Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: the BMW M5

We have the builders in at the moment, so time is tight. Just when you think you have spare minutes for some coffee and a cigarette, the head man wanders over to say that the walls are all out of kilter.

Or that the water pressure isn't good enough for a new bathroom and that we must dig what amounts to the Suez Canal. "It can be rushed through in about 11 years and it'll cost £4,000m."

However, while I don't particularly like having a boiler which runs on peat and blows up every time that there's a cold snap, I would much rather live somewhere with a bit of history than somewhere new, somewhere faultless, somewhere Barrattish.

And that, I suppose, sums up all that's wrong with the new BMW M5. It's just too perfect, too well sorted, too damn smug for its own good. Had we been at school together, it would have played in the first XI and been excellent at physics. And I would have stolen its milk at playtime.

I will happily admit that it beats the XJR on pretty well every front in the same way that, dynamically speaking, a brand-new house beats an old one. Perhaps this is why new estates are littered with BMWs just 10 minutes after the last of the JCBs trundles home. And all the old cottages with leaky taps and ancient wisteria have Jags outside.

That said, I have noticed a growing trend in petroldom which is to be welcomed. Car makers are building new cars which have the ‘Oh I must have one' appeal of ‘Daisy Cottage'.

I'm thinking primarily about the Smart. This little car is riddled with the sort of faults which simply would not be acceptable to Mr and Mrs G-Plan. In a World of Leather it's DFS - Downright Frigging Stupid. You can't take it out of town because a passing bread van will blow it straight into the hedge. The six-speed semi-automatic gearbox takes an age to shift and the car corners like Bambi.

"It's just too perfect, too well sorted, too damn smug for its own good"

There are upsides though, like it's just about the best inner city car I've ever found. You can park it nose-on to the pavement, prices start at only £6,000, the panels are indestructible and it does 60mpg. Great stuff, but immaterial.

What matters is that it's just so damn cute. If you crossed a Cotswold Village with a baby seal, you'd be only halfway there. You'd need to garnish the mix with a teddy bear and a primary school ballet class to match it for aaah-ness.

Then you've got the Fiat Multiplex-Cinema. I have it on good authority that even Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli thinks this clever six-seater is "absolutely hideous" and he's right; it is. But then so was the Elephant Man and that didn't stop us crying when he croaked.

There's more too. I have never been able to watch Michael Elphick in anything - Boon, chat shows, whatever - since he broke the Elephant Man's matchstick cathedral, and I will not be able to speak to anyone who criticises the Fiat. It may be new and modern but I want to own one even more than I want to own Blenheim Palace.

At car industry press conferences five years ago, all we would ever ask was whether the four-door saloon that we'd just been shown would be available with a diesel engine, or four-wheel drive, or as an estate. And that was all we wanted to know. But now we could say: "Will it be painted pink and have the engine mounted in one of the wheels?" And they'd probably say yes.

I suppose that Renault must take the credit for having started this trend by introducing the Twingo, but now there are characterful cars on virtually every street corner. The Mercedes-Benz A-class. The Rover 75. The Honda S2000. The Jaguar S-Type. The Evo brothers from Mitsubishi. And yes, even the Daihatsu Move.

Alfa Romeo is back in business and Ford - the most conservative of all car manufacturers - has recently caught the bug too so now, instead of giving its designers pencils and tracing paper, they all break at five for a cup of tea and an E. And have you seen that new Vauxhall sports car? Well, like, wow.

But this wave seems somehow to have by-passed Munich, where the Teutons are still struggling with their track rod ends and their vanos camshaft technology. BMW seems to be struck on the idea that a car is just a device for moving people around.

Look at those television ads which pick on one tiny engineering detail and hammer it home. Great. We know that BMW pays great attention to the tiniest nut and bolt, and that the cooling system in the M5 is to be admired.

But loved? I rather think not.

It's just like the Financial Times. What great insight. Not only do the people who produce this paper understand the City but they can write about it all in a clear and concise fashion. They do the job entrusted to them quite brilliantly... but that's all they do.

So come coffee time, which do you settle down to flick through? The FT? Or The Sun? And which car would I rather take home tonight - the M5 or the Jag? Absolutely no contest.

 

Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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