous.
"Bring the Hyundai Lantra Estate up in a pub and it would have the same effect as putting a Mogadon in everyone’s drinks"
I'd like to tell you about the Daihatsu Charade at this point but nothing springs to mind. It's a glass of water on wheels.
Hey, what's this? It's the new Audi A4 rattling into view. Now this is some car, beautiful to behold and made with the sort of care normally reserved for Space Shuttles. But wait. What's that under the bonnet? Oh no. It's a diesel.
Start it up and there's the familiar clatter which can give old people arthritis. But this one has a turbo, so when you put your foot down, especially at low revs, there's some serious grunt. The trouble is that the power band is so narrow, you only need blink and it's all over. ‘Dear Deirdre, My car suffers from premature ejaculation. What should I do?'
Deirdre replies. ‘This is a common complaint which is getting worse as more and more people fall for the turbodiesel sales patter. Leave your car now and go for a real man: one with a petrol engine'.
This is not to say that unleaded is the cure for all our ills. Witness the VW Passat and the SEAT Toledo, cars which, if they were ovens, would cook food.
Then there's the king and queen of horror - the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Almera. Styled by adding machines with interior trim by BhS, this duo leave me so cold, hypothermia starts to set in.
After a spin in either, even the Vectra starts to look like a Ferrari F512. But it takes more than casual comparisons to enliven the Astra. Like the Escort, this car is barely fit to be a pox doctor's clerk. It isn't especially good value for money. It isn't handsome. It isn't noteworthy in terms of performance and it doesn't have microwave reliability either.
I could fill up the rest of this magazine with cars that just don't make the grade. I'd need 44 pages alone for the Nissan Serena Diesel which takes an almost unbelievable 26 seconds to heave itself from 0-60.
The best thing is to list the worthwhile mainstream cars. It won't take long, so here goes. At the bottom we have the Ford Fiesta and Nissan Micra. In the middle, the Fiat Bravo and Renault Migraine. Up a bit and the Mondeo and Pug 406 dominate.
Further up, say hello to the Audi A4 and the Honda Accord. And at the top, the BMW 5-Series makes big sense. Though Jaguar and Mercedes also do something pretty special for 30 grand.
If it isn't in this list, frankly, it isn't worth the metal it's made from.