Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: publishing

Last year, an old school friend stopped by to relive old times, drink some whisky and ask if I'd write a book about Ferrari for his new publishing company. "It'll be great" he said.

It isn't. I saw a copy last week and would have to say that it's a complete rip-off and that anyone thinking about buying it should flush the money down the loo instead. It'd be more rewarding.

The reviews have been bad but they don't go far enough. With the possible exception of Captain Corelli's Mandolin and AA Gill's Sap Rising, it is the worst book in the whole world.

Last week, I flew in a jet that went out of control at 42,000 feet, spiralling like a sycamore leaf to a height of 20,000 feet before the pilot regained control. I emerged to say that this was the worst thing I'd ever done, only to be told by a photographer; "No, your chat show is the worst thing you've ever done".

But in fact, we were both wrong. The worst thing I've ever done is that bloody Ferrari book. All I can say in my defence is that I've received no cash for this ridiculous tome and that if, by some miracle, any should be forthcoming at some point in the future, I shall give it away to the poor and needy.

But I am at least heartened by the latest crop of all-road, off-road, on-roaders from Audi, Volvo and BMW. It goes to show, I guess, that we all make mistakes.

I should make it plain at this point that I have driven none of these cars, but I do know why they've burst on to the scene, offering what appears to be the protection of chocolate from the searing heat of the fireplace. Johnny Motor-Mogul obviously got it into his head that if a normal estate car could be infused with a bit of off-road cred, it would become a resounding success throughout school-run Britain. Good idea. But flawed - people don't buy off-road cars to go off-road. They are not impressed by big ground clearance or knobbly tyres. No, they think, with some justification, that if a car is built to handle the vast heat that is Africa, it will offer more protection than a normal car should it be involved in a prang at the end of Laburnum Drive.

They also like the big, rumbustious interior, screwed together with sheep in mind and using plastics that are therefore better able to deal with the scuff marks from a million Clarks Trackers.

And they will not be fooled by a BMW X5. This, they will quickly determine, is a normal 5-Series that is now being asked to wobble around town on stilts. Road testers have remarked: ‘It's remarkably car-like to drive'. To which I say: ‘Not half as car-like as it would be if it weren't so high off the ground'.

Let's stop at this point, however, and consider the advantages that an all/ off/on-road car has over its normal brethren: 1) er. 2) um. 3) I suppose it's better able to go down cart tracks.

"The simple fact of the matter is this: off-road cars and MPVs are designed with children in mind"

Now, stop again and think when you last needed to go down a cart track.

Even if you do sometimes need to see friends whose drive is unmade, when was the last time you had to park up and walk? What kind of track is too bad for a normal car but not bad enough to warrant the full Range Rover.

And even if such a ‘road' exists, would you seriously buy a raised up car to deal with it? Really? You'd pay the excess purchase price and pay the extra fuel bills and put up with the choppier ride for that one day a year when you're confronted by a farm track?

I wouldn't mind but these new cars seem to have exactly the same interiors as the executive expresses on which they're based. So each time you pop into a shop, leaving your children inside to play hide and seek, your car will be reduced to its component parts.

The simple fact of the matter is this: off-road cars and MPVs are designed with children in mind. The 5-Series BMW and others of its ilk are not.

So why then do I think these new all/ off/on-road cars are so fantastic? For a time I thought it might be because I fancied that bloke in Volvo's television commercial who leaves his wife to the bears and goes for a pizza.

I mean, these are cars that like to hang around bars, wearing white vests. They go to the gym and work out in front of mirrors. And all that ironmongery at the front is like a moustache. A big Freddie Mercury lower nose bush. Give these cars their head and they won't head for the M1 or the A38. No, they'll make a beeline for the Bovril Boulevard.

But the thing is, it's only a short hop in the world of vest culture from Peter Mandelson to Bruce Willis in Die Hard and that's what I like to think we have with the Audi allroad in particular. A normal city car that finds itself stuck in the countryside and must fight its way back to civilisation.

Unlike a normal off-road car which doesn't work in town or a normal A6 which doesn't work on the school run, the beefed-up Audi does, strangely, manage to work in both environments. On paper, it's the worst of both worlds but in practice, I bet it's the best.

Buy one. It's probably cheaper than my Ferrari book and, even if it comes without wheels, a lot more enjoyable.

 

Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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